Differing Denominations


Differing Denominations

July 30th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM

And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Galatians 2:9

7-30-72    8:15 a.m.


On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Differing Denominations.  Before I read the text, could I welcome back, in behalf of all of our people, our beautiful and effective and Christ-honoring Chapel Choir, the choir in the sanctuary loft this morning?

This week, this past week, I have been in Jamaica, in Kingston, the capital of that Caribbean island.  I have been in Jamaica attending the sessions of the executive committee of the Baptist World Alliance.  And there were several people there, several of our Baptist leaders, who had been in Columbia and had heard our Chapel Choir and had seen them.  And they had words of high praise and commendation for the young women and men from our First Baptist Church here in Dallas.   And what pleased me most was, they said that as beautifully as they sang and as fine as their concerts were, that the thing that impressed them most was the deportment, the behavior of these young men and women.  Now, I want to thank you for that because, you know, all of us can be stinkers.   And for you to be so sweet and fine, and thus impress the visitors there and the people there, is a contribution you have certainly made to the kingdom of our Christ.

In our preaching through the Book of Galatians, we are in the second chapter.  And as I said, the title of the message is Differing Denominations.  In the second chapter Paul begins:

Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus—a Greek, a full-blooded Greek, one who had been saved out of his pagan idolatry into the patience and kingdom of Christ—I took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation—that is, it was something that was told him directly from Christ that he do—and I communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles . . .  But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:  And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us unto bondage:  To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you . . . And when James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, and Cephas—that is, Simon Peter—and John—the beloved disciple—who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the Jews.

[Galatians 2:1-5, 9]

There is an unfailing characteristic of humanity, and it is this: if men are free, they will differ.  The only way to make everyone alike is by coercion.  It never is alike of itself.  That is true in the political world, men differ politically.  And we have differing political parties, philosophies of government, approaches, outreach, solutions—men differ.  That is true in the academic world.  There are all kinds of things and theories and hypotheses that are thought and taught in the university world.  That is true in the cultural and artistic world; there are all kinds of tastes in music and in art—men differ.  That is true in every area of life.

And it is certainly true in the religious world.  When you think of a Mohammedan, you think of a religion; there are many different kinds of Islamic faith.  When you think of Buddhism, you think of a religion, but there are many separating sects in the Buddhist faith.  When you think of Hinduism, you think of a religion, but there are many separating, differing kinds of Hinduism.  When you think of Judaism, you think of a faith, but there are at least three different expressions of Judaism found in the Orthodox synagogue, and in the conservative synagogue, and in the reformed synagogue.  And that characterization, that phenomenon, that development to differ certainly is found in the Christian history.  There are so many differing groups and that has characterized the Christian faith from the beginning.

In the second chapter of the Book of Galatians out of which I have read, there is Paul’s personal account of the vigorous confrontation between him and the Judaizing Christians who sought to make all who accepted Christ also accept the Mosaic legislation [Galatians 2:1-21].   And it was agreed there to divide.  Some of them would go to the Jews and preach the gospel of Christ being Jews and remaining Jews, keeping the Jewish ceremonial law, but there were others such as Paul who took the message to the Gentiles, separate and apart from the Mosaic legislation [Galatians 2:9].

Now, that beginning in the start, where men differ, where denominations divided, that characterized the Christian faith with increasing and emphatic proliferation from the beginning!

  • These Ebionites, the Ebionitic sect, the Jewish sect—that was one in the beginning.
  • Another was the Marcionites.  They were the liberals back there in the beginning.
  • Another was the Montanists—they were the ascetic ones in the beginning.
  • Then the Donatists.
  • And the Paulicians,
  • and the Waldensians ,
  • the Arians,
  • the Athanasians,
  • the Eutychians,
  • the Monophysites,
  • the Sabellians,
  • the Roman Catholic Latin church,
  • the Greek Catholic Eastern church.

