5. The Christian Life in a United Church – Part 2

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.)
Num. 11:5-6 π Josh. 7:11 π Josh. 7:16-20 π Mt. 13:30 π Mt. 16:18 π Mt. 20:25-26 π Mk. 4:11 π Mk. 7:13 π Lk. 9:23 π Jn. 3:5 π Jn. 8:32 π Jn. 16:13; 2nd π Acts 13:2 π Acts 17:30 π Rom. 8:14 π 1 Cor. 3:3-4 π 1 Cor. 3:4 π 1 Cor. 5:10-11 π 2 Cor. 6:16 π 2 Cor. 6:17-18 π Gal. 5:13 π Gal. 5:20 π Eph. 1:22 π Eph. 2:19-22 π Eph. 4:3 π 2 Ths. 2:11-12 π Heb. 11:8 π Heb. 12:1 π 2 Pet. 1:20 π Jude 11 π Rev. 2:6 π Rev. 2:15 π Rev. 17:1 π Rev. 17:3 π Rev. 17:5 π Rev. 18:4 π Rev. 18:24

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

In this section of our analysis of this chapter, we will return to the floor-tilting quotes we laid on the table in the previous section.

Denominations as Churches?

Morrison wrote:

“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)

“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)

To his credit, Morrison was trying to imagine what a unified ekklesia, after it had solved all the “problems and difficulties that must be resolved before a united church is achieved” (p. 75), would look and be like. But in leaping over all those problems – one of which is denominationalism – his solution still retained one of the biggest problems. Let us, rather than blindly leap over the problems, let us list them and, even if in broad strokes, at least shine some light on the way out of the darkness.

In short, we must abandon everything that makes the “church” the “church” and embrace all that God would lead us into. Impossible? No! Difficult? Always!!! But to maintain like-minded denominational “clubs” where we yearn and pine nostalgically for the divisions we once enjoyed far too closely resembles the Israelites’ cravings and desires for Egyptian leeks, onions and garlic. ( Num. 11:5-6; top ) If we are to serve the living and true God, we must permanently and completely separate ourselves from all forms of idolatry!

In the light of these required changes, Morrison’s error becomes readily apparent. Sin – particularly the sins of denominationalism (dissensions and heresies – Gal. 5:20 ), Nicolaitanism (“pastor,” clergy, false “delegated” authority structure, etc. – Rev. 2:6 , 15 ), of holding fast to the traditions of men that invalidate the word of God (by which we will be led into all truth and made free to follow and obey God – Mk. 7:13 , Jn. 16:13 , 8:32 , Gal. 5:13 ) – must all be cast off and forsaken. ( Heb. 12:1 , etc.; top) We cannot continue in our sins, even in some modified form (as Morrison’s quotes suggest) and ever hope to move into the unity of the Holy Spirit!

Perhaps Morrison’s greatest difficulty – one which we all share with him – is what we might call “the language barrier” that human words present to spiritual concepts. Morrison wrote, “Our denominations will have ceased to exist as churches” (p. 75) and “…these denominations would no longer be churches.” (p. 87) Elsewhere, Morrison had said, “Of the one church which God gave us, man has made many churches. These churches all embody human self-will and each exists in contravention [opposition, contradiction] of the will of Christ.” (p. 78)

Jesus said, “On the mountain of My identity as the Christ, the Son of God, I will build My ekklesia and the imprisoning devices of the spiritual agents of death and darkness will not overcome My ekklesia.” ( Mt. 16:18 , paraphrased) Jesus builds His ekklesia – men build their denominations and their “churches.” And this is more than a linguistic difference. But Morrison seems completely unable to recognize the distinctions here. We owe our loyalty to Christ’s ekklesia, which He builds in its eternal, transcendent totality and in its local expressions – but we owe nothing to the counterfeits and abominations which men build.

But Morrison fails to even be able to distinguish between man-made “churches” (characterized by self-will, commuter memberships, Nicolaitan leadership, human traditions) and the denominations (characteristically a central headquarters that mandates activities and resolves disputes). He even says, “The denomination is itself a church”! (p. 90) That the “church” is not the ekklesia is a revelation made available in our time but how can one fail to see the difference between the denomination and its “churches”?

To overcome the language barrier, let us restate this and, if we do not arrive at Morrison’s intent, let us at least find light whereby we might see our way today.

