My intention is not to be negative on this blog, but there is a tendency to do so when we discuss problems. I am specifically endeavouring to avoid airing dirty laundry publicly. I re-read posts frequently before and after I post them, to try and make sure I'm not crossing that line on this blog. Nevertheless, it's easy to slip into the negative.
I wanted to take an opportunity to try and express something a little more positive today: why I don't just leave. There are a lot of problems in "brethren" circles, but there are some other things happening too. Good things. Wonderful things. The problems I'm discussing with myself on this blog aren't a list of reasons (or excuses) to leave "brethren". They are issues---problems even---that I am trying to work through. It's possible that I might someday leave "brethren", but that's not what this is all about.
Nevertheless, frequently when someone points out a problem, there is a reaction of "if you don't like it, leave". I don't think that's a very helpful reaction, but there you have it. So I wanted to explain why exactly I don't "just leave".
First, I don't "just leave" because I think the whole issue of fellowship and where a Christian gathers with other Christians is bigger than personal preference. I am "bought with a price" I don't belong to me, and I need to be submissive to the Lord in this. I believe right now that the Lord has put me in the "brethren", and it's not my place to remove myself. He may guide me out at some time in the future, but I can't leave of my own accord.
Second, I don't "just leave" because I believe the "brethren" are onto something. The combination of worship-centered gathering and informal freedom found in "brethren assemblies" is something I've never seen anywhere else. And I've been plenty of other places. One thing that eventually drove me from "open brethren" to "exclusive brethren" was reading 1 Cor. 14. In "open" assemblies, the meetings are pretty much planned in advance, except for Breaking Bread (which is more and more frequently being scripted). In "exclusive" assemblies, most of the meetings are unscripted. This is exactly what I see in 1 Cor. 14:26 "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying." (KJV). There is a spontaneity in Scripture that I've only ever seen in "brethren assemblies"---and more so among "exclusive" or very "conservative open" meetings.
Third, I don't "just leave" because I am in doctrinal agreement with 95% of what "brethren" teach. My frustration comes not from what they teach, but from their lack of walking according to it.
Fourth, I don't "just leave" because I am guilty of the same sins. There is nothing I see evil in the "brethren" that I'm not guilty of. No doubt that's the same with any other group of Christians too. We all have the same flesh in us, and we ought to be very slow to set ourselves up as judges. Yes, the Scripture calls us to judge (1 Cor. 5:12--13), but we ought to be mindful of our own weaknesses and sins when we see those same things in others (1 Cor. 10:12). The Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees in these words: "they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men's shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matt. 23:4 KJV). We need to be careful we're not guilty of the same thing.
Fifth, I don't "just leave", because I don't think there's anything better anywhere else out there. I've been a Baptist, I spent years in the "open assemblies", I've gone to Charismatic, Lutheran, Episcopal, and non-denominational services. I see the same problems everywhere else: the symptoms might be different, but the root problems are the same. We're all plagued with the same flesh.
Sixth, I don't "just leave" because I really don't want to. Not a very spiritual reason, but maybe not a bad one. The fact is, it's not some desire to leave that motivates me. It's a desire to work through some issues. I'm setting out to articulate to myself exactly what problems I see, and what issues I'm having. For example, in my post on reception, the whole point was for me to work through exactly what I see as the biblical model. Yes, I think the "brethren" are pretty much wrong on this issue, but that's not really what I was setting out to prove. Don't get me wrong, there are days... But the Christian life is an uphill battle. Get used to it.
None of these make disobedience OK. None of these are excuses to sin. But for me, they're all good reasons to stay.
So please don't misinterpret my blog as a grumbling session. I'm trying to be careful with what I post: trying not to air dirty laundry publicly. But on the other hand, there are definitely issues: some are mine, others are "ours". My goal here is to give myself a place to think them through "on paper", and maybe get some other people thinking too.