The Bible advises believers to seek communities that align with biblical truths and encourage spiritual growth and fellowship (Acts 2:42; 2 Timothy 3:16). If your current church doesn’t align with these principles, it’s wise to address concerns (Matthew 18:15-17), pray for guidance (James 1:5), and, if necessary, find a congregation that better suits your spiritual needs, doing so with respect and love (Ephesians 4:2-3).
Have you ever found yourself feeling unsettled or out of place in your church, wondering if it might be time to seek spiritual fulfillment elsewhere? It’s a common dilemma and one that can stir a myriad of emotions, questions, and a good deal of soul-searching. Many wonder, “What does the Bible say about changing churches? Is it frowned upon, or does it provide guidance on how and when it might be appropriate to make such a shift?”
The concept of “church” in our modern world often differs significantly from how it’s represented in the Bible. Today’s organized, institutional entities didn’t exist in the same form in biblical times. So, when we talk about changing churches in a biblical context, we’re more or less exploring changes in spiritual communities or congregations.
Let’s start by unraveling the biblical concept of ‘church’ and how it aligns, or perhaps diverges, with our modern understanding. The journey might just offer the clarity and guidance you’ve been searching for, helping you make informed and spiritually aligned decisions about your place of worship.
The Concept of ‘Church’ in the Bible
Understanding the concept of ‘church’ in the Bible is crucial if we’re to get to the heart of what it says about changing congregations. In biblical terms, the ‘church’ isn’t a building or an institution, but it refers to the community of believers, often called the ‘Body of Christ.’
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, said
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.1 Corinthians 12:27
This metaphor highlights the interconnectedness and unity of all believers, transcending geographical and denominational boundaries.
This biblical idea of ‘church’ differs quite a bit from our modern understanding. When people in biblical times “changed churches,” it was less about swapping one set location, denomination, or congregation for another, and more about moving from one community of believers to another, often due to geographical relocation, disagreement in teachings, or a divine calling.
The gatherings were more organic, community-oriented, and less structured than what most of us experience today. They were assemblies where believers came together to worship, learn, and support one another, often in homes or public places.
So, as we discuss the concept of changing churches, it’s vital to keep in mind that the structure and organizational aspects we associate with churches today were largely absent during biblical times. This difference in context is significant as we consider what the Bible may offer in terms of guidance, examples, or principles related to changing churches in today’s structured, denominational landscape.
Now that we’ve established a foundational understanding of the biblical concept of ‘church,’ let’s explore if there are any instances or teachings in the Bible that relate to changing these spiritual communities or congregations.
Biblical Instances of ‘Changing Churches’
In trying to find biblical precedents for changing churches or congregations, we hit a snag—there’s no direct correlation between the structured, denomination-based churches we have today and the informal gatherings of believers in biblical times. However, there are instances that provide some parallel insights and principles.
For example, in the New Testament, we see instances where apostles like Paul and Barnabas traveled from place to place, joining different communities of believers, teaching and encouraging them. It wasn’t about leaving one church for another; it was more about responding to a divine calling to spread the Gospel to different communities.
One such example is found states
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them offActs 13:2-4
Paul and his companions changed communities due to the mission set before them, showing an example of change driven by a divine purpose and calling. They moved, not due to dissatisfaction or disagreement with a local congregation but to fulfill the calling to spread the teachings of Christ.
And, in these movements and journeys, they encountered different groups of believers, differing interpretations of teachings, and varied practices within the communities, engaging in dialogues, debates, and teachings to align them with the Gospel’s truth.
Another relevant instance is when Apollos, an eloquent and fervent speaker, was corrected and taught the more accurate way by Priscilla and Aquila. He was receptive to learning and then moved on to another location to teach (Acts 18:24-28). Apollos’s movement shows that changing locations or congregations can also be due to receiving more profound insights or understanding and a desire to share them.
In essence, while the Bible does not provide direct examples of believers ‘changing churches’ as we understand it today, the movements and missions of the apostles and early believers provide insights.
These instances reflect a responsiveness to divine guidance, a commitment to spreading the teachings of Christ, and a willingness to learn, grow, and adjust one’s understanding, all of which are relevant as we consider the idea of changing churches in our contemporary context.
Up next, let’s dig into what the Bible advises about choosing the right spiritual community and how to discern the appropriate time and way to make such a change.
