Religious division is confusing. Some look upon the spectacle of churches with conflicting
claims and conclude that all are wrong. That is a natural, but not a logical, conclusion. It
is not the result of thought. It is an easy way to avoid thinking.
Look at the confusion in the political world, attended by horror and bloodshed. Men differ as radically about methods of treating illness as they do about religion. The overwhelming majority of those who engage in business fail to succeed. Millions of boys (and their mothers) dream of being president — three or four in a generation succeed. There is nothing unique about religious division. Wherever you find division and failure, you find men. Wherever you find men, you find division and failure.
Others look upon the varying claims of honest religious adherents and conclude that all are right. That is a natural, but not a logical, conclusion. It is not the result of thought. It is an easy and pleasant way to avoid thinking.
Truth is true, and everything else is false. There are many ways of being wrong, but only one way of being right, and that is to be right! A thousand watches may be wrong, and no two alike. But if a thousand watches are right, all have the same time. We do not merely want the same time, but the right time. The simpler task is to find the right church, and it will be the same church for all who find it — for the regulator never varies! No matter what happens, who may go wrong, what movement may fail, we have solid, unshifting ground in revealed truth.
If we set our watches by each other's time, we have an endless task of adjustment. But if each sets his own watch by the regulator, the task is simple. If we take a meter reading of the religious world, or try to trace our family through the forest of ecclesiastical history, we will be hopelessly lost in the miasma of denominationalism. History is no guarantee of doctrinal purity. Age proves nothing. The right church is the one that is faithful to very commandment of God — now! Its teaching and practice and worship and name must conform to the divine pattern, or it is nothing.
Religious division is comparatively modern. It dates back only a few centuries to the Reformation. The truth is safer in this division than it was during the centuries of "unity" immediately preceding the Reformation — the Dark Ages! I see no cure for this division en masse, but anyone can find a personal cure who seeks it in the right place. If our salvation depends upon any kind of succession of churches, priests, or movements, we are hopelessly lost. If we attempt to harmonize religious differences, we will never find our way out. But if we attempt to harmonize ourselves with the divine pattern, we will save ourselves from error and confusion. Go to the mint to test your own coin. Consult the regulator and set your own watch.
Joel said, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of Jehovah shall be delivered..." (Joel 2:32 ASV). He spoke of this present gospel age, for on the day of Pentecost Peter said, "This is that..." — this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). And Paul quotes this very passage and applies it to the gospel age (Rom. 10:13ff).
Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord includes you, if you are seeking the truth. Regardless of religious history for 2,000 years, and the present divided condition, if you cannot call upon the name of the Lord and be saved, the prophecy of Joel has failed. God's eternal plan has failed. As sure as there is salvation, you can call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
In the above connection, Paul taught that the gospel must be revealed — taught, heard and believed. After quoting Joel, Peter answered a question from his audience, and said for those who heard and believed his preaching to, "repent and be baptized every one of you" (Acts 2:38). Christ has spoken to you! You do not have to heed the voice of history or man's organized religion. Tune everything else out. Set your dial upon the wavelength of the only begotten Son and "hear ye him."
"But what church shall I join?" You are not faced with that dilemma. "The Lord added to the church" those who heeded what Peter commanded (Acts 2:47). Avoid all danger and confusion by letting the Lord do the adding. Join nothing. Associate with those who, like yourself, have called upon the name of the Lord in His appointed way and joined nothing.
That is the ideal toward which we, who are called "the church of Christ," have always striven. Amid the confusion of competitive claims — lo, here is Christ; and, lo, there is Christ — we went back to Jerusalem to find original ground. We determined to do the same things, and only those things, which men did in the days of the apostles. We will join no organization, adopt no creed, wear no distinctive name of men — just obey Christ and talk the language of the New Testament (1 Pet. 4:11).
We claim no merit whatever for this decision. Any group of men, anywhere, anytime, can, and should, do just that. And regardless of any consideration, historical or otherwise, when any group faithfully does that, it constitutes a genuine church of the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, there is no salvation. This is all we can do. Every congregation has the same divine dimensions as every other congregation, and as all congregations combined — Christ, the apostles, the New Testament, and the whole world for afield. None can have more and none can have less.
But many of those who started with us on this adventure of faith were not long satisfied with the old paths. They have added all manner of modern "conveniences." Despite their elaborate equipment, they are about the unhappiest group of religious people on earth — utterly without an excuse for separate religious existence.
First, it was instrumental music in the worship. It seemed like a very little thing. It is almost universally accepted — yet it is not in the divine pattern. Neither does it have a standing in Christian history. It is even more modern than religious division. The Reformers rejected it along with other corruptions introduced by Rome. John Wesley opposed it and Adam Clarke, of the same faith, opposed it. But their followers added it later.
We cannot practice it by faith as obedience. Of course if we want to have our own way about it, we might as well go ahead and join one of the religious organizations of the day — just any of them! That is why these organizations exist. That is why the world is cluttered with denominational confusion — men have insisted on having their own way!
When men insist on having their own way, they add many things, as occasion suggests them. So it has been with our friends in the Christian Church. They formed missionary societies, as if every congregation is not a missionary society and every Christian a missionary! They added paid choirs and the most modern types of church entertainment. Out of one corner of their mouth, they sometimes speak vaguely of a "restoration plea," but from the other corner they boast of "open membership." They have added so many trappings that one would never suspect that they once aspired to simplicity in Christ. They are adrift without an anchor.
Between us and them there is a "great gulf fixed." We believe that no service is acceptable unless God authorizes it. They believe that anything is acceptable that God has not specifically forbidden. This line comes down through history with the majority always on the wrong side of it. The only hope for simplicity is for adherence to the first rule. The only way to obey God is to obey what He commands. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). The burden is on the man who speaks, not upon God for not having spoken! So long as men subscribe to the theory of presuming upon the silences of God, the religious world will be a maelstrom of confusion.