Whereas years ago the various denominations scarcely ever had anything to do with each other, nowadays co–operation is all the rage, usually on the pretext that we are all in the same body (See 1 Cor. 12: 12; Eph. 4: 4) Many will admit the legitimacy of the existence of other companies with differing views, claiming that God’s church is a diverse church. Others go further, and allow (even encourage) inter–communion, with open invitations to the Lord’s supper, and the exchange of preachers. However, despite all these displays of togetherness, the separate identity of each denomination is maintained—in flat contradiction of the supposedly revered truth of the one body! The truth is, togetherness and ‘co–operation’ are not enough. God’s Word demands a unity that is total and absolute: “stand firm in one spirit, with one soul, labouring together in the same conflict with the faith of the glad tidings”, (Phil. 1: 27), “that ye may think the same thing, having the same love, joined in soul, thinking one thing” (Phil. 2: 2.); “And the heart and soul of the multitude of those that had believed were one” (Acts 4: 32); “Shall two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3: 3) and many other scriptures. Working together is not God’s unity, being one is.
Denominationalism is largely maintained today by the increasingly prevalent notion that I go to the church that suits me most. Choice is the operative word, my happiness the guiding principle. The truth is however, that neither my happiness, nor numbers, neither powerful ministry, nor successful evangelism, is to govern me as to where I go. Granted all these things are significant, but what is of paramount importance is obedience to God and his Word. Choice does not come into it. I have no right to ‘select’ which section of Christianity is for me! Nor do interdenominational alliances remedy the situation—indeed they maintain the notion of choice. They simply enable ‘churches’ to form alliances instead of becoming wholly one, allowing them to maintain the identity of their choosing within a larger framework.
I repeat, denominations that work together are not acting on any principle seen in Scripture, least of all that of the one body! They themselves are forced to admit that they must at best be still parties or else the words working together have no sense. So does the Bible sanction such? Not at all:”Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all say the same thing, and that there be not among you divisions; but that ye be perfectly united in the same mind and in the same opinion. For it has been shewn to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of [the house of] Chloe, that there are strifes among you. But I speak of this, that each of you says, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is the Christ divided?”, (1 Cor. 1: 10–13). Some respond that there aren’t really any differences at all between the various partners, and certainly no strife. Why then do they maintain their own distinct and separate identities? Why maintain their own halls, pastors, preachers, discipline, creeds and systems of worship when it is abundantly evident that scripture requires total unity? Alliances and partnerships will not do—God’s Word demands us to be one whole. Denominational togetherness has only broken down the walls of partition to erect more in their place. The boundaries may have become less sharp, but the system maintains a compartmentalisation of the Church of God. The fiercely independent and introspective groups that were the sects have been replaced by a loose alliance of parties. The doctrine of the one body is ignored or unknown.
I cannot walk in fellowship with the denominations—to do so would be to sanction their existence. And to make the existence of denominations legitimate is to deny the truth of the one body: “is the Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1: 13). Of course I rejoice at all the good that they do—the evangelism, the ministry, their good works—but this does not mean I have to associate myself with them! Could I, with a good conscience, come before the Lord and justify this sectioning and dividing of His Church? Do I really believe that the Church was intended to be composed of diverse sections so that each could find a part that suited his particular views and inclinations? Any soul intimate with the heart of Christ would sever his connections with any system that legitimises the carving up of the Church He loves. God’s Word tells me that there is no division in the body (1 Cor. 1: 13, 12: 25)—Let us believe it and act accordingly!
Some will of course tell us that to separate is only to form another denomination; but this is rank unbelief. Our business is to obey God’s Word, and if we are following what Scripture says concerning the Church we can hardly be called another denomination. Denominationalism is plainly error. Again it is equally plain that the following of truth would not put one in the position of error! If we gather in the light of the fact that there is one body (Eph. 4: 4), and that fellowship is open to all separate from iniquity (2 Tim. 2: 19), then we are not another denomination. (Note the “if”, for it is to be regretted that practice does not always measure up to what is claimed. Then no matter how great our knowledge of the Scriptures, or how successful the preaching, or how powerful the ministry, we become a denomination.)
Separation from the denominations does of course create difficulties. Friends may ask you to go here or there, for once at any rate; and it seems hard to refuse, especially as they do not understand the force of a divine conviction as to this matter, a conviction which they lack themselves. You invite them, perhaps, to come with you, and you decline going with them. Does it not look proud and unbrotherly? But is it right to desert what is known to be Scriptural for what is felt to be not? Can this be done with a good conscience before God? Plainly not! “Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity”, (2 Tim. 2: 19).
Some tell us that the scheme of fellowship presented in Scripture is inappropriate for the circumstances of today. They say it is unworkable nowadays. So what are we to do? To introduce my own scheme might seem expedient, but it is crass folly. It would be to charge God’s Word with inadequacy, and to substitute it with the ramblings of my own fallen mind. God’s Word sanctions only one way of gathering—it’s own—and I have no right as a Christian to do anything else! Flirting with the denominations may seem wide hearted—even profitable—but only serves to sanction and maintain the narrowness they hold to.