Tag Archives: denominationalism

“Unity In Diversity”…Does It Exist?

Unity in diversity.  Yes, there is such a thing.  The Lord Jesus wants his disciples to be united, even at times when there seems to be tremendous differences between them.  Both Jesus and his apostles decry division (John 17:20-23; Eph. 4:1-3).

Catholics and Orthodoxy, unite! (And just try to ignore that we still don’t believe in hardly any of the same things…)

Before we discuss this, however, let it be acknowledged that the denominational world generally has made up its own, ecumenical kind of “unity in diversity.”  To briefly summarize, its idea is to unite “believers” of widely divergent beliefs by encouraging them to simply “agree to disagree.”  To illustrate, the person who believes that baptism is immersion in water is encouraged to have fellowship with the one who believes that sprinkling will do just as well.  But this is a pseudo-fellowship, thinking that people can share in something they don’t actually share.  It turns a blind eye to the source of division.  Or to put it another way, it is not the unity the Bible teaches.  Paul pleaded “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” (1 Cor. 1:10).  Christianity only acknowledges “one baptism”(Eph. 4:5); it also acknowledges only “one body” (Eph. 4:4; cf. Eph. 1:22-23) and only “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), thus rendering the multiple bodies/churches and faiths of denominationalism to be unscriptural and thus condemned.

There are some differences, however, among believers in which we can – no, must – unite.  First, there must be unity among believers of diverse nationalities, social standings and genders (Gal. 3:26-28).  No matter who we are – Asian or Caucasian…black or white…employer or employee…rich or poor…man or woman – those who have “put on Christ” in baptism stand on equal ground before God.  Consequently, they need to be viewed as standing on equal ground before each other, worthy of being embraced as brothers or sisters, regardless of skin color or what “side of the tracks” they come from.  Only the cross of Christ could bring this about (Eph. 2:14-16; Philemon 15-16).

Secondly, there must also be unity among believers with diverse skills and abilities.  Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth about the miraculous spiritual gifts they possessed, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4).  The Corinthians should have been united in their use of their gifts unto the edification of the church, but sadly, they were divided.  Paul implied that some who had one type of gift where “looking down their noses” at those who didn’t.  (An example of this is 1 Corinthians 12:21’s “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’”)  He also implied that others, because they didn’t have a certain gift, were jealous and consequently weren’t using the gift they did have.  (See verse 15’s “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”)  Corinth’s problems are still with local churches today, even though we do not possess miraculous spiritual gifts like they did (1 Cor. 13:8-10; cf. James 1:25; Rom. 12:2).  Those today who have a particular talent are at times proud and boastful, while those who consider themselves one-talent people are indifferent to their potential.  Until we cease focusing (in a negative way) on our diverse abilities and start concentrating on the unifying purpose for our having them (to build up the body), we aren’t going to be unified as we ought, and we certainly aren’t going to be productive.  We must realize that each of us is important, and put each other before ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4).

Finally, there must be unity among believers with diverse idiosyncrasies.  In Romans 14 Paul called for unity among brethren who consciences differed.  Some could, with a  clean conscience, eat certain meats.  Some could not.  But Paul told them to “receive” one another, to not “despise” one another, and to not “judge one another” (Rom. 14:1, 3, 14).  Now, Paul wasn’t calling for the “unity in diversity” described in our introductory second paragraph.  He wasn’t calling for believers to accept and “receive” those who came with some extra or anti-biblical teaching or practice (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 John 9-11).  Rather, Paul dealt with disciples with diverse convictions concerning which, no matter which position a disciple took on the issue, did not involve a person in sin (Rom. 14:3-4).  Today, brethren have varying conscientious scruples, many times the result of how they were raised by their parents, culture, religion, etc.  The one who is “strong,” whose conscience will allow him to exercise what he knows to be a freedom in Christ because of his stronger knowledge of God’s Will and spiritual maturity, is not to run roughshod over his brother whose conscience will not allow him.  The brother who is “weak” in knowledge and spiritual maturity is not to condemn the strong, but is required to “grow in all things” (Eph. 4:15).  Friends, that’s biblical unity in diversity.

