A New Denomination

Dale Smelser
Zion, Illinois

It is a sad thing to observe people who have obeyed the gospel of Christ, and who were thus in the Lord's body, as they go into denominationalism. This is being done by the organization of a brotherhood upon another basis than fellowship with God. Such a brotherhood is a denomination and it is being formed of churches that were once simply churches of Christ.

The concept that brethren have of being an organized denomination may be seen in a letter from the "Northern Christian Association" in the interest of establishing a college in this area. This Association must have a great deal to do with the church for it ask: "How would you, as an individual Christian like to help strengthen and improve the prestige of the church of Christ in the Chicago area?" Here is the concept of being a religious body whose reputed quality as a whole may be reflected by human contributions.

Being concerned with the prestige of the "church" is a worldly idea. It results from that lust John, called "the vain glory of life," and depicts an attitude of being more concerned with what man thinks of the church than what God thinks of it. If Jehovah approves it, what change can we make - what different can we do, prestige or no prestige?

The Lord's church is not in the public relations business, but the business of getting worldly lost souls converted that they might have relationship to God as adopted sons (Eph, 1:4-6). To aim lower than that, establishing our own impressive institutions with which we identify the church, and by transference exalt ourselves for being members of a so-well-thought-of-body, misses the mark of being the body of Christ. Our religious group would be just another sect, no matter, how prestigious.

We are not going to scripturally convert anyone with a prestige resulting from anything other than preaching and living the gospel of Christ. The "image" we are to be concerned with is that which "after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Eph. 4:21-24). If the world is not impressed with that, there is no other scriptural way to seek the admiration of men. Prestige sought by the church in any other way is sinfully sought.

How does the Northern Christian Association propose to "strengthen and improve the prestige of the church?" The second sentence of their letter which was addressed to the church and to be called to the attention of the elders tells us: "You are cordially invited to join with us in our program to establish an accredited Christian College in Chicago land." A college is going to improve the image of a church. The only way it can is to be related to and identified with the congregations of which that church is composed. If the college were separate from the church it would add no prestige to it.

If I do not say the following, someone will misrepresent this article. So: I do not oppose men who are Christians operating a college, nor teaching the Bible as a part of the curriculum.

Having said this though, the church is not in the college business. A college cannot add one whit to the glory of the church as it is pictured being presented to Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). If you have church related colleges, or church related any-other-institutions, you have a denomination composed of the group of churches that are related and identified with them. It is a sectarian body in that it separates itself from Christians in churches which have no relation to its institutions. It may be said that the result of organizing and institutionalizing the work of churches is to denominationalize them. For example, a brotherhood is forming, being cemented by its organizations, where fellowship is not dependent upon, and only upon, fellowship with God, but whether or not its organizations are accepted. Who can deny that this is so?

To illustrate, one may have obeyed the gospel and live a godly life. The congregation, with which he works, may function in every particular set forth in the scriptures. To save their souls, quite literally, institutional brethren cannot -how that he is not serving God acceptably even though he will have no part of their church related institutions. Still, he is outside the fellowship of these organized brethren: he cannot preach or even pray in their assemblies and his presence affords them patent discomfort. Yet acceptance of their church organizations is not necessary for fellowship with Christ since such did not exist in the acceptable fellowship of the early saints.

You see, they have a fellowship that excludes faithful Christians. In scope this fellowship is smaller than the scriptural fellowship of all men everywhere who by their obedience have fellowship with Christ. There is seen fruition of the seed concept: the denominational attitude is finding expression in institutions through which the denomination can function and which provide the feeling of an organically connected brotherhood. Too, this proud brotherhood is seeking glory and prestige through its exclusive institutions. Truly, a new denomination is being born.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 9, pp. 22-23
June 1967