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Love the Believers in All the Churches, Break Down the Walls of Denominationalism

I love all Christians. I have fellowshipped with all kinds of Christians. I’ve gone to Baptist churches, Nazarene churches, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Missionary Alliance, and on and on.  Of course, I have fellowshipped with believers in many “nondenominational” churches. In every setting, in every church, I have found people of faith. These people love God, profess their faith, and give of their time and resources. Perhaps the place where you see the greatest cross denominational sharing is para ministry events like retreats, concerts, and places where ministers with large followings gather in arenas and stadiums in every country and around the world. And of course there are all the Christian media outlets where pastors, teachers, musicians, spokespeople from all kinds of backgrounds speak their message. Perhaps that is why I am so passionate about the goal of breaking the barriers between us.

Because, at the same time that I see this great love of Christ in these people in these various churches and so forth, I also see a lot of pro denominational, pro division, statements. “We are at the Baptist Church,” or we are Lutheran” or “we are Catholic” are all divisive statements. And I have been at a number of churches, where one person claims that this other church down the road teaches this bad doctrine while they teach the real truth.

This is no different than what Paul wrote about to the Corinthians:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  (1Co 1:10-17 ESV)

In the first century the error was to say I follow Paul or Apollos or Cephas or even “I follow Christ”.  Today it is I follow Luther, or Calvin, or the pope. It is I am Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, or even non-denominational. This is one of the errors of the modern church,

Folks, we are Christians, just Christians.

I pray that people in all Christian churches will recognize that denominationalism is division and something the Apostle Paul charged all believers to stop.  I pray to the God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ that all believers everywhere will look to increase their fellowship with all believers.  I pray all believers will stop doing any and all things that promote division like talking up how great their denomination is, and work to find a way to break down these divisions between us.

This website is dedicated to learning what was originally taught in the first century when our faith began, and how it changed over the years, and with the changes, how churches disagreed and split time and time again.  It is helping me understand how this problem came about.

There are great believers in many, many churches.  Let’s love them all.

May 1st, 2018 Posted by | Divisions | no comments

Neither Baptism Nor Communion Services for Quakers and the Salvation Army

First, it should be noted that not all Quakers consider themselves Christians but many doi, and since they do that is why they’re being considered here. On the other hand the Salvation Army considers itself “an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church” ii, and they appear to be unique as a group that as is purely Christian group that does not acknowledge the practice of baptism, and communion.

While the Salvation Army does allow its members to participate in communion services outside the Salvation Army for the purposes of fellowshipping with other churches, its long-standing practice has been to not hold communion services itself. This stance is based on the belief that communion and baptism are outward signs in the world whereas the real importance is on what is going on spiritually and internally. It is also a form of protest over some of the divisiveness caused by different churches’ stances on the sacramental nature of these practices. I think the following gives an excellent explanation on the position of the Salvation Army – this is right from a Salvation Army site:

The reasons for The Salvation Army’s cessation of the sacraments may be summarised as follows:

1. The Army’s Founders felt that many Christians had come to rely on the outward signs of spiritual grace rather than on grace itself. William and Catherine Booth believed, with the Apostle Paul, that salvation came solely from the grace of God personally received by faith. They felt that much of what passed for Christianity in their day was primarily an observance of outward ritual.

2. Some Bible scholars had pointed out that there was no scriptural basis for regarding the sacraments as essential to salvation or Christian living. Many Christians assumed that Jesus commanded the use of baptism and holy communion. But there are very few New Testament references to these practices and it was argued that none of them showed any intention by Jesus that they (or any other practice) should have become fixed ceremonies.

3. The sacraments had been a divisive influence in the Church throughout Christian history and at times the cause of bitter controversy and abuse.

4. Some churches would not allow women to administer the sacraments. The Army, however, believed that women may take an equal part in its ministry, and did not want to compromise this stance.

5. The Society of Friends (the Quakers) had managed to live holy lives without the use of sacraments.

6. Many early-day converts to the Army had previously been alcoholics. It was considered unwise to tempt them with the wine used in holy communion.
To a large extent this is still the Salvationist’s standpoint. However, it should be stressed that Salvationists have never been in opposition to the sacraments. Indeed, when they take part in gatherings with Christians from other churches, Salvationists will often share in using the symbols of the Lord’s Supper as a sign of fellowship. Furthermore, Salvationists are not prevented from being baptised in other churches should they so desire.”iii

The Quakers, as the Salvation Army notes, have long taken the stand that what happens inside a person is more important than what happens outside. The Quakers see themselves on a mission to go back to primitive Christianity whereas they view Christianity in the modern world as one of ‘Form Without Substance’.iv If you listen to the speaker talk on the site referenced below you’ll hear him talk about the working of the Spirit – being led of the Spirit, and how that was elementary to the primitive church. Their objection is to the use of ritual practices as a sign of what is going on inside.  They, like the Salvation Army, reject the mainline churches position on Sacraments as being too much concerned with what is going on outside, and not emphasizing enough what is going on inside.

