2. Principles of Denominationalism

‘Is Christ divided?’ Denominations declare, ‘Christ is divided.’

Alas, just about the only separation we can find today – for all that is left in this increasingly ecumenical age – is based on denominational affiliation and party spirit. This is brought about by a cleaving to man-made Confessions or Articles of Faith, or by a rigid letter-adherence to Calvin or Arminius; be they of a Baptist persuasion, Presbyterian, Anglican, Brethren or simply Independent.

Yet in Paul’s list of ‘the works of the flesh’, Gal. 5:19,20, these denominations appear as ‘seditions’ – literally ‘separate factions’, or ‘divisions’, 1 Cor. 3:3, which have come about through carnality. ‘For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?’ verse 4. Yes, certainly. But what happened to the ‘one accord’ that ye all possessed at the beginning? Well, it is still there among the members of the one true church – who have, and retain, ‘the mind [singular] of Christ’, for Christ is not divided – while others have risen up perverting the gospel by stressing certain of its constituent parts above others: emphases have come to the fore at the expense of the whole of the doctrine, and divisions have resulted; men have been lifted up in the affections of the people whose style of preaching, or slant of interpretation has suited them more than others; all of which has led to the current state of factional, or denominated Christianity. But more on this presently.

All of this goes to show how clean contrary denominations are to the plain teaching of scripture when the nature and manifestation of the separation of the true church on earth in the gospel day is considered. Nevertheless, each of the different denominations and groups – especially those which hold strongly to their own particular history, and to the traditions of their elders – still continue to declare, if not in word, but by their very existence as a separate body, that, ‘yes, we are the true church’, or as some in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists verily believe, ‘we are the very small remnant still left in the land.’ And indeed this must be their confession, and they are bound to stay true to this belief; for as soon as a group of professing Christian churches form themselves into a denomination, limiting their membership only to those who will sign up to what they believe, then their very existence is a declaration of themselves as the true church, all else being, to a greater or lesser degree, in error and outside the body of Christ.

So if those of the Gospel Standard, for instance, declare their denomination to be the true church – as they must do if they are to stand immutably by their Articles, membership and closed table – what they are in effect saying is that the sheep of the New Testament, the recipients of the Epistles, and the glorified saints as read of in Revelation would all, if they were alive on earth today, be Gospel Standard Strict Baptists! This is undeniable, for their very existence says as much. But such a reasoning taken to its logical conclusion would have to exclude, and even finally condemn (?) men like Huntington, Bunyan, Tyndale, etc., and all the non-GS ‘poets’ they love to quote from the hymnbook. But once allow Berridge, Toplady, Newton, Cowper, et al, into glory and their denominational principles must immediately fall to the ground.

How many genuine brethren have churches and denominations refused the right hand of fellowship over the years because of their wretched traditions! This is not the spirit of the true church of Jesus Christ, and neither is this true separation in the gospel sense; not what the Spirit-born child of God is called into, and not what he can be fed with and sustained by. However scripturally sounding and textually persuasive the declarations of various denominations might seem to be they all, in the final analysis, because of their particular slant, can only be described as being based on ‘the tradition of men’, therefore making their worship ‘vanity’, their heart, in reality, being far from God, Mark 7:5-9. It must be the truth which separates, not our truth.

As a refreshing aside here: I recently read a biography of Toplady and was thrilled to read of an incident which occurred when he was close to death, which revealed a foretaste of glory divine and the simple beauty of the fellowship of the body of Christ; and I include it here for the reader to ponder. Toplady had just finished preaching to his own people for the last time:

‘Then casting his eyes round the building he noticed among the congregation his friends Ryland [Snr.] and Gifford [both Baptist pastors]. ‘I perceive,’ he said, ‘some of my elder brethren in the ministry of another denomination present. The Lord’s Supper is to be administered this morning, and I invite them to come and join with us in commemorating the dying love of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we get to heaven, it will not be known which particular fold we belonged to here. There will then be no mark of distinction. We shall mingle our voices together in one united chorus of praise and thanksgiving. Then why not imitate the celestial company here, and have as much as possible of heaven below, before we arrive at that blissful abode?’ The incident was a deeply affecting one. Many hearts were touched, many eyes welled with tears. The invitation, so heartily given, was as willingly accepted.’

