Error of Denominationalism
Recently in the evening edition of a newspaper, Dr. Howar Canon in the Episcopal Church, wrote under the heading, "Days of All Faiths." He set forth the teaching that St. Joachim was the "father of the Blessed Virgin Mary," and that "he and his wife, St. Anne, had been married 20 years when their prayers for a child were answered." He stated that "Joachim must have been well-to-do, though his business or profession is not known." The writer spoke graphically of Mary learning by miracles of the moment when her father would die, and of her sending angels to help him through his last agony. And, he said, "It was through these angels that the old man learned in his final moments that his daughter was to be the mother of the Messiah."
Nowhere in the Bible would you get the idea that Mary had left her home before she was espoused to Joseph. When Joseph was reminded to put her away, surely her own father would have learned of an expected arrival without angels having to be sent back home by the espoused daughter. This whole article never gets close to the scriptures except to cross them! Where would one find in God's record that Mary was ever given power to summon angels and to send them forth to do her bidding? And, remember that all this was before Jesus was born!
Nowhere does God tell us who was the mother of Mary, nor did He reveal whether or not the couple prayed for a child for 20 years. This type of imaginative indulgence satisfies only those who care not for what God has said, but love traditional legends and old wives' tales.
It seems utterly fantastic that a reputed scholar, a Canon in the Episcopal Church (which, I assume, means a man of great influence), would engage in such mythology. But this Canon gave out a thunderous reference as proof--himself, and not one time d id he refer to any message from the word of God. To me, it seems the canon went off without being properly loaded! God declared, "The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell it as a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord" (Jer. 23: 28). Now, if this Canon had "roared" after first declaring that he dreamed the whole thing up, we might overlook his big boom, but he sets it forth as gospel truth. And when he was questioned as to the article, he gave out with the cold assestion that the Bible surely doesn't contain all the truth, that we must have legends and traditions to further instruct us. Therefore, I assume this is the basis upon which other "Canons and Priests" set forth the doctrines of their church. While multitudes are being blindly let by these self-styled religious leaders, the Bible lies closed on the pulpit--the voice of the Lord has been stilled.
How deceitfully and successfully the Devil has lulled many good people into a deep sleep of self-righteousness. When someone dares to suggest there will actually be good people in hell, the world rebels at the very thought, usually regarding such a person as either ignorant or a radical. I will make this statement though, at the risk of being considered either or both. Merely being a religious man of influence does not make one infallible, nor does it assure him of going to heaven.
A good example of a religious person who was lost is seen in the case of Cornelius, as recorded in Acts 10. In Acts 10:2, we read several characteristics of this good man. I do not hesitate to suggest that there are but very few who read these words who are a better person than was Cornelius. But, just what kind of person was he?
First of all, he was a devout man, one who "devoted" himself to seeking God, He was, furthermore, a man who feared God. Not only did he fear God, but all of his household did also. He gave alms to the people--money and help to those less fortunate than he. Here was a man who prayed to God always; not just when he needed something, but in times of prosperity as well as poverty, in joy as well as sorrow. But, here was a man who was not a Christian. How do we know? The rest of chapter 10, as well as 11:14 shows that Cornelius and those who heard God's word were baptized into Christ to be saved.
Not only will many good religious people be in hell unless they obey Christ as did Cornelius, but zealous workers in false religions will also be lost, as seen in Matt. 7:2123. In the day of judgement, these false religious workers will cry out to the Lord, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderous works?" The Lord shall then answer, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. " This answer coincides with Christ's statement in verse 21, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
But, religious speculation is not limited just to these realms. Repeatedly we have the statement made that it makes no difference what you believe, just so you are sincere; or, that it makes no difference what church you are a member of, as we are all trying to get to heaven and somehow we will all get there too. These two statements are the equivalent to saying that error is as good as truth, and that one who obeys error in religion has just as much hope of going to heaven as one who obeys the truth of God's word. If this thinking be right, then Jesus came to teach the will of God in vain. People could have believed error, obeyed it, and been saved by it without the sacrifice on Jesus' part to establish the truth of God.
Man is a free moral agent. He has the ability to believe the truth or to believe a lie. He has the ability to obey that truth or lie. God has made him thusly. The very fact he has the power to discern between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error, is indicative of the fact he has the power to go either to heaven or hell in the end.
