Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LEAVERS” Part 2

First John 2.18-19

I will once again deal with an issue that few Christians wish to wrestle with these days; church members who leave their church. Remember from last week that I am not referring to members who have been dispatched or dismissed, but to members who up and leave for reasons they feel are justified (but which are reasons unsupported in God’s Word as justification for breaking the bond that holds members of a church together). The reasons so few preachers and professing Christians wish to deal with the plague of church members leaving are many. Let me relate four reasons to you by way of introduction:

 ·         First, the general state of Christianity in our country at this time is so low that there are few pastors or church members who take the duties and responsibilities of church membership seriously. This might explain how good Christians, who were simply not taught by their pastors, might have unwittingly moved from church to church.

·         Next, there is such a dearth of Bible knowledge, the ignorance of even longtime supposed Christians is so profound, and the importance of doctrine is so neglected these days, that many who name the name of Jesus Christ honestly believe that leaving their church is a non-issue and that there is something wrong with anyone who would make it an issue. They think their decision to leave their church is, basically, no one’s business but their own. How dare anyone take issue with decisions made by other people.

·         Third, there is almost no awareness among professing Christians these days of the vital connection between authority and love, so that most are of the opinion that conflict arises from attempting to live under Biblical authority while expressing and receiving love. They do not realize that genuine love can only be given and experienced within the context of divinely instituted authority, such as the authority God through His Son Jesus Christ has given to a church congregation such as ours, or the authority that God has given to the institution of marriage.

·         Finally, even among those pastors and people who grasp the significance of a church member’s responsibility to faithfully serve in his church, there is such fear of contention over the issue that even those who appreciate how serious this epidemic of church members leaving their churches is are oftentimes too afraid to speak out against it for fear of being harshly condemned for it.

 When I last preached on this subject, I pointed out that the Apostle John clearly labeled those who leave as antichrists, as I shall show you momentarily. Returning to that same text, we will see that leavers are not only antichrists; generally speaking, they are also lost. Turn to First John 2.18-19, and 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.


Notice the word “they” throughout verse 19. The antecedent of “they,” the word that it refers to, is clearly the word antichrists in verse 18. Thus, those who leave are antichrists.

Taking a step back from the passage we have just read so we can consider what the entire New Testament says about this subject of leaving, we will begin broadly and then proceed to narrow the scope of our topic down to our text.

I have three considerations to draw your attention to:


 For the sake of clarity, allow me to set aside from our thinking those in a Bible believing church who are for one reason or another cast out. In Titus 3.10-11, Paul gave direction to Titus: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” Then, in Romans 16.17, Paul instructed the Romans he was planning to visit: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

In both instances, I am persuaded that Paul was referring either to those occasions when someone created such turmoil in the congregation, because he advanced serious doctrinal error or because of a combative and contentious personality that he was told to leave and not to come back. Such people are obviously not to be mistreated in any way, but church members are to avoid them. In other words, to Titus and to the Romans, Paul was not referring to people who leave, but to those who are cast out. By cast out, I do not refer to being physically tossed out of the auditorium, but to being forbidden to return to the gatherings of the saints.

Such people are not the subject of this evening’s sermon. Rather, I am preaching about those who choose to leave. That said, there are four kinds of church members who leave the congregation. Look at each type in turn:

First, there are those who are sent. Churches do, from time to time, send church members out. There are two reasons why a church such as ours would send a church member out: The first, and most preferable reason, is when a church member is dispatched by the church. This is what Luke recorded in the church in Antioch, in Acts 13.1-3:

 1      Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

2      As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

3      And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

 This is what happens when God calls a man to the gospel ministry, and after he is trained and ready to be sent out to start a church or to pastor a church, is sent with the approval and endorsement of his pastor and church. Though he is permanently gone, the New Testament pattern suggests that he return to his sending church on occasion to report on his activities. However, someone is sent from the church in another, far less preferable, circumstance. It is when someone is dismissed by his church for unrepentant sinning. Of course, I am referring to church discipline and the process of excommunication. Matthew 18.15-20 records our Lord’s instructions in this regard, but I would like for you to turn to First Corinthians 5.1-5 to see the Apostle Paul implementing the Lord’s instructions:

 1      It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

2      And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

3      For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

4      In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5      To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

 Thus, there are two circumstances in which a church member is sent out of a congregation, to go forth into the gospel ministry as a pastor or missionary, or to send someone forth for removing him from the congregation for serious and disruptive sins. May I mention at this point that there are occasions when a church member is excommunicated without his attendance at church being barred? Consider that Matthew 18.15-20 addresses someone who refuses to respond to calls for his repentance. Matthew 18.17 records our Lord’s pronouncement for the member who stubbornly refuses to heed the congregation: “let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Remember, however, that heathens and publicans were generally welcome when Christians gathered for worship. Thus, if a church member refused to repent of a lie or of the sin of public intoxication, though excommunicated, removed from his place as a member of the church, yet he would still be welcome to attend the public worship of God’s people. It was for sins that disrupted public worship that excommunication would result in dismissal from participating in public worship.

