BY ROY H. LANIER
“There is one body” (Ephesians 4:4) “The body is the church” (Ephesians ; Colossians ); therefore there is one church. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew ), not my churches”; the Lord built his church, Just one. “He is the saviour of the body,” (Ephesians ); the body is the church; therefore, he is the saviour of the church.
From the conclusion that the Lord built one, and only one church, there is no escape; and the preacher of leading denominations have quit contending that the Bible speaks of more than one church.
The most satisfactory position now is that we realize there is one church, the universal church, of which all professed believers are members. But after we become members of that universal church, they say, we “joined the denomination of our choice.” The scripturalness of this act of joining the denomination of our choice is the thing we wish to consider at this time. Do we have any authority to join anything after we become members of the church which is the family of God?
OF WHAT DENOMINATION WERE THE APOSTLES MEMBERS?
That the apostles were members of the church which Jesus built will not be denied by any. Did they then “join the denomination of their choice”? If so, what denomination did Peter choose? Did John choose another, and if so, which? Can you give the name of any denomination now in existence that was in existence at that time?
According to church historians not one denomination, except the Catholic Church, can trace its existence back of the fifteenth century. And the Catholic Church can not go back of the sixth century and find its organization or peculiar doctrines. If none of these denominations were in existence in the days of the apostles, it follows that the apostles were not members of them.
Did the apostles join anything after they became members of the church which some are pleased to call the universal church, the church that Jesus built? If they did there is not one word in the New Testament about it. We conclude that they did not, for in that book we are given all things that pertain to life and godliness. (II Peter 1:3)
DID THE APOSTLES TELL OTHERS
TO JOIN THE CHURCH OF THEIR
All apostles were members of the same church, the church which Jesus built. Would you like to be a member of the same religious body in which they held member ship? That is the way people of their day felt about the matter; they wanted to be members of the church in which the apostles of the Lord held membership. Surely the apostles, being inspired, would know the right thing to do, the right church in which to hold membership. And if it is right to join some religious body, after you become a member of the church the Lord built, surely the apostles knew it and would encourage it in the people they converted.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, Peter preached a great sermon; people believed it and asked what to do to be saved. Peter told these believers to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins (Acts ), and when they did this the Lord added them to the church (Acts , 47). Now, to what church do you suppose the Lord added them? And you are ready to say that the Lord added them to the church he built. So in those days when believers repented and were baptized, the Lord added them to the church he built.
All believers who repented and were
baptized for the remission of their sins were added to the same church; they
all were members of the same church. Now, did the apostles encourage them to
divide into small units, denominations, so each could have the “church of his
choice”? There were three thousand
converts on the very first day, so they had plenty of material to organize ten
shortly after, perhaps the next day, “the
number of men came to be about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4) Later, “believers
were the more added to the Lord,” (Acts
and, “The number of the disciples
Surely there was plenty material for several large denominations, but there is not one word that even intimates that they divided into different denominations, teaching contradictory doctrines. “They continued in the apostles’ doctrine.” (Acts ) The apostles did not teach contradictory doctrines; these converts did not teach contradictory doctrines.
Denominations today teach contradictory doctrines; therefore they do not all follow the apostles’ doctrine. If they did, their doctrines would not be contradictory; they would agree with each other as the apostles agreed with each other. But we have positive evidence that these converts of the apostles did not divide into denominations, believing and teaching contradictory doctrines. “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” (Acts )
is an expression which indicates unity of belief and purpose. Paul urged his converts at
APOSTLES DISCOURAGED JOINING CHURCHES OF YOUR CHOICE
Not only did the apostles not encourage
people to divide into denominations, but they actually condemned that very
Not long after Paul left, they hat out what was rapidly becoming a modern denominational situation. They had four groups, one named for Paul, one for Apollos, one for Cephas (Peter) and one for Christ. (I Corinthians 1:10-17) Instead of Paul thanking God for this number of denominations so each could join the church of his choice, he condemned them as being carnal. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men? For when one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not men?” (I Corinthians 3:3-4)
Paul in showing they were carnal; also said to be carnally minded is death. (Romans 8:6) He then said, “I beseech you, brethren, through 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 perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Paul’s attitude was in harmony with that of the Lord when he prayed, “Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; even as thou, Father, are in me, and I in thee. . . that they may be one, even as we are one that the world may know that thou didst send me,” (John 17:20-23)
THE SAFE THING FOR US TODAY
Since the apostles did not join any denomination, but were just members of the church which Jesus built; and, since they did not encourage their converts to divide into denominations so they could have the church of their choice; and, since Paul condemned that very thing when it was starting in Corinth; and, since Jesus prayed that it might never be in this world, but that those who believe in him through the words of the apostles might be one as he and the Father are one; since these things are true, what should you and I ‘do’ about the matter?
What is the safe thing for us to do? Let the world disregard these New Testament examples and principles if it will, but as for me and mine, we will do just what the apostles taught people to do to be saved and let the Lord add us to the same church to which he added those people in the long ago; we will not join any thing the apostles did not join and did not encourage others to join, and which Paul condemned at Corinth.
becoming members of the one body, which is the church the Lord built, we will
associate ourselves with others who have done just what the apostles taught
that we may worship and carry on the work of the Lord. The group thus associated together, guided
solely by the word of God, will be a body, of Christ, a
In this way we will restore to the world Christianity as pure as it was when under the personal guidance of the apostles. On this basis and for this purpose all believers can and should unite. Lord, hasten the day when this appeal will be shouted from every pulpit in the land, and when it may favorably be accepted by the people!