Although Toplady’s use of the word ‘fold’ – and, of course, denomination – is contrary to the truth, John 10:16, yet he was right in spirit. Put into a similar situation what present-day ‘strict’ denominational minister could bring himself, at such an invitation, feebly to wave his man-made articles in the air and say that he would be ‘disciplined’ if he ‘sat down’ with anyone who hadn’t signed up to the same? Only those where bondage to tradition and the fear of men existed to override a love of, a walking in, and a fellowship in the truth of the gospel. Does one really have to be on the point of death – as Toplady was – to see the great truth of the ‘one body’, and walk in it?

Now before the reader comes to the conclusion that I am denying ‘strict communion’, please continue to read carefully; for I do believe in strict communion, but on altogether another footing than the denominational mentality will allow. In the early days of my being awakened, in the mid-1990s, I tried to believe the simple truth that if the Spirit of God dwelt in two people then they, as being taught of him, would ultimately never disagree on any point of the doctrine of Christ. I say I tried to believe it because the church of which I was a member at the time seemed evidently to witness against it, and so often down through the history of the church genuine brethren have so often failed to walk accordingly. How often did I have, and still do have, conversations with other professing Christians which end, ‘Well, we’ll just have to agree to differ on this point.’ But that is a denial of ever being able to arrive at ‘the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace’, Eph. 4:3-7. Certainly the existence of denominations deny the possibility of this happening, and therefore deny the Spirit’s ability and power to bring it about. Indeed, they say that there can actually be disunity among groups of ‘brethren’ in their various denominations, while not denying that the Spirit is working, albeit, presumably, in a restricted way, in them all! Thus, go into any church or chapel in the land next Sunday and you will hear said, ‘The Lord has been with us!’ But it has rightly been said that if you have two or more denominations, each of which profess to be the right one, then either one is right and all the others are wrong, or they are all wrong! I have come to the conclusion now that the latter is the case.

But further. Not only do denominations deny the Spirit’s ability and power to bring about a manifestation of the true church in our day, devoid of the traditions of men, but they really do not believe that the Lord Jesus can do as he said he would do in Matthew 16:18: ‘I will build my church’ – that is, ‘I will build my one body of the out-called.’ Now that is a statement of intent by the Saviour which does not include the working, opinions or traditions of men to be operated in any way. Christ, independently of the help of men, will, himself, build the church which belongs to him. So, in any given generation, in various localities, Christ, in a present and ongoing work, will, under the preaching of truly sent ministers, be calling out a separated body of people, whom he will gather together as a unified company to show forth his praise; and as we shall see, denominations don’t answer to that.

As it is the Lord, by his Spirit, which does this work of building, then within that body will be raised up all the offices and gifts needful for a local assembly to function according to the commandments, exhortations and order found set forth in the epistles of the New Testament. Well, who else, but to this single called out body, does the reader think the teaching and exhortation of the apostles is addressed? To man made divisions? Surely not! ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, to the church at…’ And it is within that one body that true ‘strict communion’ occurs, and nowhere else.

But someone might now be saying, But if all these people are called out of the denominations and gathered together, all you will end up with will be another denomination; and you’ve just said that all denominations are wrong! No. The church is not a denomination, it’s the church! Why is it that people cannot conceive of the existence of the church outside of the denominational system? Denominations aren’t just different ‘sections’ of the church, as some believe.

Again, another might argue here, But you’re seeking the perfect church – and you’ll never find it!’ And that charge betrays a denial that Christ can do what he said he would do! Has the professing church grown so lethargic, so careless, so comfortable within it’s various parties? Yes, it has. Has the mentality been so benighted and captivated by the idea that ‘only gathered around Articles or Confessions’, and what’s more, ‘only in chapel’ – or church, ‘only on a Sunday’, ‘only on pews’, ‘only from a pulpit’, etc. can the church be found and exist? Yes, it has. Well, that’s not what Christ said he would build.

Again, the reply might come, Well, if you want to take such an extreme stance, then what you’ll end up with will be just a handful of people in any given place, totally separated from all appearance of organised ‘religion’ and order. No, there will be order within this company which Christ has assembled because they are gathered in the unity of the Spirit, all made willing and desirous to maintain that order and unity, sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, and humbly submitting to the Lordship and authority of Jesus Christ; and yes, in this proud and contentious age you may only get down to ‘two or three gathering together in Christ’s name’ – just as he made provision for in that promise which concludes, ‘there will I be in the midst of them’!

