How to Lead Your Church to Leave a Heterodox Denomination

            In his sermon series on the Epistle to the Ephesians, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones described in one sermon the importance of the hobnailed shoes of the Roman soldiers:

Now what was the object of that, why did they do that, why was this provided for the Roman soldier? The answer is quite clear. First, he needed firmness; firmness of hold, to prevent his sliding and slipping and falling. That is essential, so the studs. . . It was most important that the feet should be protected against these traps that were there camouflaged and hidden in order to cause this trouble. Then the third reason for providing these sandals was this—mobility.[1]     

Soldiers of Christ need firm footing if they are to fight the Lord’s battles. They need protection from the enemy’s devices to trip them. And they need mobility. This third reason which Lloyd-Jones mentions is often the most neglected by modern ministers. Mobility means that they can change course or direction depending on the nature of the battle. The history of warfare shows the fallacy of trench warfare and fixed positions. Now, I am not suggesting, and neither is Lloyd-Jones, that we have to change our positions concerning the Scripture or orthodox doctrine. We hold tenaciously to the truth once for all delivered to the saints, but we do not become entrenched in our tactics of defending that truth. Sometimes, the battle will rage in one area. Other times, the battle will come from a different direction. We must be ready to maneuver and have the mobility to shift our ground.

I think this is something that is often forgotten. I hear people say that they are “in the fight” to save the denomination (PCA, OPC, whatever), but their plan does not allow for mobility. Their plan assumes that the other side is going to sit tight and allow the conservatives to make all the moves. Too often conservatives are caught playing checkers while their opponents are playing chess. Only afterwards, do the conservatives scratch their heads and ask the question, “What just happened?” Well, here is what happened. You failed to “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15) and you were outmaneuvered by your opponent. You stood in a fixed battle position and you were outflanked. When mobility was required, you stood still.

            Over the past year, I have heard from numerous teaching elders who have told me something like this: “I am personally ready to leave the PCA, but my people are not yet with me.” On further questioning, it is usually acknowledged by the pastor that he has not informed his congregation of the problems in his pluralistic denomination.

            Then, I have heard from a number of church members who have said something like this: “Our pastor and elders never tell us anything about what is happening in our denomination.”

            Here is my question to pastors and ruling elders: How can you expect your church to be prepared to leave a pluralistic denomination if you have not prepared them to do so? Leadership must be from the front—not the rear. We are spiritual leaders—not followers.

            I am reminded of an old joke we had in the army concerning the failed leadership styles of some commanders. A commander walks out of the forest and sees some friendly forces. He identifies himself and then asks: “Have you seen my soldiers? They are lost and I must find them.” In fact, that joke points out that it was the commander who was lost because he was not leading his soldiers. A good leader leads from the front. A bad leader is always trying to find out where his sheep are in their thinking.

            Good leaders give cogent and compelling arguments to support a particular decision or action. It takes courage to be a leader. It takes convictions to be a leader. It takes forthrightness to be a leader. It takes a willingness to be slandered to be a leader in certain situations. Jesus was slandered. Paul was slandered. So, here is what Paul is telling us to do in putting on our feet the shoes that prepare us for battle.

            First, leaders must be firm in their stand on the gospel. They must believe that it is Christ alone; justification by faith alone; the glory of God alone; the Scripture alone; and, grace alone. It is never Christ “plus” or Christ “and”. It is never Jesus plus the social justice perversion of the gospel. I grew up in a liberal denomination that preached social justice causes back in the 1960’s. I heard those sermons every week. Social justice was a danger in a liberal denomination, but it is an even greater danger in a supposedly confessional and conservative denomination. The perversion is more deceptive and leaders many more people astray. No pastor or elder should shrug his shoulders about the dangers of the social justice perversion of the gospel because he thinks that the majority of the pastors still preach the gospel. The truth is that there are too many pastors who are actually preaching social justice with a little dollop of Jesus thrown in along the way. That is a more insidious error. That is a more dangerous perversion of the gospel. True shepherds must stand firm and not allow their sheep to be deceived. In the PCA and many other denominations, there is not one single issue which is the problem. It is not one thing. It is many. And it is dangerous just to focus on one issue whether it is heterodox positions on creation or homosexuality or lose subscription to the WCF or the social justice gospel or the development of a hierarchical polity. It is all those things, in one sense, and many more. Moreover, the real problem is the Apostle’s teaching is being thrown out into the streets. We must be firm in our adherence to that standard of truth and not accommodate deviations to either doctrine or life.

