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              "FOLLOWING JESUS WITHOUT DENOMINATIONALISM"

                    Why Is Denominationalism Wrong?

INTRODUCTION

1. While many people are attracted to the good news of the grace of God
   offered through His Son Jesus Christ, certain questions often linger
   in their minds...
   a. Why are there so many different denominations?
   b. Can't the followers of Jesus Christ learn to get along?
   c. What can be done about the religious division that exists today?
   d. Is it possible for me to be simply a Christian, following Jesus
      without being a member of any denomination?

2. In reply to these questions, some make an effort to discount the 
   significance of religious division, suggesting...
   a. That the differences are not all that great
   b. Or that religious division is good, for it enables people to find
      a church that suits them personally
   -- But there are several reasons why I believe these answers are 
      wrong and do a disservice to the cause of Christ

3. In this series of lessons, I have several objectives in mind...
   a. To explain why denominationalism is wrong
   b. To illustrate how one can simply be a Christian, serving Jesus
      without being a member of any denomination
   c. To suggest how followers of Christ might be able "to maintain the
      unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" - cf. Ep 4:3

4. In this lesson, I wish to explain...
   a. Why denominationalism is wrong
   b. Why anyone who truly follows Christ will do all they can to avoid
      participating in it

[First, perhaps a definition of terms is in order...]

I. DEFINING "DENOMINATION" AND "DENOMINATIONALISM"

   A. WHAT IS A "DENOMINATION"?
      1. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
         Language:
       
         "A large group of religious congregations united under a
         common faith and name and organized under a single
         administrative and legal hierarchy."
      
      2. From Webster's:
      
         "A religious organization uniting in a single legal and
         administrative body a number of local congregations."
      
      3. In simple laymen terms, a denomination is a group of
         congregations that are joined together under some governing
         body...
         a. The number of congregations can be as few as two or more
         b. But by their tie to a governing body above the local
            congregation, by definition they are "denominated" from all
            congregations that do not submit to the same authority
      4. Some examples:
         a. The Roman Catholic Church is a denomination made up of
            those churches that submit to the pope in Rome
         b. The Eastern Orthodox Church is a denomination made up of
            those churches that submit to the patriarch of 
            Constantinople
         c. The Anglican Church of England is a denomination made up of 
            those churches that submit to the archbishop of Cantebury
         d. The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) is made up of those 
            churches that submit to the synod in Missouri
         e. The International Church of Christ is made up of those 
            churches that submit to the Boston Church of Christ
         -- These are just a few of the thousands of different 
            denominations that now exist!

   B. WHAT IS "DENOMINATIONALISM"?
      1. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English 
         Language, it is:
         a. "The tendency to separate into religious denominations"
         b. "Advocacy of separation into religious denominations"
         c. "Strict adherence to a denomination; sectarianism"
      2. Again, Webster's dictionary defines it as:
         a. "Devotion to denominational principles or interests"
         b. "Narrow emphasizing of denominational differences:  
            SECTARIANISM"
      3. For the purpose in this series, I will be applying the term to
         any approval of the denominational division which exists today
         a. I concede that many people in denominations today are not
            all that devoted to their denominational principles or
            interests
         b. But by membership in a denomination they are by implication
            advocating separation into religious denominations

[But is denominationalism really all that bad?  Am I suggesting that 
one cannot serve Christ faithfully while participating in religious 
division?  The answer to both questions is "Yes!"

To understand the reason for saying this, let's examine...]

II. WHY DENOMINATIONALISM IS WRONG

   A. FIRST, DENOMINATIONALISM IS UN-SCRIPTURAL...
      1. That is, it is without Scriptural support
         a. There is no basis in the Bible for local churches being 
            divided up into various denominational bodies
         b. There is no denomination that can go to the Bible and say,
            "See that passage? There is our church (denomination)!"
      2. In the New Testament...
         a. Local congregations were independent, self-governing
         b. Church organization was limited to within the local 
            congregation, with elders (also known as pastors, bishops,
            overseers, presbyters) appointed to oversee only the 
            congregation of which they were members - cf. Ac 20:17,28;
            1Pe 5:1-2
      3. The only authority above the local church in the New Testament
         was Christ and His apostles...
         a. Once the church began, apostles were not replaced after 
            they died
         b. But through the Word of God, the authority of Christ and 
            His apostles continues
      4. Individuals, synods, conferences, etc., that presume to usurp
         authority over local congregations today do so without
         Scriptural authority

   B. SECOND, DENOMINATIONALISM IS ANTI-SCRIPTURAL...
      1. I.e., not only is it without scriptural support, it is 
         contrary to what the Bible teaches
      2. It is contrary to the prayer of Jesus for unity among His 
         believers - Jn 17:20-23
      3. It is condemned by Paul in his epistle to the church at 
         Corinth
         a. There are to be no divisions among believers - 1Co 1:10-13
         b. Sectarianism is a sign of carnality - 1Co 3:3-4
      4. It opposes the efforts of Christ on the cross! - Ep 2:14-16
         a. Jesus died to break down the wall of division
         b. Jesus died to reconcile man to God in ONE body
         -- Just as sinning works against the efforts of Christ on the
            cross (for He also died to put away sin), so it is with 
            denominational division!
         
   C. THIRD, DENOMINATIONALISM IS HARMFUL TO THE CAUSE OF CHRIST...
      1. Jesus knew that unity among His disciples would be "the final
         apologetic"
         a. Cf. "that the world may believe" - Jn 17:21
         b. In view of Jesus' words, we should not be surprised when 
            unbelievers are slow to accept the gospel coming from a 
            divided church
      2. Many people point to the divided condition of those professing
         to follow Christ...
         a. Atheists and agnostics often use religious division as an
            excuse not to believe in God
         b. Adherents to non-Christian religions (such as Islam, 
            Judaism, etc.) will often use denominationalism as a reason
            not to believe in Christ
      3. Denominationalism has also given support and encouragement to
         the cults
         a. Mormonism started in reaction to the denominationalism of
            Joseph Smith's day
         b. Those who call themselves "Jehovah's Witnesses" use 
            religious division to encourage people to follow their 
            strictly-controlled organization

   D. UNDERSTANDING THAT DENOMINATIONALISM IS WRONG HAS LED TO THESE
      INTERESTING STATEMENTS...
      1. From Martin Luther, the leader of 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)

      2. From 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)

      3. 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

CONCLUSION

1. Well, that day has not yet come, and denominationalism with its 
   religious division seems to be as strong as ever!

2. But all is not lost...
   a. For throughout the world, more and more people are throwing aside
      their denominational shackles
   b. They are following Jesus Christ in the freedom of gospel liberty
      that comes from being simply a Christian!
   c. And what may be a surprise to some, they are able to do so "being
      like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one
      mind" - cf. Php 2:2

3. How is this possible?
   a. That is what I hope to demonstrate starting with the next lesson
   b. But it begins with two things:
      1) A strong desire to follow Jesus Christ and His prayer for
         unity - cf. Jn 17:20-23
      2) An understanding of the carnal nature of division, and why
         denominationalism is wrong - cf. 1Co 3:3-4

Dear friend, don't you want to be simply a Christian, a follower of the
Lord Jesus Christ...?
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