Am I aiming too high, and expecting too much? No, I am not. I am believing the Saviour! I do believe that the Lord can cut through the traditions and ‘chapel-only’ mentality of men, and still fulfil his word regarding his body. I can look for nothing less; and now desire to be gathered in no other way.

I suppose that years ago, in the mists of my primitive understanding – or was it clear-thinking simplicity? – before being drawn into an established denominational setting, I was beginning to come to the conclusions alluded to above: that as in the days of Noah there was only one ark, and that if you were in that ark you were safe from the judgment, then surely now there can only be one church, one body of Christ, which should in theory and, indeed, in practice, be manifest and known: a gathering made up solely of those called of God into ‘fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ’, by the Spirit; indwelt of him, worshipping God in Spirit and in truth, devoid of the traditions and commandments of men.

Well, did Noah’s sons build their own arks because they each disagreed with their father – and with one another – regarding the design or structure of certain aspects of the ark? – as if the instructions of God for the building of the vessel were open to interpretation! No. Then neither has Christ’s description and teaching of what his church is been given as some basic blueprint for various groups of Christians to do with it what they will. The true and complete character of his church has been revealed from the beginning, and there is no scriptural evidence to cause one to suppose that it shouldn’t remain so till the end. This is why I now believe that denominations don’t answer to how it was at the beginning; for, after all, Noah did build one ark, and Christ did say that he would build his church, not the churches.

Another reason why the separation manifested in denominationalism is alien to how it was at the beginning is because of the simple fact that you will not find Paul writing to various divisions in the early church; to the Baptists at Philippi, to the Presbyterians at Thessalonica or to the Established Church at Rome, but only ‘to the church’ at Corinth, or ‘to the saints’ at Ephesus. One might say that this is a redundant argument, because as the church was unified at the beginning, there were no denominations. But it is not true that all who professed Christ in that first century were of one accord. They certainly were at the very beginning – just read the opening chapters of Acts; but it was not many years before there appeared the legalistic Judaisers which began to trouble the churches; before there arose others who liked to have the pre-eminence, who drew men after themselves; and before there were found those who were well content with a form of godliness, only without the power; and no doubt these all generated their own groups. Thus by the close of the apostolic age we find John writing, among other things, that some ‘went out from us’ – the ‘us’ being the one true church – being thus manifest as apostates, having the spirit of very antichrist. And because of this he constantly referred his readers back to ‘that which was from the beginning’, as the only answer and hope for recovery, 1 John.

But despite these things, and through it all, as we’ve said, there remained only one church – all breakaway groups, meetings or denominations being counted as false. And the ‘articles and rules’ of that one true church was from the beginning, is all the way through – despite the splits and schisms – and will be to the end, the whole of the doctrine of Christ, the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship; or, in a word, the gospel of Christ as it was revealed in and from the beginning. And as far as the Saviour is concerned – regardless of what men think, and regardless of what they do ‘solemnly’ in his name – that is the only doctrine, and the only church which remains today; being made up of ‘the outcasts of Israel’, Psalm 147:2; the only one to which the epistles, for example, are addressed. Now, where is that church today? I defy any one to say that his denomination answers to it, or that he even cares.

Something which springs from all this is a mentality which sees buildings as being vitally important. We must have a place to go and worship – a place we call ‘the church’, or ‘the house of God’. But those who are brought to look solely for the work of God begin to see through all this and, regardless of place, long for what is genuinely the assembling of the saints. For as soon as things become ‘outward’ the Spirit is in danger of being lost. Was this not the reason Stephen got into trouble with certain members of the synagogue? To their legal ears and reasoning he was ‘speaking blasphemous words against this holy place’, the temple – not to mention against their law! ‘For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs[1] which Moses delivered us’, Acts 6:8-14. This was only a repetition of the false accusation which the Lord Jesus had suffered before like-minded men on the night of his arrest, Matt. 26:59-61. But Stephen would never have taught that, because he knew that his Lord had been speaking of the temple of his body being destroyed by them in crucifixion, and not of him pulling down their temple made with hands, John 2:18-22.

