The Undenominational Church in a Denominationally Minded World
 R. C. Foster

Volume VI --  Number 1
Fall, 1959
pp. 15-30
(C)opyright 1959
All Rights Reserved
The Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary

    "NOW 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 the same judgment. . . . Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?" (I Corinthians 1:10, 12).

    "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16: 18).

    "The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).

    "Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all . . . unto the building up of the body of Christ; till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:3-6, 12-15).

    "Even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 6:25-27).

    Beyond all dispute the age in which we live is secular. Every age, since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, has been secular; some have been more secular than others. In no respect does our age show its secular character more than in its attitude toward the church, toward denominationalism, toward the unity for which Christ prayed and the apostles exhorted and labored.

    It is interesting to observe the root meanings of the words sect and secular. Their derivation shows no immediate kinship other than that they are both derived from the Latin. The dictionary says it is a common mistake to suppose that the word sect is derived from "secari," meaning "to cut." Such a derivation would suggest a segment or part cut off from the whole. Denomination, the synonym of sect, does carry this idea in its derivation from "denominari"--"to name or distinguish from." The dictionary declares that sect is derived from "sequi" which means "to follow." This indicates: (1) those who follow a human leader instead of the divine Christ; (2) who adopt a human creed instead of the inspired New Testament; (3) who wear a human name instead of the name of Him who is the Head of the church, and (4) who are moved by selfish, partizan seal. This is the manner of description which Paul gives in I Corinthians of those who would rend the church asunder even in the early days of its existence. The exact language of the dictionary in defining a sect, is as follows: "Those attached to a certain opinion, or to a set of opinions, or those following a particular leader of authority. In religion, the believers in a particular creed, or up. holders of a particular practice, especially, now, a party dissenting from an established church; a religious denomination."

    The word, secular, is derived from "saeculum" which means "a race, generation, age, the time, the world." The word, secular, means: "of or pertaining to this present world or things not religious, spiritual, or holy; relating to or concerned with temporal as distinguished from eternal, interests." The dictionary offers as synonyms of secular, the following words: "temporal, worldly, profane." This last synonym suggests the stinging rebuke of Hebrew 12:16 that we should look carefully lest there be in the midst a source of faction: "a profane person, as Esau, who for one mess of pottage sold his own birthright." Was there ever an age or a religious movement which has so shamelessly sold its glorious birthright for such a miserable mess of pottage?

    Two years ago on a similar occasion I brought you a message on the topic: "The Undenominational Church in a Denominationally-Minded World." That discussion set forth the four distinctive elements of a denomination. This morning we are to consider further reflections on the same topic with especial reference to the trend of denominations toward centralization of power. This is to be Part II.

    The embryonic denominations that began to arise in the church at Corinth were grouped about human leaders: "Paul, Apollos, Cephas." This was without the knowledge and consent of these leaders who were trying earnestly to win all to follow Christ. A study of church history will show how often great leaders protested in vain against the misguided, but determined efforts to form a denomination upon their leadership and wearing their name. But a study of church history will also show how much more often an ambitious leader promoted just such exaltation of himself. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, but the love of power and the praise of men runs a close second in leading men to follow the ways of the world rather than the will of God. The fact that the world is denominationally minded is seen in the self-seeking of ambitious men, greedy for power, who contend with one another for leadership, for fame, for worldly riches. It is also seen in the disposition of the worldly minded to follow such selfish leadership.

    Differences in doctrine and practice also became the prolific breeding ground for denominations as the followers of Christ apostatized from the faith. But frequently the differences in doctrine were secondary to the greed for power in the hearts of human leaders. Often it was a case of "Give a man a horse he can ride, and he will become a man on horseback."

    The third and fourth distinctive elements of a denomination--the use of a human name instead of the name of Christ and the growth of an intense party spirit--are natural corollaries of the first two elements. Whether these human names honor a human leader or exalt an ordinance, a method of worship, or a system of church government, it is all too plain that the purpose is denominari--to name or distinguish from and separate from one another rather than bind to Christ. Luther protested vehemently, but in vain, against the use of his name to denominate. Wesley repudiated the Methodists who started the denomination accepting as their own, the nickname "Methodist" which had been hurled at them. Wesley lived and died a member of the Church of England. The Episcopal Church as well as the Presbyterian Church adopted a name which honors an office or a system of church government rather than the head of the church--Christ. Seeking a return to the simplicity of church government seen in the New Testament, the Congregationalists adopted as their denominari a name which glorifies the system of church government rather than the divine head of the church. In the case of the Baptist Church an ordinance is glorified as they responded to ridicule by adopting the nickname.

    Denominations that arose out of a strong determination to maintain the freedom of the local congregations (such as the Congregationalists and the Baptists) have sought to resist the inevitable centralization of power which characterizes the denominational system. But when the leadership in these denominations passed into the hands of those who no longer believe in the inspiration and authority of the Scripture, the growth of a hierarchy through conventions and secretaries became evident. The pressure of a denominationally minded world upon the followers of Christ has been from the very beginning toward a centralization of power in a hierarchy of some kind. Since this whole move is of the earth, earthy, it is entirely in character that this concentration of power has been secular.

    When Christ came from heaven to earth to live among us and to die for our redemption, He stirred flaming opposition not only because He condemned the sins of the high as well as the lowly, but because He stood in the way of the selfish ambitions of those greedy for power and prominence. After the feeding of the 5,000, the Zealots sought to take Jesus by force and make Him their kind of a worldly king. They would secularize the kingdom by making it earthly, political, military, rather than spiritual. They were not interested in any such humble ministry to the needy and the sin-sick. They wanted power, the praise of men, the exalted positions which would enable them to force their will upon their fellows. We do not know the name of any of these leaders who were so bold and so foolish as to imagine they could seize the Son of God and bend Him to their secular aims. But we can be sure there was the inevitable warfare among their own group for domination as a hierarchy always tends to gravitate to a dictatorship.

    The history of the church is the record of a secular struggle for power. Not even the apostles who had been selected and were being trained by Jesus, could escape the heartaches and the frustrations attendant upon the human desire for the positions of greatest prominence and power. The humble way of service for Jesus' sake was not easy to learn. As the great apostasy began and the leadership of elders in a congregation gave way to the secular pressure of a ruling bishop, the large and famous churches began to assume authority over the small, obscure churches. By this gradual secularization, Rome came to supreme power. Alexander Campbell in his debate with Bishop Purcell, had as one of the propositions which he defended, the declaration that the Roman Catholic Church is not the mother of churches, but a sect or denomination. He probed the history of the rise of the papacy for proof of this proposition. He pointed out how Gregory bitterly opposed in 588 A.D. the assumption of such a title as patriarch or pope as "proud, blasphemous, anti-christian, diabolical." Yet the successor of Gregory as leader of the church in Rome readily accepted the title and became the first pope. Typical of the secular character of the Roman Catholic Church are the historic facts of how Mauritius, the emperor of the East was murdered by Phocas, a centurion of his army. Whereupon Phocas was rewarded for the murder by being consecrated by Gregory as Emperor in Constantinople; and Phocas in return reciprocated by consecrating Boniface, the successor of Gregory, the first pope.

    After such a glance at the past with the apostasy of the church in view, it is not surprising to see the Ecumenical Movement of today attempting to seize control. Patterned after the Roman Catholic hierarchy even as the Roman Catholic Church took Imperial Rome as its model, the Ecumenical Movement has arisen with vast assumption of authority to speak and act for millions of Christians who had no part in its rise and give no consent to its claims. The pyramiding of a national council and a world council becomes the more menacing because the leadership is in the hands of unbelievers who scoff at the claims of Jesus and at the truth of the Scriptures. The publication of a new translation of the Bible which strikes at the deity of Christ and an accompanying set of commentaries which attempt to establish boldly the unbelief which the translation suggests, is a characteristic development of our secular age.

    The word Ecumenical comes from the Greek "Oikumenes" which means "the inhabited world." It is typical of the methods of the secular that the holy name of unity should be used as a cloak for world domination by radicals. While talking of unity and appealing for unity, the legal courts of the land are used to attempt to crush the remnants of those who still believe, by wresting from them by violence their places of worship.

    The unity which Christ taught and for which He prayed was not the secular unity of a political organization. It was the unity of the faith in which all believe the same grand doctrines taught by Jesus and the apostles, and all practice the same ordinances and follow the same way of righteous living. By the reformation of the heart and life of the individual and not by the construction of a vast Tower of Babel, the unity of the church was to be maintained. The pioneers of the restoration movement appealed for the return of all followers of Christ to the simplicity of faith and practice found in the New Testament. It is in this inspired volume that the undenominational church is set forth. The radicals who seek to secularize the church into a political super-organization deny that there is any divine pattern for the church in the New Testament. This denial that the New Testament offers the divine pattern of what the mind of God intended that the church should be, is in essence a denial of God Himself. "God has spoken unto us." What sort of a god is one who could not speak to man, or would not, or did not know his own will in regard to the church? Christ declared "Upon this rock I will build my church," but the Modernists would have us believe that Jesus did not know what it was He was about to establish. Not all Modernists go so far as to become atheists, but modernism is a highway that leads straight as an arrow to the ultimate denial that there is a God.

