Movements, #Exvangelicals, and the Primacy of the Local Church

As history plays itself out according to God’s providential plan, movements within the visible church come and go. Oftentimes these movements revolve around heresies. Gnosticism and Arianism come to mind as very early ones. Almost as often, movements develop as a response to heresy. After all, what is a fundamentalist without a modernist? Sometimes a movement revolves around a theology but develops its own subculture. For example, many are reformed but the reformed who take special interest in beards, cigars, craft beer, and cocky preachers are young, restless, and reformed. Trendy movements like that one tend not to endure, whether for lack of maturity, broad appeal, or both. Perhaps the broadest, most appealing, and longest-enduring movement of the last 100 years is evangelicalism. Even this movement seems to be waning, however. The recent and sobering death of author Rachel Held Evans, who made a career out of leaving evangelicalism, serves as a reminder of this. That so many young people are leaving evangelicalism reminds me that they are not ultimately leaving a movement but leaving the local church, forsaking a biblical Christian community for a false Jesus made in their own image and a spiritually dead culture of apostasy.

Personally, I’m tired of the Evangelical Industrial Complex pushing third-rate Christian movies on me while preachers exhort me to buy tickets and invite my lost friends. I’m sick of celebrity Bible teachers and their shallow Bible studies pervading small group study. I’m disgusted by worship services presented as entertainment. The evangelical Christian music industry is absolutely loathsome. Many churches are full of self-serving deacons and demonic Freemasons. The broader political movement surrounding evangelicalism is filled with sub-intellectual dispensationalist jingoistic Fox News ever-Trumpers. Intellectual evangelicalism is full of overfunded progressives like the ERLC and The Gospel Coalition. Charismatics are welcomed in evangelicalism, even pandered to. Frankly, evangelicalism is a movement worth leaving. But…

Evangelicalism has largley endured because of evangelism…real evangelism. Evangelicals have historically affirmed the Bible as God’s inerrant word. Because they believe the gospel, evangelicals share it. Because they believe that unrepentant sinners really do burn for an eternity in Hell, evangelicals present God’s plan of salvation to a lost and dying world. Evangelical churches thrive and survive because ultimately only churches grounded in biblical truth can and will.

Really and truly a lot of people who leave evangelicalism are leaving for the wrong reasons. They leave because they reject the authority of scripture. They leave because they affirm the depravities of homosexuality and abortion. They leave because they reject a God who would send wicked sinners to an eternal Hell. They aren’t just leaving a movement, they are leaving the local church. Therein lies the real tragedy. To leave the church is to leave oneself without a shepherd. To leave the church is to leave a Christian community and reject the family of God. To leave the church is to choose Hell and self over Heaven and God. To leave the church is to leave Jesus.

Of course no one can lose his salvation. Theologically, I understand that those who apostatize were never truly “saved” in the first place. Yet, I can’t help but look at those who are so ready to stop being involved as a member of an evangelical church and wonder if they really understand what and whom they are leaving behind.

Don’t leave the church.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant