The purpose in this article is two-fold: First, to show that it is the denial of the scripture's absolute authority, and not its difficulty of interpretation, that has resulted in the various divisions of Christ's congregation. The Gospel is simple, it’s just that men make it complicated.
Secondly, once an absolute standard has been abandoned, there is no logic for determining right from wrong other than human logic. Whenever a congregation abandons the absolute standard of Scripture, the outcome of all religious and moral decisions is left in the hands of men. And whether these decisions are rendered by clergy, scholars, theologians, courts, synods, or membership votes, if the decisions do not come from Scripture, then they must come from people of society, and sooner or later those decisions will inevitably be influenced by society.
The Holy Scripture is Sufficient
It is not reasonable to maintain that God continues to speak "through the Church" or through prophets or angels or in any way other than His Holy Scriptures. Why not? Consider what the scripture itself says in this matter:
Galatians 1:8–9 "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Now if the apostles wrote down what they taught, and these writings were collected and preserved in what we now call the scripture, and then if someone else (even an angel) adds something to what the apostles wrote, aren't they teaching something "other than" what the apostles taught? You see, anyone can claim to speak for God. Anyone can say that God speaks through the Church, or through the priests or through a board of elders or even through a preacher or individual members of a congregation. But in reality, one person's claims are as good as another’s, and one congregation's opinions are as good as another's. If, however, the scripture is God's unerring word, then the one who teaches from it does not teach his opinions, but teaches the truth of God. The entire context of Galatians 1:1-16 shows how denominations are of men, and are a different gospel, and how Paul stayed away from such.
Scripture condemns Denominations
Religious denominations actually go contrary to scripture, because they divide Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:3). A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:24-25, Luke 11:17). In scripture, God's people are called the Christ's assembly (note: the Greek word ekklesia is translated as 'church' in most bibles, but it actually refers to a group of people, and not to a physical building. Therefore, the literal translation is either 'assembly' or 'congregation'). For example, "the assembly of God" (Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:13, 1 Timothy 3:5), or "the assembles of God" (1 Cor.11:16; 1 Thess.2:14; 2 Thess.1:4), or "the assembles of Christ" (Romans 16:16). To call the assembly (church) of God by a different name, is to replace the name of God's assembly (church) with a man-made name. God considers "naming the name of Christ" to be iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19). All denominations create a man-made name to place on their man-made Church. Where is their authority for doing this?
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you ; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you . Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
The above verse clearly condemns denominations. The reason for denominations is because those in the assembly (church) did not "speak the same thing", and that caused "divisions among them", and were no longer "joined together." Therefore, they formed different ‘Churches’ because of all the ‘contentions among them’. Just like how, in the above verses, those in the first century divided themselves and said they were of the assembly of "Chloe, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, etc.", denominations today divide themselves and say they are of the Church of the "Baptists, Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, Evangelical, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh day Adventists, Mormons, Orthodox, Quakers, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Calvinism, Arminianism, etc." But, as Paul asks above, "Is Christ divided?" If not, then how can these divided Churches be of Christ?
Another example of an attempt to ‘divide’ God into separate ‘Churches’ is at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36). After Peter saw Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, he wanted to build a tabernacle (Church) for each one of them. But the Father himself descended in a cloud and said, "This is my beloved Son: hear him." In other words, we are to submit to Jesus only, and preach what he says. This attitude is reflected in the last recorded words of the mother of Jesus, Mary, when she said, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (John 2:5). We are not to build temples after other men, or upon other men’s teachings, but we are to do what Jesus told us to do.
Psalms 133:1, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
1 John 3:14, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death."
It is not possible to "dwell together in unity," or to "love the brethren" when denominations are too busy fighting with each other and disagreeing with each other.
Amos 3:3, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"
Denominationalism: "The system and ideology founded on the division of the religious population into numerous ecclesiastical bodies, each stressing particular values or traditions and each competing with the other in the same community under substantial conditions of freedom. Thus denominationalism has usually been associated with religious pluralism, voluntaryism, mutual respect and recognition, and neutrality on the part of the state." Westminster Dictionary of Church History (1971), pages 262-263.
