Why There is Never a Case For Remaining In a False “Church”

Why There is Never a Case for Staying In a False Church, PDF format

Banner of Truth Magazine: a Trumpet Giving an Uncertain Sound

  Although I am very thankful that in the Lord’s providence Banner of Truth Publications has reprinted many of the great Christian works of the past, making these gems available to new generations of the Lord’s people, I do not subscribe to The Banner of Truth magazine.  Although it is treated as the organ of many “Reformed” churches and individuals around the world, sadly it is a very mixed bag.  It contains many good articles, some extremely good articles, but also many very bad articles.  By “bad” I mean articles which do more to confuse and mislead the sheep of the Lord’s flock than anything else.  The magazine is a trumpet which gives a very uncertain sound (1 Cor. 14:8).  Partly this is because it is written to appeal to a wide variety of “Reformed” congregations and individuals – always a risky business fraught with difficulties and almost inevitably, departures from the truth.  Seeking not to offend its readers of various persuasions, it ends up having no firm position on various important doctrines and practices, thereby frequently promoting false ones.  Partly, also, this “uncertain sound” is because of the times we live in, when so many even of those who would be considered “better” ministers and writers are frequently compromised themselves.

This is a magazine which takes no stand, for example, on the vitally important Bible versions issue, with many of its contributors making use of a wide variety of false Bible per-versions.  It is also enamoured with many of the more prominent preachers and authors of the day, including neo-evangelicals and others, many of whom are prominent precisely because they have embraced the world or teach false doctrine.  In a word, although doubtless it would deny the charge, it is actually quite ecumenical.  Oh, not directly with Rome, nor with some of the more extreme forms of false “christianity” out there today; but certainly in the sense of casting a very wide net within the “Reformed” camp itself (which quite frankly is a real mixture of good and bad, and mostly bad).  Sometimes one is left with the feeling that as long as a particular author holds to the doctrines of grace and what is broadly defined as “Reformed” theology, he is pretty much accepted into the fold (unless he proclaims some extremely blatantly heresy).  For all these reasons I do not recommend The Banner of Truth magazine.  Why listen to the notes of a trumpet which gives an uncertain sound, when there are other trumpets which give clear Gospel blasts?

Banner Article Excuses Those Who Profess to be Christians And Yet Remain Within a False “Church”

  However, inevitably various issues of the magazine cross my path from time to time.  This is how I recently came to read through the October 2013 issue.  I was deeply saddened (but not surprised) to find an article entitled, Is There a Case for Staying In? by Ian Hamilton, minister of Cambridge Presbyterian Church, England.  This article is all about whether it is right or wrong for Christians to remain within the “Church of Scotland”, the Scottish national Presbyterian “church”, which has departed so far from the truth of the Gospel.  One would have thought that the answer to the question posed by the title should be crystal clear to every minister of the Gospel: a resounding No! But alas, this was not the answer the author gave.  His trumpet gave a most uncertain sound indeed.

Hence this refutation.  I realise that it is written in refutation of an article written some eight years ago; but if anything the situation is even worse today than it was then.  Furthermore, this refutation can be readily applied to any other false “church”, not only the arrogantly named “Church of Scotland”.

For let us not beat about the bush here: when a “church” denies the truths of the Word of God, permits false practices, and does not separate from the world, it is a false “church”, not a true church of God at all.   No excuses can be legitimately made for staying within it, and those who attempt to do so are proclaiming serious error, and must be rebuked, not encouraged.

Hamilton starts out well enough: “For a professing Christian church [the “Church of Scotland”] to pass legislation that permits a congregation to call a minister (man or woman!) who is in a same-sex relationship is a theological scandal and a moral monstrosity.”  He could have been much stronger, for it is just as much a theological scandal and a moral monstrosity that women are permitted into the “ministry” contrary to the Scriptures (1 Tim. 2:11-14; 3:1-7), as that sodomites are so called; but let us not be too harsh at this point.  At least he called sodomite “ordination” what it is in truth: a theological scandal and a moral monstrosity.

