James 1:12 – Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Last week we looked at cults and sects of Christianity. This week, we will start looking at some of the mainline denominations. Denominations are those which SHOULD attest to the main precepts of Christianity. Unfortunately, as you will see with this and the posts in the upcoming weeks, heresy has found its way into many of these denominations. So much so in some cases that we need to evaluate whether these can legitimately be considered the Christian church anymore.
One thing we need to remember is that in the New Testament, the Corinthian church was most likely the most corrupt church in the Bible. Yet Paul still called them saints. The fact that heresy creeps into a church does not mean it has lost its credibility as a Christian church. Only when those heresies turn into more substantial differences with Christian doctrine found in the Bible, as such is the case with the Roman Catholic Church.
So let’s begin looking at some of these denominations to determine what their views are. Remember, the criterion that I am using was laid out a few weeks ago in part 1.5 of this series. Please review that before reading this post.
2 Timothy 3:16 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
The Episcopalian Church is the American arm of the Anglican Communion, based in the United Kingdom. The church got its start in 1534 when the King of England removed the Roman Catholic Pope as the head of the church in England and placed himself in the role. Over the next 130 years, Protestantism finally won out over Catholicism in the UK. But this isn’t Protestantism in the form we are used to in most Protestant churches. The denomination that resulted in this split is a blend of Protestant Reformation and Roman Catholic beliefs. For example, the worship is highly liturgical and there is an Episcopalian structure, which means that it is bishop-led. You can find a very diverse range of Anglican churches around the world ranging from the evangelical to the liberal to the primarily Roman Catholic. The Anglican Church believes the Bible, traditions of the Church, human reason, and the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican book of worship) are used to influence the structure of the church. Each area in the Anglican Communion is called a province and is in communion with, but independent of, the Church of England.
So what are the Anglican beliefs? One major difference between Anglican and Roman Catholic belief is the justification by faith alone. In their 39 Articles Anglican Communion, they say “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine…”
They also believe wholeheartedly in work of Jesus on the cross and His sacrifice for our sin. “He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world …” Also, once baptized, the Christian cannot lose his faith. “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”
The idea of purgatory is an area in which one can see the anger between the Anglican church and the Roman Catholic church, “The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory … is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”
One piece of heresy that has crept into the Anglican Church, which could show why other heresies such as ordination of homosexual pastors has happened, is that they view Scripture as inspired. They do not see it as inerrant and infallible. They place reason and their Book of Common Prayers on equal or even higher ground than Scripture. If we maintain that all Scripture is inerrant and infallible, then there is no room for heresy to creep in. If we maintain the Scripture as our only source for morality, then heresy will not happen.
It goes without saying that the past few years has been trying for the Anglican Church. Trying to be relevant while at the same time holding onto their traditions. The American province, the Episcopalian Church, has ordained homosexual ministers. While this has happened in America, internationally the Anglican Church has frowned upon this. However, in 2002, the Canadian Province allowed same-sex unions. Beginning in 2013, the overall Church of England has started allowing same-sex unions.
While many of my personal friends are gay, they do understand where I am with regard to my belief of homosexuality. I believe the Bible when it is called a sin. It is not a disease that can be cured. It is not how someone is born, other than being born with a sin nature. It is simply a sin. When it enters the church as a doctrine, it becomes a heresy. For that point, and the fact that the Bible is viewed as inspired but not inerrant or infallible, heresies have crept into the Anglican Church, which, if not resolved in a Scriptural way, will result in a further slipping of Christian doctrine and increased growing of worldly doctrine. The church is not called to be OF the world. The church is called to be OF GOD. We must be in this world, but not of it.
2 Timothy 3:5 – Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
It is very easy to become distracted when speaking of the history of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Church. Many denominations are involved including Methodist, Holiness, Assemblies of God, and Foursquare among others. The actual Pentecostal/Charismatic Church movement started right around the turn of the 20th Century and came out of the Holiness Movement. Looking at the PCCNA (Pentecostal Charismatic Churches of North America) website, it is very hard to follow the history of the movement. Basically, they believe that around 1901, the very first “baptism of the Holy Spirit” in modern times occurred in Topeka, KS. It was quiet for a short while until 1906 during the Asuza Street Revival in LA, CA. The “massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit” drew national attention. Because of the “different nature” of the attenders of the revival, many were thrown out of their congregations upon returning home. The church’s main belief is that once one is “baptized by the Holy Spirit” that they will receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is evidenced in speaking in tongues. As I write about several other denominations over the course of this series, I will continue to touch upon the PCCNA movement as many of the denominations have splintered from this movement.
The core of Pentacostalism is that there are three steps in the life of a believer that indicates growth. First is justification, which comes only from putting your faith in Jesus Christ. Second is sanctification, which was taught by John Wesley in “A Plain Account of the Christian Perfection” in 1766. The essence of this is that you receive power from the Holy Spirit and inner purity and therefore you no longer practice sin. Finally, the third step is the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” which leads to outward gifts, most notably speaking in tongues, healing, or prophecy.