This then was the reason for Stephen’s long answer which ended with his alluding to words of Solomon, and quoting Isaiah their prophet: ‘Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hands made all these things?’ Acts 7:48-50. Their answer, of course, was, Yes, we will build a house with our hands, and expect the most High to come and dwell therein; for we have our customs, traditions and outward forms: this is our fundamental ethos: we will have our ‘chapel religion’. But this is the mentality which brought forth Stephen’s famous cutting reply, which reply still sounds against all who will call their sanctified bricks and mortar ‘the house of God’, or, ‘the house of prayer’: ‘Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost…’ etc. But how were they resisting the Holy Ghost? Because Stephen was ‘full of the Holy Ghost’ as he spoke these words! Stephen was preaching the new covenant not the old. Legalism and outward forms of worship belonged to the old; ‘in spirit and in truth’ belongs to the new: so they of the old stoned him; for, ‘when they heard these things, their hearts clave asunder, and they gnashed on him with their teeth’ (Tyndale). Stephen, then, was truly ‘a sheep in the midst of wolves.’ O reader; don’t stop your ears to these things.

As to the roots of the Gospel Standard denomination, there is no doubt that in the early nineteenth century many were called by God’s grace under the preaching of William Gadsby and others, and that a number of assemblies of God’s people were formed as a result. But after a while among those who chose to designate themselves ‘Strict and Particular Baptists’ – which name only emphases certain aspects of the whole doctrine of the gospel: strict communion, particular redemption, and baptism of believers by immersion: so no ‘fulness’ admissible from the start – a contention arose regarding the eternal Sonship of Christ which was necessarily and ably defended by J.C. Philpot in the relatively new Gospel Standard Magazine, and eventually many of the chapels which held to the right view on the issue – a fundamental scriptural doctrine sure enough – ‘gathered round’ the Gospel Standard, and anon a denomination was formed.

But the trouble is that when a group of churches separate and form an association – even though the separation was brought about by a right contending for truth – and then starts writing its own rules and articles of faith, what they are in essence trying to do is to capture a moment of blessing for all time. They are trying to encapsulate a genuine work of the Spirit and fashion a system around it thinking to perpetuate that work for generations to come. But God doesn’t work like that. For eventually the power in the ministry fades, as the ministers raised up at that time and for that time pass away, and all that is left is a mere semblance of what was formed at the beginning – phrases and all – while many in succeeding generations fail to realise that the blessing has been withdrawn.

And so I believe it is with the Gospel Standard. If William Gadsby or one of his hearers were to walk into a GS chapel today I am sure that externally they would see little change from their day: the same Bible is used – and rightly so; the same, or slightly expanded hymnbook is in use; there is mostly the same atmosphere of quiet ‘reverence’, God is still addressed as thee and thou – again, rightly so, and (vanity aside) the people seem generally conservative in dress and relatively unworldly. But it is all form! And yet, this form is held as being vitally important in the present day denomination; for there are many who do think that if the form is right then the blessing must follow, reversing, in principle, 1 Samuel 16:7.

There is a phrase often used among them (as well as among others) which, when used in the above context, is terribly God-limiting in reality and yet sounds so right: ‘the means of grace’. The means of grace are God’s means by which he bestows his grace. These ‘means’ are ‘by Jesus Christ and him crucified’, ‘by the Spirit’, ‘in the will of God’, ‘by the word’, ‘by hearing his voice’, ‘through preaching by sent preachers’. But in the denomination – although none would disagree with those definitions – the phrase has actually come to mean, basically, in chapel on a Sunday or at the prayer meeting or preaching service mid-week. So if you don’t ‘go to chapel’ and sit under the preaching of one of ‘the Lord’s servants’, or at least hear a ‘read sermon’ by one of the Lord’s servants of old, then you are unlikely to receive a blessing. This is why you must go to chapel, and why everyone does go to chapel. The young people are urged never to ‘leave chapel and go out into the world’ – as so often failure to attend chapel equates with being worldly; thus there ensues an early learnt, accepted, unthinking and unquestioning adherence to this O so subtle spirit of bondage. If you don’t go to chapel God won’t meet with you, and won’t bless you, as you fail to attend ‘the means of grace.’ Yes, and I’ve heard it not only implied but specifically stated from the pulpit as well. How near this mentality is to the superstitions of Rome I leave the thinking reader to ponder.[2]

