Are there scriptural grounds to justify leaving one assembly to join another in the same locality?
In the answer that appeared in the November 2010 magazine I began by referring to a former colleague who invariably responded to any query, no matter how simple, with the words ‘it all depends’. On this occasion I find myself left with no choice other than to prefix my response to the above question with ‘it all depends’. As to whether such a step would be right or not would depend on the motive for going; it would depend on the individual seeking to ascertain the mind of the Lord; it would depend on the circumstances that initiated the requirement to move etc. The fact that we may not have a specific example of this in the New Testament does not mean that such a decision is unscriptural. Due to the outreach conducted by brethren over the last century and a half, many areas have been privileged to have several assemblies located in a relatively small geographical area. That, coupled with the availability of public and personal transport, has made it easier to move from one fellowship to another. Consequently, things are possible today that were not so feasible in the days of the apostles.
I am assuming that the questioner is not thinking of situations created through force of circumstance but rather of those situations where personal choices are made. One example of this might be where someone is in a large meeting whilst just a couple of miles away there is an assembly struggling to reach double figures. If it was felt that they could be of greater help, and serve the Lord more effectively, by leaving the larger company and moving to the smaller one that would be a laudable decision, and not one that would violate any biblical principle.
It is doubtful if many of us would have wanted to be in fellowship at Corinth. This was a carnal, divided assembly that desecrated the LordIs Supper, tolerated immorality, and was the only church which had issues with the requirement for women to wear a head covering. Despite these desperate conditions there were by contrast in that assembly those such as the house of Stephanas, some from the home of Chloe, as well as Fortunatus and Achaicus. These were spiritually-minded saints who must have been sorely grieved by the prevailing conditions, yet we do not read of them leaving Corinth and going into fellowship at Cenchrea, which was the next nearest assembly. It is also interesting to note that although the Corinthian church was in a low state spiritually, Paul still refers to it as ‘the church of God’ and the churches of Asia were all willing to salute it. The lesson to learn from this is to avoid an eager readiness to ‘write off’ an assembly because of its condition. This does not mean that we are to accept anything, nor does it give us any degree of licence to deviate from divine principles, but it should cause us to move with great caution and concern before we cease having fellowship with them.
However, there will be a number of readers who have had to make the heartbreaking and difficult choice to move from one assembly and go to another because of the scale of change in the practices of the assembly to which they originally belonged. We are living in days where biblical principles are being undermined, or deliberately set aside, and despite seeking to exhort the saints to hold fast to sound doctrine some have reached a point where they cannot continue in that fellowship. They did not leave just because they could not have their own way, nor did they leave at the first signs of a drift but, out of love for Christ and His people, they hoped and prayed that the saints would get back to New Testament principles. Eventually, they decided before the Lord they could remain no longer, and took the painful decision to leave. Such should not be criticized, but deserve our sympathy.