4. The Christian Life in a United Church – Part 1

The Unfinished Reformation

An Analysis

Neil Girrard
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Mt. 4:17 π Mt. 13:32 π Mt. 16:18 π Mk. 4:11 π Mk. 6:12 π Lk. 9:2 π Jn. 14:23 π Jn. 17:20-23 π Acts 7:38 π Acts 17:7 π Acts 17:30 π Acts 19:32 π Acts 19:39 π Acts 19:41 π 1 Cor. 3:17 π 1 Cor. 11:20 π 1 Cor. 11:29 π 2 Cor. 6:16 π Eph. 1:22 π Eph. 1:22-23 π Eph. 2:19-22 π Phlp. 2:15 π Phlp. 3:20 π Heb. 10:25 π 1 Pet. 2:5; 2nd π 2 Pet. 3:14 π Rev. 1:5 π Rev. 1:10 π Rev. 2:4-5
Greek Words Mentioned in This Article
Assembly, “Church” (KJV)Ekklesia – [1577] π Templehieron – [2411] π Belonging to a Lordkuriakos – [2960] π Lordkurios – [2962] π Temple, Shrinenaos – [3485] π Houseoikos – [3624] π Synagoguesunagoge – [4864]

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The Unfinished Reformation by Charles Clayton Morrison (Harper Bros., New York, 1953)

In chapter 4, Morrison attempts to tackle the huge question of “What would a unified church look and be like?” In analyzing this one chapter – which is 25 pages long, built on 3 conclusions developed in depth in the previous 3 chapters and which offers 4 aspects in which the united church would experience new freedoms – one is quickly confronted with the enormity and complexity of the question and the issues it raises. Our analysis of this chapter will be divided into three parts – the first simply laying out the issues and defining some important terms, the second examining some of Morrison’s statements in depth and third taking a deeper look at the freedoms Morrison envisions for the unified church of the future – because, in addition to the inherent complexity of the question, analysis is further hampered by Morrison’s failure to truly accept and deal with the denominations for what even he knew them to really be.

That is, he says things like:

“When the walls of our denominational churchism have crumbled and the united church appears, we may expect to experience nothing less than a new birth of freedom.” (p. 76 – emphasis in original)

“Of the one church which God gave us, man has made many churches. These churches all embody self-will and each exists in contravention of the will of Christ.” (p. 78)

“Our sectarian churchism thus involves our denominations in an inescapable position perilously akin to idolatry.” (p. 78-79)

“But the denomination is not free, because in its apostasy from the true church, it is not under Christ.” (p. 79)

“The denominational system commands the whole field and has forced the true church into invisibility.” (p. 79)

“[Denominationalism] is the sin of absolutizing the independence and autonomy of a fragment of the church over against the true Church of Christ. It is a sin so long established and so universal that familiarity blinds us to its true nature.” (p. 79)

“We may try to conceal the sin of our denominational autonomy by a federation of the denominations.” (p. 79)

“The denominations hug their independence and autonomy to their sectarian breasts with an idolatrous absolutism. They refuse to let the Church of Christ be what it really is.” (p. 79)

“The local church of Protestantism is the most obvious sufferer from the denominational system. It partakes necessarily of the artificial and alien character of the denomination, and this precludes its conception of itself in terms of its more profound religious character.” (p. 88-89)

“In a word, the denominational system denies to the local church the right to be what it really is.” (p. 89)

“The local churches of Protestantism were not founded by the ecumenical church, they are not integrated in it, their support is not given to the ecumenical church – all this because the ecumenical church has no empirical existence. Their sense of belonging, their loyalty, their outlook and all the practicalities of their churchly devotion are inevitably oriented within the narrow framework of the denomination.” (p. 89)

“The denomination cheats the local church of something precious which belongs to its very nature.” (p. 90)

“The denominational system which produces the scandalous overlapping of local churches in American communities, subjects them to an unholy competitive struggle to maintain their own existence. In this rivalry it is humanly inevitable that such churches will appeal to superficial or irrelevant motives in gaining new members. By this is meant motives that fall short of a profound religious response.” (p. 91)

“Great numbers of Protestant Christians, when they have moved their residence into a new community, wait inertly to be coddled into a church home. They lack religious spontaneity, because their past relation to the church has been based, not upon genuine religious feeling and conviction, but mainly upon local attractions.” (p. 91)