But it is just not true that God only meets with his people ‘in chapel’ at service times, as scripture and experience testify, and which this mentality seems to suggest. O the blessedness of being set free to experience the truth of what Jesus prophesied to the woman at the well: once and for all he sounded the death-knell to ecclesiastical buildings and to times and days, when he said, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth’, John 4:21-24. See how in his doctrine Jesus is saying that in the New Testament day, brought in by the shedding of his blood and the giving of the Spirit, being found ‘on this mountain’ or ‘at Jerusalem’ will be irrelevant as places where the children of God will worship, receive saving knowledge, and have communion with their heavenly Father. The Samaritans worshipped they knew not what on their mountain, the Jews drew nigh unto the God of their fathers with their lips and all things outward at the temple in Jerusalem, but it was all soon to be swept away.

So now when people build a chapel, ‘sanctify’ it, and call it nothing less than ‘the house of God’, they are denying Jesus’ words and resurrecting worship again ‘at Jerusalem’. When they call their church the place they ‘go to worship’, they revert to outward forms, like what Paul called, ‘the Jews’ religion’, Gal. 1:13,14. As soon as a building is designated ‘the place where God meets with his people’ a mentality arises which causes them to understand that the Almighty God, who inhabits eternity, has to deign to come and visit them in that place, which they call ‘the church’ – but which he never so calls – thereby making the church a physical place and the only ‘proper’ setting for ‘worship’; but Christ and his apostles call the members of his body the ‘lively stones’ which themselves make up the church, Jesus Christ himself – not some lump of stone laid at a solemn ceremony – being the chief cornerstone. Thus the children of God don’t ‘go to church’, but gather as the church.

This is further proved by remembering that when Jesus spoke of ‘destroying this temple’ in John 2, he was speaking ‘of the temple of his body’, verse 21. Therefore Paul, fully understanding of Christ’s doctrine, could address the church, ‘ye are the temple’, cp. 1 Cor. 3:16,17, 2 Cor. 6:16. And as the church is made up solely of these ‘living stones’ then the idea of a mixed company of saved and unsaved people meeting together in chapel – as ‘members of the church and congregation’ – is alien to the scriptural testimony of what Christ’s body, the ecclesia, as gathered, really is. Oh, the out-called, as the body and church of Jesus Christ, are a spiritual not a carnal people, and where two or three of them are gathered together and in his name – those being the only valid ‘places’ to be found – there the Saviour has promised to be in the midst of them, no matter where, physically, they are; Heb. 10:25, Matt. 18:20.

Whereas it is true that the Lord Jesus and his apostles went into the synagogues to minister, teach and reason from the scriptures, it is also true that the majority of those who frequented ‘synagogue’ turned out to be ignorant of, or even out-and-out enemies of the truth, and of the faith of God’s elect – as it remains today; so it wasn’t long before the Master and those he sent to preach were cast out as being far too separating in their ministry, and far too dismissive of men’s traditions. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John collectively testify that Jesus mostly taught while he was ‘without’: from a ship, in a mountain, as he walked, in the house, by the way, and yes, in the temple. It was at a wedding feast – where there was an abundance of wine – that Jesus once manifested forth his glory to his disciples, who believed on him, John 2:1-11. Read through the Book of Acts also to see the same things.

Experience, too, confirms that Christ’s sheep hear his voice in many places that are not furnished with pulpit, pews, wood panelling and coloured baize, while dressed in their ‘Sunday best.’ While it is true that the Lord has spoken to this sheep on the rare occasion while in chapel – and that usually under the public reading of his word – the vast majority of times it has been in my own home, or while speaking ‘together’ with other of the Lord’s people. I have heard the voice of the Son of God while in my car, in bed, at work in the garden, walking down the stairs, while poring over his word seeking of him his truth or will, and under the preaching and writing of those God truly sent to preach. Which all goes to show that he is not limited to time and place, or to our dress and posture. Indeed he speaks to those who seek him with the whole heart, to those who ask of him and plead with him to reveal himself and his truth.

