Leaving the church means leaving Christ

Donald Miller has written a lengthy follow-up to his original post explaining why he has left the church (to which I responded yesterday). In this second posting, he doubles down on his original position that Christians need not involve themselves in a local church. They can attend if they want, if it helps them. But it is not necessary. It is certainly not a norm that should be imposed on all Christians everywhere.

Because Miller’s essay is so long (over 3,000 words!), I will not attempt a point-by-point rebuttal. Nevertheless, a response is in order since he takes issue with my contention that leaving the church is “spiritual suicide.” Under point #8, He writes:

One twitter comment said by leaving the church I was committing spiritual suicide. I read that comment to a friend (a nationally known, strong Christian leader who does not attend church but doesn’t talk about it) and both of us were taken aback.

Do people really believe there’s no spiritual life, no walk with Jesus, no community and no love outside a Sunday morning worship service? For those who’ve never taken a break from church, this will be a hard one. But I assure you, He’s alive and well and happy and working both inside and outside the traditional church. He’s going places many of us are unwilling to go, or perhaps scared to go. He exists outside our worldly tribes, even if those worldly tribes are labeled as a local church.

When I called leaving the church “spiritual suicide,” I wasn’t trying to be hyperbolic or cute. I really do believe that to walk away from the church is to walk away from Jesus. Miller says that he is a follower of Jesus. Yet the spirit of Jesus breathed out these words about those who leave the church:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” -1 John 2:19

The spirit of Jesus says that leaving the local church reveals one’s true spiritual condition. The one who leaves is at best one who is Christian in name only. His leaving reveals that he was never really a bona fide follower of Jesus.

To be sure, being a disciple of Jesus in a church involves much more that attending a weekly meeting. But biblically speaking, it cannot involve less than that. Miller has adopted a practice that involves no regular gathering of God’s people, no preaching of the word, no breaking of bread or baptism, no discipline or accountability. In other words, it is a norm that does not conform at all to what the Bible teaches us about our lives together in Christ (see my previous post).

So the question we have to ask ourselves is this. Who are we going to believe? Do we believe Donald Miller’s revision that has no precedent in scripture or in the 2,000-year history of the Christian church? Or do we believe the spirit of Jesus speaking to us in scripture?

I agree that spirit of God is at work both inside and outside of the church. But it does not follow from that fact that God makes no distinction between the church and the world. In fact, Jesus specifically prayed that his church would be in the world, not of the world, for the sake of the world (John 17:15-21). That means that even though the church exists in the world, it is a community that stands apart. In its gathering, its fellowship, its preaching, its discipline; in all these ways it is a counterculture bearing witness to another kingdom. It is not clear that the church stands apart at all in Miller’s formulation. A church this inconspicuous bears witness to nothing. That is why his formulation is disastrous in terms of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Miller reveals that he is not the only famous Christian leader who no longer attends church. He says that he’s just the only one who’s willing to admit it. Forsaking the church is an open secret among a certain class of so-called Christian leaders. I do not mean to be unnecessarily divisive or caustic in what I am about to say. I say it with all the seriousness and sobriety that I can muster. Forsaking the church is a grave error. Leaders who have forsaken the church are at best “Christian” in name only. Leaving the church reveals more about them than their book contracts, the conferences they headline, the adulation of their followers, or their reputation as a “Christian” leader.

We are not playing games here. Leaving the church means leaving Christ. And that is true no matter who you are or what your learning style is.

85 Responses to Leaving the church means leaving Christ

  1. Kevin Hash February 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    “If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the Church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world!
    As I have already said, the Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers. The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.” Spurgeon

    • Ben Klar (@BenKlar) February 5, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

      That is a good word, Kevin.

      Denny, thank you for the seriousness and wisdom you have brought to such a relevant and important topic. Being a Millennial who is also a pastor, I hope many Christians in my generation will heed the vital nature of church. The church is not an optional social/political/religious gathering to be associated with at one’s leisure. Rather, it is the strict commandment of our Lord…for our benefit and His glory.

  2. Richard Caldwell February 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

    I am thankful for your faithfulness on this topic. The scriptures are clear.

  3. Matt Martin February 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    From Don Millers post:
    “This blog will likely be misquoted, mischaracterized and parsed in an effort to demonize. ”

    Enter Denny Burk.

    • Griffin Gulledge February 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      Ha! I saw that too. Thought it was hilarious. Way to preempt the attacks you’re going to get after making a terrible argument.

    • Jon Hall February 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

      Mr. Martin – Care to quote any particular misquote, mischaracterization and parsing or is just the fly-by good enough in your eyes?

      • Matt Martin February 5, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

        Denny said:
        “Miller has adopted a practice that involves no regular gathering of God’s people, no preaching of the word, no breaking of bread or baptism, no discipline or accountability.”