Also, it is significant to note that the protests of these groups is only on the outward ritual, not on the inward experience what happens to us when we become Christians.

ihttps://www.fgcquaker.org/explore/faqs-about-quakers#Christian

iihttp://www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/Who-We-Are/About-Us/FAQ/

iiihttp://www.waterbeachsalvationarmy.org.uk/what-to-know-more/why-does-the-salvation-army-not-baptise-or-hold-communion/

ivForm Without Substance – https://www.fgcquaker.org/resources/form-without-substance

August 14th, 2017 Posted by | Divisions | 2 comments

Autonomy of the Local Church

The autonomy of the local church is an aspect of the division in Christianity over which is the best form of church government.  (See Church Government for more).  I am addressing it in particular because this element, while it was used to keep all churches united by a carnally minded, hierarchial Catholic Church that insisted it ruled every church and believer in the middle ages,  to this day it actually fuels division within the church as much or more than any other element.

How Congregationalists Integrate Local Church Autonomy with the Biblical Teaching that the Church is One Body

There are a number of places in the Bible that the body of Christ is discussed. In Mark chapter 14, in an account of the last supper, Jesus tells the disciples to eat of his body, represented by the bread. First Corinthians chapter 12 is an in depth discussion of some elements of the body of Christ. Paul writes,

For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.  (1 Corinthians 12:13 ASV)

Paul writes later in the chapter that there should be no division in the body, that we are all members one of another, and that there are many gifts given to build up the body like apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, helps, and others. Because of the way that the body is constructed he emphasizes that we are all to care for each other in the body, each and every one of us doing our part.

In Ephesians chapter 4 Paul writes further on this topic.

And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-12 ASV)

Here Paul talks about how the purpose of these gift ministries is to perfect the Saints, and build up the body of Christ.

From these verses we get a wonderful picture of an assembly of believers working together as a unit, supplying one another’s needs, building one another up.

In these sections we see numerous talents in the body: apostles, prophets pastors, evangelists, teachers, helps, administrators, healers, and more. We see verses that say that everyone is put into the body to play their role, and that every part of the body is crucial to the functioning of the whole body.  We see that Christ is the head and overseeing all. So this looks like a picture of how the whole body of Christ functions on earth under Christ.  There is an emphasis on ONE body of all believers with no divisions.

Then, you may ask, how does this topic fit in with “the autonomy of the local church”?

A proponent of local church autonomy is Henry Blackaby.  Blackaby is a powerful Bible teacher and a strong Baptist.  He put together a course called Experiencing God, which is a wonderful course if you want to gain some good insight into exactly what the name of the course, and accompanying book, implies: experiencing God.

But just because I have recommended the book does not mean that I believe that everything in it is true. On the contrary, Blackaby, in discussing the above points, says some things that are quite surprising to me:

“A church is a body. It is the body of Christ (1Cor. 12:27)…A local church is the body of Christ.  It is not part of a body. It is a body. ”[i]

In his book Blackaby does not teach that all believers everywhere on earth are the body of Christ. He focuses on the local church. He says that the local church is not part of a body.  He makes the local church the body of Christ.

Somewhere Blackaby has determined the body of Christ does not refer to all believers on earth under Christ.   To Blackaby and other congregationalists each and every local church is a body under Christ.  Blackaby is following congregational teaching which emphasizes the autonomy of the local church.

Now in his book, Blackaby makes these distinctions in a section where he is talking about how God speaks to people. In this particular content he’s talking about how God speaks through the church. He wants people to trust the other people in their church, and he uses these verses to reinforce the concept that they will be led to God through the other people in their local church.  Those are admirable exhortations.

But in the process, Blackaby is rewriting what Paul wrote. Paul didn’t write that the local church is the body of Christ. Paul never talks about the local church in this context.  Paul talks about all believers, all of us, being the body of Christ.

When you look at it, in spite of Blackaby’s motive to exhort church members to work within their church, Blackaby’s analogy doesn’t really line up with what Paul wrote.  Now, of course, if you are in a church that is populated with people who have the spirit, and are given gifts, you should be edified there.  But to limit where you should be edified to just the local church subverts the greatness of what Christ has accomplished.

