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Sunday, September 14, 2014 am                            Basics Index

BACK TO BASICS 31
Unity and Denominationalism
What’s Wrong with Denominationalism?

 As we study the subject of unity this month, we now turn our attention to denominationalism.  Denominationalism is directly related to unity because it is the product of religious division.  It is with that in mind that we study it as part of our discussion of unity. 

 I.                    What is Denominationalism?

a.        Typically in our studies we have appealed to words with their Biblical meanings (based on original language).  That is not the case with denominationalism because the word is NEVER used in the Bible and the concept is foreign to the time of the New Testament church.  Some who defend denominationalism will even admit this.  

b.       Denomination defined – 1. A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy.[1]
Wikipedia describes the “religious denomination” as “a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.  They describe “Christian denominations” with examples of Eastern Orthodox, Anglicanism, and many varieties of Protestantism. 

c.        Typically, in the religious world, when you hear the word denomination, you think of one of the organizations defined above, but professing to be one of many such denominations.  The AHD defines the word denominationalism means, “1. the tendency to separate into religious denominations.  2. Advocacy of separation into religious denominations.”[2]

d.       The general consensus of denominationalism is that each denomination is a part of the universal body of Christ.  They might even appeal to the illustration of the body in 1 Corinthians 12.  They might say that each church has its own part and function, but together they comprise the whole body of Christ.   Some are more open and accepting than others toward those religious bodies they disagree with. But this is the general consensus.  It is seen in mantras such as, “We’re all going to heaven, just by different routes” or “Attend the church of your choice” or “As long as we agree on certain fundamental truths, everything else doesn’t matter.”

e.       Again, when we open the scriptures we find that such definitions OR the concept is not found.  And that is our concern in this lesson.   NOTE: As we make some observations as to WHY denominationalism is wrong, we will be appealing to subjects we have been discussing throughout this year, dealing with the basis.  So you might call this lesson an example of making application to these things.

 II.                  Why is Denominationalism Wrong?  

a.        It is unscriptural – that is, without scriptural support. 
We have already examined what the church is and noted that there is ONE true church.  
We have discussed the autonomy (self-governing) and independence of a local church, as well as its organization. 
While varying from one denomination to another, denominationalism appeals to earthly bodies larger than the local church, AND a de-emphasis on a particular church being exclusively right. 
The latest trend, among community churches (and some churches that profess to be non-denominational, actually they are inter-denominational), is to create “satellite” campuses – this is another form of denominationalism.

 

b.       It violates the Biblical definition of unity
In our last lesson we defined what true unity is.  It is to be in agreement and work together within that agreement.   This accords with what the Bible teaches. 
John 17:20-21 – TRUE unity as desired by Jesus –“that they all be one…”
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 – note the entire context.   Paul condemns the sectarianism in their midst. His challenge for them was to “speak the same thing.” 
Denominationalism today, by its very definition FAILS to speak the same thing or to demand that.  While there might be agreement on particular subjects, that is not what makes them denominations.  It is their DIFFERENCES in doctrine.
In 1 Corinthians 3:3-4 Paul condemned this attitude as carnality. He said, “for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
Ephesians 2:14-16 describes one of the reasons Jesus died on the cross – to break down walls of separation and to unite all men thus making peace.

 

c.        It perverts the teachings of God’s word
God’s word is truth!  John 17:17, 8:32-34.  His word is intended to unite us, not divide us.  His word is ABSOLUTE truth!  It can be understood (Ephesians 5:17).  God is NOT the author of confusion – 1 Corinthians 14:33. 
It is that truth that purifies our hearts and unites us - 1 Peter 1:22-23.
Denominationalism, with its varied teachings on virtually every subject, implies that God’s word cannot be absolutely understood.  It thrives on agreeing to disagree.   Many of the general tenets of denominationalism are contrary to the teachings of scripture.
But consider that when we stand before God, we will be judged by His word (John 12:48, Romans 2:16, etc.).   Will there be different standards for different individuals?

 

d.       It elevates the traditions of men over the teachings of God.
The Bible is very clear about appealing to the teachings and traditions of men – 1 Cor. 2:1-5, Matthew 15:8-9, etc.  
The church of the Bible is not a denomination.  Therefore, every denomination has its origin with some man who started teaching his views and doctrines.  Many have creed books that explain their beliefs and set them apart from others.  Most denominations actually trace their origin back to some man:
  Lutherans trace their origin back to Martin Luther (though he did not want them to name their faith after him)
  Baptist trace their origin back to John Smyth, 1609 in Amsterdam, Holland
  Methodists began with the teachings of John Wesley
  Presbyterians began with the teachings of John Calvin and John Knox.
  Catholicism differentiated itself with a single head (the pope) in 606 AD when Boniface III declared himself universal ruler.  This was the culmination of centuries of organizational apostasy.

 

e.       It voids the exactness of God’s word in matters of faith
  In studying authority we have established that God means what He says and says what He means.  That applies both to teaching and structure. 
Far too many today want to deal with generalities and avoid specifics, especially if they are divisive.  But the Bible warns us about going beyond its boundaries (1 Corinthians 4:6, 2 John 9-11).  We are not to add to His word or take away from it (cf. Rev. 22:18-19). 
The reason there is so much religious division today is because God’s boundaries are not respected.
The consequence of teaching unity in diversity is that it implies error is just as good as truth (since truth is absolute).  It puts feelings over absolute truth, because often that becomes the gauge.  According to denominationalism, we can fellowship error (because there is no absolute truth) – Eph. 5:11 tells us to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to expose them; 2 John 10-11 tells you if someone comes teaching something different to not receive him. 
Galatians 1:6-9 warns against different gospels and how to deal with those who teach such.

 

f.         It hinders the cause of Christ – In John 17:21 as Jesus prayed for unity, He said “that the world may believe that you sent me.”   Unity demonstrates that belief.
Jesus told His apostles (John 13:34-35) that all would know we are disciples by our love for one another. Division does NOT demonstrate our love.
In worship (1 Corinthians 14) Paul rebuked their competitive and prideful attitudes as being counter-productive to reaching the lost.  
 The world looks upon division among varied believers in Christ and churches to say we cannot understand the Bible alike, that the Bible is unimportant as our standard, that God is the author of confusion, etc. Therefore, they doubt whether it can truly be followed.   Others see this division and use it to mock the truth.  Still others use this division to start their own religions.

g.        It hinders true Christianity – with denominationalism, you are free to “find the church of your choice.”  In other words, you can come to God on YOUR terms. 
Just keep looking until you find a church that will accept your sinful lifestyle, whatever that might be.    And that attitude has been capitalized upon today with many of these mega-churches that hold loosely to particular denominational affiliation (if any) and are very tolerant of diversity in beliefs (and some even morally).  They claim that they are non-denominational, but in reality they are inter-denominational. 
We are commanded to study so that we can rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).  We must be of an attitude that we will do whatever our Lord commands of us (Matthew 28:20).  Denominationalism makes this unnecessary. 

 

These are just a few reasons why the denominational concept of Christianity is false.  When you study the scriptures, considering the points we have made in this lesson, it becomes clear that you CANNOT faithfully serve Christ and adhere to denominationalism.  Let us strive to be united, FIRST with Christ and let THAT unite us with one another.   Think about it.



[1] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

[2] Ibid, “denominationalism”

 

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