Is Denominationalism Sinful?

Glenn L. Shaver
Louisville, Kentucky

The majority of religious people think that every church is a DENOMINATION. When they enter into a religious conversation with someone, they ask, "What denomination are you a member of?" If the person to whom they are talking is a member of the body of Christ, and replies, "I am not a member of any denomination," they are astonished and think this just cannot be so. They believe everyone is a member of some denomination. It is their opinion that: (1) Every church is a denomination; (2) One church is just as good as another; (3) It doesn't make any difference to which church you belong; (4) The church isn't essential to one's salvation;

(5) All that matters is that one is honest and sincere; (6) All good people in all churches are going to be saved; hence, to which church or denomination you belong isn't important anyway.

However, by faith I am convinced that "Denominationalism is Sinful," and that people in denominations must leave them and become members "only" of the ONE BODY of CHRIST -- the church, in order to be pleasing to God and saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, the SAVIOUR of His BODY, the church (Eph. 5:23). Hence, it is with love for the souls of all who are members of denominational churches, and a sincere desire to see people accept Christ and His church, that I write so plainly and boldly. May this stir and provoke them to investigate the inspired scriptures to see if they are right or wrong in being members of denominational churches.

Definition of Words

In order to help them in their investigation of the word of truth to learn if "Denominationalism is Sinful," I would like first to give definitions of some "common words" used in religious parlance among denominational people.

1) Denomination is defined by Webster as, "5. a religious sect:" (Webster's New World Dictionary, page 392.)

2) Denominational is defined by Webster as, "Adj. of, sponsored by, or under the control of, some religious sect or sects; sectarian." (Ibid.)

3) Denominationalism is defined by Webster as, "4. division into denominations." (Ibid.)

Thus, we see that denominations are "divisions," "sects" -- sectarian religious bodies or churches. Hence, we need to learn the meaning of the words ("divisions" and "sects") in order to better understand what a denomination is.

1) Division is defined by Webster as, "1. a dividing or being divided; separation, 5. anything that divides; partition; boundary." (Ibid. P. 428.) A synonym for division is part, which is defined by Webster as, "1. to break or divide into separate parts." (Ibid. p. 1065.) Webster defines the word synonym as, "1. a word having the same or nearly the same meaning in one or more senses as another in the same language." (Ibid., p. 1479.)

2) Sect is defined by Webster as, "3. a religious denomination, especially a small group that has broken away from an established church . . . a part or section." (Ibid., p. 1317.) Sectarian is defined as, "1. of or characteristic of a sect. 2. devoted to, or prejudiced in favor of, some sect; hence, 3. narrow-minded; bigoted." (Ibid).

Hence, from the definition of these common words used by religious people, we see that denomination, or sect, is a division or part. Thus, any religious body or church that considers itself a denomination, actually admits that it is a part (or party), a division of the whole, a sect broken away from another body, etc.

Now let us search the Scriptures and learn what the Bible teaches about division, sectarianism, or denominationalism. Does the Bible condone or condemn such?

Works of the Flesh

In Galatians 5:19-21, we have a list of the "works of the flesh," in which the words "strife, seditions, heresies" are mentioned (K. J. V.), and we are warned, "That they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Hence, let us learn the meaning of these words from the Koine Greek, since the New Testament was written in this language. We must learn what the words mean in that language to know what they mean to, us in the English language.

1) Strife is translated from the Greek word "ens" and is defined as, "contention, strife, wrangling" by the lexicographer, Joseph Henry Thayer, in A GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON of the NEW TESTAMENT, page 249; and as "altercation, strife, contentious disposition" by THE ANALYTICAL GREEK LEXICON, published by Harper and Brothers, page 166. It is found in the following scriptures: Rom. 1:29; 13:13; 1 Con. 1:11; 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Phil. 1:15; I Tim. 6:4; and Titus 3:9.

2) Seditious is translated from the Greek word "dikestasia," and means; "Dissension, division" (Thayer, p. 153), and "a standing apart; a division, dissension" (THE ANALYTICAL LEXICON, p. 103). The word is found in these passages: Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:20.

3) Heresies is translated from the Greek word "Hairesis," and means; "5. dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims;"

(a sect or party) (Thayer, p. 16); "strictly, a choice or option; hence, a sect, faction: by impl. discord, contention." (THE ANLY. LEXICON, page 9). It is found in the following places: Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,14; 26:5; 28:22; I Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20; and II Pet. 2:1.

Thus, we see denominationalism is sinful. It is condemned as a "work of the flesh" in the Scriptures. Remember, those that follow the "works of the flesh" shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven!

Division Is Condemned

In I Corinthians 1:10-13, we read: "Now I beeseech you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it bath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" (Emphasis mine--GLS)

Thus, we see that the apostle Paul condemned the Corinthians for their "party spirit" (partyism, sectarianism, division), and showed that in order for a group (or sect) to wear the name of someone other than Christ our Saviour, it would be necessary to: 1) Divide (cut in pieces of parts) Christ; 2) Some one other than Christ would have to be crucified for you (i. e., the one whose name you wear); 3) And one must be baptized in the name (i. e., by the authority) of the one whose name one wears. To illustrate: For you to wear the name "LUTHERAN" -- 1) Christ must be divided; Luther must have been crucified for you; and you must be baptized in the name (or by the authority) of Luther. The same, of course, would be true of any and all "HUMAN NAMES." Thus, one cannot be a Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Mormon, Adventist, "Jehovah's Witness," "Christian Scientist," Nazarene, or any other man-given name, as these names violate the teaching of the apostle in 1 Cor. 1:10-13. Also, they cannot be worn with God's approval because He has not authorized their use. If we wear such names which are not authorized by the inspired Scriptures, we are guilty of "partyism," "sectarianism," and "division" which the word of God condemns.

Not only is "Denominationalism Sinful" in NAME, but also in ORIGIN, DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE. Every denomination originated (started or began) by someone other than Jesus Christ, at some place other than Jerusalem, and at some time other than A. D. 33. Every denomination has its creed (catechism, prayer book, discipline, manual, etc.), which either contains more than the Bible or else less than the Bible. Only the Bible is complete and perfect for the man of God (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Every denomination has "doctrines and practices" not authorized by Jesus Christ, the head of His church. For example, we find the following teachings and practices among denominational bodies or churches; Inherited sins, predestination, salvation wholly of Grace, justification solely of Faith, security of the believer, sprinkling or pouring substituted for immersion in baptism, mechanical instruments of music added to praise, the fruit of the lips, Lord's supper observed only quarterly, semi-annually or annually rather than weekly, sinners asked to mourner's bench to pray through, and holy days, such as Christmas, Easter, etc. are observed. These are common religious beliefs and practices, none of which have been authorized by Jesus Christ, the head of the church. They are works of iniquity. Those who do such will be cast out in that day (Matt. 7:21-23).

You can see that denominationalism is sinful, is a transgression of the law (I John 3:4). Denominationalism violates the teachings of Christ and causes division by teaching its doctrines and practices. Furthermore, denominationalism fails to abide in the doctrine of Christ, hence, does not have the Father and the Son (II John 9).

I have called these things to your attention, not to become your enemy (Gal. 4:16), but because I love your souls and desire to see you saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Truth Magazine VIII: 4, pp. 14-15, 18 January 1964