In a united ekklesia, we will no longer be deceived into believing that the denominations were any thing but a deceptive device put upon the people of Christ through the cunning craftiness of the devil and the demonic. We will no longer believe that the sectarian, denominational “churches” are the sacred, binding and necessary assembly that Christ requires of His people – that assembly is something other than “church.” We will no longer need a “second head” (neither the denomination nor the “pastor”) because Christ will truly be our Head in all things.

What is the basis upon which a local ekklesia meets and gathers? The born-again ( Jn. 3:5 ), Spirit-led ( Rom. 8:14 ) residents of a locality are stirred by the Spirit to gather – even if the only purpose of the gathering is to minister unto the Lord. (see Acts 13:2; top ) Will this be a routine, regularly scheduled meeting? Perhaps but not necessarily so. A regularly scheduled meeting is all the less likely where the people have been blindly enslaved to the demonic’s “church” traditions of continual, passive, quiet, spirit-numbing “faithful attendance.”

What is the basis upon which the sectarian commuter “church” gathers? The weekly time slot in which one is to fulfill one’s religious duties to God has come around again, another lifeless sermon is to be endured, some songs are to be sung, a check must be written and the “me-god” must be made to feel like it has been challenged to become a morally better person without ever once abjectly bowing down before a holy and pure God and submitting to the cross where all sin and self-centered agendas must die. ( Lk. 9:23; top ) And even where this element is muted down (and it most often must be or we would be aware of and be dissatisfied with the inadequacies of our “religious experience”), it must exist in every “church” or there would be no passive audience of like-minded commuters.

If the “church” kind of “fellowship” continues to exist, it will not be ekklesia. It will be a counterfeit, a replacement. Ekklesia is as much a function of its locale as it is of the Spirit. It can be rightly said that the ekklesia is the intersection of time and eternity – every group of believers has the responsibility to take care of their own home area first.

None of this is to say that we are forbidden to ever mingle with believers of other areas. Indeed we may. And if some brothers who, in their denominational “church” had enjoyed a rich fellowship in the Lord (something which most often happens in spite of the “church” or denomination) wish to continue their friendships (under the permission and direction of the Head Christ Jesus, of course), this is all well and good – so long as these relations are not allowed to infringe upon their responsibilities to their local ekklesias. Wherever any long distance relationship – by definition a part-time one hampered by superficiality and distance and, if not of deceptive facades, at the least it is one of assumed roles to be acted out - replaces our local ekklesia in our lives, any manifestation of the mystery of the kingdom of God must be limited, distorted, skewed or watered down – precisely what we have seen in ever-increasing strength for centuries! If – as is often the case in this time and season – we are forced to drive great distances to find born-again, Spirit-led believers free (or getting free) of the demonic’s “church” deceptions, then let us assemble as mere representatives of our own local ekklesia, looking ahead to the day when a more powerful unity is possible.

Division by Necessity?

In another floor-tilting exercise in self-contradiction, Morrison wrote:

“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 interesting to note that the intellectual word Morrison chose, “vitiate,” also has the meaning of “1) make imperfect, faulty or impure; spoil; corrupt; and 2) to weaken morally; debase; pervert.” (Webster’s) It is only in its third meaning – “to make (a contract, etc.) legally ineffective, invalidate” – does this word seem to fit into what he is trying to say. Is there such a thing as a spiritual “Freudian slip”? If so, this would seem to be one. It seems that Morrison knows the denominational experience corrupts, cheapens, weakens, perverts and distorts the character of one’s religious and spiritual experience – especially as compared to what we have chosen to call a purer, local expression of the mystery of the kingdom of God.

But must we, of necessity, live “the Christian life in the isolation of these autonomous fragments of a dismembered church”? (p. 80) This quote intimates that dismembering the body of Christ is acceptable and is a valid expression of Christ’s will – even though Morrison has already said the man-made “churches” exist in opposition and contradiction to the will of Christ. (p. 78)

We need to carefully consider the exact implications of what we are believing and where this conclusion (that we may or even must remain in the divisive sects commonly called denominations) really leads us. This faulty conclusion has been largely accepted as the rightly divided word of truth (or has been obeyed even where seen as faulty) for decades, even centuries, even though it has not yet produced good fruit (though it often claims for itself the good fruit achieved by Christ building His ekklesia in spite of the denominations and “churches”) and has instead fully devolved into a counterfeit of genuine life in Christ. This conclusion says, in effect, that because my “brothers” (real and/or imagined as such) acquiesce to the sin of denominationalism and because the guy up front behind the pulpit (who gets to talk the most) propagates this sin (in large part because he likes his regular paycheck), then we or I must also quietly sit down, silently condone and even enthusiastically support and participate in this sin. To see this fallacy for what it is, all we need to is change which sin we are discussing. Because I have some “brothers” who commit adultery (or lie, steal, covet, whatever sin you care to name), should I go participate in and perpetuate their sin? God forbid even such a thought!

