‘Of Frogs and Fish’
One of the questions facing many people at the moment is whether or not to stay within a denomination, or even within a local church, as leaders shift away from the Bible. I have had conversations with several people – both ministers and lay people – who have left the Church of England, and conversations with others who have left the congregations they were a part of, from Methodism, from United Reformed, and other denominations. If you want to understand more of my reasons for leaving, do follow this link. This article, however, is about the ongoing relationships between those who remain and those who have left their denomination.
An illustration used by many for the dangers of remaining within either a denomination or a local church, is that of the boiled frog (sorry for those who find this a rather disgusting metaphor – I didn’t think it up!). The situation in which the teaching or official position of a denomination or local church shifts, from being Biblically faithful, to that of error, is illustrated by a frog. The frog placed in cold water that is gradually warmed up, boils to death. The frog that is placed straight into boiling water jumps out. The aim of the illustration is to warn against gradual, incremental and slow change leading to spiritual death which we would spot straight away if we were confronted with it flagrantly. Slow cultural change is subtle and dangerous. The problem, however, with this illustration is that it isn’t biologically true. Neither, I believe, is it useful.
We know it is not true biologically. Why is it not useful? If we are in the very situation of slow cultural change in a local church or a denomination, it does not help to know that we are at risk of death, but to never know when! It suggests only two options; slow death, or dramatic immediate exit. For both reasons the illustration lacks illuminating power. Those who remain within might say things like, “we’ll try and change things from within”, or “we’ll leave together when clear red lines are crossed”, or “we’ll stay, come what may, without knowing spiritual death”, or “officially the church remains sound in its formularies or constitution”. And those who have left, be it from denominations or local churches, believe that the only way of staying alive is leaving. They may say, “I have my red lines which were crossed some time ago”, or “I cannot in all conscience stay”, or “Scripture says we must distance ourselves from false teaching which means we need to leave” and the like.
Hence, leavers and remainers view each other with suspicion. Those who remain might exclaim, “There is so much good going on here: gospel life, conversions, maturing of believers, an open door for the gospel. We are not dying”. And those who have left might exclaim, “We could not go on and be obedient to scripture! How can you be so certain you won’t compromise?”. Does the frog myth present us with the only options? Does something untrue and impractical help illuminate the truth?
I am happy to forget the frog myth and turn to the truth of the scriptures which suggest that our approach to covenant breaking error should be very different to worrying about ourselves and whether we live or die like frogs. I want to suggest three preliminary points on which all Bible believing Christians should agree, as they are so plain from scripture. I will root these points in the Lord Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to illustrate how these truths are central and non-negotiable to being a Christian, whatever our strategy towards error in local churches and denominational structures.
This Anglican Futures piece is actually signed. The RevdJohn Parker at Cornerstone Church, Colchester is the author. www.anglicanfutures.org