Through the years and the years, there has been that characterization of the Christian faith—its breaking up into denominational, sectarian groups.  Sometimes the denominations are named after their form of government:  the Episcopalians from episkopos, the overseer, translated here in the King James Version “the bishop” [1 Timothy 3:2], the Episcopalian church—from its form of government, ruled by bishops; the Presbyterian church, presbuteros, “the elder,” a church that is governed by synods and sessions and presbyteries, the Presbyterian church; the Congregational church, a church that is governed by its own congregation.  These are denominations that are named from their form of government.

Sometimes the denomination will be named from the man who founded it, such as the Lutheran church, such as the Mennonite church.  Sometimes the church will be named from the place that it came from, where it had its origin, such as the Moravian church, from Moravia.

Sometimes the church has a self-chosen name, such as the Catholic Church or the Nazarene church, or the Church of God, or the Church of Christ.  Sometimes the church is nicknamed, such as the Christians were nicknamed “Christians”—christianos—in Antioch [Acts 11:26].  They were nicknamed.  So there are churches that are nicknamed.  The Mormon church—the name of it actually is the Church of the Latter Day Saints, but it is nicknamed Mormon.  Such as the Baptist churches, that is a nickname.  They were first called Anabaptists because people who had said they were baptized as infants, sprinkled as infants, when they became converts to this faith, they were baptized again—”ana,” again.  “Anabaptists,” Anabaptists—rebaptized people; and then, of course, as the tendency is they lop off the syllables and finally just call them Baptists.  That’s a nickname.

Thus, we find the proliferation of denominations through all of the years and the centuries, from the beginning here in the Scriptures to this present hour.  Now, they differ over everything and over anything, and the denominations are formed again and again.  There’s no part of the work in which you will not find that differentiation, and finally breaking up into denominational groups.  For example, in about 1830 and about 1840, in that period of time, there was a big schism, a division in our Baptist churches over baptism.

There was a brilliant, able, capable minister and expositor of the Scriptures by the name of Alexander Campbell.  He began to preach that we had to be baptized in order to be saved.  To us, it says explicitly that, “The blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin” [1 John 1:7].  But he began to preach that the water baptism cleansed our sins.  We were washed from our sins in water baptism.  It created a violent division in the church, and the churches divided.  They split.  And out of that division came the Campbellite movement, and it split into two parts; what we know as the Disciples of Christ or the Christian Church, and the Church of Christ, the conservative wing of it.  All of those denominations came over a schism concerning baptism, the purpose of baptism.

They have divided again and again in the story of Christendom over the Lord’s Supper.  When the great Reformation started under Martin Luther, there was another great reformatory leader who lived in Zurich, Switzerland by the name of the Zwingli.  And it was thought that the reform movement could be brought together if Martin Luther and Zwingli could have a session, a personal session, see, talk to one another and put their thoughts together and their movement together.

So Martin Luther met with Zwingli and they did fine; doctrinal point after doctrinal point, coming together, joining the great forces of the Reformation together.  But when they came to the Lord’s Supper, there was no solution for them.  Martin Luther, as you know, was a monk in the Catholic Church, and all of his life, he had been taught the doctrine of transubstantiation; that is, it was the power of the priest to convert the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Jesus—transubstantiation.  And when Martin Luther came out of the church, he brought with him part of those doctrinal persuasions.  And it is called—Martin Luther’s idea of the Lord’s Supper—consubstantiation; that is, the elements are not actually, miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Christ, but they contain, they are associated with the body and blood of Christ in an unusual and miraculous way—consubstantiation.

Well, Zwingli believed that the elements of the Lord’s Supper were nothing but symbols of the body and blood of Christ, and that the ordinance was a symbolic ordinance held in remembrance to bring back to our memory the passion, the suffering, the sacrifice, the cross, the blood of Christ.

Well, those men, when they began to discuss the Lord’s Supper, violently differed over it, discovered it, discussed it vehemently and zealously.  And Martin Luther said to Zwingli, “The Scriptures plainly avow, the Lord said, ‘This is My body, and this is My blood’” [Matthew 26:26, 28].  But Zwingli said, “The word ‘is’ there, the verb ‘to be, is’—that means ‘represents.’“   And Martin Luther says, “It does not say, ‘This bread represents My body, this blood—this cup— represents my blood.’  The Scriptures say, ‘This is My body, this is My blood!’”  And Zwingli said, “But it means ‘represents.’”  And Luther said, “Where does it say in the Bible, or where is it used in the Bible, that the verb ‘to be, is’ means ‘represents’?”