“Let any denominational pastor examine his own routine with the purpose of appraising the quality and significance of his daily labors in keeping his church going and building it up with new accessions to its membership. He will find that, in addition to the true shepherding of his flock, he has been engaged in making approaches and appeals that are dishearteningly superficial and trivial. He has not done this of his own accord or because he is unaware of the lack of religious seriousness in his procedure. Indeed, he inwardly recoils from this cheapening of his high vocation. And he would reproach himself for engaging in it, but for one consideration: he has to do it! He is driven by the practical necessity that is forced upon him by the denominational system which multiplies competitive churches in his community, and condemns these local churches to an inferior quality of Christian allegiance.” (p. 91-92 – emphasis in original)

“Both church and minister are victims of a system that is ecclesiastically unchristian – the denominational system that spawns perhaps twice as many local churches as American Protestantism needs, and denies them the religious inspiration, the Christian dignity and spiritual self-respect which can be possessed only in their consciousness of belonging to the whole body of Christ.” (p. 92)

“Conventional evangelism in the medium of our sectarian system has long since worn itself out. Where it still continues, its apparent successes, gained under methods of high-pressure emotionalism, are illusory, ephemeral and barren.” (p. 92-93)

“Our denominationalism does not provide a church that is either competent or worthy to conserve the fruit of its evangelism.” (p. 93)

“The gospel preached is so much greater than the church which preaches it, that the harvesting of the fruits of the revival leads to disillusionment and, too often, ends in indifference and virtual falling away.” (p. 93)

“What Paul foresaw as the spiritual result of division is precisely what has come to pass in our Protestant sectarianism. Our spiritual life has been incalculably impoverished by it, in the church as a whole, in our parish churches and in the soul of the individual Christian. This result is not generally recognized by those who are its victims. We should not be surprised at this… The human mind does not consciously miss something it has never envisaged as a possibility.” (p. 96)

“We have actually been cheated of something inestimably precious by the sectarian system in which we have to live the Christian life.” (p. 96)

“A great multitude of American Christians long to escape from the whole denominational scheme of things and take membership in the true Church of Christ, so that all the spiritual goods now held in all the churches might really belong to them. This they would do tomorrow if they could. But they cannot. They cannot even find the Church of Christ. It eludes their touch.” (p. 98)

“The Church of Christ – the ecumenical church – has no empirical habitation, no organization, no meeting times, no meeting places, no visibility at all which would enable them to have empirical membership in it.” (p. 98)

“We can expect no spiritual awakening in Protestantism until its leaders and its people set their hands and their hearts to the great task of giving back to Jesus Christ the church of which our sectarianism has robbed Him and which His divine Lordship deserves – the church for whose unity He prayed and for whose life He died.” (p. 99)

Morrison (writing in 1951!) is certainly to be credited with prophetic insight and even extensive, excellent spiritual sensibilities. These words alone, spoken well before much of this has become obvious (there are people today, half a century later, who still can’t see these truths!), earn Morrison a place of honor and respect in the annals of church history. And one is tempted to go back and comment on each one. Instead, the reader should simply go back through the quotes and indulge in many a “selah” (thoughtful pause)!

The Flip Side

As great as Morrison’s above insights into the sin of denominationalism are, however, he could also say things like:

“Let us, then, leap over all the problems and difficulties that must be resolved before a united church is achieved, and imagine ourselves in the common fellowship of the ecumenical Church of Christ. Our denominations will have ceased to exist as churches. Whether they continue to exist as special fellowships in the united church will be entirely optional. We can imagine that some of them will continue to exist for some time as kindred fellowships. But they will not be churches. Their functions as churches will have been restored to the true church from which they were taken away.” (p. 75)

“We must avoid giving the impression that the argument invalidates the authentic Christian character of our present religious experience in our denominational churches. Let it then be explicitly affirmed that, even as members of denominational churches, we are living the authentic Christian life. The sin of our sectarian system is not in our hearts, but in the system. It can become our sin only if, when our eyes are opened to perceive it as sin, we remain undisturbed and complacent. Our Christian experience is impoverished, but it is not vitiated [invalidated] by the historical necessity of living the Christian life in the isolation of these autonomous fragments of a dismembered church.” (p. 80)

