1John 2:19-21 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (20) But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (21) I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
Church growth. What is it? Well, “church” growth necessarily requires a “church.” A real church. Otherwise any increase might be “growth,” but it won’t be “church growth.” Still with me?
A real church is a local group of people who truly and genuinely know the Lord Jesus Christ, gathered together to serve and worship Him. A body, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, growing together into the image of Christ. John is addressing just such a church here in his First Epistle. He tells the believers there that they are anointed and taught by the Holy One. They know and believe the truth of Christ.
But there had been some other kind of people present there as well. They were people who were not, as John puts it, “of us.” They claimed to be Christians, but when faced with the truth of Christ, they rejected it and left. They were false sheep whom Christ did not know.
John presents this in terms that are meant to encourage the real Christians in that church. It is always a bit disheartening when a group of people who claimed to be your brethren in Christ, say “adios.” More often it isn’t “adios” (which means “God bless”) but something more akin to a curse! I have seen such people literally take their shoes off as they went out the church door and shake the “dust” out of them so as to say, “you are filthy and I don’t want even the smallest dust particle of you clinging to me.” Oh yeah. That’s a lot of fun.
But John tells them not to be discouraged. In fact, he explains the thing as something that needed to happen and therefore is actually encouraging. It is a sign that the church is real. That Christ really does dwell there. That is the reason these counterfeits left, you see. They don’t want to be in the presence of Christ.
Now, think this through. This means that we must not think of “church growth” as something that always results in bigger numbers. Just as a healthy human body is healed when an infection leaves, so it is in the church. Christ and anti-christ are incompatible. And therefore, if such a departure, a going of separate ways, never occurs in a local church, we must ask some hard questions. Why is it that the church down the road is just growing and growing and growing? How is it that the building program can’t even keep pace with the numbers? Why does “everyone” seem to be so happy and content there?
One final application. I deal in my ministry with Christians who have been or are victims of domestic abusers who most often pose as fine “Christians” in the local church. Let me ask an obvious question. How is it that such an abuser can continue in “fellowship” in a local church and be quite comfortable – even enabled and comforted? He is clearly of the spirit of anti-christ, so why doesn’t the true church dynamic John writes about (they went out from us but were not of us) kick in when it comes to this abuser? Why is darkness comfortable among people who claim to be “sons of light”?
I think the answers to these questions are rather obvious.