And Zwingli replied, “In the forty-first chapter of the Book of Genesis, in interpretation of the dream that Pharaoh had of the seven ill [kine] that ate up the seven good cows, the seven bad ears that ate up the seven good ears” [Genesis 41:18-24].  Zwingli said, “When Joseph interpreted that dream, Joseph said, ‘The seven good cows are seven years of plenty, and the seven ill-looking cows are the seven years of drought.  And the seven good ears are the seven years of plenty, and the seven bad ears are the seven years of famine’ [Genesis 41:26-27].  The word ‘is’—it represents that, it is a picture of that” [Matthew 26:26, 28].

But the men in violent disagreement separated, and the Lutheran, Martin Luther, went back and the Lutheran church continued; and Zwingli went back, and the Evangelical church of Switzerland continued. Two denominations in their violent difference over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

Our Christian brethren differ over everything.  Here in this church, in the 1880’s—and I’m going to illustrate now how denominations are formed over personalities.  In this church, in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, there was a distinguished pastor by the name of R.T. Hanks.  And there was a member of this church who was a preacher by the name of S.A. Hayden.  And Hanks and Hayden grew to despise and literally to hate one another.  And Hanks got him a paper.  And Hayden got him a paper.  And they began to war against one another in the paper.  And the First Baptist Church in Dallas split right down the middle.  And Hanks took the group right here where we are, and Hayden took a group out on Live Oak.  And they continued that bitterness until there were two denominations formed:  the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which was with Hanks, the pastor of the First Church here in Dallas; and the Baptist Missionary Association, whose school is at Jacksonville, Texas, following S.A. Hayden.

I spoke at a conference in California, and there were eleven different kinds of Baptists, eleven different denominational groups of Baptists in that conference to which I preached.  I preached one time in eastern Kentucky, in the mountains of Kentucky, and I found in that one county where I was, Lecher County, I found twelve different denominations of Baptists in that one county.  One denomination was “Spittin’ Baptists,” and another denomination was “Two-seeds-in-the-Spirit, predestinarian Baptists”—dividing over anything, over everything—that has characterized the Christian faith from the beginning.

Now, what shall be our attitude toward the denomination?  I have two things to say about it.  First, our attitude ought always to be one of respect for the other man’s opinion and interpretation.  He doesn’t see it as I do it.  He doesn’t preach it as I try to preach it.  He doesn’t understand it as I understand it. He doesn’t interpret it as I interpret it.  But I, first of all, ought to look upon him and his opinion with love and charity.

I can easily imagine a three-way argument between Bartimeus, the blind man whom Jesus healed [Mark 10:46-52], and another blind man unnamed whom Jesus healed [Matthew 20:34], and another blind man in the ninth chapter of John whom Jesus healed [John 9:1-7].  And they’re in a vicious, violent, vehement argument over how Jesus opens the eyes of the blind.

And Bartimeus says, “I know exactly how Jesus opens the eyes of the blind, He speaks the word and it’s done.  I know that because I was blind, and that’s the way He healed me” [Mark 10:51-52].

And the second blind man, you find about him in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Matthew.  The second blind man says, “That’s not so! I know exactly how Jesus opens the eyes of the blind.  He takes his hands and He touches the eyes, and the eyes are opened.  I know because that’s the way He opened my eyes” [Matthew 20:34].

And the blind man who was healed in the ninth chapter of the Book of John says:  “Both of you are certainly and violently wrong!  I know exactly how Jesus opens the eyes of the blind.  He spits on the ground and makes clay of the spittle and anoints the eyes of the blind, and you’re told to go to the pool of Siloam and wash; and your eyesight will come back [John 9:6-7].  I know because I was blind and that’s the way that He opened my eyes—He made spittle, clay out of spittle, and anointed my eyes.  I was there and I know!”