        Denny is mischaracterizing Don Miller by suggesting that he doesn’t do this on a regular basis. Denny has no idea if Miller is in an accountability group – or breaks bread – or gathers regularly with christian friends for encouragement, etc…None of this requires church. It’s kind of a jerk move on Denny’s part.

        • Jon Hall February 5, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

          I see… so Don Miller does church, but on his own terms… got it.

        • David Powell February 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

          There’s more to a church than just fellowship/accountability. There is the standard practice of discipleship, the outreach of evangelism, the unified mindset along embrace the call of the Great Commission in missions, etc. Church is not just a spiritual counseling/self-help group. That’s a little part of it, but there is so, so much more.

          • Matt Martin February 6, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

            And how do you know that Don Miller is not discipling anyone or being discipled? How do you know he is not sharing the gospel with individuals he meets on a daily basis – either through actions or words? How do you know he’s not unified with a small group of believers? How do you know he’s not involved with missions or gives money to mission organizations?

            • David Powell February 6, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

              Because he volunteers that he rarely goes to church. It’s a pretty short trot.

              • Matt Martin February 6, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

                Wrong. He volunteers that he rarely attends a church SERVICE.

                As you stated, church is so much more. Read his blog and you’ll find that he is involved with all of the above.

    • rongm62 February 7, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

      I thought it was a fair critique, and wouldn’t say he demonized him.

  4. Reg February 5, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    I can only speak for myself , but I walked away from the Church years ago thinking I could be a “Christian” and flourish with me , my Bible and a tree to sit under. It started good , feeling confident I settled into this new life . However over time , and it was a very slow drift my heart began to wonder , to grow cold and then my flesh , the world and the Devil began to take sway . Without going into details , I was in a mess and it took a crying out to God to break my heart , change my cold attitude , drive me to my knees and return a love for Christ’s Church. Which he did through a serious illness with my wife . We now she it as a true blessing because it brought healing , restoration and now I have a Church to call home. Its flawed , full of broken sinners in need of grace but I love her and I know Jesus loves her , bled for her and one day will come for his bride. So how can one not love his Church and want to join with others in community to worship. Lone ranger Christians are deluded and I will tell any who will listen , to walk away from Church is be unfaithful to our Lord Jesus .

  5. A. Amos Love February 5, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    Denny

    You write… “Leaving the church means leaving Christ.”

    Was wondering….
    Which church are WE, His Ekklesia, His Body, His Sheep, talking about?
    The Church of God? – Or – the church of man?

    I love The Ekklesia of God. WE, His Church, His Body, His Bride, His Sheep…

    But – I’m NOT so fond of “the church of man.” Built on the Doctrines of Man and Traditions of Man. The 501 (c) 3, non-profit, Tax $ Deductible, Religious $ Corporation, the IRS calls church.

    Should WE, His Bride, His sheep, His Disciples call an IRS Corporation…
    The Church of God? – NO – But that’s what “WE,” His Ekklesia, His Bride, does…
    Sunday Mornings, when WE, His Body, His Church, say WE “Go to Church.”

    And I can NOT seem to find “Local Church” in my antiquated KJV.
    Are those who are a part of – the church of man – allowed to add to the scriptures?

    What is popular is NOT always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is NOT always popular.

    • Melody Mariner February 6, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

      If you cannot love and submit to each other then you are fooling no one including Jesus that you love Him. He said it. No loop hole,no alternative ways of showing your love for for God. You have to love and serve all the people you deem unworthy. Feeling warm fuzzies while building a company isn’t going to cut it.

      • A. Amos Love February 6, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

        Hi Melody

        I do NOT know if you were writing to me, Amos.
        If you were, I do NOT understand what you are saying.
        Could you please try again?

        Thanks

        • mel mariner (@mmellmmar) February 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

          My guess is that my iphone put my comment here when I meant for it somewhere else. My comment stands alone. Since we are talking about believers as the “we” then pulling all that other stuff into it to confuse everything is just a way of deflecting from the command to love and serve. Sorry that you are confused about that because it is even in that KJV that the Mormons and Jehovah WItnesses are so fond of because it is easier to manipulate people when they don’t really understand what they are reading.

      • Mike Gantt February 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

        Melody,

        Assuming A. Amos Love began his walk with Christ the same way most Evangelicals do – by submitting to Christ – how is he to continue his walk with Christ by submitting to someone else?

        And, if he is to submit to someone else, who is that someone else to be? And if A. Amos Love is the one who gets to choose whom it will be, how is A. Amos Love in submission?

        May I also ask if you are still in submission to the first person to whom you became submitted in the name of Christ? Another way of asking this is, have you ever changed churches? If so, how is that being in submission?