“It is also unrealistic and unnecessary to assume that the fellowships with which we have long been familiar in our denominations would have to be obliterated. Instead, most of them would be welcomed and embraced in the united church. It would not be incompatible with the ecumenical fellowship for our denominations – Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational, Lutheran, and all the rest – to continue in the united church as unecclesiastical groups as long as memory and momentum kept them alive. But these denominations would no longer be churches. They would be particular fellowships within the one church, just as we now have particular fellowships in all our denominational churches.” (p. 87)

“There is no value now enjoyed by the denomination which must be given up in response to the ecumenical appeal save only the false and unchristian value of its churchism.” (p. 88)

“The denomination is itself a church, and though it does not, in theory, claim to be the church, it works out in practice that the local church inevitably thinks of the denomination as its church.” (p. 90)

This experience [as a Christian journalist interacting with other denominations, seeing the ecumenical awakening and working ardently for a united Protestantism] has made me deeply dissatisfied with my denomination. I do not mean that I would prefer another denomination to my own – no, God forbid! I do not know where I would find a better one! I cannot treat lightly the fellowship in which my whole Christian life has been nurtured. I feel that my own denomination is as good as any other. And, if I may be allowed to express a childish idea in childish words, I think that, in some respects, my own denomination is a tiny little bit better than any other, and certainly my fellowship within it is precious beyond words. But none of our denominations is good enough.” (p. 97 – emphasis in original)

“My membership in my denomination shuts me out from the treasures of fellowship and tradition and truth carried by all other denominations. The treasures of Lutheranism should not be kept alone to the followers of Luther – they belong also to me. The treasures of Presbyterianism should not belong alone to the followers of Calvin – they belong also to me. Nor should the treasures of Anglicanism belong alone to the followers of Cranmer, nor those of Methodism belong alone to the followers of Wesley – they belong also to me… So also the treasures of the Disciples of Christ – and I bear witness that they are precious treasures – should not belong alone to the followers of Campbell – they belong also to everyone who names the name of Christ.” (p. 97)

Each of these quotes (some more than others) leaves one with the disquieting feeling that the spiritual floor is moving or tilting and we are left feeling, perhaps not quite knowing why but still certain that the truth has somehow been twisted, distorted or skewed. We will examine these quotes in the next section as we continue analyzing this chapter. In closing this section, however, let us content ourselves with trying to put a handle on, that is, make a way to even grapple with the nearly ungraspable concepts that lay underneath the seemingly simple question of “What would it be like?”

Defining the Terms

Perhaps one of the clearest (and most beneficial to our search for truth) statements that Morrison makes is his definition that

“A local church is the ecumenical church manifested in a particular locality.” (p. 89)

Sounds simple enough, no? Not really. Consider the questions this definition raises:


What is a church? Even in Morrison’s day, that question was not easy to answer as can be seen by his fancy linguistic footwork as he tries to use the term to simultaneously include a local assembly, denominations and the spiritual assembly of all saints (holy ones, those set apart to Christ – a group of individuals whose identities are truly known only to the mind of Christ and God) from all times and all places. Let’s delve into the mess that “theologians” and Greek scholars and translators have made.

First, the English word “church” is easily traced linguistically to the Greek word “kuriakon” [ 2960 ]. It is a word which means simply “belonging to a lord” (“lord” being the Greek word “kurios” [ 2962 ]) Simple enough so far – but hold on, rough waters lay directly ahead.

This Greek word “kuriakon” that evolved into (or through) the Scottish word “kirk” into the English word “church” is actually used twice in the original Greek New Testament. ( 1 Cor. 11:20 , Rev. 1:10; top ) Logically, then, one would expect to find the English word “church” used only twice in the English New Testament. Surprisingly, however, we find the word “church” used 114 times in the English King James New Testament! How do we (as charitably as possible) account for this huge discrepancy?

In the Greek New Testament, there is the word “ekklesia” [ 1577 ] that was used extensively (115 times to be exact) in connection with the people of Christ. Well, in the French language there is the word “eglise” and in Spanish there is the word “iglesia” but in English, for whatever reasons, there is no direct “descendent” or corollary to “ekklesia” as there obviously are in French and Spanish. So the KJV translators had to fish around for a word to translate “ekklesia” and the one they opted for was “church.”

