This is a sermon message prepared from an outline provided by Dr. Mark Copeland. The outline can be viewed here and is entitled, “Challenges Confronting the Church.” This message was originally posted on the Orchard Ministry blog in August 2011. It has been updated and an audio file is available.
Recently, the Lord led me to post an Introduction to the Fractured Church. Denominational-ism is a primary cause. Denominational-ism has its root in man’s wisdom and in the traditions men have devised.
Which Is The Right Church?
Jesus Christ lived and died in order to save the world from God’s wrath. Jesus, the Hebrew Messiah, is also the world’s Messiah; our Savior. How do you know which church is best for you?
Many people are attracted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but not all are saved by it. Many hear it and are intrigued by it. Some study it deeply, but still they do not understand.
We on the other hand are more than attracted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are saved because we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe He is the Son of God and we believe He died for us, personally. We have heard Prophets, Priests and Pastors tell us the “Good News” and we choose to believe.
But, why are there so many different denominations?
We are His children, having been adopted into the Heavenly family where the Father is our Master and Jesus is our King. We have so much in common, yet there remains so much between us. Why is there a division among the churches?
Is there anything that can be done to erase the divisions between persons who claim to be sons of the Most High God?
Is it possible to simply be a “Believer” without formally associating with a larger body?
The differences between denominations are not all that great. We must set aside some of our misconceptions about our brothers and sisters that do not attend the church we do. When we honor the “Royal Law” to love one another as we love ourselves, we will have taken great strides toward unity in our belief.
The Apostle Paul writes:
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Because we have faith in Christ Jesus, we have a share in Heaven. God says nothing about being apart of a denominated church here or elsewhere. Believers should gather together and worship our Creator. God speaks to church organization in First Timothy and in Titus. God makes us His children. We are “heirs according to the promise.”
It is necessary and it is possible to serve God outside the man-made boundaries of denominations.
Why is it necessary you might ask?
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
There may be thousands of denominations, but there is only one faith. There may be thousands of independent or nondenominational churches. There may be millions of Believers meeting in homes and secret places all over the world. There is only “One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
That being the case the denominational structure of many churches is problematic. Denomination by definition is division. As believers we should do all we can to avoid being associated with anything that causes division in Christ’s Bride, His Body, His Church.
What is “Denominational-ism?”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a denomination as “a large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name. These congregations are generally organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy.
Webster’s Dictionary affirms the definition as “a religious organization uniting in a single legal and administrative body a number of local congregations.”
Boiling those technical definitions down to lay terms a denomination is a group of congregations which are joined together under a governing authority. The authority dictates much of the local church’s doctrine, teaching and financial matters.
There need be only two local congregations joining together to create a denomination. They share a governing body and they also share the fact that they are denominated from the governing body. The local church congregations submit to the governing body.
The Roman Catholic Church submits to the Pope in Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church submits to the patriarch in Constantinople. The Anglican Church of England submits to authorities in Canterbury. The Lutheran Churches organized under the Missouri Synod submit to the Missouri Synod. The International Church of Christ submits to an authority within the Boston Church of Christ.
Southern Baptists insist they are independent and locally governed, however, they also submit, willingly or by default, to the Southern Baptist Convention, “The Baptist Faith and Mission,” and district associations.
What is the consequence of “Denominational-ism?”
Denominations by definition are separations in the Church. Denominations by definition are segregation in nature. Denominations by definition require strict adherence to rules established by men in order to retain good standing in the greater order.
Denominations cause narrow sets of rules and foster loyalty and devotion to a set of values. A denomination by definition is an attempt by certain kinds of men to elevate their set of values or doctrines over and apart from all other denominations.
Is “denominational-ism” bad? Is a man’s service to the Lord adversely impacted by “denominational-ism”? The short answer to both questions is yes.
Why is “Denominational-ism” wrong?
There is a Lack of Scriptural Support for denominational-ism.
There is little if any evidence in Scripture to support denominational churches. Scripture does not provide a basis for local churches binding themselves together under an umbrella of a controlling authority that is not God.
There is not an existing denomination in the world that can point to a teaching in Scripture that defines them. “See that passage! That’s my church. There’s our church.” Well, they can point to a Scripture, but their understanding is probably faulty.
The New Testament points to local churches, certainly. Each, however, is independent and self governing. Organizational structures are limited to the local church. The local church identified the elders, pastors, bishops, deacons, ministers and overseers. These persons were specifically appointed by the church to serve that church.
Acts 20:17 (Paul is enroute to Jerusalem for the Passover. He does not stop at Ephesus, sails to Miletus.) From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.
Acts 20:28 (Paul addresses the elders of the church in Ephesus)
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with his own blood.
1 Peter 5:1-4 (Peter is instructing elders of churches)
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
Scripture teaches the only authority higher than the local church is Christ. Early on The Apostles also had authority over local churches, but they were not replaced when they died. Therefore, only Christ is over the local church. Apostles and their followers started local churches. Again, they were not replaced when they passed away.
