By Dr Paul M Elliott
Part 12 of a series. Read part 11
In our current series we’ve been addressing these questions: “My church is no longer true to the Word of God on essential Christian truths. What should I do? Should I leave? Should I stay and try to fight error? Will I be guilty of schism if I do either one?”
Presently we’re dealing with some of the un-Biblical responses that are common today. In this installment we focus on the untenable position of those who say that there is safety in remaining in a larger church or denomination despite its errors, rather than becoming part of the remnant that comes out and separates from apostasy. Today many Evangelical and Reformed church-goers believe it is safer to remain on a large but apostate sinking ship, rather than trust their lives to the safety of a small but sound Gospel lifeboat.1
The Safety of a Large But Sinking Ship?
Today, bigness is what matters to many Evangelical and Reformed church-goers. It seems that many will tolerate almost any sort of departure from the Word of God in order to remain identified with a sizeable denomination, a mega-church, or a mass movement. This mindset can be spiritually fatal.
On the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic, the largest ship afloat — of which it was said, “Even God could not sink this ship” — struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Within a few hours she sank in 12,000 feet of water, taking 1,507 people to their deaths. There were not enough lifeboats to carry all the people on board, but most of the boats that were provided pulled away from the sinking ship only partially loaded.
Why was this? It was because many of the people who perished believed it was safer to remain on the large but mortally wounded ship, rather than trust their lives to the safety of a small but sound lifeboat.
It is not overly dramatic to say that the people of denominations, mega-churches, and movements that have let the truth slip from their grasp — if they ever did grasp it — face a similar decision in the spiritual realm. The Holy Spirit plainly tells us that the issue is spiritual life and death. It is the worst kind of folly to assume that a church or denomination is “spiritually unsinkable” or that there is safety in size or numbers. There is safety only in the truth, and that truth is found in Jesus Christ and His Word alone.
Where is Your Trust?
Is your trust in numbers, or size, or is it in the one true and living God? The Pharisee and Sadducees of Jesus’ days on earth put their trust in the mammoth temple erected by Herod, rather than heed the One who said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:13-22).
The size of a church is not a valid starting point for any discussion of spiritual things. Neither are its godly history or heritage, if that heritage has been abandoned by the present generation. Unity in the truth is the only proper starting point, and the numbers, large or small, are God’s doing. A church, large or small, has no valid reason to even exist, if it is not true to the Word of God and does not preach the one true Gospel. That is the one thing that counts with God. Are you willing to trust His Word?
God Deals in Remnants
The pattern that we see through all of Scripture is a remnant, a strait gate, a narrow way, and few finding it. It is significant that the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry discussed this very thing in connection with false teachers:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:13-23).
In his day, Elijah thought he was alone in remaining true to God, but the Lord assured him that He had reserved seven thousand in Israel — out of millions — who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:13-18). On the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached powerfully, “Be saved from this perverse generation,” just three thousand souls — out of a million or more from all corners of the world who were in Jerusalem for the feast — responded to the call (Acts 2:40-41). The pattern throughout Scripture is that of God accomplishing His work through remnants that are numerically insignificant to the worldly mind.
What Will You Do?
Is your church a spiritual Titanic? Don’t be afraid to leave the mortally wounded ship. Fellowship in the authoritative Word and in the true Gospel, mutual accountability before God in doctrine and in life — these are the things that matter to the Lord of the Church, who says that where even two or three are gathered in His name, and on that basis (Matthew 18:15-20), He is in their midst.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. (Psalm 2:11-12)
1. Material in this article is adapted from Christianity and Neo-Liberalism by Paul M. Elliott (The Trinity Foundation, 2005), pages 360-362.
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