Questions and Answers: “I’ve met people who say that they have left the ‘institutional’ church. How do I respond?”

This question has been asked many times. I am saddened by the “de-churched” movement, but grateful that it usually only lasts one generation because of lack of catechesis for their young ones. It is also a reactionary movement that is not in any way grounded in the totality of Biblical revelation.

What I have to say below is a frank discourse with a recent person asking me for a brief response to this concern. I want to first qualify everything by being the first to admit that the church isn’t perfect and has in fact wounded folks. I don’t deny that reality. Having said that, Jesus died to redeem the church, and loves His bride…bruised and sinful though she may be.

I have met some de-churched folks in my frequent visits to the local coffee shop. For all their opposition to having set meeting times in set places, they sure have a canny resemblance to meeting at certain places at certain times with a functional leader who I have found to be more tyrannical that anything I have found in the “institutional” church.  It is the “functional” guru leaders of these folks who don’t like me whenever we engage in conversation. They make a passing diss to my role as pastor and I respond by calling them out on their issue with authority. I have hit the nail on the head just about every time—they don’t like authority. I sometimes wonder if they would care much for Peter, Paul, and other leaders in the church. They love most of the Gospels, but then pick and choose from the rest of the New Testament. Actually they also pick and choose from sections in the Gospels that deal with “church”, “keys of the kingdom”, etc.  

Basically, I use the same litmus test that Paul gave the Corinthian church:

1 Corinthians 14:37–38 (ESV) — 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

It is no coincidence that many of the “leaders” (talk about an oxymoron) actually have a Pentecostal/Charismatic background. These are the super-spirituals who cling to certain aspects of Biblical truth, but want to have final say over what they submit to. They are constantly in strife with others because of authority issues. They also validate their convictions by means of some spiritual experience or by praying and conveniently having some sense of peace in their selective obedience. They are a threat today as they were in Paul’s day.

These de-churched gurus and their followers want to pick and choose what they apply from the New Testament. Paul doesn’t give them this option. He says that if anyone fails to heed his apostolic teaching, that such a person is “not recognized”.  I usually go through many of Paul’s directives regarding the church and it doesn’t take long before they have issue with what they claim as my “interpretation” of Paul. Such people pose a great threat to the church and are not to be recognized. Wounded by Biblical authority, off they go crying because they got their feelings hurt. They claim that the church was too authoritative, when ironically it is really their insistence of being liberated in their own authority that is at the heart of the issue. Anyhow, here is a raw, unpolished, from the hip response to some of these issues:

The early church in Acts devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teach and did voluntary gather with one another, but that ought never be confused as “church” proper. Meeting with Christians is not “church”, just as meeting with someone you love from the opposite sex doesn’t equal the institutional nature of family, just as loving other children doesn’t equate to you being equal in authority as a parent, etc. God has ordained jurisdictional institutions in every aspect of life: family, civil, as well as the Church, which actually is the gracious administration of institutional jurisdiction. They can keep saying that you don’t have to be at a church on a certain day all they want, but this wouldn’t fly with their job, with falling in love with someone but refusing to “marry” them, etc. Go try this attitude anywhere in our work lives, civic lives, etc and see what happens.

Can you be a Christian and reject the church? Can you be in love and reject marriage? Techinically yes, but in sin nonetheless.

They really should read:


The 2 or 3 gathering together verse is actually in the context of church discipline and administrating the keys of the kingdom.

I’m also curious how they make sense of the following verses:

2 Timothy 4:1–5 (ESV) — 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

1 Timothy 3:1–13 (ESV) — 1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Acts 20:28–32 (ESV) — 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

1 Peter 5:1–5 (ESV) — 1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

There are many more. If they say that these passages are optional, or just a “different way of looking at church”, etc, then they prove too much. If all of the multiple passages dealing with church are merely a suggestion, then what of murder, adultery, etc. they have no hermeneutical approach to determine these things and just choose to pick and choose what they like.

Also, you should ask them why so much of the NT is devoted precisely to the church and read within the assumption of being part of the church?

They should also consider that the NT speaks more about how the church should function than on marriage, family, civil responsibilities, etc, all combined. All of the epistles in the NT are written to churches, actual physical churches with actual elders and Christians, who are called upon to obey what is spoken to them. They really do miss aspects of the cross and what Jesus accomplished in our redemption when detached from the church. Acts 20:28 specifically says that Jesus purchased the church (institutional in the context as Paul is giving directives to the elders from Ephesus), and based on what Jesus did on the cross. There is the reality of the “church”, which requires the oversight and care of these elders. Why also does Paul train these elders to be “overseers”?

They may like their liberation, but they have run away from the home that Jesus died for. Jesus told Peter and commissioned the apostles in light of the truth that He would build a “church”. You can run away from your parents and still claim to love them and be loved. I guess you can run away from your spouse and still claim to love them and be loved by them, but this is silliness. They have run away from the very church which qualifies their very definition of “Christian” in a Biblically-defined manner.

Put more boldly, these folks are a bunch of immature folks who want to be liberated from the church and the many verses of the Bible in much the same way the gay person wants to be liberated from the Bible and practice their own version of the Christian faith, all the while claiming to pray about it and have peace about it. The dechurched aren’t as stigmatized as the homosexual, but their logic is the same…they pick and choose from the Bible what personally applies to them and go on bearing the Christian label. This paradigm is completely foreign to Christ, the apostles,  and the church through the centuries. They have turned their back on the blood-bought elder-ruled, deacon-served, sacrament-dispensing, life-giving, congregational-edifying “church”.

© 2011, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.


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