Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Sin of Denominationalism

John 17:20-23: "20My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. 22I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: 23I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me."

I am going to define sin for the purposes of this post to be disobedience to the will and command of God. As an example of this definition, I will appeal to Original Sin. It was the will of God man should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God, being who He is and desiring intimate relationship with mankind told Adam his mind from the very start: "...but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:17) However, Adam disobeyed God, giving into sinful desire which when conceived gave birth to sin, which, as God foretold, when it was full grown gave birth to death. (James 1:15)

Now, we have been born into this sin. We do not come into the world innocent, just waiting for the first time we disobey to be made guilty. God said, again in Genesis, "...every inclination of [man’s] heart is evil from childhood." (8:21) David, in Psalms, says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (51:5) And again, "Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies." (58:3) We are born birthing sin into the world by our desire. Every aspect of our being has been effected. Our intellect is skewed, our emotions are violent and out of control, and it is this total perversion from which Jesus came to free us. He succeeded in his mission, conquering the power of sin and death to bring freedom to his people!

The night before His passion, Jesus echoed the will of the Father in his prayer for unity among the believers. He gave to us the glory with which He was entrusted, the power His Father promised, the Holy Spirit, who would be given to believers to "guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you." (John 16:13-15) So it is the will of God we should be one, just as God is one, and the method He chose to accomplish this is to send the Holy Spirit who will instruct us in Him.

Today, we have lost sight of this. We no longer look to the Holy Spirit for this guidance. Instead, we trust in our own perverted intellects to study the Bible according to the tools our forebears left us: concordances, sermons, study guides, commentaries, devotionals, Bible studies, manuscripts; the resources are endless. All of these are written to tell us what the scriptures mean. Many of them are written to expound on and quote from previous resources. None of them are considered canonical (that is God-breathed) as the scriptures are. And how many differing viewpoints exist: Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Reformed, Orthodox, Church of Christ, Brethren in Christ, Mennonite, Assemblies of God, Four Square, non-denominational, Catholic, Roman Catholic, Traditionalist Catholic, dispensationalist, etc. etc. etc. "A house divided against itself will fall." (Luke 11:17)

Where do these come from? We know God is one. He provided one way of salvation. He provided one Spirit. That Spirit says nothing but what He hears. God is not divided against Himself. So how is it his body finds itself so splintered and opposed to itself? It is because we have broken its back: we have severed the spinal cord. Jesus is the head, we are the body, and the Holy Spirit is the nervous system. And we have rejected Him. We have become complacent in our worldly studies of the transcendent God. Our God, who formed us for communion, gave his life to restore this communion, desires desperately to speak directly with his people, and provided the means, through the Spirit, to do so. Instead, we have told Him, "We can determine what You have said on our own. We have our own resources. We do not need your Spirit any longer." And we repeat the sin of the Garden, rejecting God for our own path to knowledge. Sin #1.

I have heard many of the new pseudo-arguments used to build a facade of unity between the splintered denominations, and primarily they boil down to one: "Everyone has different preferences, and each church style serves its own purpose." Here we see secular humanist relativism in the body of Christ. In reality, this argument does nothing to unite God’s people. Instead, we have formed church in our image, and forgotten it is Christ’s body, and as such is his to determine what is done. Sin #2.

How many board meetings do we need? And why so few deep prayer meetings? Even the prayer meetings we do initiate are guided with our pre-decided agendas. Have any of you noticed how difficult it is for a community of leaders from various churches to come together, and how quickly they decide to go separate ways? We spend our time discussing where we should go next while God waits up the path, already with the plan and all the resources to accomplish it, looking back to see if we will look at Him and see where He is. Finally, if we do come to consensus on what sounds appropriate, we head off on our merry way, while our Father with mercy, if not also irritation, sighs and goes after us once again to bail us out of our next mess and attempt to steer us back to the path. However, it is like directing a deaf and blind person, for remember, we have chosen to reject his Spirit, the link through which we hear his voice.

Does this sound familiar? It is the very story of the Israelites. The whole of the Old Testament is the story of this continual merry-go-round. I tell you the truth, God did not remain on that ride forever, instead reserving for Himself his remnant and rejecting the rest. He is preparing to exit the ride once again. Will you be a part of the remnant?

"If my people...will...turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven..." (2 Chronicles 7:14)


Anonymous said...