Perhaps in early 1600, this was not the linguistic blunder it has now evolved into. But even then, “church” primarily meant “a building for special uses, particularly religious, particularly Christian.” The blunder here is that the New Testament writers, in deliberately using the word “ekklesia,” never, ever - not even once – had in mind a specialized building that housed and enabled rituals, litanies and hierarchical clergy. Not once. When the writers wanted to talk about buildings, they certainly had several Greek words to choose from: a “temple” as a place for rituals of worship (“hieron” [ 2411 ]), a “temple” as a building in which God or a god dwells (“naos” [ 3485 ]), a “house” as a building belonging to a person or for a particular usage (“oikos” [ 3624 ]) or a “synagogue” as a religious lecture hall and school (“sunagoge” [ 4864 ]). All of these words are used extensively throughout the New Testament. But the New Testament writers chose “ekklesia.”

When we turn to look at other English words that could have been used by the KJV translators, we do find words like “congregation” and “assembly.” That is, the meanings of these words easily carry something more of “ekklesia’s” meaning than does “church.” And indeed, “congregation” is now used in the New King James (to replace KJV “church” in Acts 7:38 ) and “assembly” is even used in the KJV itself to translate 3 instances of “ekklesia.” ( Acts 19:32 , 39 , 41 - an insightful study in its own right; top) But the KJV translators opted for “church” and confusion that has roots that go beyond the Dark Ages has been upon the body of Christ’s followers ever since.

“Ekklesia” is “the called out ones.” It was the group of citizens of a particular place who were assembled or gathered to attend to the business or need of their place, their home city or town or village. The New Testament writers took this word and applied it to the followers of Christ – in much the same way they had seized upon the word “agape” and given it the transcendence we now routinely associate with God’s love for sinful, fallen mankind. “Ekklesia” then are the people of Christ who, having been called out of the kingdom of darkness and into Christ’s kingdom of light, were to assemble so as to attend to the business or need of His kingdom of light in their own place - be that a city, town, village or neighborhood. When we recall that the original believers met in homes (and not in specialized buildings) as the ekklesia, we can gather that, as the numbers grew, each group enjoyed a smaller focus. That is, when the believers were few in number, the scope of their activities would have been the whole city even though the population of the city might well be in the thousands. But as the number of believers grew, so did the number of houses being used to assemble grow – and the city was then divided as to “jurisdiction” (use the term loosely!) by virtue of where the house was in which they met. This was no dry, legal, power-hungry sectioning off of the city so as to rake in the most tithes and offerings but rather a living recognition of the personal and corporate responsibility for one’s own place of residence and existence.

When we see this definition of “local ekklesia,” we should be able to immediately see the damage done by the denominational commuter “church.” It has pulled people out of their neighborhoods, separated them from their neighboring brothers and sisters in Christ (their rightful ekklesia) and built up not only physical distance but “theological” and ideological walls between them. The demonic steps in wherever possible to maintain these divisions as the people are separated into differing branches of the tree (which represent the kingdom of God) where the birds of the air (the demonic) make their nests (the denominations – Mt. 13:32; top )

The Whole Building

Now if we can but recognize also that even “ekklesia” is not the end-all, be-all that the “church” has tried to make itself into, we will have come far in our pursuit of truth. That is, Jesus did not preach the “gospel of the ekklesia” – He preached “the gospel of the kingdom.” “The kingdom of God is here among you. Repent!” was His and the apostles’ message. ( Mt. 4:17 , Mk. 6:12 , Lk. 9:2 , etc.) Paul preached the same message to the Athenians: “God now commands all men everywhere to repent” ( Acts 17:30 ), and the Jews of Thessalonica accused the Christians of proclaiming “another king – Jesus.” ( Acts 17:7 ) The emphasis of their preaching was not on “how to assemble” or even on “how to be the ekklesia” – this is evident from the scarcity of instructions on the subject throughout the New Testament (even 115 instances is not a hugely significant portion of the New Testament!) The emphasis is on Jesus, the King, who, by His Spirit, as He said He would do, He will build His ekklesia! ( Mt. 16:18; top )

As He builds His ekklesia, we must also recognize we are more to Him than an assembly of His citizens. Paul wrote,

“Now, therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” ( Eph. 2:19-22; top )

Elsewhere, Paul also tells us, “…the ekklesia…is His body…” ( Eph. 1:22-23 , etc.) Peter adds that we are “a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” ( 1 Pet. 2:5 ) And John tells us that Jesus “has made us kings and priests to God…” ( Rev. 1:5; top )

Let us review all the different aspects that make up this “whole building”:

That is quite a list! Assembling together as ekklesia is only the tip of the iceberg!


