An Apostate Church — Stay in or Leave?

March/April 2012
Volume 47, Number 2


BRF was organized as a revival/concern movement within the Church of the Brethren. Many of the people who began BRF in 1959 would not have fit fully within the conservative Brethren “mold.” Yet they were sufficiently concerned with the direction of the Brotherhood that they felt some united effort should be made to express the concerns they had. From the beginning, BRF has sought to include both conservative and evangelically minded people within our program, and that program is involved with engaging the larger Church of the Brethren.

Some are severely critical of BRF’s involvement with the larger Church of the Brethren, and of our dual emphasis for the conservative and evangelical Brethren where we can express similar concerns (such as on missions, evangelism, essential Christian theology, and the like). Some think that the liberal direction of the Brethren has all but eliminated conservative Brethren thought and practice. We beg to differ. Some have declared that the Church of the Brethren means nothing to them, while BRF has been committed to working within the Church of the Brethren.

Some believe that even with conservative teaching we have lost our way, because no men have risen up and responded to the call of God to lead the people in practical application of the Biblical beliefs and practices. This is untrue, as a number of men have responded to the call and carried forth the Gospel in the Church of the Brethren.

There is also a movement within some evangelical and conservative Brethren congregations to disassociate themselves completely from any involvement with the larger church in order to preserve the purity of their own perspective. This separatism is based on the despairing belief that the larger church has become apostate beyond hope. Additionally, among the more conservative congregations there is a view that the evangelicals (who are in the middle between the liberals and conservatives) have compromised too much. Therefore, any association with either the liberals or evangelicals runs the risk of contamination by them and loss of witness.

Many who do separate end up abandoning what it was that made them Brethren in the first place. They waver on maintaining their New Testament beliefs and practices, and end up drifting toward essentially nondenominational faith and practice, that reduces the ordinances to two, and the distinctive beliefs and practices to nothing.

We observe that there is an underlying foundational difference between this separatism and the BRF. BRF has always focused on revivalism, trying to be an influence within the denomination­–the leaven in the lump­–and working toward revival within the larger church. Some criticize BRF’s involvement with the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, but this is one of the major ways that BRF engages the leadership and encourages others to a stronger stand for the Gospel. We are not separatist or schismatic. We are not liberal. To disengage from the larger Church of the Brethren would be to negate the purpose of BRF. Who then would encourage those who maintain an evangelical testimony within the Church of the Brethren? BRF is working within the COB, and we have seen fruit from our efforts.

For over fifty years, BRF has counseled individuals and congregations to stick with the Church of the Brethren. We have worked with the larger church in areas where in good conscience we could support. We have sought to reach out and speak on behalf of both the conservative and the evangelical perspectives within the church. We have felt keenly the loss of effective voices of Biblical authority as they have departed to either other denominations or small independent congregations. We have felt the anger of those who disdain our work of preaching, teaching, and publishing under the authority of God’s Word.

The BRF increasingly finds itself in a very difficult situation, trying to encourage the more conservative constituency to stay within the denomination, while at the same time, trying to work toward revival in the larger church; in essence feeling pressure from both sides. Brethren Revival Fellowship has persevered over the years because of our basic commitment to revival within the Church of the Brethren, and we want to see a revival of the New Testament beliefs and practices that have set the Brethren apart from other Christian bodies.

–Craig Alan Myers


By Harold S. Martin

I write this essay after having served in many capacities in the Church of the Brethren, both at the local level and at the district and national levels. The word apostasy is sometimes defined as the determined and willful rejection of Christ and His teachings. We are using the term as it is more generally defined­–meaning an abandonment of the faith that was once professed.

A few times, over the more than five decades, I have been encouraged by what I saw, but there have been many more times when I felt that the directions into which the church was moving, require that faithful believers separate from the denomination, and link up with some other body of Christians. At times I felt like quitting ties with the Church of the Brethren.

But the Bible talks about “persevering.” The word means “hanging-in-there when the going is difficult.” The word is sometimes translated “patience” in the KJV.

The New Testament word is hupomone­a — a word which literally means “to remain steadfast in the midst of difficult situations without giving in”­and is translated “perseverance” in most of the recent English translations of the Bible.

Note some of the synonyms for “persevere”: they include “endure,” “bear with,” “tolerate,” “put up with,” “persist,” “keep on,” “continue,” “keep one’s nose to the grindstone,” “stick it out,” “press on,” and “hang tough.” The word hupomone is found in Romans 5:3-4, “We know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character;” Hebrews 12:1, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us;” 2 Peter 1:5-6 “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance.”

