When I first became a Christian, I was attending the United Methodist Church where I had grown up. But, strangely, it was not through the teachings of the UMC that I came to Christ. It was by reading the scriptures themselves. Along with other books that focused my soul toward salvation.
I remained at my church for about two years after I became a Christian. At first, I did not see the real conflict that the UMC beliefs had with my new life. But, point by point, this conflict became apparent to me.
As I look back, my eyes were opened in a very dramatic way when my friend, Ron, opened the Bible to Psalm 1:1.
“Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”
I cannot explain it, but when Ron asked me what I thought this verse meant, I immediately recognized that the pastors and leaders of my church were not teaching the truth. And that my continued presence there would constitute disobedience to Christ.
Now, please understand, this church was filled with very nice people. Some of the finest folks I have ever known. I never experienced any unkindness or problems there. I was still very deeply involved in leadership roles at that time. And there had been discussion with the leadership of my going on, within the denomination, to pursue a seminary education.
These people were the salt of the earth. Family people. Moral people. Hard workers. Local business owners. Scout leaders. They were generous, friendly and sacrificial in working for others. So my reason for leaving the church was for no other than seeking to be obedient to the call of Christ.
So, you might have questions about that. What is this call of Christ?
To answer that, I will give you a verse you may have never explored before.
The Despised Doctrine of Separation
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you . . .” (II Corinthians 6:17)
When I was a young believer, I did not know anything about Fundamentalism. I say this, because this verse is usually quoted by Fundamentalists and angrily rejected by Evangelicals. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the acceptance or rejection of the principle behind this verse is why there is a great divide among Bible believers today.
I’ve told you the above story to help illustrate a serious issue. Sometimes, we can simply speak the truth wherever we are; and that is sufficient. But, other times it may become necessary to make a clear physical departure from a church where error is taught.
In the modern Evangelical church, it would be rare for a pastor to suggest that I should have left my old church. He would have most likely encouraged me to remain and be a “witness” there. Then, over time, I would, hopefully, have been a “light in the darkness” to bring people to Christ.
The Great Divide
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. One will “come out” and the other will “stay in”.
But there is a degree of arrogance in the idea that a Christian can stay and change a local body or denomination that teaches a false gospel. This strategy presumes a “spiritual goodness” that no Christian possesses in himself. We cannot disobey God and still produce good fruit for Him.
When I was first saved, I was just a young, skull full of mush. So, I knew little of real doctrine. I was a very naïve, young believer in the midst of many people who, even without Christ, understood the ramifications of what I professed better than I did.
I was unable to see the serious doctrinal errors in my old church. Errors that led people away from Christ rather than to Him. And I did not yet see that my participation in their work was based on false teaching as well. It was work based on a false “social gospel”.
The Seduction of Christianity
The reason for this story is to help other Christians see something that is often very difficult to see. It is very easy to look at the lifestyle of the churches around us and choose to focus only on those teachings that we share in common. And with our moral culture disintegrating around us, there is a very strong tendency to join together with them in order to save what morality we can.
The gospel at that old church is like most of the gospels taught in mainline churches. The teaching is generally as follows: Help your fellow man. Be a good person. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Get baptized, take communion, go to church. Give some of your money to people in need. Be a good parent, child or friend.
And at the end of the day, they believe that God accepts them. That only the really bad people are rejected. And even then, they probably get another chance after death. Sin, Hell and Judgment are seldom, if ever, mentioned.
The life of the mainline churches is like a siren call. Their gospel seems reasonable. Their lifestyle commendable. Their churches warm and bright.
But Christ calls us to higher ground.
The Highest Love
Christ calls us to follow Him first.
To put Him first in our minds, souls, bodies and spirits. To place obedience to His Word above all other loyalties and traditions. And to love Him above all other loves.
That means we are not only separated to Christ but also separated from the world. From its false social and religious systems.
Sometimes, if the teaching is sound, we can remain there and serve. But sometimes, we must leave a fellowship. As a young believer, I did not understand what was going on around me. And so stayed until I could clearly see that I was in an environment that did not preach the gospel.
There was nothing easy about that. There never is.
Such a move can damage lifelong friendships and may even result in the loss of family that choose to remain in that group. Most families and friends view the departure as a betrayal. This is especially true for those who leave Mormonism, Judaism and Islam.
The Lord loves all the people involved in our lives more than we ever can. He also loves us and wants us to go where we can be fed and grow in Him. He loves the people in the old church because He desires for them to clearly see the difference between the true gospel and the false. And He even loves the false teacher who must be rebuked or called out for the damage he is doing to his flock as well as to his own soul.
This is a hard thing to understand in our age. We are not generally taught this anymore. Our Evangelical leaders would rather teach us a type of Humanistic love. One that justifies them in forming a new organization with false religious leaders. Calling them “brothers” and engaging in “dialogue”. All creating a false sense of unity and love.
And, consequently, making their need for Christ harder for them to see in the confusion of compromise.
But Christ calls us to a different level of love. The highest level.
He must be our first love.