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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

the very sad reason I just left my church

This is a very sad story, but it is also true.  I’ve endeavored to be as accurate and objective as possible. 
It is a story I never could have imagined would happen.  I hope it is educational, and most of all, I hope it spurs and encourages holiness in your life, in my life, and in the body of Christ.  (Certain details are being left out, for reasons that will become rather obvious, but it doesn’t affect the heart of the story or the lessons to be learned.)
It began, of all places, on Facebook.  I was simply reading the “feed”, not looking for anything in particular or at any person’s page.  Then I saw it, and I immediately got a sick feeling in my gut.  Moments later, I had a heavy heart.
A fellow church member had posted a short blurb lauding and linking to HBO’s infamous and popular series called “Game of Thrones”.  It was grievous to see.
I didn’t know a lot about the show, but it makes the news often enough that I knew that it was filthy and entirely inappropriate for someone naming the name of Christ.  Why?  Because the Bible says so.
What is a Christian supposed to do when he sees a brother (or
sister) in sin?  Go blab to everyone except the person?  No!  (That would be gossip.)  We are to go to that person, and gently attempt restoration, so that the sin will cease (Gal. 6:1, Matt. 18:15).
I did this, however imperfectly, in person, very gently, mainly asking questions if this person really thought it an appropriate show to watch.  The conversation was cordial, and it ended with my thinking that it might spur some evaluation by the person, and I said I’d ask about it again at a later time.  I had hoped there would be realization that it was not something acceptable to Christ.
I tried several times to follow-up, but because of various circumstances (and partly fear on my part), the second conversation did not take place, and looking back, I don’t think the second conversation would have taken place in any meaningful way.  So I wrote an email.  I believe it was gracious and loving, and gave biblical reasons why watching such garbage is sinful, and I called for repentance.
Let’s just say it wasn’t well-received, to my sorrow.  The response was cordial, and assumed right motives on my part, but I was told that what I did was wrong, that “Christian liberty” allowed such viewing, and that in multiple discussions with the pastor, he was told that beer and smoking and R-rated movies are "not expressly prohibited and within the realm of an individual Christian's choice".  (Whether or not that is an accurate representation of those meetings, I do not know, but that was the claim.)  His response to me also said that nothing sinful had taken place, and – get this – that there wouldn’t be any more discussion of the matter.  (By the way, that last part was almost more disturbing than the issue itself.)
So what’s supposed to happen next, according to God’s Word?  Matthew 18:16 says “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED."  In my opinion, that step of the process does not necessarily require elder oversight.  However, in some or most circumstances, including this situation, I decided to get one or two elders to follow through on it with me.
I emailed them, describing the situation but NOT giving the person’s name or the particular TV show in question, and asking for direction -- not IF it needed to be done, but the best way of doing it, and getting one or two of them to go with me, as commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ.
During the next 12 days, I was told a couple of times that they were working on it.  I became rather concerned, as it wasn’t that complicated and shouldn’t take that long.  I finally met with one in person, and had a good conversation, except that the bottom line was shocking and disturbing, namely, that they had all agreed it was not a church discipline situation.  None of them watched the show, and none of them wanted to, but they researched it, and certainly didn’t recommend the show, but they had agreed that it didn’t warrant church discipline.
So that you’re aware, this is a conservative, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church (reformed and credo-baptist), one that subscribes to the “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” (#7 of which is church discipline). It is a church with many excellent and commendable attributes, and I would rate the theological education of the congregation as WAY above average.
I was dumbfounded.  Flabbergasted.  This wasn’t a difficult issue to discern.  It was really a no-brainer.  An easy decision.  After all, what Bible-believing church says that pornographic material isn’t a sin issue?
Being quite disturbed about this whole situation, I decided to ask four men – inside and outside of this church – men that I respect and trust – for advice.  I did NOT give names, but carefully and accurately described the situation, and all four, like me, were concerned that such wickedness would be tolerated in the church. 
I was advised to make sure there wasn’t some type of miscommunication, so I described (again) the content in Game of Thrones to the elders, asking if there was some misunderstanding.  The response was brief and clear:  yes, they understand the contents of the show, but that it was not a church discipline issue.
I didn’t want to react, or to act rashly, so I ended up taking a Sunday away (we went to church elsewhere), though I didn’t see any other resolution except leaving the church.