Some of the things that have torn at our hearts in the Church of the Brethren include the fact that some pastors have clearly discarded belief in biblical inerrancy; seminary professors have embraced intellectualism, fad theologies, and evolution theory; moral standards in the Church of the Brethren are being compromised; leading churchmen have turned away from the Anabaptist two-kingdom view of the church/world, the focus is more on social concerns than on seeing people saved for eternity; and the smorgasbord approach is generally used in Bible interpretation, that is, the trend to follow what we choose from the Scriptures and explain away the rest.

Separation from the denomination seems justifiable when the Church in its official doctrinal statements opposes the gospel, or compels Christians to believe or do things which are contrary to the Word of God. It is important to note however, that the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in 1998 officially reaffirmed belief in the New Testament as “our rule of faith and practice,” acknowledging some varieties in interpretation, but lamenting those who twist plain meanings of Scipture “until they no longer prick the conscience nor demand humble obedience.”

Those who decide to stay within the denomination­ keep in mind the fact that there is no absolutely pure and perfect visible church. Only perfect people would result in a perfect church; there is no such body because there are no such people. Those who feel they are going to find a paradise in another denomination will be in for a real surprise. In fact, those who have separated from apostate bodies­ — in the course of time­ — are themselves faced with doctrinal defection. Thus separation is an endless chain that never really settles difficult issues.

Those who stay must accept the limitations, as well as the opportunities entailed in working in tension with programs largely directed by religious liberals. Our witness may not always be effective. There will be tensions and frustrations. It would be easier to look for another church where people have views that parallel our own. It may seem easy to live and work among those with whom we can agree on almost everything­–but it may be more important to stand for the truth among those who seem to misunderstand it. Those who stay within the denomination must be patient about what cannot be changed immediately, work hard at what can be changed, and seek to follow in a Christlike way the instructions in the Word of God.

Down through the years the issue of leaving the church and separating from apostasy has been a live one­and it is still very much alive today.

What shall we do when we find ourselves within a denomination where some church leaders deny the faith that it once professed? Can a faithful Christian remain in a denomination which has in many ways departed from the faith? Can parents send their children to Sunday School classes where Scriptural principles are often ignored or distorted? How far should we fraternize with those who have turned aside to another gospel?

The problem is not really a new one. There has been genuine concern about the purity of the church among believers down through the centuries. In the time of the Reformation, there was Martin Luther ­and Conrad Grebel and Alexander Mack. All of these men struggled with the issue of whether or not to stay within the larger body.

Many say that sincere Christians should continue in the denomination to help turn the tide and bring the church back to a place where it more faithfully honors the Lord.

Others say that fellowship with people who advocate error ­is participation in sin, and thus they urge believers to find fellowship with a church that is more loyal to the Scriptures. They say that to affiliate with those who have departed from the faith is disobedience to the Word of God­ and God does not bless disobedience.

The following sections list the major arguments given for separation from a faltering denomination, and also the arguments for staying in the larger body.


One cannot rub against a smutty stove without getting some of it on him. If we mingle closely with those who are doctrinally unfaithful, some of their thinking may rub off on us. Staying in among people who are drifting spiritually may tend to cause others to compromise.

(1) The teaching of 2 Corinthians 6:14-17

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers…therefore come out from among them, and be separate says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.”

This passage is often said to be a direct commandment of the Lord to separate from a church that has become unfaithful.

The noted scholar, Charles Hodge, says that the separation called for here, is primarily a prohibition against association with the heathen. But, he says, it has a wider application. The believer is forbidden ultimate fellowship with all the enemies of God’s truth­–so it is a valid reason for separation from a floundering church body.

(2) The commandments to prohibit heresy

Walter Elwell, in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, says that the word “heresy” is a term that differs in degree from “apostasy” and speaks primarily of any school of thought which is contrary to the recognized, fundamental, historic doctrines of the Christian faith, including a willful rejection of Christ and His teachings.

False apostles had already established themselves in the congregations of the early church. Throughout the New Testament heresy is condemned (2 Peter 2:1). Believers are told to deal with heresy­ not by withdrawing from the church, but by exposing the error of false teaching. Those who promote heresy are persons who have abandoned the essence of the faith. They should be corrected and even purged from the body if necessary (Galatians 1:8-9; Titus 3:10).