Now none of this is to deny the need for the people of God to come together to hear the preaching of the gospel, for as we shall see in the next chapter, much of the Spirit’s teaching is for the body of Christ as gathered; but to hear the gospel aright one must hear one sent to preach it, Rom. 10:13-15. But my contention is that the vast majority of men in our pulpits today are not sent to preach it; if they were how could they, without compromising, continue so long in churches, chapels and denominations which hold so firmly to men’s traditions? For one fruit of a truly sent ministry is determined opposition and persecution from religious professors. Just look at the Old Testament prophets who truly had a ‘thus saith the Lord’ for Israel or Judah; what happened to them when they delivered their message faithfully? More often than not they were hunted down, imprisoned, thrown into dungeons… etc. And what of the NT apostles? When they preached in the synagogues did the Jews smile nicely, shake their hands, put some money in the box and go home? No. Because Christ had sent them to preach the gospel, the result was that so often they had to run for their lives; Jesus, after all, had said that the synagogues would be places of scourging for the disciples! Matt. 10:16,17.

So if the Lord did send a man to preach today ‘among the churches’, we would expect to find – and that not before too long – a trail of destruction, confusion and enmity toward the truth of the gospel, as it split congregations asunder, separating the sheep from the goats. When Paul preached the gospel of Christ, which was totally against the traditions of men, he never compromised – especially to the legalists who delighted in outward form – and was as a result hounded from place to place, often beaten and even stoned. But no established denominational minister today experiences anything like that; for he preaches a gospel marked by slant, over-emphasis and separation based on party lines, which necessarily causes him to compromise on certain aspects of the truth – whether consciously or not – so that he will be well received among his own people, whether they are regenerated or not; hardly a sheep in the midst of wolves! But when a man stands up to preach, then woe unto him when all men speak well of him, Luke 6:26.

Thus we can justly conclude that, among the men who preach in a denominational setting today, very few actually preach and expound the word of God itself – other than in the letter. What they do do – and I ask the reader to listen carefully when you are next in chapel – is expound their beliefs using the scriptures to back them up. I actually heard one minister say that he ‘tries to preach the gospel according to the Thirty-five Articles’! And, again, this must be the case; for as soon as we hear the scriptures speak independently of any preconceived notions, then our traditions begin to tumble. For constantly iterating ‘what we believe’ in chapel is not ‘the means of grace’: the blood of the new covenant and the gospel of Christ, which declares it, is the Saviour’s ‘means of grace’.

So, in the absence of this, what we are left with today are multitudes of people going to ‘a place of worship’ – the place where God meets with them – and they listen to a man they believe to be sent of God to preach the gospel, who, as he usually isn’t sent, preaches something far short of the whole of the doctrine of Christ; but, to them, this is the church, this is the gospel, these are the ministers, and what they have is the truth, the Spirit and salvation. But they haven’t! They, at best, have a form of godliness, but not the reality of it. And if anyone is, at this moment, shaking their heads, tutting, and saying, ‘I don’t know about that!’, then I beg you to open your Bibles, look up the references, prove all things, and fall under the plain meaning of the word of God instead of contending against it. Cast away what you think and find out what God thinks and the Spirit reveals.

In reality though the principles and spirit of denominationalism is actually very attractive to the natural man, for it places people in a big ‘family’, engenders a sense of ‘security’ within that family, and is why, I believe, so many are caught in these things, or happily embrace them. And although it would be wrong to say that elect souls cannot be found within these groupings, and that the Lord does not graciously meet with his people despite the fact that they are among them, I feel persuaded that they cannot remain part of them, for when enough light has entered the soul they cannot help but perceive the importance of the status quo for the necessary continuance of the denomination, that they must eventually be called out.

A denomination, then, by definition cannot change, that is, receive further light, or discover and amend unscriptural slant or deficiency in its long-held traditions, for that would destroy it. This is the reason why any one who does start to have ‘concerns’ is either trained to put the thoughts out of their mind immediately, or is told that ‘it’s probably better just to leave it’, as ‘this is the way it has always been.’ And anyway, who is going to want to be the one that causes a split, or brings trouble to the ancient and steady ark? If a minister started to be troubled in his conscience, having received further light, and as a result began to feel a certain bondage in the pulpit, because of the expectation that he continue to conform to the denominational image, will he want to be the one to speak out and potentially break things up? Does he want his name to go into the annals of the history of the denomination as being the one that ‘caused all that trouble’? – not that there is much ‘history’ left to be written. As the answer is usually in the negative then he will either have to come to terms with the realisation that the denomination will remain a static body with its feet firmly grounded in the reason for its formation, and keep quiet, or he will have to speak out and face the consequences – which will be that, sooner or later, he will have to leave, which will cost.