Let me pause for a bit, and make some comments, before I get to the conclusion of the story.
Since when did it become OK for a Christian to watch pornographic shows/movies?  (Answer: it hasn’t.)  Kevin DeYoung says there shouldn't even be a hint of that in our lives.
Since when do Bible-believing churches “allow” a church member to watch that garbage without doing something about it, or more specifically, doing what Jesus commanded in dealing with it?  After all, to quote Phil Johnson, “The church is supposed to be an army, waging war against
worldly values, not Hollywood's welcome wagon”   (from "The Backslidden Church", Shepherd's Conference 2010, general session 7, around the 10-minute mark).

I’ve been trying to figure out the theological underpinnings of what causes a Christian to watch such filth – as well as what makes a church fail to deal with such blatant and obvious sin.  Here are some possibilities – note I said possibilities – I am in no way accusing any one person of any of these things, because I don’t know what the root of this specific situation is – so these are just some possibilities for situations like this:
  • Antinomianism – lawlessness, against the law – the cry of “we’re not under law” is sometimes misused (horribly) to justify that which God’s law truly does prohibit.  This is a growing problem in our day, and was addressed very well by Jerry Wragg at Shepherds’ Conference 2014 (mp3).
  • A gross misunderstanding of Christian liberty – yes, we do have liberty, but not liberty to sin.  Watching smut and calling it “liberty” is a gargantuan distortion of true biblical liberty.
  • A misunderstanding of sin itself – what constitutes sin, and maybe even a mentality that says “The Bible doesn’t talk about TV shows, so anything goes”, which is really a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.
  • A “YRR” (young, restless, and reformed) attitude where some younger Calvinists join the culture supposedly to win the culture, which sometimes includes bars, drinking, watching nasty stuff, and just a general worldliness.  It can include any or all of the 3 points mentioned above.
  • Simply, a love of sin.  Specifically, that is a church-going person that isn’t regenerate, isn’t saved, doesn’t know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, which, very sadly, is extremely common in our day (Matt. 7:21-23).  He loves sin, and makes excuses for it, or calls it “not sin”.
  • It can be tempting for church leaders to show favoritism.  This would make them “respecters of persons” (James 2:1-4).  Perhaps the offender is a good friend, or a big $$$ giver, or has sway in the church.  Maybe his kid might marry an elder’s kid.  Maybe he knows things, that if brought out, would bring harm to the church.  Whatever the cause, some church leaders wouldn’t pursue certain individuals because of who they are.  That is, of course, both shameful and sinful.
  • Some churches don’t understand church discipline, or what I tend to call “Christian restoration”.  They think it is a dirty chore to be avoided, instead of seeing it as the gospel in action.  They think of it as mean, when in fact it is very loving.  Some so-called churches don’t practice discipline at all, which is a gross error and clear disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Sometimes church leaders are afraid others will leave the church, thinking “if so-and-so is disciplined, then others will walk out the door”.  It is true that it could happen.  (I’ve seen it happen in a big way.)  But if the discipline is right, then we must do it, and the consequences are up to the Lord.
The bottom line, before I get back to finishing the story, is if YOU watch Game of Thrones or other shows or movies like it, then I urge you – repent.  Turn away from such wickedness.  Call it what it is, namely, sin.  Flee from it!  Run in the other direction!  Make no provision for it.  Unsubscribe from HBO and Showtime.  Chop the cable in half if needed.  And then flee to Christ.  Confess your foolishness, your hardness of heart, your sin, and ask Jesus to forgive and to help you turn away from evil.  Ask the Lord to cleanse you and set you on the straight and narrow.  Get and use some of these resources.  See Titus 2:11-12, Colossians 3:1-4, 1 John 1:9, as well as this list of relevant passages.
If you don’t watch it, but know of professed believers that do, then you must take action.  You must.  Lovingly and graciously ask about it, expose the evil for what it is, get the person to stop because it dishonors Christ, and if that doesn’t work, take 1 or 2 with you, because that is what has been commanded by our great God and Savior, our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Back to the very sad story, I emailed the elders again, with about 20 Scripture passages (very similar to this post), asking them to change their minds.
It was with grief that I received the response, namely, that they had not changed their minds.
In other words – in my view – even though Game of Thrones is porn and sinful, they’re not going to love the person(s) enough to do what Jesus has said we must do in confronting sin.  That is an egregious error.
My analysis of the results of that is this:
  • The offender would be left in his sin.
  • The purity of the church would be infected by someone who not only watches it, but says that watching such rubbish is within the bounds of liberty.  The damage is compounded since the person(s) involved remains in some sort of leadership position.
  • The name of Christ would be dishonored, by allowing such sin, and by not heeding His commands on how to deal with it (Matt. 18).
I don’t believe a person should leave a church easily or quickly, unless there is outright heresy.  But there are times when it is right to leave.
When should a person leave a church? A very short but very helpful GTY.org blog post makes it plain:  ...there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one's own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men.  When is that?  When discipline is obviously needed but not practiced, and when unholy living is tolerated in the church, then it’s time to go.  That precisely describes the situation I was in. 
The morning after receiving the “final answer” – now several weeks ago as I write this – I emailed my resignation (as a deacon, and as a member) to the elders.  I’m very saddened and exceedingly disappointed.  If I had been an elder, I would have left.  If I had been a vocational (paid) elder (pastor), I would have left.  It is a hill I’ll stand on, without apology.  It is a hill that, if necessary, I would die on.
Don’t misunderstand – this isn’t a forgiveness issue.  I’m happy to embrace the man who has seen inappropriate things, but hates the sin, fights temptation, has repented, and strives to walk the straight and narrow.  With that man I gladly walk together as a fellow pilgrim and forgiven sinner.  In reality, this isn’t even a porn issue – it could have been any sin.  But when blatant and obvious sin is called “not sin”, and isn’t dealt with biblically, and excuses are made and Scripture set aside, then that’s simply unacceptable.
When a church won’t stand up to pornography (or anything else that is clearly sinful), when they won’t call sin “sin” and deal with it as Jesus has commanded, then it’s time to leave.  From what I can tell, my decision may not have been popular, but A.W. Tozer said, "I claim the holy right to disappoint men in order to avoid disappointing God."