And the first blind man says, “That’s a lie, because I—that’s the way He—He just spoke the word and my opens were open!”

And the second blind man, “That’s a lie!  I know exactly how He opens blind eyes, He touches them with His hands!”

“That’s a lie,” says the ninth chapter blind man, “He makes spittle clay, and opens the eyes of the blind.”

They just go around and around and around. Well, the truth of the matter is, all of them were right.  All of them were right.  Did you know this famous poem about the six blind men of Hindustan, the blind men of the elephant?  Did you know that poem was written about theological arguments?  I’m going to read it, and we never think of the last stanza of this poem:

It was six men of Hindustan,

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant,

(Though all of them were blind).

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the elephant

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me!—but the Elephant

Is just like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried: “Ho!—what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ‘tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

A squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I say,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand

And felt about the knee

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he;

“‘Tis clear enough, the Elephant

Is very like a tree.”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most,

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I say,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Hindustan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly

In the right and all

Were in the wrong!

—Now, why he wrote the poem—

So, oft in theologic wars

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

[“The Blind Men and the Elephant,” John Godfrey Saxe, 1872]


We may not, in the Christian faith, ever come to see alike or ever come to think alike, but in the Christian faith, always, there ought to be reverence for one another’s understanding and peace and love in our hearts for the Christian community.

Now, the second attitude that I think ought to characterize us; I am of the persuasion and of the opinion that I ought to be true to what I believe.  I may not believe as that man believes, but I ought to be sincere and true and faithful in what I believe and preach the truth, as under God, humbly, prayerfully, I understand it and see it.  Now I want to show you why that makes me a Baptist.  We could talk for hours here, but I’m going to illustrate it in one or two or three places.

One: I would have great difficulty, having read the Bible and studied it, I would have great difficulty baptizing an infant, sprinkling an infant.  I’d have great difficulty.  In the days gone by, I was going to Brown University and then to Yale University for my theological education.  And as a youth, having graduated from Baylor, I was invited to be pastor of a little church in Rhode Island that would pay my expenses while I pursued my Master of Arts degree in Brown, and then my Doctor of Philosophy degree in Yale. So when I was talked to about going there and accepting the church, I asked about the ordinances.  And they said, “You don’t have to worry your heart about that.  We don’t observe any ordinances in the church.  We don’t baptize, and we don’t have the Lord’s Supper, so you’ll not be embarrassed.”  Well, I thought, that’s marvelous; I won’t be embarrassed.  Woman coming up to me, bring her baby, ask me to baptize the baby; that’s not in the Bible, and certainly sprinkling is not in the Bible.  So I won’t be embarrassed in that.  But it weighed on my heart that I would be pastor of a church that didn’t observe the ordinances.  So I finally turned aside into another channel and into another direction.  I would have trouble baptizing, sprinkling an infant.  I cannot help that.  I would have difficulty with it.

All right, another typical area.  I would have great difficulty if a man came to me and said, “I am the bishop, and we’re going to take you out of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.   You’ve been here twenty-eight years, and that’s long enough for anybody.  “We’re going to take you out of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we’re going to put you over here in the First Baptist Church of Lick Skillet, or Podunk, or Possum Trot, or Pumpkin Center.”  Well, I would have difficulty there because I feel the Spirit of God led me and the people were led of the Spirit of God who called me to this pastorate, and this is God’s place for me.  And now a man who says he’s a bishop is going to take me and put me some other place, assign me another congregation.  I would have difficulty in that.  I just would.  It is not in the Bible.

