Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LEAVERS” Part 1

First John 2.18-19

 It is generally acknowledged by conservative scholars that John’s first epistle was written against the backdrop of a heresy that we refer to as Gnosticism. Gnosticism, the word taken from the Greek term for knowledge, refers to those who sought salvation by illumination.[1] That is, they thought knowing stuff got them saved. Though there were some theological wrinkles found in first century Gnosticism that I do not want to deal with today, in its most basic and simplest thrust, John’s epistle was written to combat the effect and impact of those who thought they knew, though they did not realize that they actually knew nothing.

Turn in your Bible to First John 1.4: “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” Now turn to First John 2.1: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” Here the apostle addresses his entire reading audience of Christians as “little children.” From the perspective of his advanced age and experience as the only surviving apostle of Jesus Christ, they are less spiritually mature than he is. Therefore, he is writing to help them avoid sinning. Now read First John 2.12: “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” Here I think he uses “little children” as an affectionate term for Christians who are immature and inexperienced, to comfort them concerning the forgiveness of sins. More mature believers would be well past this issue in their Christian lives. Look at First John 2.13, where John shows us three categories or levels of Christian maturity: “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.”

Each of the verses we have looked at provides insight into the apostle’s motive for writing this letter. He wanted his readers’ joy to be full. He wanted to keep them from sinning. He wanted to assure them that their sins were forgiven. Finally, he wanted them to know, in the face of those who claimed to know what they really did not know, that those he is writing to really did know God the Father. Thus, his whole purpose in this letter is to comfort the troubled, to calm fears, to reassure, and to explain. What happened that brought about this need for John’s comforting, calming, reassuring explanation? What troubled the people the apostle was writing to?

Some people left the church. Churches are adversely affected when people leave, when people contemplate leaving, and when people talk about leaving. Over a four Sunday evening period, I am going to deal with this matter of people leaving the church. I will use the only passage that I have found in the Bible that deals directly with the issue.

Turn in your Bible to First John 2.18-19. When you find that passage in scripture, stand for the reading of God’s Word:

 18     Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

19     They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

 For now, I want you to focus your attention on verse 18 and the first phrase of verse 19:

 18     Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

19     They went out from us

 Look back to First John 2.13 for just a moment. There we see that the apostle referred to three levels of spiritual maturity in the Christian community: fathers, young men, and little children. “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.” Because it would be those who are least mature who would be most troubled by any disruptive turn of events, the apostle addresses his remarks about those who leave to the spiritual babes; so they will be comforted, so they will be encouraged, so they will be informed and knowledgeable about what had just happened.

From time to time, someone leaves our congregation. Almost every time someone leaves, unless the person who leaves has spent years making sure that everyone knows she has never had any intention of staying, it causes a degree of consternation, an amount of discouragement, and is generally a setback for the work of advancing the gospel. Amazingly, sometimes even parents adopt the worldly notion that it is normal for children to grow up and leave. However, there is a difference between growing up and leaving home and growing up and leaving the church. One is natural, normal, and healthy, while the other is unnatural, abnormal, and sinful, and should be avoided.

I call upon all of you to reject the value system of this world. Is it not a strange notion that it is wonderful for loved ones to be far away? Is there not something wrong with abandoning the sound church you have grown up in or spent a significant portion of your life in? What blindness is it that does not recognize that the scattering of family members is not a sign of God’s blessing, but of God’s cursing.[2]

Consider that, in the main, there are three ways in which someone leaves his church, stops attending his church, and attends either church somewhere else or stops attending entirely: He can be dispatched by his church, he can be dismissed from his church, or he can leave his church. With reference to being dispatched by his church, I am referring to someone who is sent on a mission by his church. Either the congregation recognizes a member’s call to the gospel ministry and endorses that call to pastor or plant another church, or the congregation sends a Christian out to work with someone so called to the gospel ministry as a helper. With reference to being dismissed from his church, I am referring to someone who commits sin of such a nature that church discipline alone is not sufficient to solve the problem he created. Such a person’s behavior is so destructive, his conduct is so divisive, and poses such a threat to the welfare of the congregation, that he is sent away and forbidden to return.

A person departs a church by those only two legitimate circumstances. By legitimate, I am referring to a departure that is sanctioned by the authority of the church. Why is the authority of the church important? According to Matthew 18.18, there is no greater authority on earth with respect to dealing with spiritual and congregational matters than this church. In other words, and to be very succinct, a member may not leave this church without this church’s sanction, without this church’s decision to endorse the departure, and without this church’s permission. Listen carefully to what I said. I said, a member may not leave this church without this church’s sanction, without this church’s decision to endorse the departure, and without this church’s permission.