        • A. Amos Love February 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

          Mike

          I’m NOT sure what’s going on…
          BUT, I do like your questions about submission. ;-)

  6. A. Amos Love February 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    Denny

    Jesus warned “WE,” His Ekklesia, His Bride, His Body, His Disciples, about – Commandments of men, Doctrines of men, Traditions of men, that Make Void, Nullify, Cancel out, The Word of God.

    Mark 7:13
    NLT
    – you “cancel” the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition.
    KJV – Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition…
    ASV – Making “void” the word of God by your tradition…
    NIV – Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition…

    After leaving “the IRS corporation church,” I never left Jesus, I never left His Body, I printed out every verse with the word church, ekklesia. Read them, and re-read them, over and over again. Wanted to know what this word ekklesia means and how it’s used in the Bible.

    I had a rude awakening…
    Seems, most I’ve what I was taught by those who called themselves “church leaders,” about “church” was Tradtions of Man – And NOT in the Bible.
    (“church leaders,” – another term NOT in the Bible,)

    For anyone searching the scriptures for what “church,” “ekklesia,” means …
    You might want to ask these questions as you search…

    In the Bible – Did any of His Disciples?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Go to* Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Join* a Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Lead* a Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Plant* a Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Attend* a Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Tithe* to a Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Apply for Membership* in a Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Call themselves Leader* in a Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Build, or buy, a building* called Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – *Give silver, gold, or money* to a Church?
    Did any of His Disciples? – Become, Paid, Professional, Pastors, in a Church?
    Paid, Professional, Pastors – in Pulpits – Preaching – to People – in Pews – in a Church? ;-)

    Does that sound like what happens Sunday Morn in the…
    501 (c) 3, non-profit, Tax $ Deductible, Religious $ Corporation, the IRS calls church?

    BUT – Is NOT found in the Bible?

    If – In the Bible?
    Jesus did NOT teach any of His Disciples to do any of these things? –
    And NOT one of His Disciples did any of these things? – In the Bible?

    Why do “WE?”

    Why does His Bride, His Ekklesia, His Called Out Ones, His Servants, His
    Disciples, Continue to Do these Non-Biblical Doctrines of Men?

    Have the “Traditions” taught to us by today’s wanna-be “church leaders”
    Cancel-Out – God’s Word?

    When you believe the lie you start to die…

    • Kristen Wright February 5, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

      Just off the top of my head I can answer yes to a lot of those questions. If you look at Acts and Paul’s epistles, you see people having church, leading church, giving money to the church. Paul often mentions taking donations from one church to another. Prisca and Aquila had a church in their home. If you can’t find most of those aspects of church in the bible you aren’t looking to hard.

    • A. Amos Love February 6, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      You write…
      “Just off the top of my head I can answer yes to a lot of those questions.”
      And, you could be right when you say – “you aren’t looking to hard.”

      You also say, “you see people having church, leading church…” But – In the Bible, I can NOT find one of His Disciples “leading church.” And – In the Bible, I can NOT find one of His Disciples who called themself “leader.”

      Maybe you could help?
      For the questions, “off the top of my head,” you can answer yes to?
      And, for those people you see “leading church?”
      Can you show me where they can be found? Iin the Bible?
      I cudda missed them. ;-)

      And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
      them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
      and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
      John 10:16

      One Voice – One Fold – One Shepherd – One Leader

      {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

      • David Powell February 6, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

        As to my reply to your first set of concerns, you would do well to figure out the relationship to Jesus’ disciples (apostles) and the churches that would follow (and the Christians in them).

        Hint: Disciple ==> Christian. In our day, Disciple = Christian.

        • A. Amos Love February 6, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

          David

          I do NOT know if you were writing to me, Amos.
          If you were, I do NOT understand what you are saying.
          Could you please try again?

          Thanks

          • David Powell February 6, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

            Well, I typed it first, but the prior comment “is awaiting moderation.” So, it should show up just beneath here in a little bit, I guess.

          • A. Amos Love February 6, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

            David

            Thanks for the info.

            There’s a couple of comments of mine in moderation also.