He immediately then asks: “No Bible believing Christian would think otherwise, surely?”  Indeed, no true Bible believing Christian could think otherwise! A true Bible believing Christian knows that a professing “church” which commits such sin is not a Christian church, and thus the Christian’s duty is crystal clear: he must have nothing to do with it.  The Christian reader of Hamilton’s article would naturally be expecting a clear condemnation from him of the notion that true Christians may remain within such a scandalous, monstrous “church”.  But alas! the believer is destined to be disappointed, because Hamilton provides no such biblical condemnation of this scandal and monstrosity.

He goes on: “because of this, a growing, though as yet small, number of ministers and elders, have decided to leave the Church of Scotland.  They can no more tolerate that Church’s wilful, open-eyed defiance of the word of God.”  One could easily make the biblical argument that they should have left long before this, because ordaining sodomites to the “ministry” is not when the rot began, nor did it even begin with the ordination of women; it began long before these scandals erupted, with all kinds of doctrinal heresy and toleration of evil.  And Hamilton himself later admits this when he lists some of these shocking accommodations of heresy and sin: “We were by and large silent when men denied the truths of the Holy Trinity, Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement, his virginal conception by the power of the Holy Spirit, his bodily resurrection, his ascension to the Father’s right hand, and his promised return in power and glory to judge the living and the dead.   We allowed men and women to say one thing with their lips but something else with their lives.  We gave the impression that so long as doctrines were not openly denied in our formularies, we could tolerate unbelief and wickedness in practice.”  Yes, the denial of biblical truth and the toleration of sinful practices had been going on, and steadily worsening, for a very long time within the “Church of Scotland” and other ecclesiastical institutions.

Before proceeding, let the reader take note of the strong terms Hamilton uses to condemn the so-called “Church of Scotland”: it is a “church”, he writes, supporting “a theological scandal and a moral monstrosity”, and which is in “wilful, open-eyed defiance of the word of God.”  After such language, which correctly defines the “Church of Scotland”, one would expect to find his article taking the strong, biblical position that all the Lord’s people who might still be sinfully in membership within this institution, this false “church”, have no option but to leave it immediately.  After all, if it is as he has described it – and it assuredly is – then there can be absolutely no debate; no question of their duty.  There is only one biblically justified avenue open to any child of God, and that is to forsake it entirely.

Indeed, Hamilton actually goes on to say: “For many the decision to leave is a ‘no brainer’. How could men and women who claim faithful allegiance to the Scriptures, who believe in the full, infallible authority of the Scriptures, do anything else?”  Excellent!  We are left hoping that perhaps he is going in the right direction after all.  We would agree with these two sentences 100%.  It is a “no brainer”.  No true Christian could do anything else if he would live in obedience to his Lord.

Alas, we are destined to be disappointed once again.  Hamilton says that “the greater majority of confessing, Reformed evangelicals have decided, at least for the moment, to remain within the Church of Scotland”.  And the problem here is that he honestly appears to believe they are Evangelicals!  But they are not true Evangelicals at all, if they have taken such a decision.  They do not even understand the Gospel!  A little further on he writes of such people that some of them “are ministers and elders within the Church of Scotland who are unashamedly Reformed, serving congregations that live under the word of God, and who openly and vociferously oppose same-sex relationships, who have decided (for the moment at least) to stay within and fight.”  However, if they were “unashamedly Reformed”, they would not betray Christ and His Gospel this way.  If these congregations really lived “under the word of God”, they would obey the Word of God, which says with absolute clarity, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:14-18)!  If they truly opposed sodomite relationships, they would not remain where such relationships are blessed, encouraged, and even permitted to those in the “ministry”!

The Root of This Terrible Error: A False Understanding of Roman Catholicism!

  He asks why this is so, and then proceeds to give answers to this question.  Note his first hesitant answer: “One answer could be that many such Reformed Christians are already deeply compromised.  Some have ordained women to office in the church in defiance of the clear teaching of the Bible and have grown accustomed to theological compromise.  Perhaps.”  Perhaps?  There is no “perhaps”, no “could be”, about it!  Apart from the fact that he calls them “Christians”, whereas their great sin means we are not to accept them as true Christians unless we see true marks of repentance, everything else in this sentence of his is correct.  These people have grown accustomed to turning a blind eye to doctrinal error and gross sin because they have done it for so long.