The body of Christ is a diverse group – believers of different races, genders, socio-economic classes, abilities, and scruples.  But the Lord desires for us to do all we can to work for unity.  “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)

Can We Understand the Bible Alike?

The title is an understandable question, especially in light of the religious division and confusion that exists in Christendom today.  Of the counted minimum of two thousand different sects and faiths which proclaim to be Christian, all have great regard for the Bible and claim to follow it.  However, common sense suggests that such is not the case when all proclaim to follow the Bible and yet believe and practice different ideas and doctrines.

Jesus knew that we could understand his Word in the same way and follow it with complete unity (John 17:20-23).  So did Paul (Phil. 2:2).  After Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Christ’s death, the first converts “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32).  Quite a contrast from today!  The saints in Rome were instructed to be on the lookout for those who caused “divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine” they had learned, and avoid them (Rom. 16:17)  How could they have obeyed that command without being taught to agree upon the doctrine that they had been taught?  When a congregation was divided, Paul by divine inspiration wrote them that there should be no divisions among them and commanded them to speak the same thing (1 Cor. 1:10).  How could this divine order be carried out if people are unable to understand the Word of God alike?

The reasons there are divisions about what the Bible says are many.  First, all of us and our judgments are not perfect.  Either by failing to study diligently or by failing to practice proper, consistent interpretive principles, we misunderstand biblical teaching and divide over it.  Secondly, some believe that the Holy Spirit directs us in our study of Scripture and leads us to the truth, but such an idea is proven incorrect time and time again when two men both claim that the Spirit guided them to different conclusions about the same biblical passage.  Thirdly, efforts to accurately interpret the Bible are often hindered by an absence of complete, 100% open-minded objectivity.  Some subconsciously try to avoid dealing with the guilt of their sin and so twist the Scriptures to suit their ungodly lifestyles, while others are too loyal to family, peers, or their own religion and habits and thus approach the Bible with a closed mind.

When someone says that we can’t understand God’s will alike, that person has either never really engaged in a diligent, systematic study of the Bible or he is somehow seeking to justify a religious view or practice that is not according to the Bible.  Therefore he attacks the Bible as being a book that no one can understand rather than admitting that he believes something that God does not teach.  However, we all can understand Scripture alike.

We just choose not to.

It Doesn’t Taste The Same: The Problem of Denominationalism

Ladies, have you ever been invited to dinner at a friend’s house, and been served a dish you knew you just had to have the recipe to because it tasted so good? When you ask the host or hostess for the recipe, they gladly comply and give it to you. Your husband gets excited at the prospect of having this delicious dish at home without having to sneak over to the Joneses from now on to get it. A week or two goes by, and you decide to try fixing it yourself. You’re a health nut, however, and so when the dish calls for milk, you substitute half & half. When it calls for sugar, you put in artificial sweetener instead. When it calls for vanilla, you put in artificial vanilla instead. You mix it all together and proudly serve it to your husband, who dives right in with gusto…for the first bite. You notice that he takes his time with the second bite…and appears to suddenly have a great desire to eat it out on the balcony by himself with the third bite. He comes back in ten seconds later, claiming a big bird swooped right in and snatched it right off his plate…but “Honestly, honey, I really enjoyed the three bites I had. However, I did notice that it tastes a little different than it did at the Joneses. Did you follow the recipe?” You think it sweet of him to try to butter you up so he doesn’t spend the entire night on the couch, and so you explain to him that, in the interests of eating healthy, you substituted the less healthier items on the recipe for healthier items. Being male, he then tries to explain to you that eating tastefully, not healthy, is what really matters to him, and urges you to follow the recipe fully next time so that it will be exactly like it was at the Joneses. You thank him for his advice, and tell him that you’ll ponder it all night long while he’s sleeping on the couch…

It is interesting how many of us think substitutions can be made and still be the same. It should be apparent that one cannot make substitutions and have the “real thing.” It is that way with recipes, and it is also that way with the church of our Lord Jesus. Sadly, denominationalism has brought about many substitutions and changes. Why is it that people think they have the real thing when so many substitutions have been made?