Next, there are those who are lent. What if there is need of someone to serve elsewhere in some emergency capacity, or to help out another church or outreach effort in some temporary capacity? Keep in mind that while every church member is important to the health and vitality of the congregation, pressing needs from time to time require help to advance the gospel ministry elsewhere. Consider the case of Phebe. God moved Paul to write his letter to the Romans west of his location in Corinth, but his duties required that he travel to the east. To resolve his dilemma, he called upon a faithful church member in nearby Cenchrea to perform the urgent task of transporting his epistle to the Romans. I read Romans 16.1-2:

 1      I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:

2      That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

Baptist churches formerly used this passage to justify the practice of sending and receiving church letters to transfer membership from one Baptist church to another. However, any careful student of God’s Word can clearly see that there is no indication whatsoever that Phebe stayed in Rome after delivering Paul’s epistle. On the contrary, she delivered the precious package per Paul’s instructions and then returned home to Cenchrea, where she resumed her ministries in her home church. Consider, also, the case of Epaphroditus. When Paul was later imprisoned in Rome, he was in a very hard way. Abandoned by almost everyone, he might have starved but for the assistance of the Philippian church and the help of the man sent by the church to minister to his needs, Epaphroditus. You can read about Epaphroditus in Philippians 2.25-30, where his ministry to Paul is referred to, and where Paul informs the Philippian church that the man they had lent to him during his emergency was being returned to them. These are just two examples in the New Testament of those who were lent to meet a great need that was also a temporary need.[1] Might there be situations arising in which one of our church members is loaned to a gospel minister or to a church in need? Such a thing is not at all hard to imagine. Here is a hypothetical: What if missionaries in a third world country asked Mara Arnold to help them open an area to the gospel by providing dentistry on the mission field for two or three weeks? If she wanted to do it, and if the missionaries were familiar to us, I would encourage our church to send her, much as the church in Cenchrea loaned Phebe, and as the Philippian church loaned Epaphroditus. Then, when she was finished, she would naturally come back here to Calvary Road Baptist Church.

Those who are sent and those who are lent . . . temporarily. The third category of those who leave the church are those who are lost. Two examples illustrate what our text is all about: First, there was Judas Iscariot. There is no doubt that he was a lost man. However, there is also no doubt that he was in the church that Jesus started, being numbered among the twelve apostles who comprised the church, according to Matthew 10.1-4. Did he not leave? Yes, he did. When did he leave? At the time of the Last Supper, according to John 13.30: “He then having received the sop went immediately out.” Beloved, Judas never came back, but went on to betray the Lord Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver, and then to hang himself. Then, there was Demas. While some are of the opinion that Demas only backslid, I am strongly persuaded that Demas’ departure served to expose his previously concealed condition as a lost man. You be the judge.

 Ÿ  In Second Timothy 4.10-11, Paul writes, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.” The phrase “having loved this present world” is very important. Too many people overlook the significance of that phrase.

Ÿ  Here is why: In John 2.15-17, the Apostle John contrasts those who love the world with those who do the will of God and who will abide forever:

 15     Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16     For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

17     And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

In light of what First John 2.19 tells us, “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,” I am persuaded that Demas’ departure, coupled with Paul’s comment about him loving the world, is a signal that strongly suggests that at long last Demas had exposed himself as a lost man by leaving. The lost generally leave. Those who leave are generally lost.

What about those who claim that they are being led to leave? That is, they claim that their departure is the result of the leadership of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Three brief comments about what I think has become an epidemic of excuses to justify poor decisions: Concerning the leadership of the Holy Spirit, let me say that I do not believe the Spirit of God “leads” anyone to do anything that is contrary to the clear instruction of God’s Word, and the clear instruction of God’s Word is that service and ministry are to be performed faithfully (First Corinthians 4.2). As well, the Spirit of God works in every Christian’s life to exhibit the spiritual fruit which includes faith, which I understand to be faithfulness (Galatians 5.22).[2] Thus, quite aside from any consideration of whether the Holy Spirit leads people by means of supernatural nudges to reveal God’s particular will to them, there is no possible way the Holy Spirit’s guidance of individuals would contradict the revealed will of God for every Christian in the Bible. In the Bible, Christians are directed to be faithful, something that is impossible for anyone to do who abandons his church home. Therefore, the argument that “God led us to leave” is in my opinion a spurious argument. First John 4.1 reads, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” People who leave their church without the approval and endorsement of their congregation are led by evil spirits if they are led at all, and they show by their leaving that they are almost certainly lost.


