Changing churches: How clerics, members react to departures

Gabriel Osu

For some reasons, members may decide to leave the church, where they have been worshipping for another. The reaction to such happening varies from one church to another. But ideally, how should churches and other members view and take the departure of fellow members to another church? Should they be regarded as enemies on account of this? CHRIS IREKAMBA and ISAAC TAIWO report.

‘If Relocating Is For Spiritual Growth, It Ought Not To Create Negative Reactions’
(Most Rev. Emmanuel A.S. Egbunu, Bishop of Lokoja Diocese/Archbishop of Lokoja Province, Kogi State, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion)

Church is the body of Christ in its visible and invisible expressions. It is an institution, whose membership consists of all that have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, saved through Him and is, therefore, members of His one family. The Church has ethics and acceptable behaviour, based on teachings of the Bible. The Church’s leadership teaches and guards this lifestyle, encouraging and empowering members to keep the pattern. There are disciplinary measures for those who deviate and do things that could bring scandal to the Church or dishonour God’s name. When recognised leadership does not apply such discipline, then the congregation or denomination is exposed to God’s judgment. People have different reasons for holding membership of a particular local assembly or parish. So, why do people leave one place of worship for another? There are various reasons: marriage is a common reason, especially for women. Another reason is when some people become more aware of need for spiritual nourishment and growth. They tend to relocate where they feel better nourished. Take music in the Church, for instance: while some feel deeply inspired by well composed and timeless hymns in beautiful poetry, accompanied by skilful musicians, some others feel more at home with contemporary and local compositions, and worship God in their own way. A critical factor that should be a guiding principle should be whether the new place has a high view of God’s Word, taking it seriously and not offering a licence for sin, which goes against God’s will. In essence, if the reason for relocating is spiritual growth and nourishment, it ought not to create negative reactions. Sadly, some people also relocate when they are rebuked or placed under discipline for unacceptable Christian behaviour. What should be the right response when people we love decide to change their place of worship? If, by mature understanding, such a move is likely to endanger the person concerned, then guardians in that person’s life should show serious, but loving concern. Changing place of worship should not warrant evil prayers. In any case, God that answers prayers knows what to answer or not, His will being the yardstick. Naturally, of course, the loss of company, and the ‘sheep-stealing’ whereby someone who is a financial backbone in one place is snatched by the cunning and wooing that has replaced true evangelism, can bruise feelings. But the Lord of the Church will never sanction evil words or prayers as a means of winning others back.

‘No Real Church Leader Should See His Former Member As An Enemy Because He/She Left The Church’
(Baba Aladura, Elder (Dr.) Israel Akinadewo, Secretary, Christian Association of Nigeria, Lagos State/ Prelate, Motailatu Church, Cherubim and Seraphim, Worldwide)

THERE should be no crime as far as freedom of worship is concerned. I think the Church’s division into several denominations has given rise to this issue. Jesus Christ came to establish only one Church. Christ is the Head of this Church. If someone decides to leave any Church, as far as I am concerned, he has not done anything wrong. One may not even know if the leaving of that individual will help the Church spiritually, as one may not know what may be pushing him/her away.

No real church leader should see his former member as an enemy, simply because he or she left the church. To me, it may be because the Church leader does not know what the Church stands for. There is no division in Heaven. We have only one body of Christ. Wherever the person goes, as far as they are preaching the Word of God, there is no problem.

Nobody is a miracle worker. Even if any Church leader performs a miracle in the life of anyone and the person decides to leave, he or she has not committed any sin. It is God that performs miracles. I would not look at it from that perspective. I cannot force anyone to stay in the Church, if he/she decides to leave. God can use anyone to perform miracle, but the person should know that God is the only miracle worker. No one goes into agreement with God before God performs miracles.

‘So Far The Person Has Not Renounced Christ, He/She Should Not Be Treated As An Enemy’
(Very Rev. Msgr. Gabriel Osu, Director, Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos)

THE body of Christ is one, be it Catholic, Anglican, Apostolic, Methodist, etc. as long as we confess the same risen Christ, Who died for mankind’s salvation. The difference is the way and manner of worship and how we profess our faith. However, we all know that not all ‘Churches’ are genuine. We now have situations whereby strange persons just wake up from sleep and claim to be called by God.  Those are mere business centres.

Ordinarily, there should not be any form of competition in the Church, since we are all working for the salvation of our souls and the good of humanity. When a member of a Church relocates to another place of worship, it may suggest that such a person is in search of deeper spirituality. Sometimes too, it could be as a result of change of residency or even family decision. When this happens, depending on his or her level of commitment to the former Church, it may attract the attention of fellow worshipers, who may wish to know reasons for the change. Through dialogue borne out of deep love and concern, things can be ironed out amicably or even brought to the attention of the priest for his input. If such a member remains adamant, no one should stop him forcefully against his will, since he acted on his personal conviction and so far as he has not renounced the rising Christ. Such a person should not be treated as an enemy. Rather, we should pray for him always for God to touch him so that he can have a rethink.