   Second, as Lloyd-Jones pointed out, the shoes of the soldiers were for the purpose of protecting their feet against the many objects that were strewn along the battlefields—shards of glass to cut their feet, sharpened pieces of wood to penetrate their feet, etc. True shepherds must always remember that the real enemy is the evil one. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but. . . against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Job’s chief antagonist was Satan, though he never fully realized it. Eve was deceived by the devil. Satan demanded to sift Peter like wheat. Satan tried to kill Jesus before it was our Savior’s time to die. A true shepherd realizes that the Church is always involved in a spiritual battle in which the leader of the opposing forces is none other than the devil himself. When heresy and immorality enter into denominations, the real cause of that turmoil is the evil one. Satan tried to kill Jesus as an infant and he still tries to destroy the church that was founded by Jesus. Regrettably, Satan uses unsuspecting people to carry out his plans. Sometimes, those people think they are doing the right thing, but they are, instead, advancing the purposes of Apollyon. True shepherds, while still loving those who are thus misguided, must see the battlefield for what it is really is. They need those nighttime goggles that will allow them to see what is really happening in the dark. They need to see it is a deadly battle and rise to the challenge. It takes great wisdom and spiritual insight, but the Scripture provides such to those who seek earnestly for the truth. Good shepherds must inform their congregations of the true situation. They must inform that it is a spiritual battle against the devil himself. That is how you make sure your sheep’s feet are prepared with the gospel of peace.

Third, true shepherds, like good soldiers, must be ready to maneuver quickly. They need mobility. The battle can be easily lost by standing in one place while the enemy simply outflanks you. The French took great pains to build the Maginot Line which they thought would protect them from a German invasion, but the Nazis simply went storming around those fixed battlefield positions with the greatest of ease. The Germans did the same thing with their pillboxes which they erected to try to foil the D-Day invasion. How did that work out for the Nazis? Yet, I see good pastors stuck on the same failed battle plans from the past. What is their problem? They are failing to be mobile. They are failing to maneuver into a winning position. Who ever won a boxing match by standing in the middle of the ring without maneuvering? Good shepherds inform their congregations of the dangers all around them.

            So, what should a good shepherd in the PCA say to his church members through sermon illustrations, emails, informal meetings, and one-on-one meetings? Tell them what Greg Johnson said and did at the 2019 General Assembly to promote his ideas on same-sex attraction. Tell them about the Revoice Conference. Tell them about that disgusting social justice prayer of unison that was used at the 2018 General Assembly. Tell them about the disingenuous reports of Missouri Presbytery in providing cover for Greg Johnson. Tell them about the church court cases in the PCA that have refused to exercise discipline for heresy or immorality. Tell them about the videos with three recent Moderators of the PCA promoting social justice for LGBTQ. Tell them about how the National Partnership (a secret organization in the PCA) has control of the denomination by communicating how to vote in real time through social media. Tell them the things that I have written for the last year. Tell them Francis Schaeffer wrote that when discipline for heresy or immorality is no longer possible in a denomination then Christians must take the step of leaving that body with tears in their eyes.

            The things I have written over the last year are the essential issues of this day and time. No shepherd can be fighting the Lord’s battles if he is silent on the issues where the devil is trying to destroy the church. He is AWOL while the battle is raging. Rupert Meldenius, a second-generation reformer, once wrote: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” These issues are essential. They are not non-essentials. They are issues on which the true church cannot equivocate or be silent. We do not need enlightenment from a study committee. What we need is courage to act on our convictions.

            So, here is how you lead your congregation to leave a heterodox denomination which refuses to discipline heresy or immorality. You lead.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Christian Soldier: Stand Fast” in The Westminster Record, Vol. 42, July, 1967, No. 7, p. 100. (I do not have the volume of sermons titled, The Christian Soldier, in book form because I bought the individual sermons at Westminster Chapel in London in 1977 that were printed monthly in The Westminster Record. Thus, I cannot give you the normal reference to any quotes from this sermon).

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