By H. Leo Boles
Nothing is taught more clearly and emphatically in the New Testament than that Christians, disciples of Christ, should be united. Jesus, before he established his church, prayed that his disciples should be one. “And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one” (Jn. 17:22,23). The Holy Spirit through Paul exhorted Christians to “be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Again Paul wrote by the Holy Spirit to the church at Philippi “that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (1 Pet. 3:8). Scriptural quotations could be multiplied which emphasize the fact that God’s people should be united. Not only do the Scriptures clearly teach that the disciples of Christ should be united, but division among the people of God is condemned. The church at Corinth was instructed to speak the same thing: “And that there be no divisions among you.” The New Testament is clear in condemning division as it is in emphasizing that God’s people should be united.
One of the vital questions of our day is that of bringing together all of the professed followers of Jesus. The question is frequently asked: “How shall the followers of Christ, now ranged under different banners, be rallied and united under one standard, when party names shall be known no more?” The desire of many is that the distinctions which are represented by party names pass away and the reproach -of division be removed. Many earnest and honest hearts are pondering the difficult solution of uniting the believers in the Lord. They feel keenly that such divisions as now exist are condemned by the New Testament. At the same time they see no satisfactory conclusion of the present divided condition; they know that no power can force people to unite; they know that the union must be wholehearted on the part of everyone. The heads of the denominational bodies know that they cannot compel the members of the different denominations to disband and merge into one large body of believers. No one denomination today will claim to be infallible; no denomination will claim to have all the truth, and each denomination will admit that the other denominations have some truth. It is an impossible task to unite the present denominations. A uniting of all the denominations into one large denomination is not the unity for which Christ prayed and which the New Testament teaches.
The union of believers in Christ cannot be had by the different denominations “agreeing to disagree”; there is no such thing as uniting these different religious bodies by getting them to ignore the differences that separate them into different bodies; neither will they be brought together into one body by agreeing to differ with each other, and yet maintain their distinct organizations. It is impossible to form a confederation of the denominations and have so many “wheels within a wheel.” Any theory of unity that assumes and makes provision for the perpetuation of denominationalism is doomed to failure. Many fatal objections can be urged against it, and no wise leader among them is bold enough to urge such a thing. The efforts that have been made toward union on such grounds have resulted in still more confusion, and as a result we have “confusion more confounded.” As a result of such efforts, denominations have multiplied and subdivisions have been the result of the different methods and theories urged for the union of religious people. Some have concluded that it is impossible for believers in Christ to be united. God requires all of his children to be of the same mind. If all cannot be of the same mind and be united, then God requires an impossibility of believers in Christ; if he does not require an impossibility, then all can be united in Christ. Hence, the dilemma: either God requires an impossibility of believers, or believers are condemned for not being of the same mind, united in Christ.
The Bible nowhere intimates that the perpetuity of denominations shall continue. They did not exist in the early days of Christianity; neither were they provided for in the New Testament; their origin, organization, and perpetuation are condemned in the New Testament. There is not a single intimation that God endorses them or that the Holy Spirit guides their different activities. If Paul censured the dissensions and party feelings in the church at Corinth, how much more reprehensible must be the ripened fruit of such schisms in religion today? They are antagonistic to, and destructive of, the spirit of unity. There is nothing in the New Testament that can be fairly construed to give any justification of denominationalism. Such divisions among the followers of Christ were not only unknown in apostolic times, but are by explicit apostolic teachings condemned for all time. And since denominations had their origin since the days of the apostles, they must certainly pass away before “we all attain unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:13).
Some who have advocated denominationalism have ceased to do so and are now excusing it by saying that there was a time for denominations, but now the time has come for them to cease and all come together in one great body and form one new gigantic denomination. Such a claim betrays ignorance of Bible teaching. There is as much authority for two hundred denominations as there is for one; there is absolutely no authority for the existence of any of them. If denominations are to remain, union is impossible. There is no reason that can justify such organizations from New Testament teaching. Those who may be set for the defense of denominationalism must understand that they are opposed to New Testament teaching. No one can be right with God and in harmony with its truth and at the same time justify division among the believers in Christ. A denomination has not the authority of Jesus Christ for its existence; hence, it has no mission divinely guided, neither has it any work that is ordained of God. Moreover, he has not promised to bless anyone for loyalty to or service in any denomination. If they are perpetuated, it must be by the will of man and in opposition to the will of God.
The sin of division is great, The stench of it reaches to high heaven; the guilt of it descends into the depth of hell. It is the gigantic sin of the ages; it stands stubbornly in the way of the kingdom of God on earth. Denominationalism is the “man of sin,” which “opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God” (2 Thess. 2:3,4). The sin of denominationalism stalks abroad in the land, perverts the gospel, divides believers in Christ, and fosters opposition and antagonism; it is the mother of religious prejudice, which destroys a vision of the truth; it enters into the sanctity of the home and separates husband and wife, children and parents, friends and companions; it robs worshipers of the blessings of God, turns the praise of God to the praise of men; it honors men and fosters the party spirit and jealousy among its devotees; it often destroys faith in the Bible and has made infidels innumerable. May God speed the day when this sin shall be swept from the earth! (Reprinted from Gospel Advocate, LXXXIV, 35 [27 August 1942): 820-21).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 9, p. 264, 269
May 4, 1989