(3) The meaning of Revelation 18:4

“I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins.” Some argue strongly that Revelation 18:4 is a clear New Testament call for separation from apostate churches. However, the call to “come out” (in Revelation 18), is a call to separate from the vanity and greed and materialism of this present world ­as symbolized by the term “Babylon.” The context of Revelation 18:4 indicates that Babylon is viewed in its political and economic character­ rather than its religious aspect.

We read later in Revelation 18, that industry and trade will come to a standstill; the voice of the music-maker will become silent; craftsmen (who manufactured expensive furnishings) will no longer be found. The night-life of earth’s great cities will vanish away, and the streets will no longer ring with the voices of laughing people. Man’s commercial and economic achievements will some day fall, and will give place to the city of God.

The call in Revelation 18:4 is a plea not to become entangled in the commercial and materialistic system which will utterly collapse at Christ’s Second Coming. The command “to come out” is much more related to shopping at the mall­ than it is with deciding about which church to attend! On the other hand, many who decide to separate from the denomination are sincere persons, and should not be considered fanatical, self-righteous, and foolish.

Separation from any group should be motivated by love­ — love for Christ, love for the truth, and love for peace. The aim should be to find a place where the Word is preached, the ordinances are observed, and where discipline is exercised. There may come a moment when believers must say, “We can no longer stay in the denomination with a good and clear conscience. We still love our Church, but we believe that it has become so immersed with error that we can no longer stay within, and maintain a clear conscience.” Such action at times may meet the approval of the Lord, at least for individuals within a given local church.


The following Scriptures are used by those who say we ought to stay in. Those who decide to stay in a corrupted denomination believe the situation is never so hopeless that it cannot be improved­ at least for individuals within. They prefer to remain within the old-line denomination, partly in the hope that there may come a turn in direction toward the historic faith, or partly because they have found within the denomination freedom to proclaim the gospel, and freedom to observe the ordinances as ordained by the Lord.

One of the benefits of continuing within the Church of the Brethren is that there is great freedom at the local level for the congregation to be as biblical as it wants, without fear that pressure will be brought by denominational leaders to try and force the congregation to conform to denominational polity. The following statements set forth principles used to argue against separation from the denomination.

(1) The attitude of the prophets and apostles

“And he said to me, Son of man, go to the house of Israel, and speak with my words to them. For you art not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech…but to the house of Israel…But the house of Israel will not listen to you…for they are hard-hearted…[But] do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:4-9).

The Old Testament prophets, in spite of the terrible corruption among the people of God, did not separate from that body in order to establish a separate sect.

The prophets lived in a time similar to ours. Israel had strayed from the faith of the fathers and had aligned themselves with the pagan nations around them. They adopted the practices of heathen people, yet God commanded Ezekiel not to withdraw­but to go to Israel and preach fearlessly even though the people were stubborn and not eager to hear (Ezekiel 3:4-9).

Jeremiah speaks of the prophets who prophesy falsely, and the “people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:30-31). He was called to witness to these people who loved falsehood. Should Jeremiah have withdrawn? The Old Testament examples were given “for our learning.”

It is significant that Jesus did not separate from the synagogue, nor did the apostles separate from the faltering congregations of their day.

Jesus kept on teaching in the Temple, in spite of corruption and bad influences of the Pharisees. And in the early church at Corinth there were all kinds of problems­ — personality clashes, sexual looseness, Christian freedom confused with license, turmoil at the lovefeast services, and a group who taught that there was to be no resurrection. The easiest choice for Paul would have been to “come out from among them”­but instead, he rebuked them, prayed for them, visited their church, and wrote letters to them. Paul did not quit Corinth, bad as it was! In fact, the church in New Testament times continued to receive counsel and help from the Apostle Paul even when he was an aged man (Philemon 9).

(2) The concept of the remnant

“Unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we should have become like Sodom, and we should have been made like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9).

There was a “remnant” during Israel’s history. The “remnant” speaks of “a spiritual Israel within the national Israel.” In Elijah’s time, seven thousand had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). In Isaiah’s time, it was the “very small remnant” for whose sake God withheld the destruction of the nation (Isaiah 1:9). During the Captivities, the remnant appeared in citizens like Esther, Mordecai, and Daniel. At the time of our Lord’s first advent, there were godly people like John the Baptist, Anna, and Simeon who comprised the remnant.

These true believers stayed within the household of faith, and it was the task of the faithful remnant to bear witness against the apostate nation and call it back to the Lord and His message. During New Testament times, 1 Timothy 4:1 declares that some will depart from the faith, but Timothy’s responsibility (verse 6) was to continue to warn the brethren of error.

