What’s Wrong with Denominationalism?
, March 10, 2010

In a sense denominationalism in America is like idolatry in ancient Greece. Walk with Paul down the streets of Athens and see a city “full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Many Greeks exercised their legal right to worship the gods of their choice. So, what’s wrong with idolatry? It was lawful, pursued by many deeply religious devotees and defended by scholarly philosophers (Acts 17:18, 22-23).

In America today the likeness of denominationalism to this is uncanny. Walk the streets of an American city and one is confronted with a vast array of denominations. I lived in one city in which on one street there was a large building with a sign “St. Paul’s Catholic Church” and only a few blocks away another with a sign “St. Paul’s Baptist Church.” Had the apostle not said that he taught the same thing in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17), one might assume that his preaching made both Catholics and Baptists!

The highly respected Billy Graham in his syndicated newspaper column, “My Answer” explained to a querist that many differing denominations exist for the same reason that a hat manufacturer makes differed kinds of hats. The same hat doesn’t please every person, so different kinds are made so each can have the one that pleases him. So, what’s wrong with denominationalism? Its legal, religiously acceptable to many sincere people and defended by highly educated preachers. I’m going to suggest four things that are wrong with denominationalism and I ask that you consider carefully with me. Denominationalism is wrong because:

It is Contrary to the Prayer of Christ:

Read the Lord’s prayer and note that He prays that those who believe “…all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me,” (John 17:21). Jesus did not want believers to be divided into various groups wearing names and teaching and practicing different things. To this end, He built but one church (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22,23; 4:4). Denominationalism divides believers. The prefix “de” means “down or away” and “nominate” means “to call or name,” and this is what denominationalism does by naming or calling one group of believers down or away from other groups and this is contrary to the Lord’s prayer that we be one. With whose prayer do you think the Lord is pleased, that of a preacher who thanks him for different churches that each one may have the one of his choice or that of the Son of God who prayed for believers to be one?

It is Adverse to the apostolic plea

The apostles were ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) and given the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Paul was one of these and his plea to the Corinthians was that “you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

He had heard that the divisions existed among them with some claiming to be of Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Christ and he asked, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13).

Obviously, his questions are rhetorical. Christ could not be divided and pray that believers be one. Paul certainly had not died for them and they surely had not been baptized in his name. This being true, they had no right to divide into groups wearing names of these men. Denominationalism is wrong because it adverse to the apostolic plea for unity.

Its fruit is not consistent with the seed of the kingdom and the biblical form of doctrine

In the Lord’s parable of the sower, Luke identifies the seed that was sown as “the word of God” (Luke 8:11) and Matthew as the “word of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:19). On Pentecost when this seed fell in good soil, hearts that gladly received and obeyed the word, the Lord saved and added them to the church (Acts 2:37-41, 47). Since seed produce after their kind (Genesis 1:11), it follows that whenever God’s word is taught and received it produces a Christian, a member of the Lord’s church. To make on a member of a denomination, a different seed has to be planted and obeyed and when this is done, the plant will not be the same as that produced by the word of the kingdom!

Paul told the Romans that they were freed from sin and became servants of righteousness by obeying the form (tupos) of doctrine into which they were delivered (Romans 6:17-18). Vine defines tupos as a pastern or mold into which molten metal was poured for shaping. The first thing coming to my mind is the butter mold into which I often watched my mother press the freshly churned butter. It was a round, wooden mold and imprinted in the plunger which extracted the part of the butter as a flower.

Each part of the butter was exactly alike because it took on its likeness from the mold into which it was pressed. If one wanted a different shape or image on the butter, he had to alter the mold!