However, people leave churches all the time, do they not? Sadly, over the years, many people have left Calvary Road Baptist Church, have they not? Yes, they have. However, there is a difference between what people can do and what people may do. Anyone has the ability to leave this church and never come back. Since this is a free country, and since we are Baptists, we would never consider constraining or coercing anyone to attend here who did not want to attend here, except for children living at home. What kind of a Christian would have children living at home attending church somewhere else, or not attending at all? Certainly not a Christian who ruled his children. Even in countries where there is no freedom of religion we are convinced by our doctrinal stand that Baptists would still refuse to coerce anyone who did not want to attend their church. Baptists alone, of all Christian groups, have always endorsed the concept of soul liberty and the right of every person to be wrong.

However, just because Baptists believe you can leave any time you want, does not mean we think it is right, does not mean we think it pleases God, and does not mean we do not think there will not be terrible spiritual repercussions resulting from leaving. Some of these repercussions will be the subject of future sermons, but for today the focus will be on terminology. In First John 2.18 and the first portion of verse 19, we are provided some astonishing information about that person who thinks he knows so much that he thinks it is right to leave, he thinks it is helpful in some way to leave, he thinks it is beneficial for him to leave, he thinks it is okay to leave.

Three fairly straightforward concepts vital to our understanding are found in the text:


 First John 2.18 begins, “Little children”

 We can take it for granted that the Apostle John is writing to Christians, to those who have repented of their sins and come to faith in Christ. This is evident from the verses we looked at before reading our text, verses that show the apostle’s concern for his reader’s joy, the apostle’s concern for his reader’s comfort, and so forth. He simply would not write this way to people who were unconverted. We can also take it for granted that the Apostle John is writing to Christians who were baptized and who were faithful church members. The reasons for this are also quite obvious: First, there is simply no such thing as an unbaptized Christian in the New Testament. Baptism is so very important to any Christian’s testimony of conversion, and is the only public validation that the congregation he is becoming a part of considers him a fellow Christian, that it would be unthinkable for these Christians to not be immersed, which is what baptism is rightly understood to be. As well, since baptism is the means by which a Christian is incorporated into the body of believers that is the church congregation, and since forsaking the assembly is such a serious violation of Christian protocol, we can assume that these people were faithful church attenders.

Also important is the recognition that John is here writing to spiritual babes. To be sure, there are times when he refers to all Christians as “little children.” However, that is because all Christians were immature in comparison to that aged apostle. Here, on the other hand, the apostle is dealing with an issue that is particularly troublesome to young Christians, while being something more mature Christians have had to learn to deal with. This reminds me of the warning the Savior uttered concerning those who offend little children who believed in Him, in Matthew 18.6. I would caution anyone to consider that the same warning applies to someone whose behavior offends the spiritually immature, as well. God help the person who offends not only the young child, but also the young child of God, by his behavior.

The application, of course, naturally follows. Who the Apostle John is speaking to would be someone very much like you here today. So, consider that this passage before us is speaking to you about someone in this church who has left, or who will someday leave.


“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”

What the apostle wants to impress upon his readers, and us, is that this is “the last time.” What is meant by this phrase “the last time”? “The ‘last time’ refers to the period of time between the first and second coming of Christ.”[3] Of course, the Christians the apostle was writing to had been taught about prophecy and the coming of the antichrist, but it was needful to remind his readers, just as we need to be reminded, that we are living in the last days and that there are certain characteristics associated with these last days. One of the chief characteristics of these last days leading up to the coming of the antichrist is the existence of many antichrists at the present time. Throughout this entire period of history known as “the last time,” there will be those “many antichrists” that are here even before the coming of the antichrist, and who prefigure the antichrist who garners so much attention during the tribulation.

I urge you to pause for just a moment to consider what John has written for us. Christians oftentimes become so focused on the antichrist, which has not yet come on the scene, that they pay little attention to the many antichrists that are already on the scene. Perhaps we should consider just what antichrist is. The Greek word is anticristoV, and is a compound of the word cristoV, which simply means anointed, or christ, and the Greek preposition anti, which means against or instead of.[4]

These many antichrists who are found in this age are people who are against the Lord Jesus Christ. While not always openly hostile to the cause of Christ, and perhaps not always consciously opposing the cause the Savior seeks to advance, these antichrists will have the effect of opposing His cause, of dampening evangelistic zeal, and of disrupting the harmony of His people.