Let us now turn to the term “ecumenical.” Please don’t associate what it has become (largely “a federation of denominations” – p. 79) with Morrison’s usage of the term before all that happened. The word is much more similar to the original meaning of the word “catholic” which is “universal.” “Ecumenical” in its basic definition is simply “general” or “universal.” The problem is that the English language only has so many words that represent the concept of “one category that includes all.” Most people reject being called catholic because of the instantaneous Romish connotations associated with it and now many people don’t want to be instantly associated with the world-wide ecumenical movement because it too embraces so many things that can only be called sinful. As an aside, perhaps we should do with the word “church” what we have done with “catholic” and “ecumenical” – discard it! All these words are now rendered useless, obsolete and even antagonistic to the Message they were once used to convey because, over time and with usage, the word has accumulated additional baggage that completely changes how the word is commonly perceived. This is all the more true as the end of the age approaches and we need to distinguish between the genuine ekklesia of Christ and the false, counterfeit, apostate “church” built on the spiritually numbing traditions of men and the lethally deceptive schemes and doctrines of demons.

What if, in our imagining and questing for what the united church of the future would look and be like, we could simply let go of our human desire and “need” for labels? What label can truly cover all that we are in Christ anyway? We are kingdomists, Monarchists, saints, family, templists, homists, priests and kings all at once! Any label we take upon ourselves will cause us to have already set our sights lower than the heights from which our predecessors have fallen, the first love of simply walking closely and quietly with our Master wherever He leads. ( Rev. 2:4-5 ) This is the overarching “thing” to which we are joined when we receive, experience and obey the new birth from above. Perhaps it is simply best to call this transcendent “thing” “the mystery of the kingdom of God.” ( Mk. 4:11 , etc.; top) Just don’t try to make a label out of it. Let us simply recognize that as a Biblical, spiritual mystery, we require divine revelation from God to rightly understand it. This is quite consistent with the Scriptures and it will tend to preserve us from the error of thinking that because we have a word or label for it, we understand it to the full. The kingdom of God is indeed a vast expanse that cannot be fully known here in this land where we see only dimly and in part.

But let us then look at Morrison’s definition again and recognize how right he was even as the vocabulary he was forced to use was so inadequate to the truths which he was spiritually seeing and trying to express. Morrison’s succinct definition was:

“A local church is the ecumenical church manifested in a particular locality.” (p. 89)

Let us restate it in the words and concepts we’ve just discussed and perhaps we may yet find ways to step into this light.

“A local ekklesia is the mystery of the kingdom of God manifested in a particular locality.”

We will see how this can be so when we recall that God “gave [Christ] to be Head [Master, King, Lord, Absolute Ruler] over all things to the ekklesia…” ( Eph. 1:22 - emphasis added) When all the believers of a particular locale (think small – the more believers in an area, think smaller. City, town, village, neighborhood, street. The more elders – truly mature saints – available to host and/or lead a home gathering, the more “jurisdictions” a city, state, nation or region will have), join together in submission to the directives of the one and only Head Christ Jesus and refuse to take corporate steps until there is unanimous agreement (one accord) in each local assembly, then we will be the answer to the prayer of Jesus for a unified body of followers. ( Jn. 17:20-23; top )

So long as we blithely get in our cars and leave our locale (forsaking the real assembly to which we should be joined – Heb. 10:25 - and failing to discern what the body of Christ around us really is - 1 Cor. 11:29 ) so that we might join ourselves to a prostitute that drains our life in a building that saps our resources under the ear-scratching sermonizing of a man who lulls us to sleep, there is no hope of our ever being without spot or blemish. (see Phlp. 2:15 , 2 Pet. 3:14; top ) Rather, we will continue to be the counterfeit, the prostitute, the abomination.

Let he who has ears hear.

3. The Ecumenical Awakening – Part 2 π 5. The Christian Life in a Unified Church – Part 2
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