(3) The example given in Revelation 2:24; 3:4

Revelation 2 and 3 tell about the idolatry and formalism and error within many of the seven churches of Asia­but at least twice in those chapters we are reminded that some in the midst of the apostasy had not compromised their convictions.

John says (in Revelation 2:24) that some in Thyatira “do not have this doctrine” (even though they were inside the unfaithful church)­and in Revelation 3:4, he speaks about the dead church at Sardis, and says, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments.” There was, within each of these two churches, a group of believers who continued in the faith and had not been deceived by “Jezebel.” Our Lord (through the Apostle John) tells them to “hold fast till I come” (Revelation 2:25). Jesus himself (at His coming) will deliver faithful believers, even out of the apostate setting.

Should sound-minded conservative people separate from the floundering denomination, and thereby strengthen the hold of those who have abandoned the historic Christian faith? Or, should conservative believers stay in the larger body and try to strengthen an evangelical-Anabaptist base, and counter the trends? God has worked both ways to reform the church. He has sometimes blessed those who stayed within to confront, and sometimes He has blessed those who separated and started anew.

My own conclusion (after much heart-searching, Scripture-study, and observing what happened to groups that separated in past times)­is that it is not necessarily the duty of the Christian to withdraw from a denomination which is influenced and harmed by the new theological looseness. Many a faithful Christian has remained in such a church, kindly teaching a Sunday School class of children or adults, quietly witnessing to the whole Word of God­–and has been used as an antidote to the wrong and confused teachings which are often accepted there.

We acknowledge too, that conditions vary so much, that a course of action which may be right for one person could well not be God’s will for another. Our decision to stay­–or to separate­–should follow very definite prayer for God’s leading, with a request to the Lord that we be kept from allowing personalities and prejudices to color our decision.

God sometimes leads people in different ways­–and both ways please Him! Nehemiah accepted the king’s escort of soldiers and horsemen (Nehemiah 2:9) “Now the king had sent captains of the army, and horsemen with me.” Ezra refused such help from the king (Ezra 8:22). “I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen…the hand the hand of our God is upon all…who seek Him.” Nehemiah wanted the protection of soldiers to make the thousand-mile journey back to their homeland; Ezra said in essence, “God will take care of us,” and refused such protection–­yet God used both those men to bring revival to those who had returned to the land of Israel.

Individuals who are not satisfied in the denominational congregation should find another local body with which to associate. One thing we should not do–­is to start multiple independent congregations. There are at least five reasons why one should not choose to do that:

1. Starting independent congregations narrows the scope of association, and after a decade or more, the members become in-grown because the church lacks a broad base of fellowship.
(There just is not a broad spectrum of church leaders, people who think like the breakaway group does, to bring in for various special events)

2. Going independent opens up the congregation to become dominated by one or two strong personalities who tend to “run things” their own way.
(The local church begins to take on the flavor of one or two men, usually pastors who have some special charisma)

3. Establishing an independent congregation lets a bad image in the community, because families and even close friends are divided; some stay within the mainline group; others separate from it.
(This usually causes ill feelings, and this is not a good testimony to our neighbors)

4. Leaving the denomination provides “an easy way out.” Yet the path of a soldier in Christ’s army, by way of contrast, involves “enduring hardness” and “gently instructing” those who oppose the truth (2 Timothy 2:3; 24-26).
(Of course it would be easier to unite with a group where most everyone agrees with us­–but is that what the Lord wants?)

5. Going independent closes opportunities for witness and influence in the denomination from which the congregation or individual withdraws.
(The Church of the Brethren in a sense is a tremendous mission field. It is like a desert waiting for someone to come along and hose it down with the waters of the gospel. Shall we cut ourselves off from this mission field?)

A closing reminder is this: to leave the denomination (when there is disunity in the congregation about such a move)­is pressing an issue that is divisive. The Scriptures present more than one view on the matter. Remember that one of the sentiments which the Lord hates, is the attitude of those who “sow discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

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Captivity… Dreams… Rulers… Fire… Lions… Prayers… Kingdoms. From a dedicated youth to a faithful sage, Daniel’s life stands as an example to follow.  Yet beyond his personal life, God gifted Daniel with a message of future events.  Though difficult to grasp, these events would shape the world for the coming Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ as King.


