Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 17, 1949
NUMBER 28, PAGE 2,6a

What Is Wrong With Denominationalism?


There are thousands of sincere and intelligent people who believe that denominationalism is perfectly all right. They acknowledge of course, that there are certain faults and certain bad features about it. Scarcely anyone will defend it as we see it in evidence in the world around us today. But these bad features and weaknesses, we are told, are due to the human element, and are not inherent in the idea of denominationalism.

Such a philosophy emphasizes the idea of man's differences and of human individuality. Not every man is cut from the same pattern emotionally and psychologically, they say; there are differences of taste, differences in background, different ideas of what is helpful and good. Hence, the argument goes, it is truly a wise and worthy thing to have a wide variety of churches —enough denominations, so that each man can look around and find a church to suit his own particular needs and desires, and the framework of his own mentality.

All of us recognize that when churches bite and devour one another, it is wrong. When strife and jealousy are present (as they so often are) it becomes ridiculous to speak of following Christ or of loving one another. But nobody even wants to defend that. Let us look at denominationalism at its best. Consider a case in which all are working together in peace and harmony, where they announce and attend each other's meetings, where pastors exchange pulpits, and union services are often held, where pastors and churches work together for civic and community projects, and where strife and ill will are at a minimum.

Is not such a condition good? Is any fault to be found with denominationalism under that sort of program?

Stultifies Intelligence

Replying to that contention, we urge that the very philosophy of denominationalism is wrong. It is intellectually stifling and stultifying. For it is almost a cardinal point with denominationalism to insist that all of them are right, that one is not better than any of the others, that they are all teaching the truth and serving God, and that a man can be saved in any one of them just as readily and just as surely as he can in any other. There is a phobia amounting almost to an obsession against any public criticism of one denomination by members or preachers of another. The bland assertion that "all of us are right" is taken as the proper and accepted attitude.

Now to an honest man who retains any intellectual integrity at all, such a position is simply unthinkable. In every matter of business or commerce, we recognize that when two statements contradict each other on the same subject, they cannot both be true. Yet this is the basic assumption of denominationalism. When a Methodist teaches sprinkling and a Baptist teaches immersion only, both Methodists and Baptists will tell you that you can be saved as well in one church as in the other, and that both preachers are men of God, preaching the truth from the Bible.

To a man who still retains his intelligence, that is simply incredible. It were as sensible to argue that men could differ on mathematics and still be right as to argue that men can differ on the truth of God's word and both of them still be right. Religious truth in its essence is no different from mathematical truth, or biological truth, or any other kind of truth. Truth is truth; and at no place does any one truth contradict another truth. That is simply axiomatic. The honest man recognizes that it is so. Yet denominationalism insists that there are contradictory truths; it is built on that assumption.

Encourages Atheism

There can be no doubt that the divided condition of Christendom gives a tremendous boost to the atheistic philosophies which periodically sweep the world. When an uninformed but honest man hears a preacher in whom he has confidence make the positive declaration that the Bible teaches such and such doctrine, he has no reason at all to doubt that the Bible does teach such a doctrine. Then a few days later he hears another preacher declare emphatically that the Bible teaches a doctrine which is directly contrary to the one taught by he first preacher. Again our honest and intelligent man has no reason to doubt or question the preacher's statement. So, quite naturally and unavoidably, he comes to the conclusion that both preachers are right, and that the Bible does indeed teach both doctrines—doctrines which are contrary the one to the other.

Can any honest man believe that the Bible teaches contradictory doctrines, and at the same time believe that this book came from an all-wise and omniscient God? Obviously, he cannot. Hence, believing the preachers, believing the denominations in their claims, he is driven logically and inexorably to a full and complete skepticism toward the whole Book as being divine.

Produces Spiritual Lethargy

Not only does denominationalism have this effect on the honest non-Christian, it has a deadening and tragic effect on the members of these denominations themselves. For a man cannot so sin against his own intelligence without doing an irreparable injury to his own conscience. In past ages when denominational people fought for their creeds and dogmas, this was not the case. These men had integrity of character; they were fully persuaded concerning their own doctrines. Now, however, we see a complete reversal Nobody seems to have any conviction at all either about his own doctrine or about the doctrine of his neighbor. As a result a spiritual torpor and lethargy has seized upon all of the denominations. Where is the flaming ardor and the burning zeal of a past generation? It is found only among those small groups who still insist that they are right, and that all who differ from them are wrong. Such groups are ridiculed by the general run of denominationalists; but the fact re- mains that they only are making any appreciable growth.

Without conviction there cannot be, and there will not be, any real sacrifice for one's cause or contention.

Denominationalism for fifty years has been doing its very best to stifle and destroy all distinctive convictions and doctrines. The result is a spineless, paralyzed, spiritually dead body of institutions and societies, from which the zeal and the fervor have long since departed.

Jesus Christ pointed the only true way toward either unity or strength. Until we are all united in him, the world will still refuse to believe that he came from God. And without honest and straight thinking, the great mass of the people will go right along parroting the phrases of their leaders and declaring that "every man has a right to the church of his own choice." —F. Y. T.