I am looking for guidance on where I should worship in general and more specifically:
- If there are multiple sound congregations nearby, must I worship with the most local?
- Am I free (in God's eyes) to change which local congregations I worship with as I please?
- When must I leave or disfellowship a congregation?
- Are there situations where one may worship with a group that is practicing or believes in an error?
To clarify, I'm not looking for a description of a sound congregation; but rather, knowing the basics, Biblical advice on making decisions as to where to worship, and when to leave a group.
The first and foremost idea is: can you worship at the congregation without violating or neglecting any of God's laws? In other words are the practices at a particular congregation going to interfere with my personal worship of God in accordance to His word? There are congregations which have introduced instrumental music in their worship service. I cannot, in good conscience, worship with such a group because I understand that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 only authorize the use of vocal music. To join others where an instrument is being used is to add to God's word, which is forbidden (Galatians 1:6-10). Similarly, a part of worship is a contribution to the work of the church (I Corinthians 16:1-2; II Corinthians 8, 9). I cannot give to a congregation whom I know will spend the funds in ways that God has not authorized, such as supporting institutions or providing social activities for its members.
Second, is it sound in its teachings? While a congregation might be currently practicing the truth, if it is not teaching the truth it will not stay faithful long (Revelation 3:1-3). A person might remain faithful, despite these pressures (Revelation 3:4), but it is not a situation I would readily choose.
Next, what kind of influence will this group have over you and your family? While I may be able to worship at a congregation correctly, problems within the church might create problems for myself and my family. No matter how strong we might personally be, repeated exposure to bad attitudes will eventually affect my outlook. "Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits."" (I Corinthians 15:33). Thus a congregation where the young people are out of control is not a place where I want my children attending. A congregation where its members are constantly bickering is going to rub off on me eventually (Proverbs 22:24-25). Ideally, you want to worship with a congregation that is going to care about you and your family, helping you get to heaven (Hebrews 13:17).
Membership in a congregation is not optional. In order to worship as God directed, we need to be a part of a congregation (I Corinthians 11:18; I Corinthians 14:23). When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he sought to join with the church there (Acts 9:26). There are many who hop from church to church without ever becoming a part of the congregation. Others are like timid rabbits, fleeing to a new congregation in which to hide at the least sign of trouble. Because of such, problems are not addressed or resolved. If, however, an effort is sincerely made to resolve a problem and the congregation declines to follow God's teaching, then it is usually time to move on. I've notice over the years that congregations in areas where there is only one sound group generally do a better job at working out problems than places with multiple groups. The members are forced to make an effort.
Let me give you an example from someone I know and love in the Lord. The man and his wife found himself being transferred by his company to New Hampshire. At the time there were no sound congregations in the area. They decided to attend the least liberal of the congregations in the town to work and teach them the truth. They figured that if the truth was accepted, well and good; but if the congregation rejected them, well, it would be obvious that it was time to start another congregation. They worshiped there for over a year and the man was active in teaching classes and in the work of the church. He made no attempt to hide what he believed concerning the issues of the day. One week, when he and his wife both happened to be out of town, a very liberal preacher from the northern part of the state came. He had heard who this gentleman was and he was determined to "put things right." I heard a tape of the message he gave and it was filled with all sorts of lies about the man and his wife, things that anyone knowing them would instantly realize could not be true. When they returned home they found out that they had been withdrawn from -- no questions asked of them, no checking into facts. The congregation blindly accepted what this non-member had said and tossed them out. A young couple who protested was also instantly tossed out as well. The next Sunday, there was a new congregation in town.
Fellowship: With God and HIs People by Samuel Dawson, ISBN 0938855751