What do you think of the person who says, "My parents were members of this denomination. I was born in it. And I'll die in it.
"Oh," you say, "I think he's wrong to talk like that:" "Yes, but why is he wrong?"
"I suppose because he assumes his denomination is right and will always be right."
"Well, then, to what denomination or group should he be loyal?"
"I guess he shouldn't be loyal to any denomination, because no denomination is perfect."
"One final question. If he shouldn't be loyal to any denomination or group of Christians, to what should he be loyal?"
"He ought to be loyal to the Lord and to the principles of His Word."
Yes, of course! That is the only correct answer. It is a mistake to develop an undying loyalty to any Christian fellowship, no matter how scriptural it may be at the time.
Even suppose that you reject the whole idea of denominations. Suppose you meet with Christians who refuse any sectarian name. Suppose, for instance, that they speak of themselves by the innocuous name of "the assemblies." They seek to adhere to the teaching of the Word. Shouldn't you throw in your lot with them permanently and be loyal to them alone?
If you do, you will find yourself in a difficult position.
You are committed to a group that will almost inevitably change over the years. This has been the history of almost every Christian fellowship. Liberal tendencies creep in. Zeal and freshness give way to formalism. A denominational hierarchy develops. Soon you can write Ichabod over the whole thing-the glory has departed.
Then again, if you are loyal to a group of assemblies, the question always arises, "With which particular ones do you agree?" There are wide differences among any group of local churches, just as there are wide differences among individuals. Some are open, some are exclusive. Some are conservative, some are liberal. Some have a pastor who presides over the congregation, others repudiate a one-man ministry. No two assemblies are exactly alike.
So there is a real problem. To which assemblies are we to be loyal? Are we to blindly subscribe to all the assemblies that might be listed in a semi-official address book? It seems obvious that we cannot consistently do this. We must judge each individual assembly by the Word of God, as far as our own personal affiliation is concerned.
Here is another problem. If my loyalty is to a particular group of local churches, what is to be my attitude toward other Christian groups that might in some ways be closer to the New Testament pattern than mine is? How do I evaluate them? Do I simply wave them off by saying, "They are not among 'our' assemblies." Do I accept or reject them by whether their activities are reported in one of "our" magazines?
Then there is the matter of individual Christian workers "outside our circle." How do we evaluate them? Do we ask, "Has he been commended by one of 'the assemblies?" "Is he with us?" Or do we inquire if he is serving the Lord in accordance with the principles of the New Testament?
Certainly the easiest policy is to judge individuals or groups by whether or not they are "with us." This does not require spiritual exercise or discernment. But it is a false and dangerous basis of judgment. It supplants the Word of God as our final authority. It assumes a prior that "we" are correct in our position and that everyone else should conform to us. It leads to inconsistency, embarrassment and confusion.
Christians must be taught to test everything by the Scriptures. This is our only authority. The question is not, "How do we do it in 'our assemblies'?" but "What does the Bible teach about it?"
Our loyalty must be first, last and always to the Lord and to the principles of His Word. And we should never blindly assume that any group of believers has a monopoly on the truth, is adhering to the New Testament in its entirety, or is immune from drift and departure.
Every generation must guard against the danger of slipping into denominational, sectarian ways of thinking. Down through the centuries, there have been great movements of the Holy Spirit in which certain truths have been recovered out of the rubble of tradition, formalism and ritualism. The first generation, that is, those living at the time of these movements have been intelligent concerning the scriptural principles involved. But then the second and third generations have tended to follow the system routinely because their parents were in it, and because they themselves were brought up in it. There has been a decline of true conviction and an increasing ignorance of the biblical basis of the pattern followed.
Thus the history of most spiritual movements has been aptly described in the word series: man ... movement ... machine . . . monument. At the outset there is a man, anointed in a special way by the Holy Spirit. As others are led into the truth, a movement develops. But by the second or third generation, people are following a system with sectarian, machine-like precision. Eventually nothing is left but a lifeless, denominational monument.
If you were to ask a sampling of Christians, "Why do you meet in church fellowship where you do?" how many do you think could give a clear, scriptural answer? Not many! There is widespread ignorance as to the truth of the New Testament church, and therefore a general lack of conviction on the subject. How can we have strong convictions about something we do not know or understand?
In a healthy New Testament assembly, those who are in fellowship know why they are there. They are not sermon-tasters or followers of men, but Christians who are well grounded in the truth of the gospel and of the Church. They are prepared to judge everything by the Word. They are not unalterably committed to any particular group of assemblies. If trends develop which are unbiblical and dishonoring to the Lord, they will seek the leading of the Holy Spirit to the company of those who do meet in obedience to the Bible.
Let us examine some of the great truths concerning the assembly which are found in the New Testament and to which we should be loyal.