This is question five in a interview series with Dr. John Hammett on the Importance of Church Membership. Dr. Hammett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) currently serves as Professor of Systematic Theology and the Associate Dean of Theological Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
Dr. Hammett, what, if any, are valid reasons for parting ways with a local church?
1. When a geographical move makes immersion in the church body impossible. This is the most common reason people part ways with a local church.
2. When the church becomes spiritually toxic. Spiritual toxicity can make immersion unhealthy. While I regard the covenant commitment to a church as only slightly less binding than the covenant commitment of marriage, there will sadly arise occasions when doctrinal deviancy, unchecked sin, or spiritual apathy will make a church an unhealthy place. The key questions to ask are: Can I bring a non-believing friend here? Can I bring a new Christian here? If the answers are no, it is difficult to see how immersion can be healthy anymore.
3. Matters of personal conscience (I am not talking about personal desires or preference). Sometimes a church may engage in a new ministry, or change its approach in a significant way that is not necessarily sinful, but is something you cannot in good conscience support. I believe church members are called to unity. I believe church members are called to follow their leaders, but that following is never blind. If there is a matter of conscience (not personal preference), a peaceful separation may be the wise option to avoid animosity on either side.
Again, parting ways with a local church should never be easy. If you can leave a church family without feeling a sense of being severed you never truly joined that church.