    • David Powell February 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

      -Go? Yes.
      -Join? Yes. (What do you think baptism is?)
      -Lead? Yes.
      -Plant? Yes. (In fact, this is the bulk of what these guys did)
      -Attend? Oh, brother.
      -Tithe? I’ll grant you this one. “Tithe” (a 1/10 offering) is not necessarily a New Testament concept. Rather the complete giving/sharing of everything we have (Acts 2:44;1 John 3:17; 2 Corinthians 8:13-15) is more the New Testament idea.
      -Apply for membership? Again, figure out what baptism and the Body are, and this will alleviate a lot of these questions.
      -Call themselves leaders? I actually can go with you a bit on this one. Matthew 23:8-11 has a lot to say about the brotherhood of believers. But that does not remove the New Testament positions of pastor/elder/overseer/bishop and deacon. Again, I think that we are Christians first and foremost and that “positions” within churches should be subordinate to the brotherhood of believers, but that does not mean that there are not leaders in the church. Go read Romans 14.
      -Build a church building? No, they did things a little differently. People opened up and used their own homes in place of designated “church” buildings. That doesn’t make church buildings awful. It’s just a difference in time and culture. I think churches should do a great deal more fellowship and gathering in one another’s homes, but that has nothing to do with having a place for corporate worship.
      -Give to a church? Yes. Go read Acts 4:32-5:11 and note the comparison of the gifts of Barnabas and Ananias/Sapphira.
      -Professional Pastors? Somewhat. I agree with your underlying point that sometimes it is difficult to maintain the concept of a brotherhood of believers within churches when, in a sense, some are being paid for what they do among the church. And yet you should still check out Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7, 1 Corinthians 9:14, and 1 Timothy 5:17-18. Must a pastor be paid? Not necessarily. But don’t hate on churches just because most of theirs are.

      As I have written elsewhere, less Donald Miller, more Scripture.

      • A. Amos Love February 6, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

        David

        You write…
        “-Lead? Yes.”

        Haven’t you ever wondered? Why? In the Bible?
        Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “leader?”
        For you have “ONE” leader – the Christ.

        And NONE did. Can you name one of His Discipes who called themself “Leader?”
        ALL of “His Disciples” called themselves “Servants.” ;-)

        Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible
        Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
        But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
        Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
        and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

        If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders?” And someone calls them self a “leader?” Or promotes themself as a “leader?” Allows others to call them “leader?”

        Are they one of “His Disciples?”

        Or, just a dis-obedient disciple? ;-)

        • David Powell February 6, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

          The point here is not to reach and grab for titles and insist that everyone around you refer to you with reverential titles like “Leader” or “Teacher.” The point is not, however, that we should neither lead nor teach, seeing as these are each described as gifts from God through the Spirit to all believers…

          Romans 12:6-8 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who TEACHES, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who LEADS, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Sorry for CAPS, but there is no options for italics, bold, or underline)

          The command here is not “Do not teach” or “Do not lead” (or for that matter “Do not be taught” or “Do not be led” ), but rather do not seek to garner for yourself the various titles of blessing, adoration, exaltation that the people of this world lust after. Do not seek the honor of men, but of God.

      • Pastor Luke February 11, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

        A Amos you’re to worried about semantics. Just because the disciples didn’t call themselves leaders doesn’t mean that’s not what they were doing. The fact is, there are plenty stories of them doing just that – leading. Additionally, Paul appoints Timothy to lead a church. And though Timothy may not have been an original 12, he’s still a disciple and is probably very much like a professional pastor.

        Again, just because church buildings hadn’t been built yet doesn’t mean people weren’t meeting as a church somewhere. The church building is irrelevant. it’s what the people are doing when they gather that matters. And they were doing church together with leaders, and offerings and fellowship etc.

        You’re also to worried about whether Jesus and the disciples went to church or not. But remember, the church as we recognize it today was still developing. What was already developed however was the temple and the synagogue. Jesus and His disciples went there often. So, yes, the disciples went to church! They attended synagogue with Jesus. They went to temple with Jesus. They participated in worship with other believes. “Church” is just what we call it today.

        • A. Amos Love February 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

          Pastor Luke

          “And though Timothy may not have been an original 12, he’s still a disciple and is probably very much like a professional pastor.”

          Pretzels

          Timothy is never called a pastor or shepherd.

        • A. Amos Love February 11, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

          Pastor Luke

          Haven’t you ever wondered? Why? In the Bible?
          NOT one of His Disciples called themselves pastor/leader?
          NOT one of His Disciples was, Hired or Fired, as a pastor/leader?

        • A. Amos Love February 11, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

          Pastor Luke

          And Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders”
          For you have “ONE” leader – Jesus. And NONE did.
          All of His Disciples called themselves “Servants.”

          Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible.
          Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
          But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant.”
          Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
          and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

          If someone calls themself leader? Allows others to call them leader?

          Are they one of His Disciples?

          Or, just a dis-obedient Disciple? ;-)

          Why isn’t what jesus said important?

  7. Mike Gantt February 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    There is one case where leaving the church is not spiritual suicide: It is when you leave the church to follow the kingdom of God.

    The kingdom of God – that is, the lordship of Christ – is the pearl of great price. There are all sorts of people committed to the local church who have not been taught to seek the kingdom of God. I do not know where Donald Miller stands, but I do know that the kingdom of God is greater than the local church. This is because the kingdom of God is the one true church.