Overall, the Pentecostal church is very much in accord with the Protestant church beliefs. All of the major core values of Christianity are taught and believed except for one. The Trinity. Most Pentecostal churches believe that you should pray to Jesus alone, that there is no Trinity. Careful review of the UPCI website reveals that they believe God has shown Himself in the form of the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is very easy to slip into modalism when reviewing the Trinity with Pentecostals. This is a direct quote from their Doctrinal Foundation, “The one God existed as Father, Word, and Spirit before His incarnation as Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and while Jesus walked on earth as God Himself incarnate, the Spirit of God continued to be omnipresent. However, the Bible does not teach that there are three distinct centers of consciousness in the Godhead or that Jesus is one of three divine persons.”
The one piece that is out there is the speaking in tongues piece. Many Pentecostals believe you have not truly been “baptized by the Holy Spirit” until you have been given your gift, and this is a more dramatic gift such as healing or speaking in tongues. Some have taken this to be a works-based system, but I don’t agree with that. If you go directly to their website and review their “What We Believe” section, it says clearly, “Everyone has sinned and needs salvation. Salvation comes by grace through faith based on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (See Romans 3:23-25; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9.)”
I am having a very hard time claiming Christian church status to the Pentecostal church. One of the major tenets of the faith is the view of the Trinity. And while the Trinity is a modern word, the concept is alive and well in Scripture. I am concerned that there are people in the Pentecostal Church being deceived. Jesus puts it well in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers.”
2 Thessalonians 2:1-6 – Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
The Holiness movement started in the beginning of the 19th century as a revival of original Methodist beliefs. While Methodism grew in America since 1766, the Holiness Movement sought to revitalize something they felt was lost in the original Methodist Church, the emphasis on the perfection of love. Over time, the Christian Holiness Partnership (CHP) arose and started unifying the Holiness denominations throughout the world. The largest Holiness Movement in the world currently is the Korean Evangelical Holiness Church with over 1 million members, almost 9% of the overall world population of Holiness members.
Many view the Holiness Movement in synchronicity with the Pentecostal Movement. Oddly, the strongest critics of the Pentecostal Movement have been Holiness denominations, wanting to shy away from the speaking in tongues. The Holiness Church has been instrumental over the years in many major issues that have faced America. One of the primary issues they faced head on was abolitionism. Seen as a century ahead of its time, many Holiness churches worked to integrate black and white into a unified congregation. The next issue they faced was that of feminism. The first women’s rights convention was actually held in a Holiness church.
Holiness churches are defined more by the ethics and morality than by the doctrine. While doctrine is paramount to Holiness churches, one cannot get too far into Holiness history without hearing the term “holy roller” and hearing the stories of churches condemning dancing, movies, music, etc…. While the old Holiness Church was ultra-fundamental, the newer Holiness Church is struggling with the impact of culture on their congregations.
As far as beliefs, the views of the Holiness Church are very closely aligned with the Methodist Church. The one view that is different from Methodism is the view of “Christian perfection.” Simply stated, this is the view that the Christian receives a “second blessing” subsequent to conversion. This is to gain volitional perfection over voluntary sin in the life of the believer. While on earth, the Christian will still mess up, those mess ups are not seen as sin because the Christian has brought true love into his heart and since the Christian’s actions are done with the motive of love, the action cannot be considered a sin. The only time it can be considered sin is if it is not done with God’s perfect love as the motive.
While I am not in complete agreement with this theology, 1 John 4:17, the cornerstone of Wesley’s argument on Christian perfection, is easily used for this, if taken out of context. 1 John 4 talks about God being love, but there is little to no reason to say that God’s love for us creates perfection in us. God’s love is “perfected in us” (v. 12) and God’s love takes fear away (v 17-19). I do believe that God has provided His perfect love for us. That love is to manifest itself inside of us and, because we love God, will help to guide us in our actions. Does this mean we will be perfect at our actions? No. And those actions can be sinful.
Let me put it this way, I love my kids. My kids love me. Because of my love for my kids, if my daughter is dating a boy (not now, when she gets MUCH older, lol) and that boy breaks her heart, I will treat that boy differently. I will view him negatively. He could be one of the greatest men on earth, but to me he would still be a jerk because he broke my daughter’s heart. If I see him walking down the street, and out of my love for my daughter, push him into a mud puddle, then I am still doing her a disservice, even though I love her as my daughter. Consequently, when we as Christians fail to share the Gospel to someone even though we love God, we are doing a disservice to them. We may love the person. We may love God. But we are choosing, volitionally, to not share God with the person because of our fear. That is sin, whether you are a Christian or not. If we choose to walk by those who need to be evangelized to, then we are wrong. We sin. This sin does not separate us from our salvation, but it does distance us from God while here on earth.
While the Holiness Church holds on to the theology of Christian perfection and ordination of women, it is very clear that in every way they are a Christian denomination and need to be viewed as partners with us as we evangelize the world with the Gospel.
2 Peter 3:16 – As he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
So this week we reviewed the Anglican/Episcopal, Pentecostal/Charismatic, and Holiness/Holy Churches. Overall, my view on the Anglican/Episcopal Church is that they are saints but are moving toward more and more heresies and may end up alienating more Christians and seekers than helping. With the Pentecostal/Charismatic Church, I cannot view them as a Christian denomination because of their Unitarian views on the Godhead. Finally, while the Holiness Movement’s theology of Christian perfection is a little distorted and they ordain female pastors, I believe that they are promoting Scriptural doctrine.
Next week, I will look at Assemblies of God, Disciples of Christ, and Quaker.