Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 20, 1961
NUMBER 11, PAGE 10-11,14

A Sectarian Concept Of Unity

Robert C. Welch, Nacogdoches, Texas

Each congregation as a full and complete unit, or church, is the New Testament plan. Some speak of this as independency or autonomy of churches. Catholicism and Protestantism are based on a different concept. With them, the unit of actual fellowship is the denomination, consisting of the sum of the congregations and the members therefore. The interdenominational activities among protestant denominations could more aptly be defined as fraternization rather than fellowship. Brethren and congregations have always found it hard to keep from the sectarian concept. That was the concept which formed the Christian Church denomination. It is the concept which develops into the "institutional" party, as they cry for the boycott against all publishing and sales houses who do not support their "institutional" drive. Of course it is first seen in their giving function to the churches through a centralized institution or agency. And the concept is even manifested sometimes by those who work hardest for congregational autonomy.

Congregational Independency

If the congregation is autonomous, then it must be considered as a full unit of function in doing the Lord's will. This congregation, then, is the unit or body in which its members have fellowship. In this unit there is joint participation. And in this body, the congregation, there can be severing of, and refusal of, fellowship. A congregation might divide. When it does, sin is involved. The sin may be on the part of all members. It may be on the part of some, while the others remain faithful to the Lord, his word and work. To place a stigma upon all members because some sin, and division results, is to judge the whole for the part. Those guilty of sin leading to such division may form a group, but unless they repent they cannot be called scripturally a faithful church. That does not necessarily stigmatize all as factionists who without knowledge of the sin later are included in the membership with that group. In fact, it might continue until none of the factious be left. The congregation must deal with individuals and not groups.

As a full and complete unit, the congregations can carry out the will of God, and its members can have all the fellowship which the Scriptures authorize, under its own direction, oversight, and individual function and support. (see I Pet. 5:2, 3; Eph. 4:16) Scriptural fellowship does not require, and scriptural autonomy denies, that two or more congregations function as a unit either through a co-operative or a complete body. If it is independent, the congregation does not depend upon another, or a grouping of others, for any of its worship, work, organization or discipline; though it does respect and recommend other congregations in their righteous functioning. Every Christian needs to get this well in mind; and expend his energies in partnership in the work in the congregation, in building up the congregation, and in removing error, trouble, strife, division, and factious men, from the congregation.

"The Church" — A Denomination?

All the Lord's people with Christ make up the church.

But the only unit of function is the congregation. This idea of "trouble among the churches," and "the church being divided," and "segments of the Restoration movement." is the sectarian concept of a denomination unit. Where sin is involved a church might be divided, with one or more resultant groups founded in sin and guilt; and a congregation can righteously form two congregations from its membership. But one church or a group of them cannot divide from another congregation or group of them without previously having been together in a unit which the Lord did not build. A denomination of congregations can divide, for the congregations make up the denomination. But the Lord has no such system of congregations of the church; each congregation is the church.

Too many brethren conceive of a historical church succession from a so-called Restoration Movement. It is purely a denominational concept. The congregation of the Lord of which I am a member is no more an heir of, or a part of, something called the Restoration Movement than it is of the Roman Catholic Church. Brethren will argue that a congregation of the Lord could be established at the preaching of the gospel by Alexander Campbell because there is no such thing as church succession. And the same ones will then talk about a congregation in existence today being a part of the Restoration Movement. It is no wonder that sectarians laugh at us when we say we are not a denomination started by Alexander Campbell. Much of our preaching proves that we do have the denominational concept, with a beginning date for it; called the "Restoration Movement."

"Restoration Movement Divided"

As never before in our lifetime, many brethren are giving most serious consideration to the subject of fellowship and unity. As already pointed out, some are advocating an exclusive denominational fellowship in an "institutional" party. Others are seeking a true basis of fellowship. Some of the latter are enamored of a fellowship on the basis of a Restoration Movement heritage. Hence, while seriously seeking scriptural fellowship they have fallen into the trap of the denominational concept. Two brethren already mentioned in this series, Reuel Lemmons and Carl Ketcherside, have given much attention and prominence to this fallacy, and are outstanding in writing ability and influence. It is for this reason that samples are taken from them to point out the fallacy:

"Men have split the Restoration Movement into scores of splintered fragments. Jesus would unite the world upon a single truth: viz., that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Brethren would force each other to submit to each other's opinions by the score, but Jesus would unite the whole world by simple submission to a single commandment — baptism." (Firm Foundation, Dec. 13, 1960, p. 786)

If brother Lemmons does not conceive of the Restoration Movement as a unit or a body, how could he conclude that it has been split? Now if he considers the Restoration Movement as the church universal, then the only splitting and fragmentation of it could be the alienation of Christians; it certainly could not be the alienation of congregations because there is no universal organization of congregations. Besides that, Christians of today, or those of any day, do not compose a body known as the Restoration Movement. If I am a Christian I am a member of the church which the Lord built. And the same is true of Alexander Campbell. To talk about being a part of such a thing as the Restoration Movement makes me a member of something which started too late to be the church of the Lord. It is clearly denominational thinking to talk about the splits and segments of a Restoration Movement as if it had entity.

Now hear brother Ketcherside go into a more detailed description of the same denominational concept:

"I have long been affiliated with one segment of the Restoration Movement, a noble enterprise inaugurated one hundred fifty years ago with a view to uniting the Christians in all sects by restoration of the ancient order of things in the Christian domain." (Mission Messenger, March, 1960, p. 2)

"But there is no group more torn, rent, divided, and beset by schisms today than the non-instrument heirs of the Restoration Movement." (ibid, Dec., 1959, p. 2)

"There are two great bodies resulting from a rent over the use of instrumental music in the public praise service (coupled with other matters) ; and these in turn fractured among them selves into some twenty-five parties or factions, which have little to do with each other." (ibid, March, 1961, p. 3)

Thus, in lucid detail, he pictures his image of a number of denominations as segments of a larger and parent denomination, the Restoration Movement. If not, why talk about belonging to a "segment" of it, about a "group," about "heirs" of it, about "two great bodies" coming from it? All such expression, though completely inadvertent, is a denominational concept, only not using the term; else he would not now demur from partisanship with any one of the branches of which he speaks. The fact is, one could as scripturally become a member of the larger group called the Restoration Movement; neither make the church spoken of in the New Testament.

We need desperately to rid ourselves of the whole of the two thousand year old sectarian mindedness, even observable among the Jews of Christ's earthly stay; and take up the Bible teaching on the congregation, do our work in that sphere, let our fellowship be with brethren, forget about one congregation fellowshipping or not fellowshipping another, forget about any historical connection with a movement, and sow the seed of the kingdom which will make Christians who form congregations.