The Birth of a Denomination
There was a time denominationalism did not plague Christianity, when the Church of the Lord alone existed as the exponent and product of the teaching of Christ. Today, however, there are hundreds of religious bodies which are classified as denominations. To denominate means to name. The very existence of a distinct body necessitates a denominating of it, in order that it might be properly distinguished from all others of the same genus. Rivalry obtains between them, and the alleged justification of any one of them is to be found in some distinguishing tenet or practice which it is thought possesses a virtue meriting a separate and thus an apart and distinct existence. An apologetic attitude largely obtains today among the adherents of the various denominations, and at least an outward expression of good-will is manifested toward rival and competitive bodies.
Through the years the people of the Lord, comprising the church of the first-born, have occupied a unique position in the relation sustained. A renouncing of all human names, human creeds, and human authority in their faith and practice imparted a distinction altogether peculiar to them. They viewed themselves not as constituting a sect among sects, or a denomination among its equals; not as an affiliate body of a general community of bodies, or as a competitor with and of them, but as an inveterate opposer of all humanly originated bodies and teaching. Hence, the one thing held in common by the denominations was their antipathy toward the church. Terms employed in derision and designed to prejudice folks against the truth was the common resort of its enemies. It was the only recourse open in the absence of having any scriptural defense for their position and teaching.
Many began to long for an acceptance rather than remaining the objects of contumely at the hands of respectable society. They were unwilling to humbly accept the role in which they were cast, and graciously recognize the truth that the friendship of the world is enmity with God, and that "the world knows us not even as it knew him not" -even he who died for our sins. Therefore the denomination known as the Disciples church resulted. Those constituting this group today regard themselves as being a denomination in the full and accepted meaning of its usage. They have much in common with the popular Protestant bodies, and even unbelieving Jews, and evince no kinship with the church of Jesus Christ at all. The separation between the two is absolute and complete-and it was effected by them bringing into the functions and worship that which they expressly defended as mere expedients, and sought to be justified wholly on the basis of judgment and opinion.
A recurrence of this sad chapter of the church's history is being enacted in our day. Such developments are not wrought in a day, but are insidiously accomplished over a period of time. The period involved may be comparatively short, and in this instance manifestly so. But its inceptive period reaches farther back than we may be aware of, and the leaven was working before most of our generation realized its existence. If the changes being wrought had been foreseen from the beginning, success would have been turned into failure; conditioning through a gradual traditionalizing of the doctrine and practice of the church has been the strategy of success. Before the birth of a denomination can be effected there was first to be accomplished the emergence o f a sect. With its maturity there comes to be an apostasy which ultimately assumes its true character as a denomination among sister denominations.
Properly speaking, a sect is still within the body of which it was before becoming a sect. It becomes a sect by virtue of heresy -- a reaching out for and a holding by the mind of doctrinal error, which becomes its cause and thus its distinction. Factions are the result of divisions, and sects of schisms, but back of the division, as effected by doctrinal causes, is the heresy. Error may be either constructive or intrusive, as so learnedly suggested by Moses E. Lard in his Quarterly. The former would be such as arises within the body of disciples by false construction of the scriptures and thus the teaching of error, whereas the latter would be such as is brought from without to within the church of the Lord. If obedience had always characterized the teachers within the churches as touching the apostolic injunction to "teach no other doctrine," error would never develop within nor intrude from without. Far greater wreckage has been done through the latter than the former, and the explanation is simple. A love of the world, and a courting of its friendship and the imbibing of its wisdom has been the occasion of much error and many departures.
The forming of a sect through heretical teaching creates agitation, and as long as agitation in the form of fraternal discussion and earnest study prevails there is the hope of a bridging of the gap through the expulsion of the error, and a healing of the wounds afflicting the body. When, however, all discussion ceases and fraternal esteem is banished as obtaining between the contending forces, then is the "great gulf fixed", with no passing to and fro. The period of development is thus matured, and the travail of the birth of a denomination begins. An apostate body emerges from that which was a sect. It ceases to be a part of the church of the Lord. The church of the Lord cannot divide; that portion of the Lord's people remaining stedfast in the faith constitute the church, and those who embrace error, and thereby effect the schism and separation, cease therefore to be the church of the Lord, becoming an apostate body.
