Sermons by Marlin Harless

HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH

THIS IS THE FIFTH IN A SERIES OF SERMONS:
"ASSESSING CHANGE IN THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST"
DENOMINATIONALISM IS A CURSE; NOT A BLESSING! (Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-15)
By Marlin L. Harless

INTRODUCTION: "EMBRACING DENOMINATIONALISM." "One cataclysmic change that has come over the church today, carrying with it enormous implications, is the new attitude toward denominations. Historically, churches of Christ have viewed the denominations as counterfeit churches spawned in the minds of men. The mere existence of a denomination, despite some correct beliefs, was considered to be out of harmony with the Lord's will. Denominations were considered to be in direct violation of Jesus' prayer for unity" (John 17:20-23), "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou has sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me." And the biblical doctrine of the eternality and singularity of the church, (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 3:10; 4:4).

A widespread conspiracy has taken shape in recent years that blurs the distinction between the church of Christ---The New Testament church---and the spurious counterfeits constructed by men, i.e., the denominations. Churches of Christ are being bombarded with propaganda designed to elicit acceptance of and fellowship with the denominations. Under the guise of "unity," we are being goaded into a permissive, tolerant posture of ambiguity that is at odds with the penetrating thoughtfulness, discriminating diligence, and spiritual clarity associated with faithfulness to God.

Four specific biblical doctrines have come under attack in the attempt to create credibility for denominationalism and to achieve linkage between the denominations and the church of Christ: fellowship, unity, grace, and baptism. The present chapter will discuss the nature of denominationalism and then address the specific matters of unity, baptism and grace as they relate to the overall threat of denominationalism and fellowship.

I. DENOMINATIONALISM DEFINED: What is a denomination? Does God approve of denominations? Is denominationalism scriptural? When we go to the New Testament and examine God's word with a view to ascertaining what His will is with regard to religion, we discover a clearly defined system of religion, God's religion, revealed in the New Testament. Christianity is that religion. We also find that Satan does everything he can to blur the distinctions that God wants observed. We should not be surprised. Some really great hoaxes have been perpetrated upon mankind in the name of religion. Literally billions of people have embraced Buddhism, Zoastrianism, and other "isms." For those who have examined objective truth, these systems of thought are simply found to be untrue. Yet large numbers of people adhere to these views. Large numbers of people believe the tenets of these religions.

The Bible warns that Satan is endeavoring to take advantage of people and that we should not let Satan get an advantage of us " for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Corinthians 2:11). The word "devices" could easily have been translated "schemes." It refers to the deceitful, deceptive ploys that Satan uses in an effort to trick people into believing and practicing various things that are simply not true. In a similar statement, the Bible warns of the "wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). Most people are just oblivious to this fact of reality. Many people do not even believe that Satan exists, any more than they believe that God exists. Yet believers in New Testament teaching must recognize that Satan exists and will do all he can to fool people, to trick people, to deceive people. He wants to blur distinctions that God wants observed---distinctions that are scriptural and biblical.

For the last few centuries, one of Satan's most powerful weapons has been denominationalism. Notice how dictionaries define the terms, "denomination," "denominate," and "denominational." Webster's Dictionary defines "denominate" as "to designate, to name; a sect; one of a series of units separately named." "Denominator" means "the part of a simple fraction that shows into how many parts a thing is divided." The Oxford American Dictionary defines "denominator" as "the number written below the line in a fraction. For example, the number 4 in 3/4 showing how many parts the whole is divided into." An Encyclopedic Dictionary defines "denominate" as "the act of naming or calling by name." "Denominationalism" is "a disposition to divide into or from denominations."

The very word "denomination" means a name or designated division. It is religious people and religious groups forming themselves, clustering themselves, on the basis of different designations, different names, with differing doctrines, and different church affiliations.

