An Analysis of Modern Denominationalism
Wm. E. Wallace
You are living in an age in which changes are more sudden, more revolutionary and more pronounced than changes ever before known, or imagined, or experienced in our nation. The political, social, and economic conditions of our world are in a state of flux and upheaval. Science has reached great heights of accomplishment involving areas that were just recently considered fantasy and fiction. It is not possible to adequately picture in words the tremendous changes taking place in our nation and in our world.
Changes in Religion
Major changes never anticipated are taking place in religion also. Observations concerning the menace of Catholicism are considered antiquated now, even though they may have reflected absolute truth about Roman Catholicism. Protestantism is far removed from the protestation of the Reformation Movement and is caught up in new theology, new morality, and ecumenism, which have given it a different imagedifferent from that of the theological, ecclesiastical and traditional foundations upon which Protestantism was built.
Theological liberalism, with its "Higher Criticism" of the Bible, wrought tremendous changes in Protestant faith. Now Ecumenism, new theology, the New Morality, the Social Gospel, and the Civil Rights Movement create in Protestantism different images and new characteristics.
It is not easy to' stereotype Protestant bodiesit has never been easy to do so. Yet heretofore the major, "orthodox" doctrines that came out of the Reformation Movement characterized all the Reformed bodies. Although major differences existed among Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinistic, and national reformed groups, they were all built upon Reformation principles which gave them kinship and friendship in spite of diversity.
Now the major Reformation groups, joined by groups originating in America, find more to hold in common in their efforts for adequate organization and relevant social service in an age saturated with turmoil.
Protestant theologians are grappling with the meaning of man and the purposes of his existence. Existentialism, the New Morality, Ecumenism, the Civil Rights Movement, the Social Gospel these are the interests of the clergymen and theologians while the mass of Protestant worshippers become less concerned with orthodoxy and more involved in secularism and worldliness.
Our fight against Protestantism has been one in which we have struck at major doctrines and denominational diversity or disunity. We have exposed as unscriptural original sin, infant baptism, salvation by faith alone, direct operation of the Holy Spirit in conversion, impossibility of apostasy, predestination, et cetera. We have effectively contrasted the unity for which Christ prayed with the divided condition of Protestant Christendom. But now major Protestant bodies are less interested in doctrinal forms and more interested in meeting social, economic and political problems. They seek broader scale interdenominational cooperation and they pursue roads to merger. Doctrinal concepts and traditional forms are subordinate to the mania to make the "church" more relevant to the needs of man as to his earthly and worldly involvements.
But Protestantism remains in disunity. There is a large and effective segment known as Evangelical Protestantism that remains aggressive in the quest for individual conversions and militant as to fundamental doctrines. Large and effective bodies like the Baptists, the Nazarenes, and the Pentecostals hold to fundamental doctrinal concepts and remain loyal to exclusive goals, emphasizing "otherworldliness" in contrast to the secular and worldly spirit of this present age. These denominations are not unconcerned with the spirit of ecumenicity, but they are more concerned in maintaining the distinctive principles on which they have been founded. They do not pursue unity at any cost nor seek merger by compromise. There are more interest in both pulpit and pew in the integrity of doctrinal beliefs, morals, ethics, and the next life than in the social, economic, and political problems of this life.
An article in Look Magazine, July 27, 1965, observes that the result of the differences between liberal and conservative Protestantism is a "full scale battle of the Bible over the purpose of the church and the living test of truth." Evangelical Protestantism holds fundamental and traditional theology against the fermenting infidelity in liberal Protestantism.
There are fringe groups too. The "Jehovah's Witnesses" group is an example of the cults which disclaim any association with organized Protestantism, yet are associated with worldly Christendom by virtue of sectarian status. These groups are known by their incessant loyalty to peculiar cultic principles, which they believe, give them a favoured position before God. This "chaos of cults" is a thorn in the flesh of both liberal and evangelical Protestantism, and the voices of these sects are usually heard out of proportion to their size and importance. Yet they ring out notes of conviction and sincerity in times of frustration and confusion.
Roman Catholicism is undergoing great changes, or at least she is leaving such an impression. She has opened her doors to allow a view of what goes on behind the hierarchical curtain. We see tensions between liberal and conservative theologians. We see disagreements and dispute between national bishops and Vatican representatives. Changes forced by expediency and modernity is in the making. While Roman Catholic people remain loyal to the hierarchy they clamor for more freedom in their personal lives and they are developing more tolerant attitudes toward their "separated brethren." While Protestants are impressed with fresh insights into the Roman Catholic theological, functional and ecumenical interests, the Vatican achieves many goals in America that were formerly denied it by constitutional safeguards and popular resentment. The Roman
Catholic church is profiting from the religious and social conditions in America and is taking advantage of the opportunities to improve her standing.
Our task in fighting error today is larger than that of exposing traditional Roman Catholic, Reformation and sectarian innovations. We must contrast the gospel of Christ with the Social Gospel; we must hold up the unity for which Christ prayed against the ecumenism of our day; we must contend for the faith once delivered against the tolerance and infidelity of modern theologians and church men; we must be militant against the lulling overtures of Roman Catholic ecumenicalism; we must equip ourselves to deal effectively and adequately with modernism, skepticism, new theology, and new morality; we must be instant in season and out of season to display New Testament Christianity over against the organizational, social, political, and economic involvements of modern Christendom.
Our task is still that of reflecting New Testament Christianity in twentieth century America, but the opportunities and necessities of proper applications are broadening and becoming more complex. Let us not become lulled, nor confused; neither discouraged nor frustrated. Surely out of the labyrinth of modern Christendom many souls are yet to be led to simple New Testament Christianity. May God help us to continue to display the genuine against the counterfeit.
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 1, pp. 25-27 October 1965