Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 10, 1964
NUMBER 31, PAGE 4,7b

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 bad features about it. Scarcely anyone will defend it as we see it in evidence in the world around us. But these bad features and weaknesses, we are told, are due to the human element, and are not inherent in the idea of denominationalism itself. Besides, we are informed, the gradual trend toward an ecumenical church will certainly minimize and remove many of the more glaring faults of a divided Christendom.

Such a philosophy emphasizes the idea of man's differences and of human individuality. Not every person is cut from the same pattern emotionally and psychologically, they say; there are differences of taste, differences in background, and different ideas as to 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 in peace and harmony, where they announce and attend each other's meetings, where pastors exchange pulpits, and union services are frequent. Is not this a good condition? Is any fault to be found with denominationalism under this sort of atmosphere?

Stultifies Intelligence

Replying to that question, 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 no one of them is better than the others, and that they all are teaching God's truth! They insist that a man can be saved in any one of them just as readily as in any other. There is a phobia amounting almost to obsession against any kind of public criticism of one denomination by members or preachers of another. The bland and incredible assertion that "all of us are right" is taken as the proper and accepted attitude.

Now, to a man who retains any degree of intellectual integrity at all, such a position in 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 impossible intellectual dichotomy is precisely what denominationalism asks us to accept. 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" giving their lives to the proclamation of God's holy Word!

It were as sensible to argue that men could differ on mathematics and still be right as to argue that men could differ on God's word and all contradictory views would be in harmony with truth. 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 this to be so. Yet denominationalism is built on the assumption that there are contradictory truths!

Encourages Atheism

There can be little doubt that the divided condition of so-called Christendom gives a tremendous boost to the atheistic philosophies which periodically sweep the world. And this produces spiritual lethargy even among those who claim to believe in Christ and in the Word. No man can sin against his own intelligence (as modem denominationalism demands that he sin) without doing an irreparable injury to his own conscience. In past ages when denominational men fought for their creeds and dogmas, they had integrity of character; their hearts were honest, albeit uninformed. Now, however, we see a complete reversal. Nobody seems to have much conviction about anything at all. He is not convinced that his doctrine is right, nor yet persuaded that his neighbor's contradicting doctrine is wrong. The result is spiritual torpor and lethargy. Where is the flaming zeal and ardor of a past generation? It is found only in a few small groups who insist that they are right, and that any doctrine opposing or contradicting their teaching is necessarily wrong and false! Such groups are ridiculed and scorned by the average broad-minded denominational person.

While we deplore and regret the extreme and un-Christian temper often seen among such small minority groups of denominational people, we applaud and honor their sincerity and their willingness to stake their lives and their hope of eternity on what they believe the Bible teaches. Mistaken they are; but indifferent and unconcerned they are not! Denominationalism seems unable to maintain any really sincere conviction as to the truth of God's word while at the same time maintaining a charitable and kindly spirit. We believe they have sacrificed the former to emphasize the latter. The only right answer, of course, lies in Christianity — not in denominationalism, but in Christianity.

-F. Y. T.