Many of my friends are leaving our church and I’m not sure if I should leave with them …

Q: “My best friends in the church have decided they are leaving and have encouraged me to come with them. I feel torn about this because I took membership vows when I joined (as did they) and just breaking those vows and leaving seems wrong. Am I making too big a deal about what I said when joining the church several years ago when, in fact, the church has changed so much since then? I don’t want to ignore my vows but I also don’t want to lose these friendships. How should I respond?”

A: We live in a culture that minimizes the importance of the promises we make, particularly the very serious promises made as vows. God’s serious commitment to the words and promises of a vow made are demonstrated to us through the vow he made to Abraham in Genesis chapter 15. His vow communicated that should He fail to keep His word that He be torn asunder as the animals had been cut in two. That is serious! God expects us equally to keep our words of promise and accept the consequences of our vows because He has demonstrated His own acceptance of the consequences of a vow broken. We take vows when we marry, when enter the covenant family of God when joining the church, and when we serve our country by joining the military or entering into other serious service requiring loyalty to our nation. We take vows voluntarily which implies that we will treat with even greater urgency the promises we make more than something externally forced upon us. Too many people believe the opposite by thinking that since they volunteered to enter into a vow they equally as easily can take an action of disavowal.

Just because the church has changed and you have some friends treating their vows with contempt doesn’t mean you should. You should respond by being an advocate for the seriousness of your church membership vows and reminding your friends that they, too, should not make a casual decision about leaving the church. You owe God, your church leaders, and your fellow church members to work hard to bring about the changes required in your church to address concerns you may have about various ministries, but even then to forsake breaking your vows until God has made it clear that doing so would be an act of obedience to Him, and that is a very high standard.

-Dave Edling

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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