But this scenario is in direct conflict with Jesus prayer for unity in (John 17:20-23), where He prays against such a thing and prays to God that believers in Christ will be unified. Likewise, denominationalism is in direct conflict with Paul's statement to the church of Christ in Corinth in the fifties A. D.---"That ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you" (1 Corinthians 1:10). Here is a passage that says denominations are not even to exist! {All professed Christians, except those in the blood bought Spiritual Body of Christ, that is, the church of Christ, would be better off if denominationalism had never existed! Why? Because it is a curse or anathema from God: Paul said, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto, let him be accused" (Galatians 1:8). "The English word 'accursed' is transliterated from the Greek word, 'anathema.'" In Galatians 1:8, 9, the apostle declares in the strongest manner that the gospel he preached was the one and only way of salvation, and that to preach another was to nullify the death of Christ.") The Expanded Vines, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, page # 254. Emphasis, mine, (MLH).

If Paul said, "Let there be no divisions among you," and yet, by definition, a denomination is designated "division," then denominations are unscriptural. They are against the will of Christ. The division of which Paul speaks is unquestionably "doctrinal" division because the division had to do with what they were to "speak." When he says, "but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and judgment," he is obviously referring to their agreement on doctrinal views.

Without possessing any bias or prejudice against any particular religious group, we are obligated to go to Scripture and engage in an objective appraisal of New Testament truth. Passages like those mentioned above demonstrate that denominationalism, though viewed innocently by thousands and millions of people worldwide, is clearly an approach to religion that is out of harmony with New Testament teaching. God does not want denominations to exist. He wants us to go to the New Testament and examine the truths that are contained therein and then to bring our lives into conformity with those truths. He wants all people to bring their spirits into submission to the will of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. When an individual does that, without addition or subtraction, he will not find himself in alliance with a denomination.

II. UNDENOMINATIONAL CHRISTIANITY: When one goes to Scripture without any preconceived ideas and weighs the biblical data, the following conclusions will be drawn. First, God's eternal intention, manifested in prophecy in the Old Testament and brought to fruition in the New Testament, was to establish His church in the year 30 A.D., in the city of Jerusalem on Pentecost. Judaism and Patriarchalism were eleminated at the cross of Christ. The church was purchased by the blood of Christ, shed on the cross. Secondly, all human beings on the earth, in order to be saved this side of the cross, must obey the plan of salvation given by God and preached by the apostles, i.e., hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized.

Thirdly, those who comply with those prerequisites are placed by Christ into his body, the church of Christ---not a denomination! Fourth, this group of people is organized according to a specific structure composed of deacons, preachers, Bible class teachers, and other members, all of whom function under the direction and guidance of elders who submit to Christ's authority. Fifth, as a corporate body, they wear only scriptural designations (e. g., church of Christ, temple of God, body of Christ, etc.), which necessarily means they reject the use of unscriptural designations so typical of denominationalism. Sixth, as individual members, they wear only scriptural designations (e.g., believer, saint, disciple, etc.,), giving highest priority to simply the name "Christian" (Isaiah 62:2; Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16).

Seventh, this group of people, in order to remain faithful as Christ's church, worships in accordance with the specific acts of worship designated in The New Testament as appropriate for the church of Christ (i.e., singing, praying, giving, teaching/studying, and partaking of the Lord's Supper). Eighth, The church will recognize that Christ has specified the parameters of activity in which the church is to be involved (summarized by the terms evangelism, benevolence, and edification).

Notice how simply the New Testament presents Christ's will regarding His church. It is only the thicket and undergrowth of denominationalism that confuses people, clouds their religious thinking, and causes them to forsake the simplicity of New Testament Christianity.

There was a time among churches of Christ when there was a "spoken understanding" that members of denominations were lost since they were not members of the church described in the New Testament. With time, we moved into a period of "unspoken understanding." Everyone knew what shape denominations were in; it was understood. But we shied away from verbalizing it, "lest we offend." Tragically, the generation that grew up with such silence ushered in a new period that entailed "unspoken misunderstanding." They had not been taught: "And Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:7). They mistook the silence of their parents for indifference and approval.