    It is typical of a secular age that pantheism is the prevailing religion among the intellectuals. Pantheism is pure, unadulterated paganism--the worship of nature. In our time it bows at the shrine of matter and motion. Pantheism is the only theism that is compatible with the theory of evolution. As in the days of Alexander the Great so in our secular age, pantheism lends itself readily to the amalgamation of various conflicting religions into one conglomerate mass. The Ecumenical enthusiasts are now proposing to concoct out of the various religions of the world a single world religion to match their world organization.

    Speaking in the North American Convention at Atlanta last June, Louis Cochran, author of The Fool of God, declared: "The Episcopalians have contributed more in thinking and writing in the field of unity than any of the churches including the Disciples of Christ." It is typical of our secular age that this praise should be offered to the denomination which is closest to the Roman Catholic Church in false doctrine and practice and in massive centralization of power. It is faint praise for the Episcopalians to say that they have done more for the cause of unity than the Disciples Denomination. In the light of the glorious heritage which the Disciples Denomination has betrayed, it would be hard to find a more malignant foe of the unity for which Christ prayed. The question naturally arises as to what the Episcopal Church has done in the field of thinking and writing for the cause of unity. It established, in its beginning, a modified form of the papacy which it calls "the historic episcopate." This established the Archbishop of Canterbury, instead of the Pope at Rome, the head of the church. In thinking and writing in the field of unity do the Episcopalians now propose to turn from Rome to Jerusalem, to abandon unscriptural doctrines and practices and return to the simple pattern of the church revealed in the New Testament? Such a move would indeed be a great contribution to the cause of unity. It would deserve universal praise.

    Writing in the Christian Century of March 6, 1957, Charles D. Kean discusses the topic: "Church Unity: An Anglican View." He speaks for himself as an Episcopalian and presents also the official view of the Episcopal Church. Beginning with a discussion of the platform for unity called the Lambeth Quadrilateral which was passed by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Chicago in 1886 and by the Lambeth Conference in 1887, he discusses their recent pronouncements. Following the failure of negotiations with the Presbyterians for union in 1946, the unity commission of the Episcopal Church prepared a statement of Faith and Order in harmony with the Lambeth Quadrilateral. It proposed work for intercommunion and organic federation which was accepted by the Lambeth Conference of 1948 and adopted by their general convention of 1949 as the official platform of the Anglican Communion on unity matters. The Quadrilateral consists of: (1) The Scriptures: Old and New Testaments; (2) The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed; (3) The Two Sacraments: baptism and the Lord's supper; (4) The Historic Episcopate locally adapted to varying needs.

    Mr. Kean's discussion concentrates upon the absolute necessity of retaining "the Historic Episcopate." This term means, in the language of the man-in-the-street: "excess baggage from Rome."

    Some conclude that the great contribution of the Episcopalians to the cause of unity is the fact that they have been able to preserve their political unity in this denominational hierarchy in spite of the fact that they are torn asunder by the conflict between the unbelievers who have gained control of the denominational machinery and the remnant of Episcopalians who, in spite of the tidal wave of infidelity, still cling to their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and in the Scriptures as the Word of God. In such political unity they resemble the Roman Catholic Church where radicals and conservatives in the priesthood still remain in the same political organization. It is significant that in the election of the present pope, the struggle between the radicals and the conservatives in the College of Cardinals was won by the radicals, and their candidate for pope was elected.

    Further light on what the contribution to unity is that the Episcopalians have made, may be had from another speaker in the restoration movement who is much in demand in some of our more conservative assemblies. He has proposed that the restoration movement should construct a national assembly fashioned after the political pattern of the national assembly of the Episcopalians. The details of the proposal are as follows: all the churches associated together in the restoration movement should be under the U. C. M. S.--International Convention. The radicals and conservatives should meet together in this annual assembly to elect the officials that will govern and to transact any necessary business. Then the two groups should meet, each in a separate auditorium: the unbelievers to promulgate and promote their unbelief and the believers to proclaim their faith. This is the present pattern followed by the Episcopalians. The warfare between the believers and the infidels in the Episcopal Church has become so bitter that at their national assembly they no longer meet in the same auditorium to worship together and to proclaim the Gospel, but after the transaction of necessary business, they separate for fellowship and discussion.

