Church leadership has unknowingly turned the church into a manufacturer of divorce rather than an institution of love and an example of unity. Here is a bold and, quite possibly, radical statement in the mind of most: switching church fellowships in most cases is a sinful act that God hates. Yet, this is an acceptable, approved, and sometimes even encouraged practice within the body of Christ. The ensuing questions one might ask are, why is this sin? Why does God hate it? Let’s break this down and approach it from a biblical and doctrinal standpoint.
First, let’s ask why most people switch church fellowships. The answer to this could be any number of reasons. Among them is offense of other church members or church leadership. Another is dissatisfaction with the ministry and its ability to meet personal expectations and preferences, while still another is boredom or disenchantment with the vision, purpose, and direction of the church ministry. Yet another is simply the attraction other church fellowships have to the eye of those who have explored and entertained the attitudes outlined above.
These reasons on the surface may not explain why leaving a church fellowship for another is sin and something God despises, but it begins to expose the motives of the heart that drive one to make such a decision. This is necessary to understand because at the root of our decision we have excused ourselves of fulfilling the ultimate command, which is to love one another as Christ has loved us. Let’s take a look at how God has structured the church. The church is referred to as the body of Christ, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members’ one of another.” (Rom 12:5). It is also referred to as the family or household of God, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household…” (Eph 2:19). In both references we see built into them the principles by which we are to operate and function, and the principles that govern our existence, growth and vitality are principles of relationship. But what we have done is morphed the church into an enterprise of goods and services with a corporate structure that caters to the consumer mentality of a post modern culture as a means of attracting and maintaining our cliental based on their indentified needs and preferences with scalable marketing techniques. It is no wonder, then, why we approach the church fellowship as nothing more than a new restaurant or retail store, and principles of relationship are reduced to nothing more than staples of convenience that cater to our wants, needs, and ambitions, and once the fellowship we are in no longer tailors itself to these personal variables we quickly move on to what promises to be the next best thing.
Let’s go back to the beginning – I mean the very beginning – and ask the question, why did God create man? There is nothing created that is not created out of a need or desire, and anything created is created with a primary purpose that is meant to meet or satisfy the recognized need or desire. 1John 4:8 says, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” So, God being love had the desire to express His nature of love on someone or something. God, taking inventory of all that surrounded Him in heaven, found there was nothing suitable for this type of relationship. “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” So, mankind from the very beginning was created by Love, for Love, to love. It was our purpose to first be loved by God, to love God, and then love one another. This was corrupted when the love of man turned for himself over that of God and any other. This is what resulted in the first divorce ever recorded and the reason God says He hates divorce. The self love of man turned his heart to pursue his own wants, ambitions, and interests left no room for God or anyone else, and we’ve been seeing the evidence of this corrupt nature in mankind ever since. When Jesus was asked the question, “Which is the greatest commandment of the law?” His reply was, “ “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and[o]foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) So, even the law reflected the Divine nature of God as love and the intended nature of mankind which was to love, but the law identified and condemned the corruption we now exist with in our self love, which we know better as selfishness.
How does all of this explain the original statement that the practice of switching church fellowships is a sin that God hates? Well, what did Christ come to do? He came to save us from our sin or deliver us from our sin nature. This occurs when by faith we identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and this faith activates a new life in us by His Spirit. The old person we were dies with Christ and, behold, we become a new creation. What is this new creation? It is the rebirth of our original nature, and a renewal of our original purpose. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) and again He said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:12-14) With the great commandment comes also the great commission; Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20) So, we are known as disciples of Christ by our love, and we are made disciples by being taught to love. The classroom of our learning is the church family, and when we remove ourselves from that body we have divorced ourselves from the relationships of our purpose and calling. For most every reason we want to justify our leaving a set fellowship is, in fact, the reason God has called us to stay because it is in our endurance that we learn enduring love. So, for those who are all too quick to say, God told them to do so, unless it is for reason of geographical relocation, moral failure, doctrinal depravity on the part of leadership, or the sending out by leadership for the purpose of advancing the gospel, these who say they hear from God have only fooled themselves by their own ignorance of God’s word.
Consider these scriptures that teach us the conduct of body function and family relationships as it relates to the church and our fellowship of believers:
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:4-21)
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
“…bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Colossians 3:13)
“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.” (Judges 4:11)
“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1Peter 4:8)
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1Peter 4:10)
“But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction…” (1Thessalonians 5:12)
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (1Timothy 5:17)
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)