 Now that this notion of members being “led” to leave for this reason or that has been revealed to be the unscriptural conduct that it is, consider what happens when people leave.

First, what happens when those who are sent out by their church leave? Churches bear fruit just like Christians. When God raises up a man in a church to go start a church, or to serve as a pastor in a church, his home church will not suffer at all because of his departure. On the contrary, that congregation will be greatly blessed by sending out men in that way. Did the church at Antioch suffer for sending out Paul and Barnabas? Absolutely not. As well, when a church dispatches a sinning member, that church is not harmed by that corrective measure prescribed in God’s Word, but is greatly helped. Keep in mind that sin is like leaven that affects the whole lump of dough unless it is excised. So, contrary to the thinking of many, a church is harmed by not removing sinning members, and not the other way around.

What happens when a church member is lent out? Keep in mind that someone like Phebe, or Epaphroditus, or those who accompanied Paul with the offering to Jerusalem is lent out on a temporary basis. Therefore, while things might be tight for a while in the home church, there is no permanent damage. On the contrary, whenever a church can advance the cause of Christ in such a way without violating scriptural principle, that church has to be strengthened by such sacrifice. As well, imagine the spiritual lift that occurs when such a loaned-out Christian returns to his or her permanent place of service. What a thrill for any Christian, or any church, to have a part in starting a church or advancing the cause of Christ, edifying other Christians, and without any relationships being damaged in any way.

Of course, such is not the case when the lost just up and leave. When someone just up and leaves the church a number of repercussions are felt: Regardless of what people say, my experience is that the most likely reason for just leaving is not to seek God’s will, or to do God’s will, but to escape God’s will. People typically leave their church to run away from problems, to flee issues that should be confronted, and to avoid responsibilities that should be discharged. Of course, there are always those who so couple such motives with worldly lust for more money, all the while labeling it a career move. You have to leave your church for a promotion or a transfer. Isn’t that right? As well, when the leaver arrives to where he is going, he usually pretends to be spiritual. How can someone be spiritual who has left the gifted man who is charged in Ephesians 4.11-12 with equipping him for ministry, if what he says is true and he really is a Christian? Of course, if he is lost, how can his decision to leave be the right one, since every thought he has is only evil continually, and he despises and rejects the Savior? You see, leaving does not make sense no matter how you look at it. What about the family and other loved ones the leaver takes along on his spiritual escapade? Will they be loved and cared for by a new pastor as tenderly and as knowledgeably as the shepherd who has known them since childhood? Can they be as skillfully led by someone who barely knows them as by someone who is intimately acquainted with their lives and circumstances? Finally, what about the new situation the leaver moves into? Likely as not, the new congregation and pastor will think the leaver is a Christian and will receive him as a new member of the church. As a result, the pastor will not seek the leaver’s conversion. Therefore, the leaver will comfortably fit into a new situation, a situation that will likely enable him to perpetuate the lie that he is born again, thereby dooming his soul.


 If he is known to be lost and he leaves, let him leave. We read First Corinthians 7.15: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.” When the unbelieving husband leaves, the Christian woman is commanded to let him leave. In several respects, the departure of a husband parallels the departure of a church member. God’s plan and God’s place is ignored, is rejected, is refused, and is discarded. This is why I do not beg and plead with someone who leaves the church. I would like to beg folks to stay. However, just as a woman will be despised if she cries and begs her husband not to leave her, so it is with a pastor. I pray that they will not leave. I counsel them not to leave if given the opportunity. However, if they depart I let them depart.

What if he is thought to be converted and leaves? This brings us full circle to our text. If he who was thought to be converted leaves, he thereby reveals himself to be lost. You see, our text tells us that people who leave are not of us. If they had been of us they would, no doubt, have remained with us. Their departure simply shows that they are of those who were not really of us. Of course, there will always be those who refuse to believe the Bible. There will always be those who seek to justify, who seek to explain, who seek to excuse their own departure or the departure of those who leave, insisting that this passage cannot possibly apply to them. Surely, this passage has to be referring to those who depart from sound doctrine, such as when someone embraces charismatic practices. It cannot refer to people who physically leave the church. Think for just a moment before you close the door on that consideration. Put yourself in the place of the Apostle Paul or the Apostle John. Would you allow someone who perverted the truth of God’s Word to stay in the church until it suited him to leave? No. Such a person would certainly be expelled, cast out, dismissed, and not allowed to stay until it suited him to leave. Thus, that is not what we are dealing with in our text. Therefore, our text does not refer to someone who has left the truth behind, but to someone who has actually left the church.

