If there is a privilege from God that we should exercise with reverence and awe, it is prayer. If there is any religious exercise that should receive the profoundest respect from mankind, it is when God’s people bow before his throne in prayer. And if any prayer ever offered up should be respected, must assuredly it is that sublime petition recorded in John, chapter 17 which was uttered by Jesus on that awful night of his betrayal. After invoking the blessings of his Father on his apostles, he looked down the stream of time and made one earnest request for all subsequent believers.
It should fill our hearts with gratitude to know that, amid the trying experiences of that dreadful night, when he stood, as it were, in the shadow of the cross, in behalf of you and me and all other believers, he prayed the Father, saying,
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21).
This prayer, coming as it did from the Son of God, must plainly express the will of his Father. All believers should respect it by “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). But how little it is respected! It is contended by almost all professed believers that division among religious people is not only allowable, but is a righteous thing, and he who would dare contend for the oneness of God’s people is an uncharitable bigot!
Instead of the “one faith” of the early Christians based on the truth of Christianity, we have, as articles of faith, hundreds of human opinions based on the traditions of men. Instead of “one body” (Eph. 4:4) over which Christ is head (Eph. 1:22-23), we have numbers of humanly devised denominations, over which men preside and legislate. Instead of contending “for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) and laboring to build and extend the “one body,” preachers are devoting their time to building up their sectarian institutions. Thus they have generated confusion, strife, and division among the people, instead of the unity for which Jesus prayed.
These preachers pose as called and qualified by the Lord, and thus fasten themselves on the people as messengers from God. One goes forth claiming a divine call to the ministry. He preaches his peculiar doctrine and builds up his chosen church. Another follows closely after him, making the same claim to a call to the ministry. He preaches a different and antagonistic doctrine, and builds up a distinctly different institution. Thus one follows another until we have scores of men who claim to be called of God, yet preach doctrines so different and build up churches so distinct from each other that there is no fellowship between them. Thus they make the world believe that God calls and qualifies one man to preach one doctrine and another man to preach another doctrine, and on and on indefinitely, claiming that all these contradictory doctrines can be proven by the Bible.
It is apparent to any thinking person that such a state of affairs is a fruitful source of infidelity. If so many different and contradictory doctrines can be proven by the Bible, its claim to the truth cannot be maintained because of its self-contradictions. The most dangerous enemies the Bible has are those who claim to be its friends, yet insist that it justifies all this confusion and division.
In my 30 years’ experience and observation as a preacher, I have found denominationalism to be the greatest hindrance to the cause of Christ. When a person has been committed to some denomination, his every effort is to justify its teaching and practice; and when Scripture is presented that shows his position to be wrong, his first effort is to explain it away. If he fails in this, as a last resort he will say, “Well, I just can’t see it that way.”
I have gone into many communities and labored hard for days to show people what the Bible requires them to do, reading the commission of the Saviour and the preaching of the apostles under it, which makes the plan of salvation so plain that no responsible person need fail to understand it. Yet few, if any, accepted it. In many instances it was the general concession that I preached the Bible, but owing to the denominational influence surrounding the people, they would not have the courage to obey what they admitted to be the truth.
Among the bitter fruits of denominationalism are divided families and neighborhoods, with the long train of evils that follow which include making infidels of men.