    An all-important insight into the nature of the hierarchy of the Episcopalians may be had in taking a look at the Dean of Canterbury--who is so extreme in his radicalism, he has been dubbed: "The Red Dean of Canterbury." Speaking over the radio from Moscow several years ago, Bob Considine described the May Day parade of famous Communists from all over the world uniting with the Kremlin leaders in their common pledge of devotion to the cause of atheism and Communism in its campaign for world conquest. Among the foremost in the parade was the Dean of Canterbury. Bob Considine described in detail the appearance of the "Red Dean" in all his gorgeous robes of state. The secular age in which we live is revealed by this vast, radical hierarchy of a Protestant denomination. What have the Episcopalians contributed to the cause of unity by their thinking and writing other than the same false doctrines and practices inherited from Rome and crowned with a political hierarchy utterly corrupt in the faith? "The mountain labored and brought forth"--not a "mouse," but a monster.

    In the October 27th issue of Look magazine, Hartzell Spence has published an historical survey of the Disciples Denomination. He lists the various types of extreme unbelief which abound among the leaders of this denomination. Included is the denial of the virgin birth, of heaven and hell, and of the final judgment. He also lists atheism under the polite title: "humanists." He hails the rapid growth of the denomination and declares: "The reason for this growth is that the Disciple approach is liberal, intellectual and independent." He deplores as the great handicap of the Disciples Denomination "the lack of denominational authority." The Disciples Denomination has not yet created sufficient, centralized, denominational machinery to coerce the churches. What a picture is this of a secular age. The modernists would rewrite the lament of Jesus to make it read: "Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find--denominational machinery--on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).

    We need to turn again to the New Testament to see how far removed from the divine pattern of the church are such apostasies. The New Testament knows no hierarchy or super-organization usurping the freedom of the local congregations. It sets forth instead: unity in the faith where all speak the same faith, hope, love. Paul appealed to the church at Corinth "that ye all speak the same thing . . . that ye be perfected together in the same mind and the same judgment." To the church at Ephesus he wrote of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." He followed his grand outline of the unity of the church in the one faith with a warning against false teachers and false doctrines and the folly of any unity with unbelievers: "till we attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him who is the head, even Christ."

    Another aspect of the centralization of power seen in a denomination has been the creation of a vast bureaucracy to promote the hierarchy. Hostile critics of Alexander Campbell have tried to make out that he was opposed to foreign missions because he protested so vigorously against the denominational bureaucracies which devoured in overhead expenses of mission boards the money which had been given to preach the gospel. An astute business man of New England remarked several years ago that the much-talked-about merger of all the denominations in one great world organization would never take place because each denomination has its own sprawling bureaucracy of swivel-chair secretaries many of whom would lose their soft jobs and fat salaries under such consolidation. It is doubtful, however, if his analysis is valid. In the last 50 years we have seen the rise of a crushing, frightening bureaucracy in Washington. It does not seem to matter whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in office or what schemes for consolidation and reduction of bureaucratic employees are carried out. We always seem to come up with more bureaucrats after the consolidation is effected.

    It is inevitable that a secular age should manifest its influence in a professional clergy devoted to worldly gain and pursuit of worldly pleasures. It has become the custom in recent books on the life of Alexander Campbell to deplore his scatching attacks upon professional clergy of his time. We are told by these recent writers that Alexander Campbell brought upon himself the persecution he received at the hands of the denominations. In such vitriolic articles as "A Looking Glass for the Clergy: the Third Epistle of Peter," Mr. Campbell assailed the mercenary motives and the worldly ambitions of professional clergy. But these criticisms against Mr. Campbell by his biographers overlook the fact that the real issue is not any persecution which he may have endured. The pertinent questions are: Did Mr. Campbell tell the truth and present a true picture of professional clergy of his time? Was the situation in such a critical state as to justify his slashing attacks? These recent biographers of Mr. Campbell are offering no new information when they remind us that he might have avoided persecution by the simple process of keeping silent. It is always possible for a preacher to avoid the hostility of the world and the worldly-minded by playing a game of politics with the world. "You scratch my back and I will scratch yours." In the wilderness, Christ resisted the temptation of Satan to make peace by bowing the knee to the devil. But the church has continually fallen before this temptation. We do not find Alexander Campbell cringing before any persecution which came his way. He took in stride the slander and abuse heaped upon him as a matter of course. He would have agreed with the dictum of Harry Truman who says to his political friends and foes: "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."

    It is an easy task to point out the evils of denominationalism. It is exceedingly hard to discern and conquer the denominationalizing tendencies in our own hearts and lives. We live in a world which is denominationally minded. Its pressure is constantly exerted against each of us. It is easy to wave the hand and affirm: "I am undenominational." One might as well say: "I am sinless perfection." Denominationalism is based on false doctrine and practice; it is also a matter of the spirit. The pressure of a denominationally minded world must be met and resisted each day in every life. The lust for prominence and power is as universal as the love of money. It is not conquered in any once-for-all battle, but must be faced in a series of engagements throughout a stubborn, life-long campaign. No man is in a position to boast of his success. Humility remains the rarest and most elusive of virtues.

