Leaving Our Church

Recently my wife and I had a hard decision to announce. The decision itself was not really hard to make. What was hard was having to tell our Sunday School friends (whom I teach). We decided to leave the church which we had been members of for almost two years. In many ways we had left the church a long time ago. The only things that kept us going were the great people with whom we met each Sunday morning for Sunday School and certain of the church leadership who are great people and who had become good friends. But we had not been attending the morning worship service for some time. This was because it became difficult to listen to our pastor try to teach from the Bible. I don’t want to overdramatize the situation. There wasn’t much heresy going on. I believe that our pastor is a good man who cares about his flock. But he had demonstrated to us over and over again that he was not a careful thinker when it came to the text of Scripture or theology. The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” was when Mr. Don Piper (author of Ninety Minutes in Heaven) came to preach one Sunday morning. I’ll leave it for another blog (my own or someone else’s) to say what’s wrong with a story like Don Piper’s. But I will give one example of how careless the “theology” is that accompanies his testimony. Mr. Piper claims to have “died” in a severe car accident. As he lay “dead” in his car for ninety minutes, he went to the outskirts of heaven (he carefully disclaimed actually entering heaven proper) where he was met by a welcoming committee of friends and family who had gone on before him and who had played a role in shaping his own Christian life. One thing in particular struck Mr. Piper as he took in the sights and sounds. He noticed to his delight that he did not have any scars from his accident. (Presummably his body is covered with scars right now.) Now, I am not one to quarrel with anyone who maintains that in heaven our bodies will be so perfected as to not carry any scars over from this life. But the thing that doesn’t make sense with Mr. Piper’s story is that while he was on this trek to heaven, his physical body was lying in his car that had just wrecked. But, if his physical body was in the car on Earth, exactly what was it in heaven that Mr. Piper had that lacked any scars? It couldn’t his resurrected body, since the resurrection hasn’t taken place yet. It couldn’t be his spiritual body, since spiritual bodies don’t have scars anyway. (The whole point of emphasizing that he noticed that he didn’t have scars was to demonstrate that in heaven our bodies are perfect.) Since spiritual bodies couldn’t have scars anyway, it would meaningless to point this out to his audience. Now, if Mr. Piper wants to maintain that between our deaths and the resurrection of our physical bodies, we have an intermediate physical body, fine. I won’t quarrel with him about this. While I might not agree with this position, I suspect that there have been Christians who have maintained this view throughout church history. But this would not render Mr. Piper’s story any more coherent. The reason is because it would be uninteresing to point out that our intermediate bodies lack any scars. Why should they? Even if they did lack scars, this certainly would not entail anything about our permanent resurrected physical bodies. So why would it be significant that any intermediate physical body lacks scars. Why should the loaner car have the same dents as the car you left at the garage to have fixed. The whole thing is theologically problematic. But since our pastor seemingly deemed his testimony as something that our congregation (and visitors) might find interesting, if not useful and spiritually uplifting, then that signaled to us that he is not discerning enough for us as church members to support his ministry. So, rather than sticking around and complaining about how we disagree with this or that, we concluded that the best thing for us to do was to leave and try to find another church where the pastor is more careful and conscientious about biblical and theological matters. So far, I’m sad to say, our search has been to no avail. Thankfully, we’ve not exhausted our local options yet.


12 comments on “Leaving Our Church

  1. D'Man says:

    Been there done that as you know but for other reasons. I hate it for you. It’s kind of liberating to just “work” at a church and not attend there. Let me hear from you.


    • We’ve certainly seen a lot of this in our day, haven’t we! Is it too much to ask for or expect? I’m not even a Bible scholar, but it’s so disappointing to try to sit under a pastor that you think doesn’t even know as much as you do. Oh, well. We’ll keep looking!

  2. spicher says:

    If you want to send me a monthly tithe, I’ll be your pastor. Just Kidding.