Apart from tradition and the fear of man, a denomination has another built-in way of securing self-preservation; and that is natural generation. It is not, and indeed cannot be maintained from one generation to another solely by the Lord adding to its numbers by regeneration. And this is proved simply by walking into many churches or chapels of a long established denomination today; for therein you will more likely than not find two, perhaps three generations of families; children have been born and brought up ‘to chapel’, have met and married within the denomination, and brought forth the next generation. And the startling discovery is that the vast majority of these people – of whichever generation they belong to – will likely still be unregenerate; and, in principle, there is no reason to exclude occupants of the pulpits from that assertion either. Well, how many in the pews have any spiritual conversation, and show that they are genuinely seeking the salvation of their souls? My experience is that the vast majority have nothing much to say, apart from to pass on any new bit of chapel news! Judge ye yourselves; examine your own hearts in these things in the light of the coming day of judgment; look in the mirror and at least be honest!

As most that are found in the denomination are life-long attendants, then it will soon be realised that relatively few ‘come in from outside’; but those that do – if they stay – will quite quickly assimilate the ways, mentality, phraseology, and slant of that denomination; as is what happened to me. The ministry within a denomination is produced likewise. Their ministers are usually of their own stock, raised and steeped in their particular tradition, having absorbed all that is needed to sound right to the ears of the congregations; add a ‘felt calling’ to the ministry, go before the ‘membership’, who, persuaded by presentation, right emphasis and perhaps lineage find the ministry acceptable and, lo and behold, the traditions of men are maintained, many are deceived, both in as well as outside the pulpits, and the people love it so. Worse still, is that it is all done professedly ‘in the will of the Lord’, having been solemnly prayed over, it having apparently been confirmed by various words of scripture which have come to one and another, seemingly confirming the spiritual validity of all that has taken place. But for all that an unscriptural form continues. For it is Christ that sends, not churches; and never once in the witness of the New Testament was the church called upon to approve the Saviour’s calling by a vote! – there being no such thing as ‘democracy’ in the early, Spirit-filled church.[3]

This can be proved if we look in a little more detail at something alluded to earlier: the sending forth of Barnabas and Saul from Antioch, Acts 13:1-4. Nowhere in the text do we read of these two men approaching the Pastor or deacons saying, ‘We feel called to preach’; the church then hearing them ‘speak on a text’ to test whether their exercise was genuine or not. No. As ‘certain prophets and teachers’ in the church, named in verse 1, ‘ministered to the Lord and fasted’ – presumably their stated and regular exercise – not the church, nor the men themselves, but ‘the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them’ – and called, as we have seen, over many years. And the church’s response? Simply, ‘And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.’ Thus it could be recorded: ‘So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost’, and by no one else. In this, as well as in so much else in denominationalism, the traditions, thoughts and unscriptural actions and self-asserted authority of men have robbed the people of God, as gathered, of the simplicity of how it was at the beginning.

These then are the main principles of denominational separation which exist today. But it is not the separation, I believe, that the scriptures speak of, and which God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost performs. Hence my conclusion: The only thing for God’s people now to do is to separate themselves from these things – if there was a truly sent minister among them, he would separate them himself, Acts 19:8,9 – seek the Lord that he might truly gather them solely unto himself, and be prepared to be ‘cast out’ from denominated Christendom – which they surely will be – from rotting and sinking man-made arks, and from men and their traditions.

 

Next Page >



[1] The Greek word here is ‘ethos’.

[2] In relation to this I am reminded that one of the many charges William Tyndale faced at his ‘trial’ was that ‘he averred that the traditions of men cannot bind the conscience.’

[3] Peter and the others in Acts 1 were supposed to be waiting for the promise of the Father, not standing up disobediently and, without the Spirit, choosing another apostle – albeit with prayers and quoting of scripture; that was the prerogative of Christ alone. Matthias wasn’t the twelfth apostle of the Lamb, Saul of Tarsus was.

Next Page >