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Doctrine, Denominations, and Divisions

A Forthright Church Withdrawing from a Fuzzy Church. Packer writes, “Faithful believers have tried but failed to maintain a clear witness to God’s grace according to the Scriptures. It may be a matter of withdrawing from a particular denomination. It may be just withdrawing from a local congregation. It happens for the same reason the Reformers withdraw from the Roman communion–to keep the channel of truth clear so that the life of God may flow among it. Folks who withdraw in this way have seen that God’s pattern is as Paul describes it in the first half of Ephesians (Eph. 4:14-15).”

Divisions over Church Order. Packer explains, “You do not find this in the New Testament, but you do find it in our Protestant denominations. Incompatible views about how the church should order its life have broken surface, and therefore particular groups of congregations have had to go their own separate ways. Basically, there have been three unavoidable causes of denominational separation of this kind. 1. Some believe in covenant baptism for the children of believes, and some do not. These two practices do not marry, and this has necessitated division. 2. Some believe in Episcopacy and liturgy, and some do not. Not all Christians believe that diocesan episcopacy can be a fruitful pastoral institution. Not all Christian believe that a thought-out, carefully-wrought liturgical form for the worship of God is always best. 3. Some believe that congregations should be linked to each other in synods, that is, centraldeliberative bodies which have declarative power, and some do not. This has been the Presbyterian way and the way of all national (State) churches.  But it is not the Independent way. Those who believe that the New Testament favors Congregational independence, rather than Presbyterianism, have had to separate at this point.

Divisions for Non-Theological Reasons. “There are ethnic churches. The Mennonite Church is an ethnic church. The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America are ethnic churches. The Swedish Covenant Church is an ethnic church. There are black and hispanic and West Indian churches. It would be foolish to say that these distinctions ought not to be sufficient warrant for churches like these to be formed. What is important is that we share the same faith and attest to it…and maintain the same faith…We must do here is take care that our programs testify to our oneness with Christians of different ethnic backgrounds…and social classes.”

Dealing with Divisions

These divisions, while undesirable, are, nevertheless, not necessarily schismatic in and of themselves. In fact, such divisions may actually serve to help foster unity by allowing various people in the one body of Christ to affiliate with those of similar theological and sociological persuasion without sharing the same ecclesiastical government. Great caution should, however, be exercised so as to guard against what would amount to a separationism in the form of Judaizing (Gal. 2:11-13). We must always recognize the one body while acknowledging inevitable denominational divisions. Packer brings his analysis to a close by stating, “Let separation be a last resort, embraced reluctantly if it has to be, and with a clear understanding that in separating though you say ‘goodbye’ to one bag of problems you say ‘hello’ to another.”

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