Undenominational Christianity (Part One)
I have recently finished reading J.N. Armstrong’s book Undenominational Christianity. Armstrong was the first president of Harding University of which I am a semi-alum. The copy I read was one that I found at camp about seven years ago, but have just held on to since then.
I hesitate to say anything more than it was “good” or “interesting” but I must admit to having deeper thoughts than that on this issue. Armstrong’s book is a well-stated case for his position and is also a great representation of the very clear and concise views that many men in the early stages of the Reformation Movement held.
The book is a call to people residing in denominational churches (i.e. Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Anglicans etc.) to leave those buildings and join together to form nondenominational churches and just be churches of Christ.
His call makes several claims 1) Christ established a single church on earth of Christians (therefore not Baptists, Methodists, Catholics), 2) Christ wants our churches to be Christian churches, not divided denominational churches, 3) People who perpetuate denominational divisions are fighting against the will of God, and 4) What we have to do is leave these denominational churches and become undenominational believers, simply Christians.
Now, I can get behind a lot of that. I do think that Christ wanted a unified body of believers with “no divisions among [us].” I do think that division among us is counter productive to us working and cooperating together as “one body.” And I do think our main loyalty should be to Christ, not our denominations. So, Mr. Armstrong, I am on board so far.
The problem with the Reformation and any religious movement is this: Calling people away from their religious bodies to come form a new religious body only perpetuates the problem. You have not fixed anything, you have not healed division, you have only created more division.
“But Coleman,” some may say. “The difference is that our division is right…” Everyone in the history of religion thinks that they are right. Marcion the guy that believed that there were two Gods: an Evil Old Testament God and a nice New Testament God, thought he was right. Martin Luther thought he was right. John Calvin thought he was right. The Wesley’s thought they were right. Jonathan Edwards thought he was right. You know what all those guys did? They called people away from the “wrong” way to the “right” way, creating further and further division.
I should say here that I am an attendee of a Church of Christ. I belong to the ideas of the Reformation Movement that J.N. Armstrong was a part of. I agree with all of his points that I listed above. Perhaps my discontent lies in the method. Perhaps the answer to ending denominationalism isn’t creating another denomination (which is what ultimately has happened).
Armstrong almost prophesied that in this book with the following quote:
“Suppose that a dozen such Christians began to work and worship as a congregation of believers, claiming non-fellowship with any and all denominations. Even if they claimed to be Christians and only Christians, members of the church of Christ and only that, the inevitable would happen: Without investigation, they would be labeled a denomination.”
This is true. It is what has happened. Just as Armstrong predicted, our movement has become a denomination. We are not largely looked at as Christians and that only, but as members of the Church of Christ denomination. I think largely we look at ourselves that way, and we are looked at that way by others.
This is obviously going to be a multi-parter. I think in my next several posts I will talk about other possible ways to go about achieving “One body” again. First that starts with having one body ourselves.