I have one question that actually has been a struggle during the past year or so: when must we leave a church? We are members of a PCUSA congregation. Must we declare that our church is no longer a part of the invisible church? And to that end, if the church is no longer a church, it would seem that it was no longer a church long before we joined. Would our tithes be blasphemous, even if given with a willing heart? I want to make sure that we are leaving for very good, Biblical reasons. And the decision must be made knowing that we can't change the church over fundamental issues.
Your question is weighty and serious. But since you have asked, I will be bold to answer plainly as I understand the current situation in the PCUSA and the teaching of Scriptureand pray you will be helped and not offended.
"When must we leave a church?" The word "must" is key here. You are not asking when it might be okay to leave a church, but when does the Lord require us to do so? Maybe your choice of words was fortuitous and not intended, but if intended, I applaud the high view of the church which they imply. It is a curse of our times that American Christians flit from church to church to "ministry" to "fellowship" for the flimsiest reasons (e.g., where to put the wood stove, or the minister's personality, or the music program, etc.). This is no way for God's children to treat the Bride of Christ.
The Westminster Confession of Faith correctly observes that "This catholic [invisible] church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them." (25.4) And, "The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan ..." (25.5).
True churches of Christ may vary in their purity of teaching, worship, and administration of the sacraments, and no true church on earth is free from error. On the other hand, some churches have declined to such at an extent that they are not true churches at all. Your question seems to be: where on this continuum of purity / impurity does it become the right thing to leave a church? Or: at what point has a church fallen off the continuum of true churches into being no church of Christ?
I don't think that any individual (or couple) is competent to declare a professing historic Christian church to be "no longer a part of the invisible church." Over the years some Orthodox Presbyterian authors in various articles have referred to the apostasy of the PCUSA, but it is significant that no assembly of the OPC has (to my knowledge) ever officially declared that the PCUSA is an apostate denomination.
Apostasy in the PCUSA was the issue struggled over, and its toleration (and the triumph of toleration-as-a-policy) was the cause of the forming of the OPC. But I do not think that as a church we justify our coming into existence (against the charge of schism) by saying that the PCUSA had ceased to be a church of Christ.
Those pastors, elders, and congregations who first left the PCUSA in 1936 to form the OPC had, before leaving, struggled for decades against the toleration of unbelief and the growing power of anti-Christian modernist heresy in the "broadening church" (to borrow the language used by a highly regarded PCUSA historian). They considered that their commitment to the church (an expression of their commitment to Christ) required them to labor for her reformation.
But when, in 1935 and 1936, the modernists and broad-church proponents succeeded in defrocking from the ministry the very men who had labored to call the church back to fidelity to her Confession and to the Christ of the Bible, it was clear that the time had come to leave. As a denomination the PCUSA not only refused to be disciplined on the basis of the Word of God, but rather imposed discipline on those who had sought scriptural reformation. (Echoes of the Papal Bull excommunicating Martin Luther for standing on the Word of God for the purity of the Gospel of Christ!)
I think today you face several problems in regard to the PCUSA (of which my mother is not only a member, but a ruling elder, so I have some idea what's going on): the "broad church" concept, enforced by the Book of Confessions and emasculated ordination vows, at the denominational level, and the varying degrees of fidelity / infidelity to the Lord and His Word in the life and teaching of the local congregations.
The "broad church" idea is simply contrary to the Bible's view of the churchthe "pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15,16, cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17), "the saints and faithful brethren in Christ" (Eph. 1:2), "the household of God which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets [that is, the Word of God, the Bible], Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone" (Eph. 2:19,20), and so on. The church is not to be a "mixed multitude" in which teaching which is faithful to God's Word and which presents the Christ of Scripture must live alongside man-made theologies that deny the Word and reinvent "Christ."
"Do not be bound together with unbelievers, for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God [this is what the Church is constituted by God in Christ to be]; ... 'Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord ..." (2 Cor. 6:14-17).
At the denominational level, you have people arguing today over whether or not it is all right to ordain to Christian ministry people whom God in His Word declares to be guilty of moral abominations (homosexual sin). That argument makes sense between a Christian church and the pagan world, but within a church of Christ? How can that happen?
And that is only the visible tip of the iceberg of unbelief and tolerated wickedness. PCUSA feminists invent a new sacrament (of milk & honey) celebrating "Sophia," the feminine incarnation of the wisdom of God, who is paraded in effigy through a hall of ecstatic and adoring worshipers. The Presbyterian Layman speaks out against this idolatrous violation of the 2nd Commandment, but nothing is done.
You can find PCUSA churches, pastors, and seminary professors who believe that Buddhism and Native American religion have a lot to teach the "Christian tradition," that the biblical doctrine of God's just wrath and eternal punishment is vile and outdated, that the Ten Commandments are relics of an earlier stage in man's religious evolution, that Jesus Christ is but one path to the knowledge of God, and so on.
All of this anti-Christian thinking and activity (and much more besides) is possible in a "Christian" churchhow? Because that church decades ago decided to be a "big tent"with room for "Christian brothers and sisters of all persuasions." But, in fact, the "big tent" is not a wonderful gathering place of all kinds of Christian brethren. It is a place where non-Christians disguised as Christians require Christian believers to embrace them as their brothers and sisters for the sake of peace and unity. The sheep are required by the wolves to call the wolves sheep and never, ever, call attention to their sharp teeth and claws, and the souls of little ones devoured by their idolatrous man-made theologies.
Local congregations and individual pastors may be evangelical. They are tolerated, but the system imposes on them the requirement of seeking gender-parity among their ruling elders, contrary to the Word of God (1 Tim. 2:12), expects them to support denominational "ministries" that are contrary to Scripture and seminaries that deny Scripture, and demands that they respect the office of ministers who cannot affirm the most essential doctrines of the historic Christian faith.
Before 1967 there was a constitutional basis to call the church to reform. Until that year the PCUSA still had ordination vows that required officers to subscribe to the Bible as the Word of God and to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture. But in 1967 a Book of Confessions was adopted, a kind of confessional museum whose latest addition (the Confession of 1967) undermines all of the solid, biblical confessions that preceded it, and with it carries a new set of ordination vows in which the person ordained promises only to be "guided" by the confessions of the church.
I don't know how conservative and evangelical or liberal your local church may be. It appears from what little you say about it that you see in your local ministry a denigration of the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. But even if your local congregation is more evangelical than most (as my mother's congregation near San Diego now is), the money you put in the offering plate goes in part to support "broad church" described above. Can you in good conscience, as a steward of God's generosity to you, give to support anti-Christian unbelief in the name of Christ? You recognize this issue when you ask, "Would our tithes be blasphemous, even if given with a willing heart?"
You must also consider your responsibility to raise your young children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. While you remain where you are, will you have to correct sermons that are not true to the Word? And Sunday School lessons that are not true to the Word? Will you have to explain why some members and leaders of the church do things that are contrary to the Word? And why you do not participate in all the activities, projects, fund-raisers promoted by the church? Will you have the confidence that the other members of the congregation are assisting you and reinforcing by their example and words the truth and standards of conduct you are teaching? Will your children be learning to worship the Lord in a setting where He is worshiped according to His instructions? I think that your responsibility for your children before God should weigh very greatly in your thinking.
Well, I could go on, but (1) I think I've given you a lot to consider and (2) I just looked at the clock and realized I promised my loving wife I would be home in 15 minutes for supper. So I will end here, again with the invitation to you to come back with more questionseven disagreements that can be discussed.
I thank God you are asking these questions. And I pray that your asking them will bear a testimony in your present congregation that the Lord might use for reformation and eternal good, at least in the lives of some other members.
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