Finally, Understanding That This Is Written To Us, For The Time In Which We Live, UNDERSTAND ALSO WHO IT IS WHO LEAVES

First John 2.19 begins with the words, “They went out from us . . . .”

It is obvious that the apostle is referring to no one else but those who left. He is not referring to anyone who was dispatched, as Paul and Barnabas were dispatched by the church in Antioch in recognition the Spirit’s guidance and directive to “Separate unto me Saul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them.”[5] It is also obvious that the apostle has no reference here to those who were dismissed as schismatics or heretics. Romans 16.17 directs us, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Such is not the situation to which the apostle is referring in our text.

It is very clear that the people referred to by John just left. “They went out from us.” My friends, this is the only place in God’s Word that I have been able to identify with those who just leave church. It does not matter why they leave. They will come up with all kinds of excuses. However, excuses are not mentioned in this passage, are they? No. Why not? Because excuses don’t matter. What matters is conduct. What matters is behavior. What matters is leaving. The Apostle John is referring to those who left.

Here is the shocker. Here is the stunner that no one in evangelical circles, and no one in fundamentalism, wants to admit. Why not? Because Christendom is rife with those who leave. I am not talking about those who are dispatched. I was dispatched by my pastor to Bible college. Neither am I speaking of those who are dismissed as the result of church discipline. We are dealing here with those who just leave. What word does John use to describe those who left, here in First John 2.19? He uses the word exhlqan, meaning “they went out.” Who are “they” who left? How can we identify those the apostle is referring to, which happens to be those who left? What one word does he use to label them to his readers? The word is antichrists.

Think about it, beloved. From the time of Adam’s fall, God’s plan has been for unsaved mankind to scatter and for God’s people to gather. However, what happens instead? The enemies of God gather and work to scatter God’s people. What was the tabernacle called, in Exodus chapters 27, 28 and 29? “The tabernacle of the congregation.” In other words, it was the tabernacle around which God wanted His people to congregate. Then, after they entered the Promised Land, God wanted His people to gather in Jerusalem at the Temple three times a year. Of course, in our day God wants us to gather in the congregation and not to forsake it, as the manner of some is, Hebrews 10.25. What do those do that are opposed to God’s plan and purpose? What do those do that are against Christ? They try to break apart and scatter those the Savior wants gathered, by doing themselves what sets a pattern for others to follow in their wake. Listen to Matthew 12.30: “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” Christians are to busy ourselves gathering people together, while those who do not gather are involved in scattering. No wonder someone who leaves is termed an antichrist.

Please understand the thrust of this message. The Apostle John did not suggest, and I am not proposing to advance the notion, that someone who visits our church (even for an extended time) and then decides to move on is an antichrist. That is not what the Bible teaches and that is not what I believe. This message is all about those who profess to be Christians, who are part of this church, but who for whatever reason leave. It doesn’t matter why they leave. I don’t care to question why they leave. All that is important is that someone who we always thought was one of us just ups and leaves.

You see, when someone becomes a part of this church is he has become a part of God’s building, a portion of this temple of God, First Corinthians 3.9 and 16. And “God hath tempered the body together . . . that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another,” First Corinthians 12.24-25. So, what happens when someone becomes unhappy, or develops into a malcontent? Should that person just leave? That would be like amputating someone’s arm because you did not like the fact that it had developed a painful tennis elbow. No, this matter of leaving is a very serious matter, indeed. Those of you who are our guests need to be aware that we do not take our church commitments and church family relationships lightly. We recognize that just as God is opposed to a husband leaving his wife, so we are opposed to leaving Christ’s church. A person who does such a thing is antichrist.

It is for this reason that we are very careful at Calvary Road Baptist Church in our dealings with people who approach me and express a desire to unite with our church. It is for this reason we do not push people to unite with our church. However, just because we do not push does not mean we do not wish, want, or pray for. It is like a fellow who wants to marry a girl. A man does not beg a woman to marry him. Neither does he follow her around with his tongue hanging out. If he does he is a fool. What he should do is let her know that he is interested. Then, if she lets him know that she is interested in him so that she will follow him (rather than him following her), negotiations can proceed. However, once you get married, that’s it. What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. The same thing goes for church. So, the person who enters into such a church relationship and then leaves? That person is an antichrist.

[1] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990), page 864.

[2] Jeremiah 9.16

[3] See footnote for First John 2.18 from Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), page 1346.

[4] G. Abbot-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon Of The New Testament, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Ltd, 1986), pages 484 and 40.

[5] Acts 13.2

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