Ah, but then we discover why Hamilton’s trumpet gives an uncertain sound about biblical separation: he thinks the Roman Catholic institution is a Christian church!  The reader may ask, What does this have to do with it?  The answer: for Hamilton and countless other Protestants, it has everything to do with it.  For fuzzy, unbiblical thinking about Roman Catholicism leads to error regarding biblical separation from false “churches”.  Let us see how this is so:

He writes, “The visible Christian church prior to the Reformation was a scandalous mess of doctrinal aberrations and moral turpitude.  But within that moral and theological mess, God had his faithful people.”  This great error lies at the root of so much other error, and yet it is so widespread within Protestant churches!  For if Rome –which the Bible describes as a filthy harlot and mother of harlots (Rev. 17) – is accepted as a Christian church, and if at least some Roman Catholics are accepted as true Christians, then there is no doctrinal aberration or moral sin which cannot be excused within a Protestant institution!  The biblical truth is that the Roman Catholic institution is not a Christian church and never has been.  It is a heathen religion masquerading as Christianity.  Its members are not true Christians.  If a Mary-worshipping, wafer-worshipping, saint-worshipping man, who believes he was regenerated when a priest “baptized” him and who goes to a sinful mortal man to confess his sins is accepted as a true Christian, notwithstanding all this Christ-denying heresy, then is it any wonder that Hamilton and those like him believe there are Bible believing Evangelicals within the “Church of Scotland” (or any other false Protestant “church”), who choose to remain within it despite its rejection of God’s Word?

On the other hand, if they claim that “faithful people” within Rome do not believe Rome’s damnable heresies, then obviously they are no longer Roman Catholics!  You can’t have it both ways.  Either a man is a Roman Catholic, in which case he is not a true Christian; or he is a true Christian, in which case he is not a Roman Catholic.  A “Roman Catholic Christian” is as much a lie of the devil as a Hindu Christian or a Muslim Christian.[1]

Hamilton makes the very same great error again when he writes a little further on, “The Church in Scotland at the time of the Reformation was a byword for clerical fornication and much worse.”   By the “Church” he again means Roman Catholicism.  And once again he is dreadfully wrong, and leading others astray by this huge and horrible error.  An error, tragically, all too common among Protestants.

He goes on as follows: “But God had mercy and brought the transforming power of the gospel into the midst of the ‘whore of Babylon’ and a new day of gospel blessing dawned for the nation.”  This again is incorrect.  God did not transform the Whore of Babylon!  He brought home the transforming power of the Gospel to His elect within the Whore of Babylon, and then what did they do?  They left the Whore!  They obeyed the divine commandment, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).  Those Roman Catholics who were truly converted became ex-Roman Catholics.  And likewise, all truly converted souls within the “Church of Scotland” or any other morally sinful and doctrinally heretical religious institution today are to do precisely the same: come out.  This is the only path of obedience to the Lord.

This accursed devilish lie regarding Roman Catholicism has been, and continues to be, a blight upon Protestantism: this failure to see what Romanism really is.  For again, if Rome is merely a Christian church with some errors, and at least some Roman Catholics are true Christians, well then, of course there would be no very great sin in people claiming to be “Evangelicals” and remaining within a so-called “church” of “theological scandal and moral monstrosity”, which is in “wilful, open-eyed defiance of the word of God”!

This is the root of this terrible error.  This is where it begins.  Unbiblical notions of Popery lead to unbiblical notions of so much else.

What Does the Bible Say?

  Hamilton goes on to declare: “The faithful believers who have chosen to ‘stay in’ deserve our prayers and our encouragement.”  Prayers that they would repent, certainly – but encouragement?   Absolutely not.  This would be to encourage them in sin.  If they remain within such a religious monstrosity they are not “faithful believers”!  True believers should pray that the elect among them will be brought from darkness into light and leave; but not a single soul should ever be encouraged to remain within such places.

The Scriptures are clear on the duty of every true Christian to separate from all that is evil.  While these texts (and many others) remain in the Bible – and they will remain forever – there will only ever be one duty for every single child of God: separation from false “churches”:

2 Cor. 6:14-18: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out form among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the un clean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

Heb. 13:12,13: “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.  Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”

Rom. 16:17: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

Rev. 18:4: “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues”.