All right, one other typical thing.  If somebody came to me and said, “You’ve got to stand up there in that pulpit and preach that we’re saved again and again and again.  You can be saved and you can be lost; and you can be saved and you can be lost; and you can be saved and you can be lost.  And whether you get to heaven or not depends upon just what little piece of your life you happened to die in; because if you die in that lost piece, man, you’re going to hell, but if you die in that saved piece, you’re going to heaven.  So you’ve got to be very careful in what little piece of your life you die in, because you can be saved and lost and saved and lost.”  Oh, I’d have difficulty with that doctrine! When Jesus said:  “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand.  My Father, who gave them Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one” [John 10:28-30]; “He that believeth . . . hath eternal life” [John 6:47].   Well, how long is that?  Until tomorrow?  Until next month, or until five years from now?  Just how long is eternal?  I’d have difficulty preaching the doctrine that you can be saved and lost and saved and lost, because my own experience has been that if people ever are genuinely saved, they never get away from it. They may backslide, they may fall into all kinds of difficulty and aberration, but they never get away from it.  The seed of God, as John says in the first epistle, the seed of God stays in his heart [1 John 3:9].  And one sure sign is, if you’ve ever been regenerated, you will never, never get away from it; you never will, never will.

I would have difficulty preaching the doctrine that you can be saved and lost and saved and lost, as though Christ died for us, and then He would have to die for us again, then He would have to die for us again.  Then He would have to die for us again.  His sacrifice on the cross wasn’t sufficient—He must die again and again and again in order to save us again and again.  I would have difficulty.  So the best thing for me to do is just to admit and confess, “I am a Baptist, I am a Baptist,” and it’s better for me to stay here in this church, and to preach this gospel as I see it, and as I believe it, and as I read it, and as God makes it meaningful to me.  So, I am happy to be a denominationalist.

Dr. Truett said a sentence that stayed in my mind.  I heard him say at a great convention, “I am not a sectarian, but I am a denominationalist.”  I feel that way.  I don’t want to be sectarian in my spirit; I don’t want to be divisive in my attitude.  I ask God to help me to be charitable, and sympathetic, and understanding, and kind.  But under God, at the same time, I ought to believe what God reveals to me, and preach it in all humility and prayerful zeal.

 On these mission fields, I see some of the most marvelous people in the world who are not Baptists. In the heart of Africa, down there in the Amazon jungle, in some of the great teeming cities of Asia, I see the Wycliffe missionary, I see the Christian and Missionary Alliance, I see the brethren. This last week, this past week, going down [to] Kingston I saw a beautiful Moravian church—these who first began our foreign mission movement.  And when I see those people, I don’t look upon them with bitterness or with sectarian hatred or contempt, I thank God for them.  There in the heart of the dark continent of— there in the sweltering Amazon jungle or down there in Jamaica, or under the Arctic Circle—there are my brethren of other denominations who are preaching Jesus. So I have come to this conclusion in my own spirit and attitude.  This is what Paul said in the first chapter of Philippians; “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; but others of good will:  The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely…But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel.  What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached: and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” [Philippians 1:15-18].

When a man preaches Jesus, I don’t care where he is, or what.  I ask sincerely God’s blessings upon that man; wherever he stands, if he preaches Jesus –God bless him and may God give power to him.

May I close?  The Lord Himself said there is a first commandment, He said there is also a second commandment, but there is a first commandment [Matthew 22:36-40]. Now, a deduction: there are some things that are first and primary and fundamental in the Christian faith.  And to me, that first and primary and fundamental for us is—it is Jesus, it is Christ, all other things are in second place; it is Christ and Christ alone, it is Jesus and Him only, and I repeat, God bless any man anywhere who has it in his heart to preach Jesus.  So Paul writes, “James, and Cephas, and John, gave to Barnabas and to me the right hands of fellowship; that we should go to the Gentiles, and they would go to the Jews” [Galatians 2:9].  And God blessed them all—Cephas, James, and John, Paul, Barnabas, and Silas.  O Lord, may I have always in my heart the spirit of love and charity, preaching Jesus.

Now our time is far spent.  We are going to stand and sing our appeal, and while we sing it, in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; to accept the Lord Jesus as Savior, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, to answer God’s call for your heart and your life, if God bids you come, make the decision now and stand by me here.  “Pastor, I have taken the Lord as my Savior today, and I’m coming.”  Or, “I want to be baptized like it says in the Book, and I’m coming.”  Or, “We’re going to put our lives in the fellowship of the church, and we’re coming.”  As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.