Morrison said, “The sin of our sectarian system is not in our hearts, but in the system.” (p. 80) This is merely conveniently shifting the blame and responsibility off of ourselves. Systems do not sin any more than nations can become Christian. Individuals sin. Individuals obey. Individuals stand together to form a local expression of the mystery of the kingdom of God or individuals commute to find “churches” that preach a “gospel” that appeals to their flesh and scratches their ears. Assigning the sin to the system is the opposite of the way God views sin: When Achan, an individual sinned, even though no one else knew of his guilt (as is evidenced by the need for God to call him out by tribe, then clan, than family, then father, then by himself), God said, Israel has sinned…” ( Josh. 7:11 , 16-20; top ) Morrison, on this question, is looking through the eyes of men and not through the mind of Christ.

Paul, quoting an Old Testament command from God, wrote, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” ( 2 Cor. 6:17-18 ) Do we want to be received by God as His sons and daughters? Then we must separate and come out from among “them.” Who is “them”? From the context (v. 16 ), we know that “them” are those idolaters who practice idolatry. We also know from Paul’s previous letter to the Corinthians, that when he speaks of not keeping company with idolaters, he “certainly does not mean the idolaters of this world, since then you would need to go out of the world [die or get off the planet!]. But now I have written you not to keep company with anyone named a brother who is an idolater – not even to eat with such a person.” ( 1 Cor. 5:10-11; top ) If a person claims to follow Christ but is also an idolater – and Morrison himself calls denominationalism “perilously akin to idolatry” (p. 79) and rebukes the denominations for hugging “their independence and autonomy…with an idolatrous absolutism.” (p. 79 – emphasis added) – then we must obey the Scriptural injunction and mandate to step away from and avoid such people, however alone and lonely this might leave us for the moment.

As this age concludes, the unmistakable call will go out: “Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” ( Rev. 18:4 ) This call is in regard to the woman, the prostitute associated with world-wide idolatrous fornication and figuratively labeled “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and the Earth’s Abominations.” ( Rev. 17:5 ) Those who believe the woman is only the Roman Catholic “church” or America have not yet received divine revelation and understanding about this woman’s identity – though indeed elements of her identity run deeply throughout both. (Neither the Roman Catholic “church” nor America have the historical scope of this being. See Rev. 18:24 (top). Found in her is “the blood of all who were slain on the earth.” She had something to do with Abel and will have something to do with the last victim killed for their witness to Christ. That is a whole lot bigger than Catholicism and America put together!)

Perhaps those who do not yet see the modern, divisive, denominational, hierarchical, pyramidal, institutional “church” as a current (but not the only) expression of the mystery of Babylon that displaces and replaces the local expression of the mystery of the kingdom of God are excused if they have not yet heard the call to “Come out of her.” This call can only be heard by the spiritually mature who routinely hear the voice of Christ and God for themselves. The “church” does not routinely produce such types (it more commonly squelches or ostracizes any who approach spiritual maturity in Christ) and the pulpiteers and their sycophants certainly do not preach this message. But time is running out for those still inside the “church” system. And it is also interesting to note that everyone who has already heard this call and obediently made their exodus from the “church,” has had to cross a lot of wilderness territory (often alone or nearly so) to get away from her. The woman sits in a wilderness when John is taken by an angel to see the judgment she will receive. (see Rev. 17:1 , 3; top )

It is not necessary to remain within a sinfully-constructed division to be a believer and follower of Christ. Indeed, one must not remain overlong in such a precarious situation. One can – and should! – abandon the prostitute, the “church” (the most prominent expression of the spirit of false religion) at any time one hears the Lord’s call to do so. The tragedy will be in finding out that many who have stayed overlong (and no longer see the sin and danger but have come drowsily under this strong delusion – see 2 Ths. 2:11-12 ) have purposely quenched the still, small voice within (that has been repeatedly calling upon them to leave the “church” even without knowing exactly where they were going – see Heb. 11:8 ) because their “pastor” convinced them that attending his “church” still enabled them to live “the authentic Christian life.” The sin of our sectarian system is in our hearts because we must turn aside from the Holy Spirit (who leads into unity and all truth – Eph. 4:3 , Jn. 16:13; top ) and agree with, embrace, participate in and perpetuate traditions of men and teachings of demons as we practice a false religious unrighteousness that we find preferable to God’s one and only true Way.