Obedience to the Bible – Or to Men?

  Let those who set aside these clear commandments in the Word of God produce their own texts from the Bible to justify their remaining within sinful ecclesiastical institutions.  They cannot do it!  Hamilton himself does not offer a single Scripture to support such sinful behaviour.  The best he can do is offer the following: “There has rarely been throughout the history of the Christian church any secession that had whole possession of ‘the right’.  When 2,000 Puritan ministers were ejected from the Church of England in 1662, a faithful, godly remnant remained within the church, William Gurnall being one of them!”  He drops Gurnall’s name – with the exclamation mark – as if we are all supposed to react immediately with a sharp sucking in of breath and the awed remark, “Well, if Gurnall remained in it, that’s all right then!”  But the Christian is in submission to God’s Word.  Paul wrote, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).  The Lord’s people are to follow the examples of godly ministers, only insofar as they follow Christ!  When they fail to follow Christ, they are not to be followed.  When Peter did wrong, Paul wrote, “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11).

I am not interested in what Gurnall did, or for that matter what any of those men did, if it could not be supported by the Word of God; I want to know what the Bible says.  And as long as I hold a Bible in my hand I can say with absolute certainty that not one of those men who remained within the Anglican institution was obeying the Lord in doing so.  Not a single one was led of the Lord to do so.  The Holy Spirit never leads men contrary to His own Word.

Hamilton writes, “One reason why some good men chose to remain within the Church of England was due to their reluctance to leave the sheep God had entrusted to their care to the mercy of ‘wolves.’” To which I reply: that reason is not good enough, Sir!  It is a thoroughly insufficient reason, because it is utterly unbiblical.  A true shepherd will call the sheep out of sinful situations; and if those who profess to be sheep do not wish to obey, they are not to be received as true sheep of the Lord.  It is the minister’s work to call men to separation.  Those who refuse to separate are not his responsibility.

Do Separatists Share a Common Gospel Cause With “Remainers”?

  Hamilton says, “Let those who have left and are in the process of leaving, and those who have chosen thus far to remain in, stand together in their common gospel cause to preach the word”.  Note that he uses the word, “chosen”: they “have chosen to remain in”.  Nothing here about being convicted by the Word of God to remain in!  And indeed this would be impossible, because God’s Word never commands such a thing and the Holy Spirit never leads a child of God to remain in such a place.  Hamilton was right in saying they chose.  It was their choice, not a divine commandment.  But in so choosing, they chose to disobey the Lord.  It is as simple and as stark as that.

And then to tell those who have left and those who remain to “stand together in their common gospel cause”!  There is no common Gospel cause here.  Those who remain in such an ecclesiastical monstrosity are sinning against the clear commandments of the Lord.  Those who obey Him and leave do not have a common Gospel cause with those who remain!

“Faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel,” Hamilton writes in conclusion, “demands that we all follow his example and put truth before consequences.  There is but one Master before whom we stand or fall.”  Lovely words, and very true – but all negated by his entire article which justifies those who remain in false ecclesiastical institutions!  If they truly followed Christ they would leave, for Heb. 13:12, 1 3 says, “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.  Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”  They are directly disobeying both the teaching and the great example of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They have not put truth before consequences.  As for the one Master before whom we stand or fall, this is true – for all who have bowed the knee to this great Master in truth.  But for those who sin, theirs is nothing but a feigned obedience to Him.  “If ye love me,” Jesus said, “keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15).  There are plenty of commandments about separation, but not one about accommodating oneself to error and sin.  This fact is absolutely decisive.  It settles the matter.  There can be no debate.  The Bible has spoken!  Let man be silent.

Shaun Willcock is a minister, author and researcher.  He runs Bible Based Ministries.  This pamphlet was published in 2021.  For other pamphlets (which may be downloaded and printed), as well as details about his books, audio messages, articles, etc., please visit the Bible Based Ministries website; or write to the address below.  If you would like to be on Bible Based Ministries’ email list, please send your details.

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[1]. See Are Roman Catholics Christians? by Shaun Willcock.  Available as a free download from Bible Based Ministries.




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Separation from False Churches

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Separation from the World (two messages)

Separation from False Churches

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