    Along with the lack of scholarship, I have been pretty disheartened with simply the lack of common sense in certain churches with which I have had recent dealings. Sometimes, I do not want to make the effort to participate in a local church. But I know that’s not the right attitude. However, I think the current church world needs a new Kierkegaard to shake things up a bit.

    the Spichenstein

  3. Well, while Spichenstein does sound Jewish, I’m not convinced you’re a Levite (which would be necessary if I was to tithe to you)! Leroy, et al. and I have bandied about the idea of having our own Bible study. The last thing I want to do is to start a new church. But it might end up being like the joke I once heard about this particular piece of paper on which was written “This is not a ticket, but you can’t get in without it.”

  4. Ken Grano says:

    This is simply more “proof in the pudding”. It is upsetting to see the lack of discernment which I believe comes from a lack of philosophical and theological training. It seems that there is little emphasis on teaching our Christian leaders how to think about what they believe. Or how to really establish an accurate theistic worldview with some backbone. The leaders of the church are biblically instructed to know how to sniff out the wolves and guard against them. However, there are many times when the church leadership opens the doors to bad ideas that enter the minds of the congregation. We might as well tie meat around the necks of the flock, open the doors to the wolves and say, “get’m!” (too dramatic?)

  5. Jeff says:

    You know, we need to start a church……

  6. Personal identity issues after death, eh? I know all too well that problem. 😉 I’m sure you’ve solved them, right?

    I would suppose that a person with your education and intelligence would have a hard time finding such a church. I know of at least one Christian scholar who doesn’t even attend chuurch for that very reason.


    • No, it isn’t a matter of personal identity after death. Piper’s problem wasn’t that sophisticated or philosophical. Rather, it was a theological/biblical problem. If the resurrection hasn’t happened yet, then he would not be in his physical body immediately after his death. But presummably only a physical body can have scars. Thus, for him to notice that he didn’t have scars makes no sense in light of the evangelical Christian theology I suspect he claims to otherwise hold. If he opts for some sort of temporary physical body during this intermediate time, then why should he exhibit excitement over it not having scars unless there was reason to believe that if the intermediate body lacked scars, our ultimate body would as well. But I’m confident he was not thinking that deeply (or wasn’t thinking at all!).
      Don’t get me started on the issue of the lack of critical thinking in the American church (and in America in general). One can get spoiled teaching at a seminary when the level of thinking is so high. But it can make some churches disappointing. Thankfully, we’ve found a new church that I’m hopeful will be receptive of some challenging thinking.

  7. Lucy Smith says:

    well Jesus doesnt LIVE in church – He is OUTSIDE knocking so those that HEAR shall COME OUT and attend HIS CHURCH.

    • There certainly is a meaningful distinction to be made between the local gathering of believers (often refered to both in the New Testament and throughout history as “the church” (a quick glance will show references to “the church at …”—referencing a city or a household)) and the invisible body of believers spread throughout many local churches that constitute Christ’s body.

  8. Dennis Rowan says:

    Been there, done that too. As each year goes by I become more convinced that 1 Corinthians 14:26 is a place to start to see what God’s Word says about the gathering of the brethren. Whose idea was it anyway that with the New Covenant that church consists of one man speaking to hundreds or even thousands of people sitting like ducks in a row in a building they call the church? I have no objections to one man speaking to thousands at some Christian meetings, but I fail to see it as a biblically based model for weekly gatherings.

    • I have no objection as a matter of principle with the formatting. I see the place for the elders teaching the flock and certainly there are examples of preaching in the Bible. My problem was with the content. While nothing that went on was rank heresy (except for one unguarded comment he made), it was often times goofey and/or unrelated to the text. I wasn’t interested in “managing my emotions.” At least, there were a lot of other things from the text that I’d rather hear preached on expositionally/exegetically. As for the “unguarded” comment: one morning he interrupted himself to say that he thought that God had a body. “Don’t ask me to explain it …” was his only further comment. I wouldn’t have been surprised that if I had gone up to him months later and asked outright “Do you believe that God has a body?” he would have emphatically said “No!”

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