Biblical Guidance on Choosing the Right Church
Choosing the right spiritual community is a significant decision, and the Bible does provide some guidelines on how to approach it. It’s about aligning with a community that upholds sound doctrine and fosters spiritual growth.
John’s epistle throws light on this, advising believers to test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world1 John 4:1
This underscores the importance of discernment and validation of teachings, reminding us to be wary and to seek truth.
The Acts of the Apostles also illustrates the importance of commitment to apostolic teachings, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Acts 2:42
This verse highlights the essence of what believers should seek in a spiritual community: sound teaching, communion, and a robust prayer life.
Paul, in his letter to Titus, emphasizes the importance of sound doctrine.
You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.Titus 2:1
This shows that a right church should have teachings that are in alignment with the truths of the Gospel.
Finding a congregation that adheres to biblical teachings, fosters a sense of community and encourages a deep, meaningful connection with God is vital. It’s about seeking a place where spiritual growth, learning, fellowship, and worship are nurtured, enabling you to build a deeper, more profound relationship with God and fellow believers.
But, what if you find your current church is drifting away from these principles? The Bible also provides principles on how to approach situations where leaving a church becomes a necessary consideration. Let’s explore those next, shall we?
When and How to Leave a Church: Biblical Principles
If you find yourself in a spiritual community that is no longer fostering your spiritual growth or is diverging from sound biblical teaching, the Bible provides principles on addressing and, if necessary, leaving such a congregation.
The Bible lays out a process for addressing conflicts within the congregation:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along… If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collectorMatthew 18:15-17
This indicates the importance of addressing concerns and conflicts within the church, seeking resolution before considering leaving.
Moreover, the Bible instructs,
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.Romans 16:17
This suggests that when persistent and irreconcilable differences in teachings and beliefs arise, it might be appropriate to part ways.
While leaving a church is never easy and should be a last resort, the Bible underscores the importance of being in a community that aligns with biblical truth and fosters spiritual growth. If your spiritual community is consistently contradictory to the Word of God, causing division instead of unity, or impeding your relationship with God, it may be time to seek a community that better aligns with biblical principles.
In such circumstances, it’s also crucial to approach the situation with prayer, discernment, humility, and love, seeking God’s guidance and wisdom throughout the process.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to youJames 1:5
Prayer and seeking divine wisdom are paramount when contemplating such a significant change.
Leaving should be done respectfully and peacefully, without harboring bitterness or resentment. After all, the goal is to grow closer to God and to find a community where you can thrive spiritually.
Let’s wrap things up by exploring how these biblical principles can help in making informed, wise, and spiritually sound decisions about changing churches in today’s context.
Applying Biblical Principles to Modern Church Changing
In a world where the diversity in church denominations, doctrines, and practices is vast, applying the biblical principles we’ve discussed can aid believers in making wise, informed decisions about changing churches. How can we navigate this in a way that’s in sync with our faith and spiritual journey?
Seeking Alignment with Biblical Truths:
Believers should prioritize finding congregations that uphold and teach biblical truths.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness2 Timothy 3:16
If a church’s teachings and practices are not in alignment with Scripture, it’s a red flag, indicating that it might not be the right spiritual community.
Prioritizing Spiritual Growth:
Spiritual growth is essential in the Christian journey. Believers should seek congregations where they can grow in faith, love, and knowledge of God.
your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of ChristPhilippians 1:9-11
Valuing Community and Fellowship:
The New Testament emphasizes the importance of fellowship and community among believers. Acts 2:42 commends the early believers for devoting themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Finding a church where genuine fellowship and communal worship are emphasized is vital.
Praying for Guidance:
When considering changing churches, believers should be fervent in seeking God’s guidance and wisdom through prayer.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straightProverbs 3:5-6
If leaving becomes inevitable, doing so with love, respect, and without animosity is crucial.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peaceEphesians 4:2-3
while the Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about changing churches as we know them today, it offers rich, timeless principles that can guide believers in choosing the right spiritual community and, if necessary, changing congregations in a manner that aligns with Christian values and fosters spiritual growth and unity in the Body of Christ.
Whether you’re contemplating a change or are content where you are, these principles encourage discernment, alignment with biblical truth, spiritual growth, and a loving, respectful approach to differences and transitions within the Body of Christ.