    Everyone who loves Christ should seek His kingdom. That’s where righteousness and peace and joy can be found. The organized church – that is, the church headed by men – is the house left desolate.

    It is long past time that we should repent and follow Jesus Christ our Lord.

    • David Powell February 5, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

      The Church is the Bride of Christ; the Kingdom of God is not the Church, and it is not the Bride of Christ. The King is coming for His Bride, the Church, to welcome us into the Kingdom. He’s not seeking His Bride + anyone else He might randomly choose at that time. The Church is the fellowship of those who have been baptized into Christ, crucified with Christ, raised with Christ, and united with Christ. That is the ground-level essence of the Church. There are no members of the coming Kingdom who will not also be Christians and members of the Body of Christ, His Church (Mat. 22:11-14; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Col. 1:12-14; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).

      • Mike Gantt February 5, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

        You must not believe Matt 10:23; 16:28; and 24:34. I do.

        • David Powell February 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

          So, Matthew 10:23, a description of the Church out on mission… What does this have to do with your point?

          Matthew 16:28, the foreshadowing of the Transfiguration which the 3 foremost apostles (and future leaders of the Church) observe… What does that have to do with divorcing the Church from the Kingdom?

          Matthew 24:34… Unless you’re a preterist, I don’t even know what point you’re trying to make. All I see there is the closing of Jesus’ description of the end-times, with the salvation of the “elect”/Church in v. 31.

          • Mike Gantt February 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

            The three verses (Matt 10:23; 16:28; 24:34) all prophesy the coming of the kingdom of God in that generation. The NT church was waiting for the kingdom; we don’t have to wait for it. Therefore, to seek man-made church when the kingdom is in our midst is idolatry, just as it was idolatry when the Pharisees and Sadducees preferred animal sacrifice in the temple to serving the King of Kings.

            • David Powell February 6, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

              “On this rock I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.” Those are not the words of man, but God. Case closed.

              • Mike Gantt February 7, 2014 at 6:31 am #

                My sentiments exactly. Therefore, we need to stop building our churches and instead worship at His.

  8. Jayson Rowe February 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    I disagreed with both of Miller’s posts, and I’ve greed with both of your rebuttals. In fact I couldn’t really say it any better. It seems as though he is simply trying to justify not going to church in own mind — perhaps to satisfy some latent guilt…seeking affirmation perhaps. Who knows.

    I *am* curious who these “famous Christian leaders” are.

    I really kind of thought the same way for many years. I grew up in church, I THOUGHT I was a Christian — I grew up in a Christian home — I prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” when I was like 7 or 8 years old. At some point during college, I just quit going to church, and almost without realizing it, I walked further and further away from Christ. Only last year did I start back going to church again. I visited for a special event at a local church, heard a message and felt my heart change right there. Soon after I started attending a Church regularly, then I joined a Sunday School…then I started studying the Bible and that has led to an insatiable hunger for knowing more about God’s word. I am 33 years old now, and I know that I have finally found salvation — I’ve finally truly given my heart to Christ. All this time I thought I was being a “Christian” I really wasn’t. It took going to church for me to realize that. So, I’m a software developer for a company where we create software for Churches and I’m about to go back to school part time — doing a distance learning program at SEBTS, hopefully to start this fall. I’m not sure yet what my calling is, perhaps it’s still to create software to help churches, but I have to satisfy the hunger I have for knowledge. I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I took steps to start the process — God really put it on my hear. It’s going to be tough, but I can’t wait to get started! It’s amazing how God can work in your life if you just let him in.

    Wow, I didn’t mean to highjack your blog!
    :-)

    • Jayson Rowe February 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

      …and there are two typos and no edit function :-)

  9. Chris Borah February 5, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    Peter Leithart said if you want the “Whole Christ” then you must be about the Head and the Body; you cannot have the true, whole Christ without both. (Deep Exegesis)

    I didn’t read Miller’s post, but does he encourage no assembly at all? We must never leave the assembly (the qahal, the body), whether or not that group has a building or sign is another question. This seems to be yet another pendulum swing to the very opposite error of the previous generation: from stodgy, formal, cultural church to no church at all.

  10. Ian Shaw February 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    To bad mouth the church while still claiming to love the Lord is like saying to your buddy, “hey, I really like hanging out with you, but your wife is absolutely terrible.”

    Who would stand before a righteous and holy God and tell Him you don’t like His wife?

    We are called to church membership as we are to benefit from church discipline and growth in small groups to do life together with others.

