Image via WikipediaLeaving a UPCI church can be incredibly scary. I know, because I've done it twice. All the way home you expect the ground to open up or a lightning bolt to strike you dead. After all the things you've been conditioned to expect, you are absolutely certain that God is going to kill you for rebelling against the "man of God", and you keep expecting it to happen. Of course, it never does, and eventually you realize that something doesn't add up. As you go on with life, you believe that it is God's mercy that is prevailing against His judgement, and then, eventually, something scares you into returning to some un-Biblically legalistic church.
The hope is, of course, that by doing so, you are fulfilling the story of the Prodigal son that returned to his father's house and to a place of provision and blessing. We hear this story many times over the course of a lifetime in a UPCI church, but it is never actually explained according to the actual meaning of the Parable. Jesus was not talking about someone that left an earthly organization and went to a different one. At the time, there were two basic religious groups in God's eyes: His backslid lost people, and the rest of the world which were heathens or gentiles. The Gospels make it clear that He did not come back only for the Jews, but also for all the people that were outside the covenant. The entire purpose of His coming to earth to dwell among men, was to make possible the return of the entire human race to a place of love and communion with God. So when we hear this taught as an example of someone "backsliding" from a legalistic church and returning, we ought to grit our teeth in disgust. This story is the third in what is commonly referred to as a "trilogy" (oh look, three again...legalistic oneness groups hate when there are 3's in the Bible :D) of parables regarding God's joy and love in heaven for the lost. If we read the parable in the context of the passage, we see that it is more aptly applied to the lost humanity of the world than it is to a single person:
-someone decided to do their own thing and left the place of blessing = Adam and Eve in the garden
-they then spent everything they had on pleasures of the world without regard for the loss of God in their life = the gentile nations of the world that didn't worship God
-they came to their senses and decided to beg for mercy from their father...God is the Father of all creation = the gentile nations that have now come to believe and worship God
-the father said, not so, you will be heirs once again of promise and blessing = God pours out His Spirit on ALL flesh
-elder son was upset because he had been faithful (according to him) the whole time and felt he was being gypped = Jews didn't recognize that Jesus came to save the world, not set up an earthly kingdom for them
The parables in this passage make it plain that the joy in heaven is God rejoicing, not the angels. It does not say anywhere that the angels are joyous, rather it states that "there is joy in the PRESENCE of the angels" (caps mine). The only way for there to be joy in the presence of the angels is for God to be rejoicing as He is the only one in the presence of the angels. If it were the angels that were rejoicing, then the Bible would read that there was joy in the COMPANY of the angels. I believe the angels are happy when God is happy, but the important thing is that God Himself rejoices when lost sheep come back to Him.
To apply any of these parables to someone that leaves a church organization of any kind, then returns to the same, is to apply very poor Biblical knowledge and understanding of God Himself. Let the Bible speak for itself. The father in this parable is God, not a church group. God is our covering, not an organization. You can attend many different organizations and still serve the one true living God of eternity. Ephesians 4:5 says there is "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism". There is one FAITH not one church group or set of standards. Faith towards the God of the Bible. Any other faith is counterfeit. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Word made Flesh, that He died for your sins and rose again, that He is the ONE Lord, and that you are baptized into His love, then you are in complete accordance with the scripture. There is no reason to make that scripture say any more than it already does.
God Bless you, and I hope you enjoyed the picture I added for the fun of it