By Mike Willis
Denominationalism is the only religion that most Americans have ever known. We grow up accepting denominationalism as a fact of life without questioning whether or not God approves of it. The Devil uses the “course of this world” (Eph. 2:2) – the accepted moral values and attitudes of a given period of time – to keep men deceived and in their sin.
The New Testament churches were familiar with denominationalism, not in its modern form but in principle. Judaism was divided into its various sects – Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, etc. Generally these sects practiced unity-indiversity in learning to live with one another. But, the church of Jesus Christ did not become a part of the denominations of Judaism. First Century Christians opposed all sects of the Jews as religions which could not lead one to salvation. They were equally opposed to every idolatrous religion invented by the Gentiles.
Some Christians have quit preaching against denominationalism, apparently thinking that kind of preaching is outdated. Perhaps some have forgotten that every new generation must learn again the fundamental principles of Christianity – to distinguish the Lord’s church from denominationalism. I fear that some have not only forgotten this fact but have consciously looked at the idea and rejected it. They have made a conscious decision to quit preaching against denominationalism, lest they offend visitors and cause their attendance to go down. They view the Lord’s church as a denomination of men with its own traditions. Instead of seeing the Lord’s church as distinguished from the denominations, they see the church of Christ as a sister denomination to the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and other denominations.
Denominationalism is still a sinful expression of religion. We must ever keep this truth before our members lest we adopt the principle beliefs of modern denominationalism and become one of them. Here are factors to consider about denominationalism.
1. The denominations are churches started by men. The church of the New Testament was established by God in fulfillment of divine prophecy (see Isa. 2:14; 9:6-7). Jesus came to build his church (Matt. 16:18). The denominations are founded by men.
There will forever remain a difference between restoring the Lord’s church and establishing a denomination. The Lord’s church is restored wherever and whenever men preach the pure word of God and men respond in obedience to it. Denominations are formed when men decide to start their own church, make its laws, determine its conditions for membership, its structure of worship, etc. The difference between the two is this: one is divinely revealed religion and the other is humanly devised.
2. The peculiar doctiines of the denominations are unrevealed and false doctrines. Here are some of the particular doctrines to which we object:
Sprinkling or pouring as substitutes for baptism (Rom. 6:4)
Baptizing babies (Matt. 18:3)
Salvation by faith only (Jas. 2:24)
Organizational structures different from the organization of the New Testament church (popes, archbishops, cardinals, synods, councils) (cf. 1 Tim. 3)
Present day tongue-speaking (1 Cor. 13:8)
Present day “miracles” (1 Cor. 13:8)
Worship departures, such as instrumental music in worship, choirs, bands, lighting of candles, partaking the Lord’s supper on days other than the first day of the week and with some frequency other than weekly, changing the items of the Lord’s supper, prayer through Mary’s name, tithing (See Matt. 15:8-9; Col. 2:21-23 for Jesus’ appraisal of humanly devised worship.)
Space does not allow me room to list all such doctrines or to make replies to them. Denominationalism teaches a variety of false doctrines not revealed in the word of God. About doctrines of men, 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” (Matt. 15:8-9).
We must be careful not to allow the lessons we frequently preached in the past to slip away from our memory. We need to preach from the story of Cain’s murdering Abel that not all worship pleases God (Gen. 4). We need to teach a new generation of the sins of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2), Uzzah (2 Sam. 6), Saul (1 Sam. 15), Naarnan (1 Kgs. 5), and other examples which illustrate the danger to one’s soul of devising his own worship.
3. Denominationalism uses a variety of unscriptural ways to raise funds. The funds of the church are to be raised by the free-will contributions of its members. Paul wrote, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Most denominations raise funds in such ways as the following: tithing, bingo games, rummage sales, a circus, Las Vegas nights, offerings taken on days other than the Lord’s day, betting, businesses, etc.
4. Denominationalism draws its crowd through entertainment. The only thing which the Lord used to draw people to him was his love for their soul. Jesus said, “And 1, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32). Not being content with the number drawn by the crucified Savior, men use special singing groups, public figures (baseball players, politicians, actors, etc.), special events (Mothers Day – free prize to the oldest and youngest mother), and other carnal tactics to attract a crowd. This generation needs to be taught the sinfulness of trying to draw men with something other than the gospel.
5. Denominationalism uses unscriptural names for its churches. Denominations wear names such as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, etc. which cannot be found in the Bible. The Bible condemns the wearing of such names in passages such as 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 – “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” If first century saints had to learn that it was a sin to call men after Paul and Peter, twentieth century saints must learn that it is a sin to call oneself after Martin Luther, baptism, the name of elders (presbyterian) or bishops (episcopalian), and other non-biblical names.
We should be content to call Bible things by Bible names. The guiding principle should be, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). No generation ever becomes so educated that these lessons are not needed.
Rather than allowing our thinking to be shaped by the denominationalism around us, let us resolve to teach these fundamental lessons which we have gleaned from God’s word to a new generation. Only in this way can we be faithful to the charge given to us: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Christians preach the gospel, establishing the church which the Lord built rather than the denominations built by men.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 2, pp. 38, 50
January 16, 1992