Nothing to Give Up?

Morrison wrote:

“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)

Morrison, writing in 1951, here demonstrates that, while he saw the dark stain of denominationalism, he really had no appreciation of the opposing natures of the real ekklesia and the counterfeit “church.” That is, he simply could not see that one cannot continue to gather in long-distance commuter clubs under the spirit-numbing sermonizing that replaces personal obedience to Christ and simultaneously be genuine ekklesia. Such gatherings are neither local nor ekklesia but are instead men bringing the fruit of their own labors (the way of Cain – Jude 11; top ) and demanding that God receive them as pure and acceptable sacrifices.

The denomination must give up its life to bring about a unified ekklesia. It must cease trying to lord over its followers. ( Mt. 20:25-26 ) It must cease its controlling its supposedly “local” fellowships and allow Christ to take His place as Head over all things. ( Eph. 1:22; top ) It must give up the money that is collected from all its “churches.” Its officers must give up their lucrative careers and positions of power and prestige. When the denomination gives up that which is “unchristian” in its nature, there is nothing left!

Morrison also wrote:

“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)

The denomination is neither a “church” nor is it ekklesia. It is an organizational system constructed by men who believed that Christ’s Headship over His body was to be conducted through mediaries. The “church” has always given special powers and privileges to its clergy. Consider this description of the Roman “church” around 1900:

“The Roman church is an exclusive hierarchy, and assigns to the laity the position of passive obedience. The bishops are the teaching and ruling church; they alone constitute a council or synod, and have the exclusive power of legislation and administration. Laymen have no voice in spiritual matters, they can not even read the Bible without the permission of the priest, who [purportedly] holds the keys of heaven and hell.” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII, Modern Christianity: The German Reformation, p. 24)

The Protestant denominations still reserve authority to its denominational headquarters, staff and its “pastors” that it would never dream of sharing with the laity. Though lip service is given to the priesthood of all believers, in practice there is still a ruling class and a subservient class, the whole notion of which is foreign to the original faith given once for all.

If we, standing in a better light 60 years after Morrison’s work, were to restate his floor-tilting quote, we might arrive at something like:

The denomination is a false head that creates false “churches.” Only Christ is the Head over the local ekklesia.

As each denominational “church” – itself a collection of the “wrong” people (in contrast to the people who would have to be present for it to be the genuinely local ekklesia) – looks to the denomination (instead of to Christ) for its directives, the result can never be the perfect will of God. That anything of eternal value is accomplished at “church” is only testimony of God’s transcendency over the workings of men!

My Sin Is Better Than Yours?

Morrison wrote:

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 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)

Here again we catch Morrison looking with the eyes of mere men and disregarding the mind of Christ. Perhaps Morrison’s “ecumenical” (catholic, universal, general, inter-denominational) experiences that left him dissatisfied with his own denomination was simply God’s invitation to leave the denomination and pursue a more excellent way (than even ecumenicalism). But Morrison cannot escape the bonds his “church” paradigm has him in.

But Morrison’s defense of the superiority of his corporate sin is beyond childish – it is to boast of one’s carnality.

Who? What?

In yet another instance of floor-tilting contradictions, Morrison wrote:

“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)

Denominations are sins but their denominational distinctives are treasures? Following men is a sign of carnality ( 1 Cor. 3:4; top ) but the followers of men (like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Wesley and Campbell) are the possessors of these “treasures”? This conclusion can only be reached by someone who first fails to reject all the sinfulness of denominationalism and by one who evaluates the worth of these denominational “treasures” according to the values of the flesh.

The only way a denominational distinctive could be a genuine treasure is if it were a genuine revelation from the Holy Spirit which liberated those people from the alien regime of someone else’s “private interpretation.” ( 2 Pet. 1:20; top ) Now what genuine treasure could possibly be held by a divisive sect that would not be better gleaned from the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth? Selah. (Stop and think calmly, realistically and spiritually about that for a while.)

As we leave behind Morrison’s mind-bending, floor-tilting spiritual contradictions, let us press on to examine his four aspects in which he anticipated greater freedom for the believers participating in a unified ekklesia.

4. The Christian Life in a United Church - Part 1 π 6. The Christian Life in a United Church – Part 3
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