What’s amazing to me is that, as far as I can see, Blackaby doesn’t even acknowledge a lot of the gifts that he implies are available within the local church, namely, apostles, prophets, and other like gift ministries, as available in the church today as he is a cessationist and believes those gifts died with the appostles (See The Argument that Tongues and other Gifts and Manifestations have Ceased).  But, in Blackaby’s model every local church has all of the apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, teachers, helps, administrators, healers, and so forth, that is needed for the people in that church.

All of this is part of the concept of the autonomy of local church. To be autonomous means to be self regulating. The concept of the autonomous local church means that it rejects outside authority and influence in the way that it operates.

The local church, according to this model, is self-sufficient. It doesn’t need outside teachers, administrators, or help in any way.

The autonomy of the local church concept is important in history, because it enabled churches to break away from the dominating rule of Catholicism, where, in particular, the Roman Catholic Church holds that its hierarchy of bishops holds absolute role in the running of each and every church and believer.  In order for churches to justify that they had the right to not be subject to the Roman Catholic Church, they had to put forth the right of self-determination in order to reject orders coming down from the Vatican.

I’d like to suggest that neither model is absolutely true. When the hierarchical church is being run by non-spiritual, carnal administrators it is certainly true that there is no fit spiritual leadership there. But to reject the benefit of being ministered to by legitimate, spirit led and appointed ministers outside of the local church is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

In practical terms, certainly, there are a lot of needs completely met within the confines of a local church.

But also in practical terms, some of the most adamant autonomous churches do not really practice complete autonomy. I mean, even in the example of Blackaby, Blackaby is a teacher outside of the local church that is edifying the local church.  When the young people in this autonomous local church listen to Christian music on the radio, they are being edified by members of a body greater than their local church. When the married couples in this local church go to a marriage seminar they are being pastored by members of a body greater than their local church.  When the pastor gets counseled by another pastor, he’s being ministered to by a member of church greater than the local church. Every person in that local autonomous church who read The Purpose Driven Life or any other Christian teaching material was being ministered to by the whole, all-encompassing, body of Christ.

In order for the church to have autonomy, someone, or some group within the church needs to have absolute rule over what is taught and practiced. This is can be accomplished through the use of the membership agreement. I have seen membership agreements where it is spelled out that the pastor (or in other cases, a church board) has absolute authority over biblical teaching.  When you apply for membership you agree to always abide by whatever the pastor (or church board) teaches.

(It also needs to be noted that many churches do not take an adamant stand on every issue.  For example, a church may promote tithing, but acknowledge that “abundant sharing” is a legitimate doctrine to many.  But typically, in my experience, most churches, at least, promote one position over another, and usually are adamant about a number of issues.  It is these issues over which churches are adamant where the divisions occur, and where many members acquiesce rather that challenge something they believe to be erroneous.)

But this agreement by members to agree to the complete doctrinal authority of the pastor or board allows for division in the church in the worst way. In this model each individual church has set itself up as autonomous meaning that there is no outside influence that can tell a church that is making a doctrinal or practical error.  Within the church it only allows membership to those who agree not to question what they teach and practice. If every person really heard the spirit of God and taught it completely accurately, there would be no problem. But as we know, that is ridiculously untrue. There are tens of thousands of different “denominations”, meaning that there are that many disagreements over what is “true” or right doctrine.

Some “assemblies” teach that they allow for this because the pastor subjects himself to the direction of the greater assembly. The Vineyard, and Assemblies of God are two groups of churches that do this.  But we have seen that, in practice, even within these groups of churches there is wide variation of beliefs.

What happens in practice is that in autonomous churches the pastor or the board, whoever has authority, becomes a doctrinal dictator(s) and acts as  a doctrinal policeman.  There is no questioning the churches’ doctrine.  There is no outside authority that the church recognizes unless it is a member of some greater assembly or convention, and then that group’s only power is in deciding on whether to allow them to remain within their group.

It is important to say here also that most Christians believe that God  works with each believer so that no matter what problems there are in churches or anywhere else,  people do get saved,  they get closer to God personally, and they experience to some degree the more abundant life that Christ came to make available.  Still, this principle of the local autonomous church that Blackaby teaches and a lot of churches practice  works to make for a lot of Yo-Yo Christianity where people go back and forth in their beliefs while shopping for and attending churches that they believe are most compatible with their needs and theologies.

In the next article we will look at some alternatives and ways of dealing with avoiding having to go back and forth on the principles of Christian theology in attending different churches.


[i] EXPERIENCING GOD: KNOWING AND DOING THE WILL OF GOD, Henry T. Blackaby, Claude V. King, Lifeway Press, Nashville, 1997, p 105-106

©copyright 2012 Mark W. Smith, all rights reserved.

May 30th, 2012 Posted by | Divisions, Modern Christianity | one comment