We must always respect and accommodate one another, since we are all creatures of the same God. It should not be a situation of ‘we and them.’ In the Catholic Church, for instance, there is what we call ecumenism (since the Second Vatican Council of 1961 to 1965), which refers to activities and initiatives geared at promoting mutual understanding and, ultimately, unity among all Christians. Jesus Christ founded only one Church at Pentecost. The Catholic Church is that one Church because she has followed the apostolic traditions passed down from Christ to his Bride, the Church. Our prayer and effort is aimed at dispelling the divisions that separate us, so that we can all be one as Christ prayed (Jn. 17: 21). The Church does not segregate, rather, we open wide our doors to all and sundry because Jesus does not discriminate. All forms of stigmatisation or victimisation in the house of God should not be allowed. We should always spread the message of love and peace to all mankind, irrespective of religion, tribe or clan. Remember the parable of the good Samarian, where Christ taught us not to discriminate but to show love and compassion to all. (Luke 10: 25-37) Who is man to judge? ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.’ (Matthew 25: 41) Those are the words of Christ. We must respect them and abide with them.

‘God May Even Need The Fellow’s Services And Gifts In The New Church’
(Pastor Ezekiel Joel, General Overseer, Full Salvation Believers’ Assembly Int’l, Nnewi, Anambra State)

THE issues raised here are very grievous, and the ugly attitude under reference runs against the spirit and character of the entire New Testament. Let it be known that God is aware of, and in support of proliferation of churches. He wants to give everyone an opportunity to be saved and prepared for Heaven. If it’s only one particular church denomination, there are few who may have one or two myopic reasons they are uncomfortable with that church, and as such, may not want to get saved, especially when prodded by Satan. But, with different and many churches, old and new, such excuses may not be tenable. In the light of what Christ Jesus, the Owner of the church has said in Mark 9:38-40, it is wrong, and unscriptural to regard anyone who is genuinely led of God to go and join another church, as a backsliders or as an enemy. God may even need the fellow’s services and gifts in the new church. It’s ungodly to pray evil prayers of any type against such a member. To pray such evil prayers is what someone has dubbed “Pentecostal Witchcraft!” Christ would not do such a thing. To regard a former church member as an outcast or one with whom we should not have any dealings or associations, whatsoever, is incongruous with the character of the New Testament and Holy Spirit. That can only happen, either if that ex-member veered off into syncretism or outright verifiable occult practices, or if the church he is coming out of is a cult, masquerading as a church of Christ. We have a lot to learn from the great and inspired Apostle Paul, whose life exemplified the mind and Spirit of Christ, as recorded in Philippians 1:14-18; Col. 4:10; 1 Corinth.11: 1. No New Testament believer, heading to Heaven, and who has the mind of Christ should engage in any of the things referred to in this discourse. It’s uncalled for. It doesn’t glorify Christ.

‘The Usual Approach Is To Discuss With The Departing Brethren, Not To Offer Evil Prayers’
(Rev. Francis Ejiroghene Waive, General Overseer, Fresh Anointing Missionary Ministries Inc/Senior Pastor, Church Of The Anointing, Warri, Delta State)

TODAY that churches are everywhere, it is a common phenomenon for church members to change their place of worship. However, serious Christians or true worshippers don’t change churches like miracle seekers do. If the miracles are no longer being manufactured, those who came for miracles leave the church and such churches are known to rain curses.  Where the change of church occurs due to doctrinal issues, the usual approach is to discuss with the departing brethren the scriptural position. This is normally rancour-free with the intention of saving souls. When discussion fails, the departing brethren are free to go. And the prayers will be that they should be restored to truth. However, changing churches could be as a result of discipline meted on an erring member. Years ago, we used to suspend brethren who yielded to grievous sins, thereby bringing reproach to the body of Christ. In those days, brethren became penitent and repentant and were soon restored to fellowship. Not so anymore. They simply change churches and continue in their sinful ways and their new host churches receive them with open arms. The result? A society where there is no difference in conduct between church members and non-members. 

But in none of these situations are we to lose our sanctification, declare enmity or pray against the departing brethren. Apostle Paul only admonished the church not to associate with a wilful sinning member, so as not to appear approving of his iniquity.  Most church changes today are, however, social in nature. Many people like churches that are in vogue, big, modern, tolerant, tribal and economically supporting, etc. You can only pray that such persons eventually come to the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

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