Denominationalizing the Church (I)

By Roy E. Cogdill

The church of the New Testament, designed by the God of heaven from eternity, built by the Lord Jesus Christ, and set forth in its identity by the Holy Spirit on the pages of New Testament teaching was not then, and is not now, if it exists upon this earth, any part of anything and in no sense was a denominational institution. It is distinct and separate from every human institution on earth.

This church for which Christ “gave himself” (Eph. 5:25) and over which he is the only “head” (Eph. 1:22) and of which He is the Savior (Eph. 5:23) was planned by the G6d of heaven in eternity, before time began Eph. 3:10-11) and built by Christ according to that plan (Matt. 16:18).

The divine plan calls for a divine relationship (the church) separate and apart from every human plan and arrangement. Men have no right to lay their unholy hands upon it to change a single detail that divine wisdom has built into it. The religion that is pure and undefiled is from above and human modifications and arrangements adulterate and defile it and make it vain and void (James 1:27; Matt. 15:7-9). It must remain unspotted from the world, not only in character, but also in name, doctrine, organization, worship and work.

However, its undenominational character must be maintained and it can be done only at the price of eternal vigilance (Acts 20:25-31). Apostasy was imminent even in the New Testament day (2 Thess. 2:7). Paul warned against this danger of becoming careless in respect for divine law and authority (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). But in spite of divine warnings apostasy came and with sectarianism and denominationalism. The church was corrupted by human organizations and arrangements by which men sought to improve on God’s ways. The apostasy culminated in the growth and development of the Roman Catholic institution that plagues the world even until today and that will continue to do so until the Lord comes again and destroys this mother of harlots with the breath of his mouth (2 Thess. 2:1-12).

People do not often profit by history. The same mistakes are made over and over again in the religious world just like in the political and financial world. We allow world conditions to worsen and develop into war. Financial inflation is continued until the bubble bursts and depression and destitution come. Human corruptions of the religion of Christ are tolerated until full grown departure and apostasy results in the sprouting of another denominational movement right out of the heart of the Lord’s people. Some brethren talk of the “main stream” of the church. Well, this is the part that has always been corrupted and out of it has come unscathed the purified body of Christ stripped of human creeds, human organizations, and human wisdom. Indeed: History does repeat itself (1 Cor. 11:19).

When the men of God married wives of Ashdod, their children grew up to speak the language of Ashdod and their identity was imperiled by this corrupted generation. God condemned and cursed them with severe punishment (Nehemiah 13:23-24). A corrupted speech has always been evidence of a corrupted people. The language of spiritual Ashdod today among God’s people indicates the peril of lost identity and a complete departure from divine law and authority. It is the ear mark of a new denominational body arising from among the churches of Christ. Such a corrupted speech is heard on every hand and in “high places” among the brethren. To call attention to it and warn against it will not correct the situation Unless we can reach the hearts of those guilty and restore their respect for divine wisdom and authority. It is the spirit of “lawlessness” that lies at the root of the trouble.

Nevertheless, warnings are in order and they should be given earnest heed lest we let them slip. For as certainly as a corrupted speech is evidence of “the spirit of iniquity already at work” so along with it comes accompanying departures from divine wisdom in the corruption of the divine organization, doctrine, worship, and work. He that will disrespect the will of the Lord at one point will do so at any and every other point when it suits him or he thinks the time is expedient (James 2:10). When one breach occurs and continues, there is no way to keep out the flood. This has been demonstrated over and over again in the past.

We are hearing a language strange to the people of God in the years of the past when the spirit and determination to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent” was so evident in the effort to, restore New Testament religion. It is common on every hand in the “high places” among brethren such as “Christian Colleges” to hear in use the terms of distinction among brethren that a few years ago would have been quickly condemned. “Doctor” So-and-So is quite the popular thing today. It is excused on the ground that such men have reached high educational attainments in the world. But is such to be recognized in the church? Are we to create an educated “clergy” set apart from the rest of the brethren of common and ordinary attainments? Is this in harmony with divine will? Who will affirm it? Yet it is covered up with subterfuge and deceitful hypocrisy and these learned great men continue to be set apart in the church with complete abandon of both the spirit and teaching of the Christ. He refused all titles of distinction and applause and taught that they should be given only to God (Matt. 19:16-17). He taught his disciples to use no such terms of distinction among themselves and rebuked them when they sought distinctive seats and branded all such as hypocrisy and vain glory (Matt. 23:5-12). Is this instruction of the Lord out of date? Is it not our obligation to respect it? Why then all of this “doctoring” of the great ones among us? Do we not know that in our generation these great men would not have a place to teach in schools supported by Christians (and in many cases unscripturally supported by churches of Christ)! Indeed, they would not even have a congregation to support them when they preach if it were not for the “undoctored” preachers who made the sacrifices of a generation ago to plant churches and spread the gospel of the Kingdom without any instruction at all except self-instruction. Men like J. D. Tant, Joe Blue, and multitudes of others that could be named. These were not ignorant men, except by the standard of the world. They were learned in the word of the Lord and unafraid to preach it. But the more “doctoring” a man gets these days, the less gospel he preaches and the less respect he has for the law of the Lord. Try to call upon him to respect divine law and he will brand you as “simple-minded,” “untrained,” “legalistic,” etc.

How long have you heard such terms as “responses,” “reconsecrations,” etc.? Today huge numbers of additions are reported in meetings, excuse me! “campaigns” all over the country-hundreds respond-many of them among the most faithful workers in the churches-reconsecrating themselves (whatever that is) and relatively few are baptized. Even many of those who are baptized are “rebaptisms” but they are responses and a great display made and the whole thing is propagandized in ridiculous worldly fashion. One out of five of the reported responses may render primary obedience to the requirements of the gospel but it sounds good and swells the appearance of the thing. It is good psychology and advertising.

And then how long have the churches of Christ been putting on “campaigns for Christ,” “youth forums,” “youth camps,” and “youth rallies?” How many years have “retreats” and “workshops” and “youth revivals” and “women’s meetings” been around? “Youth fellowship” gatherings and “fellowship dinners” are new comers on the scene also. These all have accompanied other departures that have marked the inter-marriage of many of the churches with “spiritual Ashdod” and characterize a generation of spiritual offspring that has lost its identity as the children of God. Rather than “glorying” in such things, we should rather be “mourning” because of defiling and corrupting of the Lord’s church.

Truth Magazine XIX: 43, pp. 679-680
September 11, 1975