  11. Kevin Cuthbertson February 5, 2014 at 11:04 pm #

    Denny, great response you wrote. I’ve missed reading your work. I haven’t had time to follow as much since becoming a Minnesota Viking. Not that I go to practice, or get paid by the team, or attend games, or even live in Minnesota. But being a Viking takes up most of my time. I will try to do better in the future at keeping up with your blog.

    • Denny Burk February 5, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

      Ha! Right on.

  12. Jim Parker February 5, 2014 at 11:26 pm #

    I have never understood why anyone would take miller serious for 5 minutes…it’s now been reduced to 5 seconds.

  13. Nate Spencer February 6, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    Take it to heart, Denny, once you’ve moderated it out- you aren’t speaking to the issue at hand, you aren’t characterizing Miller’s statements correctly, and you’re encouraging people to bleat the necessary tropes established by late-modern evangelicalism in order to be accepted by the crowd. Selective Bible interpretation applied to selective interpretation of a brother’s words, so you can be “the corrector” vigilantly standing for orthodoxy. Moderate it, but take it to heart.

  14. Nathan Cesal February 7, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    I question Denny’s equating leaving the church with leaving Jesus. I suppose God could use a church’s deficiencies to repel only the unsaved, but I don’t think that’s what we see.

    It seems that the general consensus is that those dissatisfied with church need to buck up and just go regardless of the negative experiences that occur. No one seems to question the way church is done. How can it be made better and more inclusive so that all walks of life can find refuge there and a chance to grow and thrive? Denny’s litmus test for a person’s salvation is checking if the person goes to church. My litmus test for a church being a true church is fruit. My litmus test for a church being a good church is fruit born by a diversity of people rather than just a select segment. If a church drives people away because it can’t fathom change, it’s withering, not growing – not becoming better. It’s resting on ancient laurels and is even smug by thinking God is using their laziness and narrow-mindedness to remove chaff.

  15. DLE February 7, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    “Leaving the church means leaving Christ.”

    While Miller’s is a slippery slope in the end, as I follow Denny’s argument, the more Roman Catholic it is. What’s startling is that the argument quoted above is what the RCC leveled against Martin Luther.

    Donald Miller is no Martin Luther, but Denny needs to be careful nonetheless not to cast himself in the role of Pope.

    • Daryl Little February 7, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

      DLE,

      The difference between what Rome has said and what Denny has said is this:

      Rome says “we have anathematized the gospel (OK, they haven’t said that, but they’ve done it) but still we are the only church so to leave us is to leave Christ.”

      Denny says (as I understand him) “if you stop attending a local, bible-believing church, you are leaving (or are in danger of leaving) Christ. You don’t have to attend my church, but you must attend a local body somewhere.”

      That’s a pretty big difference wouldn’t you say?

      • Mike Gantt February 7, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

        Daryl,

        The difference is that Denny is being less self-aggrandizing when he enslaves believers to an institution, but it’s enslavement for the believer all the same.

  16. Rebecca Schwem February 7, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Know what jumped out at me? How almost charismatic-like this move is. People get in a rut. Some quicker than others and have this intense need for stimulation which is often the result of wanting something new. They’re bored with their church home. Like charismatics, they need to shake things up. They need attention. They need to go against the norm. They need to shock. Leaving for them is an adventure. They want an adventure. So like charismatics, it’s an emotional decision and it’s leaving them….him, wide open. Don’t let your emotions make a fool out of you!

    • DLE February 11, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

      Rebecca,

      I would caution against the broad brush. If anything, one could argue that Miller was being an overly thinky Calvinist because he doesn’t connect emotionally with a local church. Indeed, rather than enjoying ecstatic union with God while speaking in tongues, Miller himself says he connects with Him through the dry, old fashioned Protestant Work Ethic the Puritans gave us!

      See how that broad brush works both ways? It’s not a good thing to do, and labeling people in a negative way only diminishes them as people and reveals a heart of superiority by the labeler.

      Donald Miller does not strike me as a charismatic, either. I’ve seen nothing in his writings that say he is, and charismatics don’t tend to claim him as one of their own.

      Nor are charismatics emotional ninnies who have no ability to think. The Torrey Honors Institute at Biola was named after R.A. Torrey, Dwight Moody’s handpicked successor, and a staunch charismatic who wrote one of the best works on the Holy Spirit available to us today. Then there’s Gordon Fee, the emeritus prof of New Testament, considered one of the foremost living Bible scholars. And let us not forget D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was a proponent of charismatic theology later in life, or A.W. Tozer, one of the great 20th century preachers and writers.

      • Mel Mariner February 12, 2014 at 9:28 am #

        Wow I agree and ironic that an evaluation of a whole group of people is based on an emotional response to them. All the charismatics in my life have been steadfast in their faith for over thirty years. I have watched them grow in faith, wisdom and fruit of the spirit while some of us more stoic in nature have walked away from church forcing some hard lessons.