 If you have a friend in the church, that friendship is presumably based upon your mutual faith in Jesus Christ. What you have in common with that person ought to be the shed blood of Christ. Would anyone disagree with me at this point? Should that person leave the church, according to our text he has thereby shown himself to be lost. That, of course, means that what you thought was the basis for your friendship, the shed blood of Christ, does not really exist after all. Thus, the friendship exists only in form and not in substance after all.

Keep in mind that it was not your action that exposed the fraudulent basis for the friendship, but the supposed church member and friend who left. He exposed himself as a deceiver, as a pretender of a Christian, by his departure from the church. I submit to you that it is folly to pretend that someone who has done such a thing has really done nothing at all. This is serious stuff.

Let us say, hypothetically, that someone leaves the church and he is a Christian. What has he then done? He has divided the body of Jesus Christ. He has literally removed a body part from the church of Jesus Christ. Is that not a serious matter? Should there not be consequences for such behavior? First Corinthians 3.17 reads, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” This is a warning to the Christian church member. Therefore, if the Christian leaves his church (I am speaking hypothetically), would he not be defiling the temple of God and thereby subjecting himself to God’s punishment? Yes, he would be doing precisely that. So, if you insist that a “Christian” friend has left the church, has that “Christian” friend not committed a sin so serious as to warrant some type of response by you? What type of response from you would be appropriate so that you do not end up being an accomplice to his crime? Can you remain friends with someone who grievously sins against Christ’s church, your church, and the temple of God that you are a part of?

However, this is all hypothetical, is it not? You never have to consider the case of a Christian friend who leaves the church, because our text indicates Christians don’t do that. According to First John 2.18-19, lost people leave, and people who leave are lost. Leaving is how they show themselves to be lost, if they show it no other way.

Does all this make you unhappy? It makes me unhappy, too. However, we need to clarify the source of our sadness. We should not be discouraged or upset about what the Bible says, or about what the pastor preaches. The problem has to do with the unfaithfulness of the professing Christians who, against all wisdom, against all scripture, and against all advice, display their condition and their lack of regard for you . . . by leaving.

When a sinner is weighed down by his sins and flees to the Savior for forgiveness and safe refuge from the wrath of God, he is then baptized into a congregation, which is the means by which that Christian is placed into his permanent place of service. As First Corinthians 12.18 states the matter, “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” Therefore, when someone leaves, he reminds us of First Corinthians 12.15, 16 and 21:

 15     If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

16     And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

 21     And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

 Do you now see the impossibility of a Christian, a member of the body, just up and leaving? It flies in the face of all sense and logic. It denies all spiritual reality. Therefore, the person who leaves is lost. If you dispute this understanding of the verse, please propose an alternative meaning that does not conflict with the certainty we have that no one would be allowed to remain in the church that embraced serious doctrinal error, but would be dealt with by the church’s initiative, and not allowed to leave at a time of his choosing.

The point of this sermon, then? The Lord Jesus Christ taught that the truth would set men free. I have preached to you the truth this evening. My hope is that the truth will set you free from bondage to a job, from bondage to a career, or from bondage to some other lust that would steal you away from God’s place of service and blessing. My hope is that the truth will set you free from the influence of those who greatly sin against Christ’s church by abandoning her, and by abandoning their friends and family. My hope is that each church member would so passionately love the Lord and each person here that those who leave would obviously be sinning against love.

What about someone who has already left a place of worship and finds himself attending here? What should he do? He should consider two things: First, you never correct a wrong by committing another wrong. If you did not know you should never leave your church then purpose to never be guilty of that sin again. Second, consider the distinct possibility that the church you left was not really a New Testament church. This is not an outrageous consideration in light of the large numbers of unsaved professing Christians these days, as well as the scant attention paid to important matters of the church these days.

Let us purpose to focus our attention on today, while preparing for tomorrow. Those things we did in the past cannot be undone. If they were sins, they must be repented of and not repeated ever again. After all, life is not always like a fork in the road that, after discovering you went left when you should have gone right, you can just throw things into reverse, back up, and go the other way.

[1] Companions escorting Paul in taking the special offering to the Christians in Jerusalem, First Corinthians 16.3-4, would be another example of those who are temporarily lent to accomplish an important task.

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 517.

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