GORDON: Leaving your church should come with a lot of prayer. We have a lot of church jumping today. Leaving should come with a lot of prayer, great conviction, and doing your best to work with the leadership if there are severe compromises to the ministry of the Word, the gospel, and what a church is called to do and to be.
Historically, we say that there are three marks of a faithful and a true church: the pure preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, and church discipline. Those are good gauges by which to look at your church and ask, “Are these things taken seriously in the church?” Is the ministry centered on making known the gospel, preaching Christ, expositing the Scriptures, working carefully through books of the Bible, and faithfully administering the sacraments? Is the church willing to love you enough to discipline you if you’re in serious sin?
We have to consider that we often have little ones we are raising. We have our own souls to care for and also our families. I see a lot of people who are more tied to friendships, culture, and family than the truth of the gospel. This is where we have to be willing to count the cost and ask, “Are we involved in something that has a sincere concern to advance the truth as it is in Jesus?” And if not—if I have come to a conscious conviction that is not the case after prayer, working with my family, and spending serious time talking to the leadership—then I think it’s entirely appropriate to look for a faithful church that demonstrates those historic marks.
THOMAS: I don’t think that there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because there are multiple circumstances that make the answer different for different people.
As an example, during COVID, we went online. We were always online—we’d been online for twenty years—but people joined us online, and some of them were near and some of them were far away. Some of those who were near came to me and said something like this: “We haven’t heard preaching like this in years.” What they meant by “preaching like this” was not necessarily Reformed theology. Rather, they meant, “We haven’t heard gospel preaching in years.” They had been members of churches that had drifted away slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, and they hadn’t realized what had happened. They came to realize, “We don’t need to be in this church anymore because this church has abandoned the gospel.” In those circumstances, we said, “Come; we welcome you.”
But there are also circumstances where staying and trying to reform that church might be a possibility for some people. And that would depend on who the person is and who else is involved. Does it involve his wife? Does it involve his children? Is he prepared to sacrifice gospel preaching to his children for the sake of trying to save a church that’s drifted from the faith?
So, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this, but it’s a very important question. Life is short, and I think for most people the answer is, “You need to be in a church where the gospel is preached and your children are being ministered to in biblical ways.” And I would say that is particularly true in our current “woke” society.
This is a transcript of Christopher Gordon's and Derek Thomas’ answers given during our If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Escondido 2022 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email email@example.com or message us on Facebook or Twitter.