The course that has been pursued as accomplishing the complete and ultimate identification as a separate body is one of imposing creedal conditions of fellowship and communion, embodying terms untaught in the Word of God. This is the essential cause and character of any denomination. A simple attachment and devoted adherence, to the scriptures never resulted in the existence of any denomination; it requires either a rejection of that clearly taught therein, to bring one about and sustain its existence.
But what is a denomination as distinguished from the church in the New Testament? May I quote from Brother N. B. Hardeman-"Will you help me try to differentiate and distinguish between a denomination and this organization spoken of in the Bible? Now, a denomination is a religious organization larger than any local church on earth yet smaller than all the Christian people on earth. Think of the statement thus made. What is a denomination? It is a religious organization larger than a local church, smaller than the redeemed in the aggregate. Therefore it comes in between, separate and distinct from, the church of the Bible at both ends of the line: How is the church used? It is either a local congregation or it embraces all Christians. Now, a denomination stands between these, and, therefore, it is a thing unheard of and unknown in the Bible; and I say that cautiously, respectfully, and yet firmly." (Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 1, Page 226-227)
The church of the Bible exists, as above stated, either as a local congregation or the redeemed in the aggregate. In the latter sense it has no earthly organized form or function, but only does it so exist and function as a congregation, with each local body being wholly independent of all others in so doing. Herein lies the condition which renders necessary the transmuting and thus transforming of the people of God into a denominational stature, organization and character-if certain aims are to be realized. The simple congregation framework of the New Testament order is not adapted to the attaining of certain aims and ends which men cherish. They are galled by the too tight harness of such an arrangement; they need more machinery than this afforded for their operational schemes, and the gratification of their ambitions among the children of God.
For some to simply become Christians and thus "to get in the church and stay out of every thing else," as Brother C. M. Pullias was wont to say, is- not competent to secure their wants. They want their institutions requiring "brotherhood" suffrage, and their promotional schemes of such proportion as to necessitate a pooling and combining- of resources. They, therefore, are not content to do as A. Campbell said they did in N. T. times-"In their congregational capacity alone they moved." This was the underlying cause that produced the Disciples Denomination; this is, also, the cause which is fast maturing another one among us today. An ambitious group of men, free of all self-effacement, have become too important in their own estimation and ambitious in their aspirations to allow the church to remain as the Lord made it and as the New Testament depicts it. They, to all appearances, have formed a clique to mutually admire and assist one another in the attainment of their ends. They are not averse to being heralded as "Great Preachers," in the Church, and in self-esteem, if not by self-appointment, be put forward as such in the publication of a series of books of sermons, and labeled as scholars, orators and world travelers, as well as lecturers. Thus far within this favored coterie are found the names of such men as Baxter, Pullias, Pack, Bailey, Young, Collins, along with, of course, Goodpasture. To these others will be added -- but we forego a prediction as to who they shall be.
The language of the time supplies indications of this transmutation of which we speak. High in the suggestiveness attaching to it is the frequently heard expression: "Church of Christ Preacher." Such is used in the same sense as one would say "Baptist Preacher" or "Methodist Preacher." We are "Church of Christers," therefore, just as some would say they are Baptists-when people so speak. A pure speech is essential to purity of doctrine, faith and practice, and the continuing need for speaking "as the oracles of God" is indisputable. There should be no accommodation of our speech to the nomenclature of denominationalism. The magnitude of the numbers involved and the momentum of the movement forbids all optimism of any reversal of matters. There is a point beyond which all hope of return perishes, and with anguish of soul I view that point as having been reached already or near at hand. All the recovery to be effected will be of individuals-no mass reversal can be expected. We sadly opine that as others have been swept away in the tide of other apostasies, many unwittingly are being carried away as pawns in the present onrush by evil and designing men who are making merchandise of religion. May God help us to stand fast in the faith, and "having done all to stand."
Truth Magazine, V:9, pp. 14-16