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Is there an orderly and biblical way for members of a local church to resolve conflict? If it pertains to doctrine, is there a procedure available to implement corrections? When individuals become disgruntled with their church should they leave? Does the Assemblies of God believe there is ever a time or circumstance where believers should look for a new church? If an individual were to leave a church, is there a biblical and ethical way to leave?
Church problems existed even in the first-century Church, so it is not surprising that todays Church, which is still not perfect, would have its problems. People become dissatisfied with the way church leadership spends money, with a youth program which doesnt meet the needs of their children, with the style of worship or preaching, with teaching that seems unscriptural, and so on. Sometimes a problem exists between members who disagree on everything that happens in the church. Paul had to reprimand two ladies in the church at Philippi. "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord" (Phil. 4:2). These were not just marginal troublemakers who had cantankerous spirits. They had both worked at Pauls side in the cause of the gospel.
Trouble and disagreement seem inevitable in any human situation, even in a church populated by humans in the process of becoming Christlike. Satan, who seeks to discredit Gods work wherever he can, delights in raising occasions for friction and disagreement right in the church body. This is reality even though the Bible urges all believers to work together in unity (Eph. 4:3,13), to be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32), and to show equal respect to all who come into the congregation (James 2:1-9).
When church problems arise and seemingly come to the point of having no solution, what should a Christian do? The first step is severe self-evaluation. If the dissatisfied person is in any way responsible for the problem, and leaves the church, the problem will go along, only to break out in another form in the new situation. A time at the altar, sincerely seeking the Lords direction on what can be changed in ones own life is essential, even if the problem seems to have been initiated by another party.
After one has passed the "inner-spirit check," with no solution becoming evident–remembering all the time that God desires unity among His children–one must then look toward ways in which the Holy Spirit can use him or her to deal with and resolve the problem. With a gentle spirit, nurtured through extended prayer, and possibly fasting, one might then speak with the one or ones who are part of the problem. This step fulfills the instruction of Scripture: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church" (Matt. 18:15-17). Hopefully, by this time, with each party seeking the unity of the Spirit, there will be some resolution.
But human nature being what it is, and with Satan busily at work trying to keep unity from becoming a reality, one may actually have to separate from the congregation and seek to identify with a group devoted to God and His Word. Unfortunately, some Christians have left unpleasant situations which should have been dealt with according to Matthew 18, only to see later that the remaining members of the congregation followed after false leadership that led the congregation into spiritual ruin. There may even be times when mature denominational leadership should be called in to deal with unhealthy situations. An objective outside voice, sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, can often cut through pettiness that causes major church problems.
But what if, after carefully following all the above steps, the option of withdrawal seems to be the only alternative? Before leaving a church, one should always talk privately with the pastor, or communicate by a carefully worded letter. A kind contact with others who are a part of the problem or a part of the solution might also be appropriate. The purpose of these contacts is not to speak the last word in a disagreement, but to make sure that good will and understanding are key elements in the separation. All information and reasons should be accurate, and ones attitude must be right at the time of leaving. The departure should be without bitterness or resentment. To carry ill will in the separation means a continuing battle in ones own spirit will also go along. One should meticulously avoid trying to influence others to leave the church. Nor should one speak ill of the former church when becoming part of the next church.
Just to speak about the possibility of needing to leave a church is dangerous. There are too many who change churches, or drop out entirely, because of minor disagreements or dissatisfaction. Such people are sometimes derogatorily referred to as church tramps. The unity of the Body, however, should always be the primary concern of all persons involved if and when a move seems to be necessary.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.