We are now reaping the consequences of these failings. We have now moved into a period of outright "spoken misunderstanding." Brethren are openly declaring their conviction that the church of Christ is simply one denomination among many and those who are in denominations are saved Christians. They maintain that teachings like "the sinfulness of instrumental music" and "baptism 'unto' remission of sins" are trivial in comparison with the need to "fellowship" and "unite" with those in the denominations. 1

III. A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF MY RELIGIOUS AUTOBIOGRAPHY: My childhood was rather confusing, to say the least. My parents never had a particular plan for attending religious services at a pre-designated place. My mother was a Baptist, and enjoyed attending revivals. My father was a Methodist, and rarely attended services, however, I accompanied him a few times. He taught me to be honest, and how to work and make repairs. I admired his ability to do more work in eight hours than any other man I have ever known. He was a master mechanic, and road builder; but he was at the mercy of any one who provoked him to anger!

While still a teenager, I entered the U.S. Army, and I fit into the new environment like a glove should fit the hand. I never had any disciplinary problems, due to my on-the-job-training at home! I was promoted to staff sergeant in less than three years. I never considered religion as a fundamental issue of life, until I entered the army. Prior to disembarking the ship in Bremerhaven, Germany, in 1951, I had a talk with the Chaplain, and was baptized, (?) 'water poured on my head…'There is absolutely not one word about this in the New Testament! My friends, hear me, are you listening? Paul says, "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12). Sprinkling and pouring for baptism, are commandments of men, not God!! (Colossians 2:22).

While on leave, in 1953, I was immersed by the man who preached my father's funeral. Nevertheless, I realized I did not possess "…The answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…" (1 Peter 3:21b). I had been studying the scriptures, and, I realized that something was lacking in my conversion to Christ(?) After serving in Korea, I returned to the states in late June of 1954, for discharge. While waiting for discharge at Fort George G. Meade, Md., I met a soldier from Missouri, whose name was Wayne Dinkins, and we soon became good friends. Several times he had asked me if I was a Christian and I always answered in the affirmative; accordingly, he informed me that he was a minister of the church of Christ. Then he asked me if I wanted to study the Bible with him, and again I answered in the affirmative. (Compare John 7:17)."

We met for Bible study quite often, and I learned that the Bible presents a simple plan of salvation! My friend gave me many Christ centered tracts to read, and when I asked questions he always gave me Bible answers!! After studying for several weeks, I asked this Godly man to baptize me, July 4th, 1954, in Baltimore, Maryland. Beloved, people in the denominational world have no idea what the term, "obey the gospel" means. It is a scriptural term, and is used exclusively by the church of Christ! It means to do what God says, (not man), to become a Christen. For example: "…when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). In this text the term is used negatively! (Compare 1 Peter 1:22; 4:17).

CONCLUSION: To become a Christen you must do the following: 1. You must hear the unadulterated gospel of Christ, (Romans 10:14;) 2. You must believe the unadulterated gospel of Christ, (Romans 10:14;) 3. You must repent of past sins, (Luke 13:3, 5;) 4. You must confess Christ, (Matthew 10:32, 33;) 5. You must be immersed or baptized for the remission of sins, (Romans 6:3-6;) 6. You must be faithful until death, (Revelation 2:10). All responsible humankind on this planet are amenable to this gospel!! Absolutely no exceptions!! Beloved, will you do it Today? Today? Today? Jesus never shed one milligram of His, Rich, Red, Royal, Ruby, Blood to save any one of the denominations!!!

ENDNOTES:

1 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, chap. 29, Embracing Denominationalism, pages 282-287. A Superb Resource Material That Should Be In The Home of Every Christian On This Planet!! (MLH)

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

1. The King James Version of the Bible, The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, The Fifth Improved Edition

2. The American College Dictionary

3. The American Heritage Dictionary

4. The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

5. Theological Dictionary of The New Testament

6. The New Interlinear Greek-English New Testament

7. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of The New Testament

8. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology

(Telephone number: [304] 247-6895); E-Mail address; (mlharless@kvinet.com). Dear reader: In the event you find errors in this sermon, spelling, misquotes, scripture references, etc., please inform me of same at your earliest convenience! As I intend to be as accurate as possible! Thank you! (MLH)



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