    It is easy for a Bible College, a religious journal, or a missionary agency to become an embryonic denomination. It can readily develop a fierce party spirit with a concentration upon its policy or with a peculiar emphasis upon certain doctrines which is not the emphasis found in the New Testament. In the amount of time and effort spent upon the advancing the cause of the human institution, the divine organism--the Church of Christ--may be pushed into a secondary place. We must contend earnestly for the faith, but we must not seek to create parties and to foment party spirit. We should beware of saying: "I am a Seminary man." The name of Christ is all-glorious; let it be all-sufficient.

    The lure of worldly pleasures in this secular age exercises a powerful tug and pull even in Bible Colleges where the Word of God is still proclaimed. We must continue to produce a ministry of dedicated lives with which to confront many worldlings being sent forth by the radical schools. On this platform and from our graduates we hear continually testimony about the profligates of the pulpit who are the curse of the churches of today: preachers who take dancing lessons in order to join the Saturday night dances and the drinking parties; of churches that turn their church buildings into dance halls and use them for cocktail parties; of preachers who while attending state conventions, drink high balls and martinis in the public restaurants. A faithful, young preacher who had just completed an extension course in a great university talked to me recently of his experience. The course was for preachers; the teacher was the chaplain of a great hospital; the course had as its objective the training of preachers in the proper psychological approach in hospital visitation. This preacher described the infidelity universal among the preachers in the class. He finally told them: "I can have no fellowship with any of you. You do not believe the Gospel. As for me, I do not even understand what you are talking about." One of the radical preachers came to him afterward and said: "I wish I still had the faith which you have." The wife of the instructor of the class told this young preacher of faith that her husband was horrified and broken-hearted over the kind of preachers that were going forth into the churches.

    I talked with a businessman in Cincinnati last year who asked me a question which puzzled him. He said: "You are a preacher. Tell me this. We find in America today more people attending church and more members of the churches than in any period of the history of the nation, and yet we find crime rampant and juvenile delinquency threatening the life of the nation. Why is this?" I responded that the preachers are to blame: "Like priest, like people." With so many pulpits filled with infidels and even atheists, with the preachers joining in the drinking parties and turning the church buildings into dance halls and cocktail lounges, what sort of impact could be expected from such churches upon a secular age?

    The simplicity of the New Testament church in doctrine and practice must be united with the dedicated lives which enabled Christianity to conquer paganism in the first century. The flaming evangelism that burned to the edges of the Mediterranean throughout the Roman Empire must be rekindled, if the world in our secular age is to be saved from Communism and won back to Christ. (1) We must continue to exalt the divine institution: the church; the New Testament, which gives us the divine pattern for the church; the Christ, who is the divine head of the Church.

"I love thy Kingdom, Lord, the house of thine abode,
The Church our blest Redeemer saved, With His own precious blood.
I love thy Church, O God! Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye, And graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be given, Till toils and care shall end.
Beyond my highest joy I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows, Her hymns of love and praise."

    (2) We must keep the human institutions subject to the church. They must be humble servants. If they seek domination over the local congregations, they should be repudiated. A multiplicity of such colleges and mission agencies all proclaiming the same faith greatly aid in reaching diverse geographical sections and offer to the churches the opportunity to examine their respective records, observe their graduates, and reward those agencies that show staunch fidelity to the faith and also show economy, sobriety, efficiency. (3) We must guard these human institutions from becoming secular in outlook, program, and life. Building and equipment are essential to effective service, but the church must not institutionalize itself. If the church loses the "go, go, go," it will lose its "grow." It will also lose its fundamental passion for lost souls which is the beating heart of the Gospel. The church cannot survive in such a secular age, if it is interested only in survival. The church must rise up to regain hope of winning the world to Christ. Communism, fanatical in its devotion, dominant, aggressive, determined for world conquest by deceitful lures or by the brutal massacre of its opponents, must be met by the love of Christ in our hearts leading us to give ourselves, our means, our all, as we go forth to proclaim His message of redemption. (4) We must continue to treasure the divine goal which Jesus has set before us of a united church--a church united in the faith one for all delivered to the saints. No betrayals, no defeats, no discouragements can be allowed to dim our vision or silence our prayers and appeals. When Jesus prayed that His followers may all be one, He set forth the manner and the means of this unity: "I have given them thy word . . . Keep them from the evil one . . . Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth."

Scanned:  Michael Riggs
Edited:  Matt Honig