Christ’s authority continues. The Holy Spirit inspired words of the Apostles’ still carry God’s authority. But, individuals, synods, conferences, or associations that presume to hold authority over local churches usurp that authority from the local body. They do not have a scriptural authority.
“Denominational-ism” is anti-scriptural.
Not only is there an absence of scriptural support but “denominational-ism” goes against scriptures clear teaching. “Denominational-ism” is contrary to what the Bible teaches. “Denominational-ism”is contrary to Christ’s prayer for unity among believers.
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their work: That they all may be one, as You, Father, are to Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
Jesus prayed for his disciples. He prayed for all who would ever know Him and believe in Him. He is also praying for those who would be led to believe by those who already believe. Jesus prayed to His Father seeking unity.
This unity is not expected in church structure or denominational doctrines. This unity: Christianity is found in love. It is palpable in obedience and commitment to Him.
Jesus prayed for unity in the same way He and the Father are united. Jesus teaches that we are grafted onto the vine.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
Unity in all things of Christ is the central to being in the vine. The fruit we bear may be small or great, but it is the same fruit from the same vine. It is not fruit from different vines!
Paul condemns “denominational-ism.” There are to be no divisions among believers.
1 Corinthians 1:10-13
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas, or “I am of Christ.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul, Apollos and Cephas taught of the One; Christ. Christ is the Master of one Church; His Church.
Paul teaches we are all part of the body. Each part has a specific role. All the parts comprise the whole which is Christ’s Bride. We are not Catholics only. We are not Lutherans, or Baptists, or Presbyterian or any other denomination. We are Christ’s.
Separating ourselves into groups because of the characteristics of the group; call it sectarianism is a sign of worldly pursuit. Too many are bonded to their denomination. Their zeal for their denomination is excessive devotion to their traditions and their church governments.
1 Corinthians 3:3,4
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?
“Denominational-ism” is in opposition to Christ’s death on the Cross.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, there by putting to death the enmity.
If we are honest with ourselves we sometimes look down our noses at those folks attending churches not like ours. We establish in our hearts a wall of separation. That wall leads to discord; an enmity of arrogance. Jesus died to break down the wall. He died to reconcile us to God in ONE body.
“Denominational-ism” works against the Body of Christ just as sin works against the body of a man. Jesus did not die on the Cross so we could fracture into factions.
“Denominational-ism” does not support the cause of Christ. Earlier we read from John 17. In verse 21 Jesus prayed that “that the world would believe.” “Denominational-ism” divides the Church. It is difficult to convince an unbeliever to accept the Gospel. We should not be surprised.
It is not uncommon to hear the excuse from unbelievers that “Christians can’t make up their own minds about which is right.”
The division in the Church which is “Denominational-ism” is often cited by agnostics and atheists as an excuse to not believe in God. Non-Christian religions such as Islam and even Judaism often point to “Denominational-ism” as a rationale to diminish Christ.
Cults are sometimes started as a result of zealousness rooted in “Denominational-ism”. Mormonism started because of a reaction to “Denominational-ism”. Jehovah’s Witnesses use divisions in the Church to encourage people to join their ranks. Too often once a part of these cults people are lost to the strictly controlled regimens employed by these organizations.
“Denominational-ism” is addressed by Martin Luther who sparked the Reformation Movement;
“I ask that men make no reference to my name, and call themselves not Lutherans, but Christians. What is Luther? My doctrine, I am sure, is not mine, nor have I been crucified for any one. St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 3, would not allow Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I, poor, foul carcass that I am, come to have men give to the children of Christ a name derived from my worthless name? No, no, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names, and call ourselves Christians after Him Whose doctrine we have.” – Hugh Thomason Kerr, A Compend of Luther’s Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943, p. 135)
John Wesley, another great reformation leader, among whose followers are Methodists, Wesleyans, etc.:
“Would to God that all party names, and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world, were forgot and that the very name [Methodist] might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion.” – John Wesley, Universal Knowledge, A Dictionary and Encyclopedia of Arts, Science, History, Biography, Law, Literature, Religions, Nations, Races, Customs, and Institutions, Vol. 9, Edward A. Pace, Editor (New York: Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1927, p. 540)
From Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest Baptist preachers who ever lived:
“I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ’s name last forever.” – Spurgeon Memorial Library, Vol. I., p. 168
The day Charles Spurgeon hopes for has not yet come. “Denominational-ism”, however is stronger than ever before. There are more congregations starting in more and more communities and most are affiliated with larger governing bodies. New subdivisions are planned. Large plots of land are set aside for new churches. Often the church building is erected before the first house.
There is hope; all is not lost. Throughout the world people are discarding their personal affiliations with denominational churches. The Holy Spirit is alive in them and they are seeking Jesus in liberty, just as scripture prescribes. Before long they realize they are like minded, possessing the same love, of one accord, one purpose.
Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like minded, have the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
How is it possible? Consider the obstacle of “Denominational-ism” in the Body of Christ; His Bride; His Church. It starts with a desire to follow Jesus Christ and His prayer for unity. It is followed by an understanding of the worldly nature of division.
It is my humble desire to be simply a follower of Christ. And, you?