Discipline: Holy division

by Jay Guin

I need to address a difficult topic. Sometimes people divide a church for good reason. What if the leadership of the church does not require the members to have a genuine faith in Jesus? (Faith) What do you do if the leadership of a church is eaten up with the Galatian heresy and insists on damning those they disagree with on all manner of topics? (Hope) What do you do if the leadership of the church has no love for the lost or needy? (Love)

Each of these kinds of problems strikes at the heart of the gospel. These are not like disputes over the color of the foyer, the song selection, or even whether to use instruments. These are disputes over whether the church will honor the truth — the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In such a case, it seems to me that the first order of business is found in some of the passages earlier quoted, such as —

(2 Tim. 2:25-26) Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Remember, “truth” refers to the gospel.

(Matt. 18:15-17) “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; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

I don’t think a family who sees these sins in the church’s leadership should just quietly slip out the door. If the problem is severe enough to leave over, it’s severe enough to meet with the leadership and lovingly point out the problem. It may be a futile gesture, but leaving without giving a reason is certainly not going to change the minds of those left behind.

If the leadership refuses to change, I counsel my friends who get caught in such a circumstance along these lines —

  • If there’s a chance that staying will help change things, stay.
  • But if it’s futile to stay, leave.
  • And even if you think you might change things down the road by staying, don’t allow your children to lose their faith in and zeal for Jesus by staying too long. Nothing is worth the faith of your own children.

These aren’t absolute rules. I can see where a family might need to leave to be immediately productive in their ministry for Christ elsewhere. We are called to ministry, but turning a congregation around may not be your ministry. You may better serve the Lord where you can participate in missions or work with the homeless. It’s a judgment call — with the decision to be made in Kingdom terms: what’s best for God’s Kingdom?

However, in such a case, it’s often better to join with another existing church rather than forming a new church. It’s not always possible, of course, but I think the Kingdom is normally better served by one 500-member church rather than four 125-member churches.

Again, it’s not possible to lay down hard and fast rules, other than to say the decision needs to be about what’s best for the Kingdom, a Kingdom where unity is of the essence.

Explore posts in the same categories: Apostasy

4 Comments on “Discipline: Holy division”

  1. Addressing the eldership of a congregation is very difficult as seen through the lens of 1 Timothy 5:19 and the fact that most congregants don’t wish to “buck the system” even when they know the leadership to be wrong. Because “experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed” (Decliration of Independence, July 4, 1776).

    I handled a situation much like you have suggested and it does seem to be better for the Kingdom. when faced with a leadership problem that just would not change to do what was right, I made the choice to move my family and did just as you suggest. Without making accusations (because no one would address the elders with me), I gave the leadership very specific reasons for our leaving that membership and why, in good conscience, I could not keep my family under there leadership. I believe it was not my ministry to “fix” the problems of that congregation and now several years later it seems that recovery has been made at that congregation. I could not imagine the shape my family woud be in if we had remained.

  2. Jay Guin Says:


    Thanks for the story. One gentle meeting with the elders may not change their minds. But if all those who feel compelled to leave lovingly explain their concerns, sometimes change will happen. Slipping out the backdoor without a word just leaves them guessing.

  3. Thank you for your response. I was rereading what I had written above and wanted to clarify something. My statement, “because no one would address the elders with me” in no way implies that I searched out people to oppose the leadership. It is just a statement of fact that because there was not a second witness that was willing to go with me, I did not entertain any accusations towards the eldership. I believe searching out witnesses to oppose a leadership is very detrimental for the seeker and the congregation.

    Thank you once again to all the men that have taken time and effort to discuss the very relevant topics covered in this conversation. I stand in awe at how much content can be produced with accuracy and love and those men still carry on an active family and work life as well as serve in there home congregations.

    Blessings to all, this has been a blessing to me.

    Steve Valentine

  4. samuel Says:

    I recently faced with a similar situation in the congregation i worship, where in the absence of elders, the preacher took upon himself to be the head. I tried to no avail to convince him to cahnge his mind

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