Are We "Out of Fellowship With God"
if We Don't Attend a Church?
Survivors who are unable to attend a church have been criticized by some as being "heretics," "in sin," "having no life in them," and "out of fellowship with God." Such a view may sound unbelievable coming from those who have already experienced the control and abuse of an authoritarian, works-orientated, religious group. Is it true that being absent from a church building is placing ourselves "out of the will of God," "submitting ourselves to wolves," or "excommunicating ourselves"? If so, where does this kind of thinking place a hurting exiter that is already suffering emotionally and spiritually? Should they be made to feel guilty until they do attend, no matter how triggering and traumatizing it may be for them? Will they be cast off from receiving the fellowship of the Spirit and the love of God? Can they only find healing "within the walls of the church"?
Jesus reached out to all people, especially the weary, burdened and wounded. He told them to come to Him and He would give them rest:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
God revealed Himself to us through His Son, and through the Holy Spirit He works patiently and gently with those that are confused and who have been deceived by Herbert W. Armstrong to be fearful of Him. Many times He uses understanding, loving, patient Christians (who do not push anything on them) to demonstrate His love before they can come to Him.
Those who have insisted that exiters must do certain things (usually inside a church building) end up hindering them with their absence of love. Little do they realize they are exhibiting judgmental, Pharisaical attitudes, such as shown by those in the abusive group and are slamming the door of healing and peace on those whom they feel do not measure up. This behavior shows a lack of understanding of true grace and of Christ's love and acceptance of these exiters who have already trusted Jesus on the basis of His perfect atoning, once-for-all sacrifice for their sins.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
It usually takes exiters, especially those that were raised, controlled, and abused in exploitive groups, many years to even step foot inside a church building again. To hear words of condemnation deters and discourages them from feeling they would ever want to have anything to do with the Bible or churches again.
Religion is something you rub on the outside by going through exercises, rituals and good works, and Jesus denounced it because religion merely covers over iniquity and/or hypocrisy. God does not begin with religion, because, as the late J. Vernon McGee always said, "Christianity is not a religion, Christianity is a Person." He also said, "The curse of the world today is religion. God would like you to get rid of religion and come to Christ."
Never was the church intended to be spoken of as a building. If we have placed our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we are truly free and are already a part of His Body. Only Jesus can deliver us from the bondage of religion, which is filled with works and rituals in the hope of earning something from God.
The Holy Spirit (the Comforter) is the One that seals us (II Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; Eph. 4:30), is our Teacher (I John 5:27) and who sanctifies us (II Thes. 2:13; I Pet.1:2). Being in a particular church does not mean we won't encounter wolves; indeed, they are found in the midst of churches, not just on the outside. But those of us that have been involved with a deceptive group become much more discerning, especially if we have educated ourselves on what we were involved with. Jesus is able to guide us, to give us discernment through His Spirit, and to keep us:
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1-24-25).
"My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand" (Jn. 10:29).
Jesus watches over and takes care of His sheep and He knows who they are. He says not one will be lost (Matt. 18:12; Jn. 10:28-29). The sheep know the Shepherd's voice and follow Him:
"The sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (Jn. 10:3,4).
Jesus can lead His sheep to fellowship with other born-again believers in many different ways besides in a church building. It may be through listening to the gospel of grace on the radio. Never is He limited in the way He takes care of His own. However, we should not feel we have to look to others (as we did in the WCG) to tell us what kind of relationship we should have with God. He works individually and personally with each one of us and our main fellowship is with Him:
"Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:3).
No matter where we're at, Jesus is the One that heals us:
"He healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds" (Ps. 147:3)
Telling exiters that they need to be "in a church" doing such and such, or else they are not in "God's good graces" and will end up "in hell" is not only detrimental and serves no good purpose, but is mixing God's grace with works, and grace is never given on the basis of works. To proclaim otherwise is to place stumbling blocks in the path of the hurting and wounded who are struggling to recover and only succeeds in driving them further from Jesus and His love. They have forgotten the most important thing and that is: love based on the truth of the Word of God. We are free now to focus only on the Lord Jesus and His grace, not on any religious organization or human being.
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
May 14, 2002
Updated January 22, 2016
"It's not the church you're identified with, it's the Person." ~J. Vernon McGee
Beware of the Organic Church and Frank Viola (October 18, 2012 letter to ESN)
Recommended Ministry which teaches the gospel of grace: (more info on our links)
Thru the Bible Radio Network (Broadcast in over 130 languages around the world) (J. Vernon McGee goes through the entire Word of God in 5 years, M-F; revealing Christ as the centerpiece of Scripture)