The powers of intelligence are given us that we may differentiate between error and truth. If it made no difference what you believed as long as you were honest, then there would be no need to exercise your mind at all upon religious subjects. If error can save as well as truth, if it makes no difference which church you are a member of, then the powers of discernment are useless appendages we might as well get rid of.
It has never been the right of man to establish a religion, nor to alter that established by God. It is not his prerogative to start a denomination. Yet, the whole world is full of religious groups who exist solely because some human religious leader began them. These have begun because men began speculating on the word of God.
God is the author of ONE religion--the religion of Jesus Christ. If one chooses to reject this religion and follow a false religion, although he has the liberty to do so, he will be lost. On the other hand, if one takes the religion of Christ and perverts it and twists its nature as to change the truths of God into a set of religious lies, and so divide the followers of Jesus into narrow sectarian camps--denominations, each hostile toward the other and each dependent for its very existence on some fundamental error, this perversion is no better than a heathen religion.
It cannot be denied that there are wide differences in the various denominations. Since all men are free moral agents, it follows that each of them has the power to follow whatever sect or party he may choose. Some mistake this ability on man's part for acceptability on God's part. The fact we can choose error in religion instead of the truth does not mean that that course will please Jehovah.
Error can never be as good as truth, and a doctrine, which did not come from God is not equal to that which did. In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden of Eden. He told them that in the day they partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would surely die. What God told Adam was truth. Soon there came another preacher into the garden, saying that God knew in the day they ate of the tree they wouldn't die, but would become as God. Adam and Eve were people of a free moral agency. They could either listen to God or Satan--truth or error. They had the power of deciding which of the two they would hear. The decision was made, and they listened to false doctrine rather than the word of God. Error was not as good as truth. The doctrine of the devil --and that is what all false doctrines are-- resulted in their banishment from the garden. As. they stood outside the garden with the gate closed to any chance of return, facing a world of labor for their bread, what would have been their answer? Is error as good as truth? Does it make any difference whose voice one hears?
Generations later, God sent Noah, a preacher of righteousness, into the world to preach of a mighty flood coming upon the earth. Many of them laughed at him, saying, "Noah, it has not rained since the foundation of the world. Why should we become alarmed now?" He pleaded with them to believe God was about to destroy the world by water. Perhaps they thought it made no difference what they believed, that God's mercy was sufficient to save them all, and that error was just as good as truth.
The majority of humanity disbelieved in the one way. When the floods came, those who believed only the word of God, as preached by Noah, entered the ark and were saved. Those who listened to the voice of another, following the erroneous teaching of those who withstood Noah, perished. Again, error was not as good as truth. The doctrines of men could not save them when the Lord came to fulfill his promise. Some might have claimed Noah was in the minority, and that he believed that only he and his little bunch were going to be saved. They might have called him narrow. And yet, when the time came and truth was vindicated, the opportunity for salvation had passed those who accepted anything other than the word of God.
Still another example is the children of Israel in Egyptian bondage. Moses had been sent by the Lord to persuade Pharoah to let them go. The last of the persuasion consisted of ten plagues loosed upon Egypt, closing with the death of the first-born of every family as the death angel passed over Egypt. But, the messengers of God preached the truth of God to the Israelites, saying that each man should kill a lamb and sprinkle the blood upon his doorpost. Most of the children of Israel obeyed. If there was a man in the land who thought this a narrow view, or thought that something else would do just as well as the truth of God, he died without mercy.
The truth the messengers of God taught provided the only means for men through the centuries. Those who have harkened unto the truth of God have rejoiced in the salvation they received as a result, while those who refused it or altered it bore the punishment as a result. But these readily evident principles of the Old Testament are also taught in the New Testament. Jesus promised, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8.32). He also prayed, "Father, sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth" (John 17: 17).
Paul knew people would be like they have always been. Being free moral agents, they have the power today to harken to a false teaching as well as to the truth. As Adam turned away his ear from the truth and listened to false doctrine, costing him his home in the garden; Paul also said people would arise unwilling to endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears, would beep unto themselves teachers after their own lusts, and be turned aside from the truth to fables (2 Tim. 3).
The religious world today is hopelessly divided into sectarian camps, each teaching its own peculiar doctrine. Each group has listened to some other teaching than that of the Lord, thus forming the distinctive doctrines of that group. If they refused to listen to separate leaders, there would not be separate groups--if they all had been content to hear the truth of God, they would have been one in faith and practice still today. The very fact they are divided, each teaching doctrines that conflict with the other, is evidence they have harkened to a voice other than God's, just as did Adam.
