By Larry Ray Hafley
The answer to the question above is simple, but the issues involved are complex. They are complex, not because truth is difficult, but because truth has been obscured (2 Cor. 4:4). To a member of a religious denomination, my response will appear bitter or bigoted or both. Therefore, it is essential that this essay be an explanation and clarification of certain pertinent points and principles. These points and principles are:
(1) Who is the “we”?
(2) What is the “peace” that is sought?
(3) What are the “denominations”?
(4) What do the Scriptures say on the question at hand?
Who Is The “We”?
By the term or pronoun, “we,” I refer to Christians and to that which is designated and described in the New Testament as “churches of Christ.” These churches were comprised and composed of saved people (Acts 2:36-47; 11:21-27). They were congregations or groups of the saved in various localities (1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:2). They belonged to Christ and were subject to His will and word (Acts 20:28-32). The churches were not warring factions with diverse, distinct doctrines such as characterized modern religious denominationalism. Obviously, Baptist Churches are not established in the Methodist system of faith and Presbyterian doctrine will not found a Lutheran Church. But in the New Testament, the preaching of the apostles made believers who were banded together in local units called churches (Acts 9:31; 1 Thess. 2:14). They walked according to the same rule and were governed by the same standard, the word of God (1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 2 Thess. 2:15).
“And so were the churches established in the faith” (Acts 16:5). That could not be said of denominationalism. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” does not produce a conflicting, contradictory, confusing cluster of churches. At least, it did not do so in the New Testament.
The “Peace” That Is Sought
The “peace” denominationalism seeks is a sham, a pseudo-peace. It is a lame attempt to smile and maintain separate quarters. The Baptists want their particular party tenets to go unchallenged. The Lutherans want their creed and ceremonies to be left alone. So, ignore the differences. Get behind your sect’s system of religion and allow everyone else to do the same. Do not make faces at anyone – except, of course, those narrow-minded Campbellites. Smile big, play up ecumenical feeling at Easter Sunrise services and at Christmas time. It is the same old song with a little different melody. “I won’t question your sprinkling of babies if you will let me tell the saved they cannot be lost even if they want to be.”
The peaceful co-existence movement is led by those who have no interest in following the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). The movement’s disciples cannot bear the label and libel of being associated and affiliated with what is drearily and derisively scoffed and scorned as “Campbellism.” So, they seek acceptance, I was predicted and prophesied: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lust shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3, 4).
Peace overtures with denominationalism often have their origin in an unreal idealism; their result is compromise; their effect is apostasy. Whenever you hear that a band of the Lord’s disciples is having “fruitful dialogue” with the Baptists or a Christian Church and that they are moving closer in their views, just guess who has moved! Guess who has to “play down” (and, ultimately, lay down) their convictions on baptism or the music question. If brethren will hedge and surrender the truth, “peace” is possible. Such “peace” is impossible when Christians hear and heed the apostolic appeal to arms and are found “casting down imaginations (doctrines of the denominations – LRH) and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
What Are The “Denominations”?
If you need to be told or have to look it up, this article will not mean much to you. A denomination is a human creation, a man-made church. A religious denomination is a divine abomination. Of all similar groups of men under the cloak and guise of Christ, Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men …. Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:8, 9, 13). Further, He said, “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. Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name have done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23)
What Do The Scriptures Say?
The clear import and emphasis of Scripture is that God has never approved of the mixing and mingling of human religion with the divine (Deut. 7:2-6; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). As the Lord once asked the Jews, “Whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” So, we ask about denominational churches, “Whence are they? from heaven, or of men?” If from heaven, who says so? If from men, well, the conclusion is obvious. If it can be established that Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, or Catholic Churches are of God, then all swords should be beaten into plowshares, but denominations cannot be found in Scripture, except in condemnation (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-15). Where is the commendation of a denomination?
The New Testament is a militant, aggressive piece of literature. Christians are constantly encouraged to “fight,” “war,” and “wrestle” (1 Tim. 6:12; Eph. 6:12; 2 Cor. 10:3-5). They are told that some false teachers must have their mouths stopped (Titus 1:9-13). Have you ever tried to stop a lying, slow bellied evil beast with your best grin? It will not work. The only recourse is a fight, a war, a wrestling match. It is not always pretty and someone is bound to get scuffed up, but it is what the Lord advocates (1 Jn. 4:1; Rev. 2:2).
These will be peace with the denominations when a Baptist preacher says he is just a Christian and that baptism is “for the remission of sins.” There will be peace when Methodists lay aside their methods for the New Testament variety. There will be peace when Pentecostals recognize that Pentecost is a Jewish feast day and not a church or an experience. Until then, there is a war on, and if you are not in it, you had better enlist. Basic training is conducted in the book of Acts. It will toughen you up and get you ready for some real combat. If you are squeamish, you might read what the Lord said about being on His side (Matt. 12:30). Who was it that said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34)? Sounds like a Pharisaical anti to me, but you know the Lord said it. So, get your uniform on and stand and fight. Heaven requires it (Eph. 6:10-18).
Guardian of Truth XXV: 1, pp. 1, 11
January 1, 1981