That's a pretty serious charge to accuse denominationalism at-large of being sinful. Let's use caution in generalizations. I'm sure the vision the Lord gave you is very accurate, but does it apply to every denominational unit? I submit that accusing someone or some group of sin should be done on a situation-by-situation basis.

We know that the Scriptures urge us to be of "one mind" in Christ Jesus. We know that divisions are the fruit of wickedness. But I must ask: which party is wicked?

In many church splits (such as one I knew of that surrounded the color of carpet in the sanctuary -- the red camp eventually said that red is for the blood of Christ so if you love Jesus jump on our side -- the blues are liberal and just want eye-pleasing carpet) both parties are at fault. However, I question whether it is always the fault of the "splinter group."

Consider the Anabaptists. They simply wanted to baptize converts after they made decisions to follow Christ (ana = "again"). They were booted out and had no choice but to gather. Would we rather them have not met? We would still be sprinkling babies for salvific purposes, if that were the case.

Consider the People Called Methodists. Wesley died a loyal priest in the Church of England, although the pulpits were closed to him and communion often denied. It was Francis Asbury who broke off and formed the American Methodist Episcopal Church (now the United Methodist Church) and named a seminary for himself while he was still alive.

Consider the Brethren. They met simply in houses to avoid persecution, free from the idols in the Catholic sanctuaries around them. Yet they were shunned, as was John Nelson Darby.

Consider Martin Luther. He didn't as much splinter off as he was tried and excommunicated for remonstrating 95 important points.

I propose that denominations that were persecuted and kicked out of corrupt mother churches are free from condemnation -- fully constituted members of the Church of Jesus Christ while the parent bodies suffer "the abomination of desolation" which comes from a lack of the Holy Spirit in their procedings.

Remember: It is the Lamb's Book of Life that constitutes Church membership, not our church directories.

My challenge is for the various denominations to come together, not by compromising doctrines that God may have distributed for safe-keeping as the master did the talents, but through opportunities to praise and fellowship together.

My Bible study, for instance, has no sponsor despite the many times I have asked for a church to oversee it. We're pretty simple with no doctrinal stance. But institutional churches fear it because they have no control over it.

Isn't it control that's killing us? The same Jezebel-like attitude that has always plagued those entrusted with just a smidgen of God's Holy Power drives the institutional church into thinking it too may control the kingdom for Christ while he's at the right hand of the Father.

The institutional churches are afraid of losing members to other institutional churches. Pastors are afraid of the minds of their "parishioners" being corrupted by false doctrine (like the average church-goer has a doctrine to begin with these days!). And, most regretably, Christians in general do not care about those in other circles.

Does the First Baptist Church down Main Street know the Golden Gate Missionary Baptist Church that meets in an old, rented storefront two blocks away? Does Grace Church of the Nazarene know a thing about the Faith Wesleyan Church across the road within eye sight? Have they even a joint service on Easter? Probably not.

Do we care? Maybe if we did the denominations would serve an important purpose in remonstrating Biblical principles but would not be barriers to a more effective Body of Christ on the mission field.

Keep up the good work, brother. I'll be reading!

Grace and peace,


David E. Gregory said...

Thanks for your comment Andy, somehow I knew you would be my first.

The sin of denominationalism is not levied against any particular group of people, at least from my perspective. Denominationalism is the dangerous tendency of men which even the apostles fought against in the first century. I do not make a judgment as to which is the accurate group that we should follow them, but that each and everyone have made those decisions. Some may have been booted out, some may have splintered off, but the action itself caused almost insurmountable animosities, and everyone I am aware was over doctrine or leadership and not Christ. (See I Cor. 1:10-17)

Believe me the vision I spoke of is much larger in scale than this one issue and may become clearer as I continue to post. It is not my vision alone, but it has also been given to me to preach to His people.

As a part of this vision, we will see a seperateness develop, even out from "churches." Yet that is another salient point. No such thing exists in the body of Christ as churches. It is the church. This fallacial idea is perhaps at the heart of the splintering issue. It is not the act, or quality of, being in different geographic locations or branching due to size. It is the attitude of the heart of most church bodies, and many members, of an us and/vs. them mentality. This is what splinters the church, this is what is wrong.

Be careful also with the idea God would bestow portions of His revelation or doctrine to certain denominations and others to other denominations. Even if you suggest they should work together to bring about a full picture, the very act of bestowing in that manner yields seperation, and God has never shown a penchant for working that way. Throughout the Bible He has been a God who unites His people. Division is the work of the enemy no matter how he dresses it up. (A house divided will fall, Luke 11:17)