The Bible teaches all the truth that needs to be taught in the religious realm, being the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). There is not a single doctrine, embodying eternal truth, that God's word does not set before us. None of the truth of God Almighty, which pertains to our salvation is left out of that book, regardless of who may contend otherwise--Canon or preacher. (See 2 Tim. 3:1617, 2 Pet. 1.3).
On the other hand, there are many differing religious practices existing today. Authority for all these cannot be found in the Bible. God's word does not teach, for instance, the use of instrumental music in worship, the baptism of babies, sprinkling for baptism, etc. These are merely indicative of a multitude of practices, which have sprung up since apostolic times. These practices exist because they have become part of the tradition of different religious groups. For most of them, there is no divine authority claimed; they have become the established practice of congregations content to follow the speculations of various religious leaders rather than divine counsel.
If God's word furnishes us unto every good work (2 Tim. 3.16-17) and constitutes the sum of religious truth (2 Pet. 1:3), then it naturally follows these things not found in the word of God and yet existing in denominationalism have sprung from some other source of authority that the truth of the Almighty. Again we need to emphasize that even though we are free moral agents and have the power to follow these traditions rather than the word of God if we wish, it is a fatal practice. Error has never been as good as truth, nor can the doctrines of man compare with the gospel of Christ. It was Jesus, our Lord, who said, "In vain do you worship me, teaching for your doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9). He told the pharisees, "Ye set at naught the law of God by your traditions" (15:3). Many religious services are filled with pageantry and show, governed by human creeds and confessions, wearing human names, and engaging in rituals that are purely human in their origin. And, even some in the body of Christ today are moving fast down the same paths.
The church of Christ today is divided in many ways, and unable to agree on certain subjects, as some of our most educated men, Bible scholars, differ and some teaching one thing while others teach another. It is becoming confusing to people who have been members of the church most of their lives. How can we convert the world to Christianity when we refuse to agree on many things. We should have the same church that was established on the day of Penticost. Each congregation should be teaching the same thing; there should be no difference. Paul, on his missionary journeys, did not teach one church one thing and another church something completely different. We have the same seed Paul sowed, and we should reap the same benefits. Each congregation should be alike in their teachings, practices, and organization.
It follows that if we are thoroughly furnished in all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17), there should be no division among us. The scriptures hold the answer to all our problems. Men should rid themselves of egotism and get over the idea that "I just can't be wrong," and recognize there is a possibility that "I may be wrong." If only men would get over the idea "I am going to change you to my way of thinking or I just won't march in this parade! "
If men would sit down to study the scriptures with love in their hearts toward their brethren in Christ, and really wanting to know the truth about the matter, they could come up with the true answers about many of the things causing division in the church today.
Error in the church will condemn us to a life of eternal punishment. Paul said he obtained mercy because of ignorance (1 Tim.1: 13), but we have no excuse for ignorance today. We have the written word of God, and a diligent study of it by faithful men wanting to know the truth would do away with the division among the children of God.
Teaching error is a serious thing. Many of the things we condemn denominationalism for today can be found somewhere in one of our own congregations. We can see a turning trend in the church today, slowly turning toward worldly things. Modernism is slowly creeping into the church in many places. What is the answer? A serious study of God's word and a desire to know the truth. Elders, deacons, preachers and faithful members need to speak out against these liberal trends, error and division. If it isn't stopped soon, we will be just another worldly organization following the doctrines of men, or the body of Christ rent asunder. Many will become what Paul warned Timothy against: lovers of self, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof, ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:1-7). Let us exhort one an-, other in a greater effort to seek the truth, to find it and then make a sincere application of it in our lives and worship.
It has been the plea of the churches of Christ through the years that all things that, have human rather than divine authority for their existence be laid aside. This applies to denominational names and practices that has divided the religious world into its sectarianism. But, let us take from our worship also those practices that did not spring from divine truth. Let us subject our entire religious structure to the acid test of God's eternal truth. That which has truth in it, let us retain. That which is error let us cast out, for error is not as good as truth, nor can the doctrine of man be compared with the gospel of Christ.
It DOES make a difference what we believe. It DOES make a difference what we practice. Truth, and truth alone, can save our souls; but error can, and will, condemn us all if we follow it.
Truth Magazine, VI: 1 pp. 8-12