ARE DENOMINATIONS NECESSARY TODAY?
But the fact still remains that we have several hundred different and distinct religious organizations, usually referred to as denominations. Yet we have seen that the Lord did not establish any of the denominations now in existence; that the apostles were not members of any denomination; and that they condemned such division and party spirit, is it possible that such a system is needed today? Is it possible that social and economic conditions of today make necessary what was condemned in the days of the apostles? This is not intended as a fight against any particular denomination, but to cause you to rethink the entire proposition concerning the church, which Jesus built as opposed by denominationalism of today.
Did the Lord, from the beginning, intend that his work on earth should be carried on by the denominational method? And if the Lord had his way about the matter, would he work through denominationalism with all of its divisions today? And, may I ask, since denominationalism perpetuates division and strife, does the Lord work through such a system?
The justification of denominationalism is that every one may “join the church of his choice”; so that every one may be satisfied. It is not a matter of whether the Lord is satisfied or not, but whether or not the believer is satisfied.
Personal satisfaction as to the way of doing things; as to expression of doctrinal positions; and as to congenial fellowship seem to be about all the contribution of modern denominationalism makes to the religious world. The world is paying a very dear price for that satisfaction!
UNITY BETTER THAN DENOMINATIONALISM
What does the religious world need more than it needs unity, such as exists between the Father and the Son? Jesus prayed for all who believe on him through the teachings of his apostles, “That they all may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee. . . That they may be one, even as we are one; I in them and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one.” (John 17:20-28) What does denominationalism contribute to the answering of this prayer? Do we need more denominations in order for this prayer to be answered? Why do we have several hundred different denominations today? They are here because people could not agree on expressions of doctrinal positions; and be cause they could not agree on how to carry on their worship, and how to do missionary work.
Every denomination on earth had its birth in strife and division. Had there been no strife, no lack of agreement, there would have been no occasion for the starting of a new denomination. As long as men continue to defend and build up these products of strife and division, that long will such strife and division continue to live among us. And just that long will the prayer of the Lord go unanswered. Instead of needing denominationalism to bring about unity, we need to get rid of it that we may bring about the unity for which the Lord prayed. The fact that the Lord prayed for his followers to be one, even as he and the Father are one, proves that he did not intend for his work to be done on earth by the denominational system as we have it today. Why, then, be a part of a system which prevents the answer of our Lord’s prayer, and which withholds the religious world from one of its greatest needs, unity.
WE NEED NEW TESTAMENT EVANGELISM
Can you think of anything the world needs today more than it needs evangelization? Don’t you think we need a lot of old-time, real New Testament evangelism? I am sure every reader will agree that we need such today. What does denominationalism contribute to that great need? Are we better prepared to evangelize the world today with several hundred denominations than we would be if all the believers were bound together in one institution, the church the Lord built?
I believe all will agree that we are not better prepared because of denominationalism. I give you two reasons why we are not. First, time, money, and effort are expended in keeping the denominational machinery greased and running which, did we not have all that top-heavy denominational organization, could be spent in evangelizing the world. Even the leaders of the large denominations complain of too much organization and too many men and secretaries drawing salaries which ought to be spent on the mission fields. Overhead expenses of many small groups would go far in sending the gospel to mission fields. In this way denominationalism hinders rather than helps world-wide evangelism.
DENOMINATIONALISM CAUSES UNBELIEF
My second reason why denominational ism does not help in world-wide evangelization is, it fosters unbelief of the gospel in the hearts of those whom we would evangelize. Jesus prayed that the believers might be one, as he and the Father are one, “That the world may believe that thou didst send me.” (John 17:21)
Denominationalism will never evangelize the world, if the idea of our Lord was correct. His teaching was; that if believers are one the world will believe God sent him; but if believers are divided, the world will not believe that God sent him.
Denominationalism consists of and perpetuates, many divisions of believers, and therefore can never get the world to believe the Father sent Jesus to save it from sin. Again I say that denominationalism not only does not contribute anything to world-wide evangelization, but actually makes it impossible. Can you afford to be a party to anything which actually makes world-wide evangelism impossible?
THERE IS NO NEED FOR DENOMINATIONS
Let us consider this question: Can we have church fellowship and church worship without denominations? My answer is that the early disciples during the first century had fellowship with no such thing as a denomination in existence. They not only had their worship and fellowship, but they also had that unity for which the Lord prayed, and they evangelized the world. These same things the world needs today and cannot have because of denominationalism.
Now, can we not do just as they did? They believed in the Lord and obeyed his gospel; believers were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. (Acts ) When people obeyed this, the group of believers became the church of the Lord in that community. They then met together for worship and fellowship, and preached the word everywhere. If people today do just what they did then, will they not to day be just what they were?
If every member of every denomination on earth should obey the gospel just as people were directed in Acts 2:38; if they should refuse to join any denomination, and if groups of them should gather for worship and evangelization, what would become of all denominations? When people did that under the direction of the apostles, there were no denominations and there would be none today if people would do only what the Bible directs.
Denominations come into existence when people do more or less than the Lord directs; to do just what he commands, no more and no less, makes churches of Christ. Do we need denominations? No! We do not need them to carry on the worship. They make unity impossible, and they make it impossible to evangelize the world. These reasons should be sufficient to cause all to part company with them.