The fulfillment of Paul’s prophecy about the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:1-12)

Some don’t realize it, but there are all kinds of differences between denominations and the church you read about in the New Testament. In most denominations there is a clergy system with priests, pastors, and/or “Reverends” and “Fathers.” Often times there is a national, and sometimes an international, governing body. Some denominations have deacons, but a “Pastor” rather than elders. Others have elders who are bachelors, or women serving as elders.

Yet, the Bible teaches that Christ is the only head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18), and therefore there is no authority in the New Testament for a church hierarchy. Every member of the Lord’s church is a priest (1 Pet. 2:9), so there is no authority in the New Testament for a clergy system. The church is overseen by a plurality of elders (Acts 20:17) and served by deacons (Phil. 1:1), so there is no authority in the New Testament for a lone man being an elder. Elders are to be married and have believing children (1 Tim. 3:2,4; Tit. 1:6), so there is no authority for bachelor elders. Women are not to exercise authority over men in the church (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:14-15), and elders are required to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2), which negates the idea of a female elder.

The New Testament does not give one example of anyone being saved by praying a prayer (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Denominationalism is different than what is taught in the Bible. How different depends upon which denomination. Many denominations teach that one becomes a Christian, a child of God, merely by “asking Jesus to come into one’s heart.” One is then accepted into the denomination based upon a testimony of conversion. Sometimes one is voted into the denomination. In other cases, one is sprinkled (not baptized) as a non-believing infant. Years later, after taking instruction, one is “confirmed.” One then is a member of the denomination. Other denominations have even different requirements.

However, the Bible teaches that one enters the body of Christ which is the church through baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23). When one who has confessed his faith in Christ as the Son of God and has repented of sins is baptized into Christ for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-38), God adds that person to the church (Acts 2:47). It is not a matter of “joining” the church or a denomination. It is also at that point that one becomes a child of God (Gal. 3:26-27) and has his or her sins washed away (Acts 22:16).

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:8-9)

Substitutions and changes have been made in denominations. Many denominational worship services center around entertainment, having bands, concerts, skits, drama presentations, and even aerobatic acts. Musical instruments have been added, and the Lord’s Supper has been taken away, being served only at certain times. In other denominations, burning of incense and the counting of beads have been added, along with statue worship. Saturday worship has replaced or been added to the first day of the week.

Yet, the Bible sets out God’s authorized manner of worship. The early church met upon every first day of the week to eat the Lord’s Supper and to give as they had prospered (Acts 20:6-7; 1 Cor. 11:20-34; 16:1-2). Prayers were offered up in worship (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:15) as well as songs of praise sung by saints with the instrument they plucked being their hearts (1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). There was also edification as they were taught God’s doctrine (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7).

The Bible is all you need to go by (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Friends, we all should realize and teach others that the same principle that applies to recipes applies to Christianity. If you want the real thing, there can be no substitutions and/or changes. Deuteronomy 4:2 says, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Proverbs 30:5-6 says, “Every word of God is tested…Do not add to his words or he will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.” Paul warned the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:6 to “learn not to exceed what is written…” The Bible closes with the warning of Revelation 22:18-19: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”

If you want the church of the Bible, the church of God’s choice, it must be according to his instructions found in his Word alone. Otherwise, you have a man-made substitute, not the real thing.  If you don’t have the real thing, then salvation is not yours because Jesus is the Savior of those who are in his body, the church (Eph. 5:23).  It’s something to think about.