Fellowship with the Denominations?

By Lewis Willis

The division of the church which was launched by liberal brethren in 1938, and which came to fruition in the 50s and 60s, has arrived at its destination! No amount of warning or pleading could stop the movement in its departure from the truth. Today the new leaders herald their arrival as a full-fledged denomination!

Ironically, those who led the apostasy for years are now trying to stop this final plunge into the abyss of denominationalism. However, they are being ignored for the most part. Only a fraction of the movement will hear what they have to say. Finn Foundation, a paper edited by Buster Dobbs, has been fighting the new liberals or “change agents” who have risen to the leadership of liberal churches. Another strong voice among apostate brethren is The Spiritual Sword, edited by Alan E. Highers. Almost every issue of these journals for the last several years has been devoted to calling their people to arms against those who were leading the movement into the ranks of modern denominationalism. But the warnings went unheeded.

October 1996

An editorial by Highers in the issue of The Spiritual Sword, establishes that the new leaders now openly advocate the fellowship of liberal churches with denominations. He cites the following as proof of his claims.

1. A speech by William S. Banowsky at the Abilene Christian University lectures, 2-21-96. Highers said Banowsky,”advocated an inclusive fellowship with denominationalism.” Banowsky indicated that he started out “with the idea of an identifiably exclusive church, but he grew to understand the concept of a universally inclusive church.” In his view, the church consists of all the denominations. He even stated that we need to confess “our self-righteousness to our neighbors.” Highers further noted that Banowsky “accused churches of Christ of deifying the letter of the Bible and placing paper and ink between us and God … that faith is more a matter of intuition and feeling than of logic and reason . . .we will not win this fight for faith if we wage it on the basis of reason.” Highers properly observed that Banowsky “pleads for heartfelt religion such as (is) manifested by Pentecostalism.” Why is he so concerned about “deifying the letter of the Bible” and about “paper and ink”? Banowsky’s point is, we must not restrict ourselves to what is authorized in the New Testament, based on logic and reason from the text. Instead, we must depend upon our feelings. Our feelings should be followed, instead of following the Scriptures. That will definitely produce a denomination!

2. A speech by Rubel Shelly at Florence, Alabama, April 1996. Shelly is probably the most influential of the new liberals. He appeared in Florence in a conference “with an assortment of denominational preachers and charismatic leaders.” Shelly said, “One of the things that I think is so wonderful and precious and dear to the heart of God about a conference like this is that it is a conference that cuts across the lines that we have erected to keep us separate … We need every one of us on the same team . . . We will not lose our separate denominational.. identifies . we will not have to give up our distinctive practices with regard to our different organizational structures, worship, and so on. I see no need for that . . . Being a Christian is more important than whether … you’re premillennial, . . . or you’re Baptist, or you’re charismatic, or you’re church of Christ, or you’re Presbyterian.” Shelly now ignores such questions as the organization and worship of the church. You can be baptized by sprinkling or use instrumental music, but he still desires fellowship with you.

3. A speech by Max Lucado at a Baptist church in San Antonio, Texas, 4-2-96. In that speech Lucado likened religion to God’s navy. There is only one ship; with only one captain, having only one destination. Speaking of the various denominations, he said,”though there may be many cabins below the deck in which we live, and where we choose to bunk, when God calls us to all stand on the deck and face the enemy, shoulder to shoulder, we need to take the command seriously. Unity matters to God.”

On another occasion Lucado has said, “When I see someone calling God Father and Jesus Savior, I meet a brother or a sister  regardless of the name of their church or denomination.” W. Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett used almost this identical language several years ago when they departed to denominationalism. One need not won-der long where Lucado, Shelly, and Banowsky got their rhetoric.

Another evidence of this further move toward denominational status is a recent book by Richard T. Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. His book, Reviving The Ancient Faith, attempts to prove that the Restoration Movement from the beginning was never intended to do away with denominationalism. According to Hughes, the movement simply sought to re-fine what was already there, while maintaining fellowship with denominations. Hughes believes that opposition to fellowship with the denominations is found only among those in churches of Christ who are poor, uncultured, and uneducated. These brethren, according to Hughes, “helped father . . . a radical primitivist and sectarian subtradition rooted in economic deprivation and estranged from the world of culture and education.” He argues that mainstream or liberal churches of Christ of the twentieth century have “abandoned many of the trappings of sectarian religion and moved toward denominational status” (91). I believe he is absolutely correct in saying those liberal churches are now a denomination.

What has been the effect? In our area, the very liberal Church in the Falls, had Rubel Shelly in to teach on the “Core Truth” which has to do with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. If one is right about Jesus, Shelly contends, fellowship should be established with that per-son. One of their elders, Mark Nitz, wrote about this, saying, “The lesson is clear. We do a grave injustice when we make all discipleship issues and personal beliefs of equal importance to the gospel. One’s understanding of instrumental music, the Lord’s Supper, or the Second Coming are not nearly as important as faith in Christ . . . Let’s not reject a brother who has a differing conviction but who clearly understands the core truths of the gospel” (Bulletin, 3-27-96). According to Nitz, as long as one is right about Jesus, he can be fellowshiped no matter what he believes or practices about instrumental music or the Lord’s Supper. Those questions must not affect fellowship. One is not surprised when they announce a “Gospel concert at Arlington Street Church of God” in which “several of our members will sing.” Tickets are being sold at $10 each (Bulletin, 10-16-96).

I find it interesting to note that liberal churches can fellowship and participate in activities with the denominations, but they will have nothing to do with those of us who practice only what is authorized in the Lord’s word. This was all predicted many years ago. If there is any surprise in it, however, it is only in how quickly it has come.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 2 p. 3-4
January 16, 1997