After listening to your Bible studies, I now understand the importance of attending a church that teaches the whole counsel of God's word. Unfortunately, my church has changed over the years. My pastor only speaks about culture / politics / psychology / social issues / etc. How do I respond?
We are sorry to learn of this difficult situation, but take some comfort in knowing you are not alone. Many churches are drifting away from the church's mission of discipling the faithful to merely entertaining (or fleecing) the flock. In the Bible, Paul warned of this specific situation in the last days:
2Tim. 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom::
2Tim. 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
2Tim. 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,
2Tim. 4:4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
1Tim. 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,
1Tim. 4:2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,
1Tim. 4:3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.
Your pastor sounds like a man fitting Paul's description in 1Tim 4:2. If he is a "hypocritical liar seared in his conscience," then you are right to avoid him and to leave that church. We commend you for your courage to speak with him in the proper manner, but his response to your correction suggests he is a man living in serious rebellion to the Lord and to the authority of His word. If so, he should not be serving as a pastor, much less as a Bible teacher, and you should separate yourself from his influence if he won't listen to sound counsel.
Whether you stay or leave, you should use the knowledge you have gained in studying God's word to share the truth to whomever you can, hoping for a positive result. Encourage other believers and set an example in your own behavior and attitude. Avoid becoming disruptive or argumentative, either with the church leadership or with others in the congregation. Seek to correct your leaders in appropriate ways, as you have done, and always speak the truth in love.
Equally importantly, remember that the Lord has ordained the nature of these last days, so we shouldn't be surprised when our efforts to correct men like your pastor ultimately fail. The word tells us that though God will preserve a remnant, the majority of the Church – including many leaders – will succumb to the coming apostasy. Knowing this truth, we must temper our expectations as we confront evil men in the church.
Finally, do not make it your goal to “fix" a certain church congregation. Rather, make your goal serving the body of Christ universal. When you look past the walls of your local congregation, you will find a world of believers waiting to be taught, encouraged, inspired and led into obedience to Christ. Remember Jesus’ words:
Luke 10:3 “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.
Luke 10:4 “ Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way.
Luke 10:5 “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’
Luke 10:6 “If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him, but if not, it will return to you.
Luke 10:7 “Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house.
Luke 10:8 “Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you;
Luke 10:9 and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘ The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Luke 10:10 “But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say,
Luke 10:11 ‘ Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’
As you work to serve the Lord, don’t expect to encounter a receptive audience at every stop. When you inevitably encounter resistance to the word of God, don’t beat your head against that closed door. Move on looking for the open doors God has prepared for you elsewhere. This is the biblical form of ministry.
By maintaining an informed, biblical perspective on what success looks like in these last days, you guard yourself against disappointments and discouragement. Consider the example of Elijah, who expressed frustration over a lack of revival during a time of apostasy in his day. When Elijah complained to the Lord, God rebuked Elijah, saying:
1Kings 19:11 So the Lord said, “ Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
1Kings 19:12 After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.
1Kings 19:13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1Kings 19:14 Then he said, “ I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
1Kings 19:15 The LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram;
1Kings 19:16 and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
1Kings 19:17 “It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death.
1Kings 19:18 “ Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
While Elijah was expecting the Lord to work great revival within Israel as a result of Elijah’s ministry, the Lord explained to Elijah on the mountain that His purposes were very different. The Lord intended to work quietly, in the background, preserving only a remnant in Israel rather than reviving the whole of Israel. Elijah had set his heart on an unrealistic result, because Elijah hadn't considered what God had revealed concerning the nature of the days in which he lived.
(You can learn more by listening to Pastor Armstrong preach from 1Kings 19 in our lesson on Elijah's Disappointment.)
Likewise today, we know from scripture that the church of the last days will be an apostate church. The Lord has told us that in the last days, the church would have only a remnant of believers devoted to His word (like you), therefore He is unlikely to bring revival even as a result of our prayers and efforts. Knowing this truth from scripture, we are to find contentment in the Lord’s purposes, choosing to work with Him rather than against Him, while tempering our expectations for success.
Therefore, search for the open doors where you can minister to the remnant, and perhaps you will be able to rescue a few more of your brothers and sisters along the way. Consider starting a small study group in your home or a prayer group or some other personal ministry to teach, train, encourage and lead believers to know and obey the word of God.
Perhaps you will find a church home that upholds the word of God and lives according to it, but you should also be prepared for the possibility that you won’t. Regardless, every Christian is called to serve the Lord’s people and witness to His truth, and this calling doesn’t depend on working within a formal church structure (i.e., a local congregation meeting in a certain building). Such support is helpful, of course, but it can also become an encumbrance, as you have discovered.
We are encouraged to know the Lord is feeding you through our teaching, and we trust you will have an opportunity to share our resources with others who are desperate to discover truth and sincerity in their Christian walk. We believe ministries like VBVMI are a part of God’s provision for believers, who have been abandoned and marginalized by corrupt and apostate local churches. Your experience is further confirmation of our belief.