        I’ve also seen people that left a church for just reasons but didn’t plug into soon enough and it showed in their witness.

  17. Curt Day February 8, 2014 at 7:57 am #

    Is it possible to disagree with both sides here. I don’t think it is good to walk away from the Church. For someone to walk away usually reveals two problems. There is a problem with the person walking away and there is a possible problem with the Church in general, that walking away can reflect on the Church too.

    At the same time, I don’t think we can universally say that walking away from the Church means leaving Jesus. It is one thing to say that that is probably the case, but we are not even on thin ice, logically speaking, to make such a universal judgement.

  18. Caleb Sylvia February 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    Amos, I agree with you here. Leaving the “church” is kind of a vague term. We do not need to keep attending a weekly Sunday morning meeting, held it a building with a Steeple and unconfortable pews. But as it says in Hebrews 10:23-25, “We should not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” I agree with Denny that we should never be on our own without a body of Believers(Ekklesia), but we can leave our Sunday morning rutine (as it has become to many), if and only if we are continuing to meet with a body of beleivers(Ekklesia), spurring one another on to love and good deeds, keeping yourself (and others) unstained from the world and taking care of widows and orphans. (James 1:27)

  19. mel mariner (@mmellmmar) February 8, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    I have yet to meet someone on fire for the gospel, loving Christ and living only for Him that wasn’t going to some church somewhere. If there are leaders, notice he didn’t have the guts to name a name, that do not have a body to worship with then I have no doubt it shows in some area of their life. Christ would not say that people will know us by how we love each other if it meant that we could do it in thought only. Christ loved and served in action. Not by still building furniture and just thinking thoughts about it occasionally.

  20. Sam Hendrickson February 9, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    “Church” and “doing church” and “being the church” etc. is laid out by example and prescription (to some extent) in the Church History written by Luke (some call it “Acts.”) Does Donald Miller’s description of what being the Church is match Luke’s account (being what the Apostolic church was or taught future generations to be?) Does Donald Miller’s prescriptions (explicit or implied) correlate with Luke’s account in a meaningful (do what the Apostolic church did) way? These kinds of questions should then be asked in light of the Epistles also…Then, and only then can one approach the “church thing” with some level of humility…

    • Mike Gantt February 9, 2014 at 9:09 am #

      Sam,

      The problem with that line of reasoning is that if Donald Miller did go in search of a church that matched the Luke-Epistles description, he would not be able to find it.

      • Mel Mariner February 9, 2014 at 9:26 am #

        Ah back to the shopping consumerism mentality. Paul went and looked for those gathered together. He didn’t shop or take. He gave. He gave everything God gave him. That is church. It starts with you and your heart.

        • Mike Gantt February 9, 2014 at 9:36 am #

          What if Donald follows your advice and the first gathering he comes upon is a Mormon church, or Jehovah’s Witness kingdom hall, or AA meeting, or the Westboro Baptist Church, or a Roman Catholic Church,or Eddie Long’s church, or a United Pentecostal Church…?

          Are you really as indiscriminate about “those gathered together” as you are trying to sound?

          Are you yourself not attending a church of your own choosing?

          You’re a rarity if the first church I’d pass after leaving your house is the one you attend.

          • mel mariner (@mmellmmar) February 10, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

            I could give my testimony Mike Gantt because it is very pertinent to this conversation but it is a precious story of how my disgust for mean Christians in horrible churches lead me to my knees and submission. But it is too precious for someone that will scoff and pull it apart. I have faith. God gave me that. I am grateful for the rescue that Jesus has given to me. I will spend the rest of my life learning to submit to what He teaches and trying to NOT come up with excuses or loopholes. No matter how painful or emotionally uncomfortable it may get.

            Rick Nogrady makes an excellent point. In countries where faith means death people still try to meet together to worship, learn and encourage each other. In this country we analyze it to death instead.

            I’m ashamed of us. I won’t be responding again. Thank you

      • Sam Hendrickson February 11, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

        Thanks Mike,
        I do mean these as questions. I understand that they are leading questions in a sense, and I admit that. However, if we mean to “do church” and “be the church” in ways that cannot be evaluated by the questions I mentioned (and similar, better questions), then why describe such descriptions and actions in “Christian” terms? Christianity is laid out by Christ, depicted by the Apostolic Church, and described/prescribed in the Epistles. If what Donald wants to be and do cannot be reasonably evaluated in such a realm, or does not have recognizable fundamental elements that do more than simply inhere of what I describe above, etc., then why use terms like “church”, “Christianity”, “discipleship”, etc. in one’s rhetoric? I am not advocating for going on a search for some specific equivalent of the Apostolic church, but one might hope that if we are to talk of “church”, “Christianity”, etc., there might be a smidgeon of verisimilitude between how we view those terms and how the Apostles led the Church. To ease hermeneutical tensions, I would ask that we avoid pneumatological matters (at least in regard to Donald’s remarks) so as to avoid temptations to engage in red-herring argumentation. Simply speaking to matters of how one becomes a disciple, what does a disciple do, what is the purpose of gathering said disciples for worship, fellowship, outreach, and instruction–this where I think Denny means to engage Miller.

