But at those meetings the pastor said that the greatest favor that could be done to the church and to him is that if at any point he or the pastors stopped preaching the Gospel; if at any point the church went astray and Jesus was not really the focus; that the best thing people could do for the church would be to simply leave.
Fast forward six years later and what if that were to happen? What if people who have been faithfully serving and giving in just such a church decide they will no longer be part of that church and no longer be members? Would this be seen as a sign that people remembered the injunction from the pastor or as a sign of being divisive? To be sure some people always leave churches because of personal animosities and personal grudges. It can be easy to dismiss those people as deserters who are not on mission with Jesus.
But does that mean that's the only explanation? What if the church itself has stopped being about Jesus or has created a surreptitious gospel of works while ostensibly preaching grace? If love for neighbor is our aim do we err in attempting to define our neighbor on terms that allow us to shun or dissociate with brothers and sisters in Christ?
This particular pastor used to joke that he didn't like any of the churches around him so he thought he'd start one that he did like. Now it seems as though people who disagreed with decisions this pastor made are trekking out in the same spirit and attempting to make a church of some kind that they think is actually in the Bible, whether it's avoiding calling the thing a church or avoiding saying that those who are leading within such a splinter group are pastors. It's still just as silly in as much as that they have left in the same spirit in which the enterprise they joined began, and it isn't even as effective and may not be a thing that amounts to anything.
Upon the rock Jesus built His church. We can recognize it where we find it and build on that or we can build our own idea of the church. This isn't just a matter of denominationalism but of recognizing the spirit of the Lord at work where we are at and recognizing that that work is what constitutes the Church and not JUST (though it does not by any means exclude) what visible markers of community may exist.
Right now I would have to say that the people who are leaving who go to other churches have the right idea. The people who have left who wwant to reshape or re-engineer things to create what they consider to be the "real" church, those people are walking into a delusion. It isn't a delusion about Christ Himself but a delusion about their ability to not repeat the foolishness of previous generations. I've seen the house church and alternatives to "organized" religion do their thing. The problem is that the problem there is essentially the same as the problem those who have left claim is inherent to the place they left, no accountability. Equally bad is no sense of actual mission that applies to anything beyond an attempt to define yourself by what you're not more than by what you are.
On the other side of the gulf is a presupposition that people are doing the Lord's work even if they may be building a legacy that is merely their own and not Christ's. Come to think of it, both sides are guilty of making their own legacy equivalent to the legacy of Christ. What is strange is that what they are able to see so clearly in the other they cannot see in themselves and it's pathetic. Both sides have been part of a desire to fashion a legacy that is the legacy of self and not necessarily just Christ. It is not something so simple as being wholly wrong as having a mixture and not recognizing that mixture. Watching our lives and doctrines closely is not so that we avoid the surprise of suddenly being heretics but so that we can recognize when we don't live by the Gospel we received and recognize when we have corrupted grace into a form of works, where we seek the signs that grace is at work rather than trust that grace is effective.