bits from bob....

Denominations Anonymous!

by Robert J. Young
©, 2001, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

I heard it again! Twice! From a well-known preacher and a potential missionary. My response includes dismay, frustration, questions, fear, and concern. How has this happened? What have we failed to teach or understand? Is it the fault of preaching, Christian education, or our ecumenical, pluralistic, post-modern religious culture?

"It" comes couched in many phrases: "the other denominations," "the Church of Christ denomination," even "our denomination." I understand the misconception of our religious neighbors, but I fail to understand my brothers in Christ. Have we so lost sight of the plea for return that we deny its validity? Have some given up on restoring Christ's unified body on earth? I may understand at times the careless terminology of a new convert or other Christians. Preachers, missionaries, teachers, and elders, however, ought to know better, and ought to recognize their responsibility to speak correctly!

I wonder if some have joined "denominations anonymous" with the mistaken notion that much good will be accomplished by constantly affirming the mutual problems of life. I do not espouse a "head in the sand" philosophy of life, but problems must be faced head-on with solutions. Even our AA friends affirm an identity in hope of escaping and solving the dilemma, or at least understanding that problems do not necessarily dictate life's direction and decisions. There is value in realistic appraisal of what and who we are--warts and all. There is also a time and place. That place is not the media, and that time is not the assembly in most situations. Preachers ought to preach the good news of belief rather than doubt.

Let us reaffirm what Scripture affirms. The body of Christ on earth is essentially one (1 Cor. 12:12-20), and Christ is the head of that body (Eph. 1:22-23). All saved people are added to that body, the church (Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:23). It follows that there are no saved people outside that body. It is that body, described in the pages of the New Testament, that is co-extensive with the obedient followers of Jesus Christ. It is that body that we seek to restore and encourage all to enter, not to focus on the body, but to focus on its head, owner, savior, and redeemer--Jesus Christ. We must not encourage any to enter any other body that is less than the body described in the Bible. We must encourage any to enter any other body that would distract and discourage entry into the one body.

By definition, a denomination is part of the whole. Our denominational neighbors affirm that there is one body, but that their denomination is only part of that body. "One vine, many branches," they say. Such a view does not characterize those who understand the plea for return and restoration. God's purpose is to bring all people of the earth into the one unified body described in Scripture (Eph. 1:9-10). To affirm denominationalism, and to embrace it, is to treat division as a foregone conclusion, and to decimate our Lord's prayer desire (John 17).

Yes, there are imperfections in human efforts. Yes, there is a struggle in proclaiming the message of Christ so all might know, believe, and obey the good news. The disciple's mindset, however, is not divisive or denominational. Teaching and practice must not be divisive beyond the distinctions demanded by God's Word. I, for one, am not ready for "denominations anonymous."

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Last updated November 28, 2001.