Shortly after I graduated from seminary, I remember that the president of the school decided to leave and go start a church up north of town. He was planting a church in an area that could have used another church, but what happened was unreal. The very first day the man preached, there were 700 in attendance.
I would like to think that this was so because he had worked the neighborhoods, sought the lost, evangelized and was used mightily by the LORD for His glory. But I knew better. The man was not only the president of the seminary, but also a nationally known pastor for his radio program, at least nationally known among the Christian subculture.
The people were not there because the LORD was drawing them there, they were there because of his fame. Yet, the Bible warns the church against following men in this manner. Paul writes to the Corinthians against following men: 1 Corinthians 3:4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
What of the churches where these people had been attending? Had these people not made a commitment to the LORD there, before men, to be faithful to that body of believers? I know in the Presbyterian Church in America, we have those who join our churches take an oath before the LORD when they join. Part of the questioning process is:
Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline
of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
By leaving one congregation, and going to another simply because that pastor is more famous is breaking that commitment. I know not all churches have such commitments, but it is still wrong to leave one church and go to another simply because a man is popular. This is exactly what Paul was warning us against.
Now, I do understand that there are times to leave a church. For instance, when the pastor is not preaching the word of God, and simply telling moralistic, feel-good stories about himself and others, then it is good to leave a church. But this should not be done without first confronting a pastor over such issues. Far too many people fail to hold their ministers in check when they refuse to preach God’s word. They simply leave. I know, it’s easier that way, but this is not what Christ calls us to do. He gives us the admonition in both Matthew 5 and 18 to deal with a sinning brother. Go to the leadership of the church if you have problems going directly to the man.
If there is no change in the man’s preaching, then leaving a church is perfectly acceptable.
The sad reality about the popular preacher I mention above is that he preaches good stories and moralistic messages. Yes, he adds a gospel preaching message at the end. But that is not the gospel. Giving people messages about how to be better people by listing the 10 ways not to be a liar, is not the gospel. That is a message that we can better ourselves if we just try harder. The gospel shows us that we cannot try harder and become acceptable to God. Our efforts bring us nothing. The Gospel message is that Jesus saves His people. They don’t save themselves. Jesus doesn’t make it possible for us to save ourselves. He saves us.
But the point of this post is that people should not follow a man because he is famous. This is the sin of sectarianism, and Paul condemns this sin outright. The way most people see it today is when a pastor leaves a church, over some dispute, and goes and starts another church across town, encouraging his people to follow him. Sadly, this happens all the time. In doing so, those who follow him are joining with him in his sin. This should be discouraged on every level.
I know there have been times where I thought about doing just that when things were going well in the church where I was a pastor. Fortunately, the Spirit never gave me peace about starting a church and I never followed up on it. I thank the LORD for that. He has always had a place for me and kept me from committing such a sin.