As you can see, the very definition of ‘denominationalism’ goes against the very heart of scripture. If you take the five words in bold above, for example, and compare these words with what scripture says about them, it is all negative: Division (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:3). Traditions (Matthew 15:3,6, Mark 7:8,9,13. Colossians 2:8). Competing (2 Corinthians 10:12). Religious pluralism (Galatians 1:8,9). Respect (James 2:9, Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 10:17, 2 Chronicles 19:7).
"The Bible in no way envisages the organization of the church into denominations. It instead assumes the opposite, that all Christians, except those being disciplined, will be in full fellowship with all others. Any tendencies to the contrary were roundly denounced (1 Cor.1:10-13). Paul could write a letter to the Christians meeting in various places in Rome or Galatian with every assurance that all would receive its message. Today, for any city or country, he would have to place the letter as an advertisement in the secular media and hope." Elwell’s Evangelistic Dictionary of Theology, (1984), page 310.
"Articles, Creeds, and Confessions of Faith alike fail to give us this full knowledge of God which is so essential to our faith and walk. They are only man’s impressions, inferences, and conclusions drawn from Scripture; and have themselves to be judged by Scripture. Whatever of truth there may be in them, or however useful, they can never take the place of the Word of God. Only in the "person" of the Living Word, and in the pages of the written Word, can we get to know God." E.W. Bullinger, The Knowledge of God, (1920), page 3.
"We do not use any non-scriptural words or expressions. These are the things which divide the members of the One Body, instead of uniting them. These introduce the seeds of strife and contention. These have been the causes of controversies and martyrdom’s". E.W.Bullinger, The Knowledge of God, (1920), page 3.
On the 26th of May, 1786, James Madison, who subsequently became president of the United States, said in a sermon he delivered before the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Virginia, "I earnestly recommend to our Christians to reject every system as the fallible production of human contrivance, which shall dictate the articles of faith; and adopt the Gospel alone as their guide. Those Christian societies will ever be found to have formed their union upon principles, the wisest and the best, which makes the scriptures alone, and not human articles, a confession of belief, the sole rule of faith and conduct." W.D. Frazie "Reminiscences and Sermons"(1896. page 63).
James Madison also said, "We have staked the whole future of the American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future...upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God."
Heresy literally means Denominations
In the New Testament, the English word "heresy" is from an untranslated Greek word (word #139). It's used nine times; four times it is left untranslated, but the other five times it is translated. This word is translated as "sect" (i.e., denomination) in Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5 and 28:22. However, it is left untranslated in Acts 24:14, 1 Corinthians 11:19, Galatians 5:20 and 2 Peter 2:1. Why would it be left untranslated? Well, let's see what some of these verses would say if it was translated.
1 Corinthians 11:18-19, "For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies [sects, denominations] among you..."
Because it shows that denominations cause divisions! What else does scripture say about sects?
Galatians 5:19-21, "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies (sects, denominations), Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
Denominations are defined as a work of the flesh! We are told that they who partake of these things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Why not? Because denominations cause divisions, and Christ is not divided. Therefore, denominations are not of Christ!
2 Peter 2:1, "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies (sects, denominations), even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction."
This passage says false prophets and false teachers will bring in denominations, and they will deny the Lord. Denominations do deny the Lord by dividing the Lord.
When you start getting into re-definitions and re-statements of the Truth, you’re no longer in the Truth, you’re an image of the Truth. A sect or denomination is not the real thing, it is not the Truth; it is only an interpretation of the Truth, it is only a perception of the Truth. The works of men (creeds, confessions, or articles of faith) quicken no one and save no souls.
John 6:63, "It is the spirit [*not creeds, confessions, or articles of faith] that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."
Hosea 8:6, "…the workman made it [*creeds, confessions, or articles of faith]; therefore it is not God:"
Isaiah 17:7-8, "At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made [*creeds, confessions, or articles of faith]..."
When people say they are a "New Testament Church", they separate themselves, because they’re saying they popped up at some point 2,000 years ago, whereas God's "church" is from the beginning (Gen.1:1, Psalms 119:160, Pro.8:23, Isa.40:21; 41:4,26; 46:10; 48:5, Jer.17:12, Mark 10:6, Acts 15:18, Col.1:18, 1 John 2:7; 3:11, 2 John 1:5,6, Rev.21:6; 22:13). The "New Covenant Church," for example, is an imperfect church like all other denominations, because it is made up of imperfect people.
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