When to separate from a religious association.

David E. McConnell
May 15, 2006


A Beginning with Great Hope

In prior writings I have alluded to the difficulty (as others have) of knowing when a Christian association has become apostate to the point that continued collective relationship should be discontinued. I’d like to make a few comments about that. Although it has been over 20 years since having any relationship with the assemblies now led and dominated by Robert A. Grove and his appointees, I still have very vivid recollections of my perceptions of those days.

Over thirty-five years ago my family and I encountered and began an association with some Christians back in Virginia who were meeting outside of denominations. I was drawn to them not due to any doctrinal view they espoused, but because they appeared to embody the true freedom that is in Christ. Having grown up mostly in the Baptist denomination, it was refreshing to be free from the guided tour of what the Scriptures teach and to be able to read it for myself. I was glad to consider the views of others in advancing my own understanding, but with the freedom, in the final analysis, to prove for myself what the Scriptures taught. It was that which was so appealing and that prompted me to leave organized religious systems.

During this association that continued for about 15 years, I came to recognize widely varying maturity levels among those that I had association with. Some were very shallow in their understanding and very legalistic in their expectations of others while some seemed to have both maturity and understanding that was beneficial. In time those I judged to be the more worthy were ostracized while those who, in my mind, were among the least esteemed came to dominate the association. Eventually, as individuals that I respected were either silenced or shunned, the picture that came into perspective was that of an association that held to a rigid, institutional view of the Bible similar to that I experienced in organized religious systems.

The Seeds of Apostasy Appear

The newer association confused Christian unity with behavioral and doctrinal conformity, even carrying it further to the point that any perceived difference from their institutional norms was cause for confrontation and for judicial action. They distorted the scriptural principles "prove all things" (1st Thessalonians 5:21) and "every joint supplies" (Ephesians 4:16) to conform to their institutional perspectives. Everyone was expected to understand everything the same and to gain approval from their institutional authorities before stating or writing a view that might be at odds with the (current) institutional view.

The scriptural admonition to "prove all things" (1st Thessalonians 5:21) has no meaning when an institutional view may not be questioned. "Through a multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14; 24:6) has no meaning when an authority figure provides the only acceptable answer. There is no need for a multitude when the only allowed counsel comes from an institutional authority figure. It is precisely because counselors are people, who are not infallible, that having the capability of cross-examining multiple views and insights is not only helpful, it is essential in reaching the truth. Any one alone may not have all truth or insight (authority figure not withstanding). Indeed, the counsel from some counselors may even be wrong or incomplete. Determining the rightness, wrongness, or sufficiency of the counsel is to be determined by the person receiving the counsel. That’s what proving all things is about.

Even wrong counsel concerning behavior or doctrine serves a better purpose than simply relying upon an authority figure or an institutional perspective. This is because even wrong counsel serves as a means of focusing attention so that issues are recognized and may, thereby, be considered. Adopting the authority figure or institutional perspective effectively closes off cross-examination of thought. I prefer the multitude of counselors approach even at the risk of getting wrong counsel on occasion because it is scriptural, and it is more likely to lead to truth than the authority figure and institutional approach.

Conformity is Hostile to Christian Unity

We should be thankful that we each may be lifted through the insight of others. Anyone attempting to close off ideas that they do not agree with is demonstrating great insecurity. They are also demonstrating a great lack of confidence in others, that others can’t judge matters for themselves, and great pride, that they can judge matters for others. This is precisely the attitude that came to characterize the Christian association usurped by Robert A. Grove and his legalistic followers. A legalistic, authority figure based association can only result in retarded spiritual growth because it denies freedom to those who have been set free. (Galatians 5:1)

Along with others, I tried to help by being patient and longsuffering, but that availed for nothing to those wanting to dominate and control others. As I came to see that the legalistic attitudes previously recognized in a few had ultimately become institutional I was left with no alternative, but to separate my family and myself from such a damaging influence and environment. The environment came to be characterized by fear; not fear on the part of those being silenced or being driven out, but fear on the part of the "leadership" fostering legalistic, hypocritical conformity as a counterfeit of Christian unity.

True unity only comes through having and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. Robert A. Grove, Robert D. Harrison and the like have great fear of losing their office and power over others. They fear the open examination of the Scriptures. They have become so warped that they see in the natural desire of all believers to serve others and to share as a coveting of an office—the very thing they are guilty of. So what they have is a religious camp dominated at the top by hypocrisy. During the time Moses led the children of Israel those who sought the Lord went out to the tabernacle that was outside the camp. (Exodus 33:7). Likewise, to us the Scriptures admonish, "Let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach." (Hebrews 13:13)

The Conclusion of the Matter

What is the reproach we are to bear? (Hebrews 13:13). The Lord Jesus was falsely judged by the hypocritical, legalistic Pharisees of having an unclean spirit. The very ones who so completely manifested an unclean spirit were the very ones who were so hateful against Him. They hated Him without a cause. (John 15:25) The unworthy falsely judged the Worthy. Even so today, we should not expect the situation to be different for those walking in the Spirit; the worthy will bear the reproach of the unworthy—the reproach of our Lord Jesus.

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