  21. Rick Nogrady February 9, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    I am the last guy to be legalistic about church membership but it seems to me that those of you who agree with Donald Miller may have already lost something in your walk with Christ. Do you not know that many Christians around the world are willing to give up their lives just to have a local church? Their love for Christ and the gospel move them to sacrifice all, even their lives, just to have a building where they can praise His Name. It is precisely through these churches that the gospel is being spread to areas of the world we once thought of as unreachable. I pray that we all could have such love for our local churches and fellow believers!

  22. John Thweatt February 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Denny,
    Great post…I simply don’t have time to read all of the comments, but I’ll never forget what R Kent Hughes said, “Men, on the most elementary level, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. You do not have to go to be married either. But in both cases if you do not, you will have a very poor relationship.”

    • John Thweatt February 10, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

      Left a word out…you do not have to go home to be married either. but…

    • Pastor Luke February 11, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

      The thing is, if the analogy is played to it’s final end and one never goes home, they eventually won’t be married. They’ll be divorced and separated from their spouse. And that’s exactly the concern of Mr. Burks posts!

  23. DLE February 12, 2014 at 9:48 am #

    Rebecca,

    Please don’t disparage one of the largest groups of Christians in the world today by using them in a logical fallacy to make a point about Miller.

    If you meant Benny Hinn, then please say Benny Hinn. Just saying “what came to mind” doesn’t raise the level of discourse in the Christian blogosphere, rather it poisons the well and produces a bad witness to anyone who isn’t a Christian and should stumble across this post on Denny’s site. Sometimes, the keyboard is a fire too.

    • Rebecca Schwem February 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

      Point taken. Stumbling I would not want to be guilty of. I would hope Donald Miller feels the same way for all the reasons you suggested. My effort was to make sense of why someone would claim to be a Christ follower and yet jump His ship. Others might choose to support his decision. Two extreme responses. That too can be most confusing to newbies, I’m sure you’d agree?

      • Mike Gantt February 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

        The question turns on which ship is His.

        • Rebecca Schwem February 12, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

          I was referring to The Church when I referenced ship. I should have clarified that. Thanks

          • Mike Gantt February 12, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

            That’s what I understood you to mean. Your revision just changes my statment to “The question turns on which church is His.”

            • Rebecca Schwem February 12, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

              Oh, good question. The church that believes the authority and inerrancy of scripture, including the New Testament, that believes that God, Jesus and Holy Spirit are One with three distinct personalities, that teaches the bible is historically accurate, that teaches that Jesus is Lord over all, the church that teaches that Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave and paid the debt I owed with His blood, the church that is committed to serve one another, to edify the body of Christ and committed to evangelize the Gospel and to teach scripture within context, in spirit and in truth. That church.

              • Rebecca Schwem February 12, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

                Forgot to add that it’s a church that teaches that Jesus is God (the God-Man) in the flesh, born of a virgin and lived a sinless life because we could not. A church that teaches we must be born again by placing our faith and trust in whom Jesus said He was and is so that we may be cleansed of our sins. A church that teaches we cannot do it apart from the work of the Holy Spirit and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

                • Mike Gantt February 12, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

                  It is not by joining such a group that makes you part of His church; rather it is by being continually joined to Him.

                  Paul fought hard to distinguish that which is of the spirit from that which is of the flesh. We ought not to give up that distinction.

                  • Rebecca Schwem February 12, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

                    “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” Hebrews 10:24-25 On accountability (which I failed to mention previously), Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not grief, for this would not be profitable for you.’ Paul gives instruction to Timothy, “Until I come, give attention to the public readings of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”
                    1 Timothy 4:13 “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

                    I don’t know why we want to split hairs. We (plural) are collectively the body of Christ. Scripture tells us the benefits of regularly gathering together. We are there because of Christ. I thought you were asking what does the authentic church of Christ looks like, requires? Of course, we belong to Him first and because we do, we gather together in worship and praise.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog - February 6, 2014

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    […] Southern Baptist professor and blogger Denny Burk was one of many who responded to Miller’s post, calling his decision “a recipe for spiritual suicide.” Miller responded, and Burk has posted the exchange on his blog. […]

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