“We must cease to think of the church as a gathering of institutions and organizations, and we must get back to the notion that we are the people of God.”
– D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
One statement… One letter… God’s Moving
I was the head of a youth ministry in a church. Appointed by a pastor and loved by the church. The church family became an extension of my family. Many get togethers and meals were shared. In fact, many came around my wife and I to help us get started with our life together.
The senior pastor moved on from that church to help another ministry. The search began for a new pastor. The church had always held the standard to use the King James Bible in teaching and preaching. However, one could use whatever translation they wanted when not fulfilling one of those two roles. In searching, the church voted to keep that standard and wanted a guy to hold to it. “We just want a King James guy,” said one of the deacons. Then a year later a pastor was voted in. He was great to work with and became a friend and mentor.
About three weeks before getting married, I was asked about my position on the King James Bible. I stated, “The King James is a reliable translation; however, it is not the only one. But, the church constitution states that in my ministry I should use the KJV. I have faithfully done that.”
This statement turned into many meetings, emails, prayers, and worries. We were told by the pastor, “One cannot reach his full spiritual potential without the better truth of the King James. The issue of the King James is a doctrinal stance for the church and a key component of the faith, and should be taught as such.” Four weeks later, I turned in my letter of resignation. I stated what the church was promoting was unbiblical and how I could not promote this church as a Bible-preaching church.
Surprisingly, they agreed that I should teach till the end of the month and then move on. However, these pleasant faces changed. Unlike unmasking a ghost in Scooby Doo (a dark ghost being an actual human), the pleasant mask revealed a much darker side.
The tables turned. We were notified soon after we were not welcomed anymore. My wife and I were branded as false teachers, and a toxicity dividing the church. We were given 30 minutes to gather all our things and told to make sure it looked like we had never been at the church. The pastor threatened us with embarrassment if we tried anything or came back. That night in Youth Group, the teens were told we left without saying goodbye and how we only taught them lies. The church was told similar things. It was praised from the pulpit that we were gone.
Afterwards, I was blackballed. There was no place for me in the community and so my wife and I (in a span of about 3-4 weeks) moved out of state. We had no idea what God was doing. Yet, a year has passed. Many tears were shed and hearts broke and questioning God’s moving was not uncommon. Yet, I would like to share with you some lessons God taught me in leaving a King James Only church.
A 2 Timothy 2:15 Attitude
As various candidates and speakers came into the church, I heard many messages. However, when pastors would say something that hit me funny, I would go back to the Bible and search out to see if it was true. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 would be a constant theme in my life during this time. “True christians will not struggle with depression, because Jesus is the light of the world.” Statements like these caused me to remember 2 Timothy and work out what the Bible said. Paul commands us to take up the Scriptures and know them for ourselves so we will not be deceived. One of Paul’s “mountains to die on” in his letters (and for other New Testament writers) is knowing false teaching and running from it in order to stay true to the doctrine of Christ. This is a 2 Timothy 2:15 attitude. Pleasant faces in the pulpit can be an excellent mask for unbiblical teaching.
Chosen Ignorance is Not Bliss
“We just want a King James guy.” This statement circulated the church during the time of searching for a new pastor. Yet, many did not know the implications of such a statement. This reveals a lesson. The people inside the church need deep teaching. A church that only teaches at “the flannel-graph board” will only develop “flannel-graph” Christians. When I began to teach Bible survey, hermeneutics, and apologetics to the teens, I was ridiculed by some and told I was only “showing off my education.” That was far from the truth. Teens who grew up in the church knew about the Bible, but did not know how to use it. They just wanted the Bible and that was it. While that sounds good, it meant if what was taught sounded too deep, then it was to be avoided. The people had a chosen ignorance in studying the Scriptures and knowing how the Scriptures should be used. Instead, they were comfortable with a list of Do’s and Don’ts and their “flannel-graph Bible characters.” Pleasant faces can hide a “flannel-graph” faith that chooses ignorance over fully knowing God’s Word. “Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” Hebrew 5:13-14
Standing as a Soldier
Why do we send soldiers to war? It is because of this idea and truth of freedom. The same is for Christians being a soldier for Christ. 2 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the commanding officer.” A soldier stands for truth. He states God’s truth and stands by it. He will not waver from what God’s Word says. When I resigned, I had to say some hard truth. Biblically, what the church was believing was heretical (Galatians 1). I could not sit in a pew when God’s word was being used to justify heresy. A soldier stands for his commander. As Christians, we need to stand for our Commander and His Word when it is being abused in churches. It does produce suffering, but it is better to have the smile of Jesus than the plastic smiles of men which melts quickly. When standing for truth, pleasant faces can turn to scorn. Yet, we look towards the pleasant face of our Savior.
Pushing Away from the Dock
Growing up on the Great Lakes, I have been out on boats many times. It is exciting (and a bit nervous) climbing into a boat and going out on the lake. You never know what is going to happen. You take that step off the dock into a small vessel and push off from the dock. Soon, water surrounds you. You only go where the boat takes you and you trust the captain that he knows the waters.
This is the hardest lesson. I never got to say goodbye to the teens, and I knew what was being said to them. I knew what was being taught. It broke my heart to leave them in that church. It was not the back-stabbing that caused the most pain. It was knowing the teens God entrusted to me were still inside that church. Yet, God’s Word clearly said I had to depart from false teaching. I had to step off the dock and into the boat He prepared for us. God pushed us away from the dock and moved us. It is very hard not to look back and want to go back. Yet, God moved us to a new location and a new place where we could heal, grow, and learn. It is lesson that is an ongoing process. We have to let go of the dock and go where God takes us. That church was like a family to me, but their pleasant faces revealed the truth that it was time to go and follow God more than being comfortable in a church. “You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.” (Psalm 16:11) Following God means pushing away from the dock, forgetting the false pleasant masks, and finding the joy He gives each step of the way.
And We Follow…
A statement… A letter… God’s Moving. He did bring us to a place where He wants us and we see Him growing us and preparing us for future adventures. It is not easy to sometimes be in the liminal space, but when it is the place where we still see God moving we follow.
These four lessons are key. We need to learn them as we interact with churches and fellow Christians. When we look behind the “pleasant faces” that mask false teaching, we see the truth when we know God’s Word. However, when we push through that crowd, we see the pleasant face of our Savior who gave His life for us, gave His Word to us, and prepared a path for us. It is our choice if we will take His Word and follow His path… Even if that means leaving a pew.
Then in fellowship sweet
We will sit at His feet
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way
What He says we will do
Where He sends we will go
Only trust and obey