There are many wonderful, dear saints at the church.  I will still love them, and count them as dear brethren.  I hope the best for them, individually, and as a church body.  I have no animosity toward them.
My prayer is that a great work will be done there, including a recognition of obvious sin, doing what Jesus has commanded regarding it, loving people enough to call them to specific repentance, and an increased measure of holiness and purity – all that Christ may be duly honored and obeyed and worshipped.

[2017 update:
Kevin DeYoung at TGC rightly states how he doesn't understand how Christians could watch such junk, and then a few weeks later answers common excuses/objections.]

Lessons for me:
  1. a reminder of the odiousness of my own sin
  2. an evaluation of TV shows that I might watch (obviously nothing like GoT, but it is good to evaluate periodically)
  3. a renewed commitment to biblical standards and holiness
  4. now I know to ask any potential church about their views on media & holiness, and how Christian liberty applies
  5. thankful for discussion (and future chats) about this topic with my kids
  6. thankful that the Lord has helped me in taking a difficult stand and doing what is right in a difficult matter
  7. saddened that sound doctrine did not result in holy standards and holy living in this instance

P.S. Quote from Spurgeon:


  1. Dave,

    Have you found a new local bible-believing church which shares your concerns/beliefs/feelings?


    1. Working on it... and yes, I think so -- the drive is a bit further than I'd prefer, but sometimes that is needed.