Luke presents a warmly personal and historically accurate account of Jesus as “the Son of Man.” This course will survey the Third Gospel, with emphasis on the unique events, miracles, and parables of Jesus found in it.


This class will provide a broad overview of general church history. We will then focus on the Anabaptist and Pietist movements, especially as they relate to the formation and development of the Brethren groups. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.


This course is intended to lay down a measure in a world where truth is slippery and often subject to interpretation. Where “Christian Values” become a political slogan, and “good people” are our allies despite their faulty core beliefs. Where Facebook “friends” post memes about the power of God, despite a lifestyle that is anything but Godly. In the process we often fight among ourselves, doing Satan’s work for him. The purpose of this course is to lay the measure of Jesus Christ against the cults, religions, and worship in our contemporary world.


While Protestant translations of the Bible contain 66 books, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize additional canonical books as well.  Where did these books, collectively known as the Apocrypha, come from and why aren’t they part of our Bible?  How reliable are they, and what value is there in studying them?


The goal of this class is to acquire a firm grasp of the teachings and themes of these two general epistles. Peter covers topics from salvation and suffering to spiritual deception and the return of Christ. These letters are packed with warnings and encouragements for Christian living.


A detailed study of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the “I Am” metaphors in John’s gospel. Why did Jesus describe himself in these terms? How do they relate to each other? We will look at spiritual and practical applications to further our Christian growth.


Have you ever been visited by someone who said they wanted to study the Bible with you so that you might discover the truth together?  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to have much in common with evangelical Christians, and they seem to be well versed in the scriptures.  But what do they really believe and how can we effectively witness to those who have been ensnared by this false religion?


While we may consider Hosea as one of the minor prophets, his message vividly illustrates the major doctrine in all Scriptures.  The theme of God’s unconditional love is magnified and extended beyond those deserving it.  God expresses tender words towards His erring people inviting them to turn from sin to reconciliation with Him.


This course will look at basic principles and polity of leading the local church. We will examine the balance between upholding a spiritually focused organism of ministry and cultivating proper order for effective organization. Practical applications will be emphasized. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.


The Brethren Bible Institute believes in the discipline of the whole person (spirit, soul, and body). We will aim to train students not only about how to study the Bible in a systematic way (2 Timothy 2:15), but also how to live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). God calls Christians to the highest of character when He commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15), and holiness requires discipline.

Indulgence in the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, drugs, profanity, and gambling are forbidden at BBI. Objectionable literature will be prohibited. Students are asked not to use the college pool during the Institute. Each student must be thoughtful, and respect the rights of others at all times, especially during study and rest periods.

A friendly social group intermingling of students between class periods, and at general school activities is encouraged. Each student should enjoy the friendship of the entire group. At all times, highest standards of social conduct between men and women must be maintained. This means that all forms of unbecoming behavior and unseemly familiarities will be forbidden.

Personal appearance and grooming tell much about one's character. Students are expected to be dressed in good taste. In an attempt to maintain Scriptural expressions of simplicity, modesty, and nonconformity, the following regulations shall be observed while attending BBI.

MEN should be neatly attired and groomed at all times. Fashion extremes and the wearing of jewelry should be avoided on campus. The hair should not fall over the shirt-collar when standing, nor should it cover the ears.

WOMEN should wear skirts cut full enough and of sufficient length to at least come to the knees when standing and sitting. Form-fitting, transparent, low-neckline, or sleeveless clothing will not be acceptable. Slacks and culottes are permitted only for recreation and then only when worn under a skirt of sufficient length. Wearing jewelry should be avoided on campus. Long hair for women is encouraged and all Church of the Brethren girls (and others with like convictions) shall be veiled on campus.

The Institute reserves the right to dismiss any student whose attitude and behavior is not in harmony with the ideals of the School, or whose presence undermines the general welfare of the School, even if there is no specific breach of conduct.

The Brethren Bible Institute is intended to provide sound Bible teaching and wholesome Christian fellowship for all who desire it. The Bible School Committee worked hard and long at the task of arriving at standards, which will be pleasing to the Lord. It is not always easy to know just where the line should be drawn and we do not claim perfection. No doubt certain standards seem too strict for some and too loose for others. If you are one who does not share all these convictions, we hope you will agree to adjust to them for the School period, for the sake of those who do. We are confident that the blessings received will far outweigh any sacrifice you may have to make. If you have a special problem or question, please write to us about it. To be accepted as a student at BBI, you will need to sign a statement indicating that you will cooperate with the standards of the School.