THE LANGUAGE OF EXCLUSIVISM
Exclusivism1 is a sectarian mentality that regards one's religious party not only as superior to other parties, but also as the only legitimate proclaimer of divine truth. It is a set of discourses that seeks to reduce the universal church into a single sect, and that pronounces damnation to those who do not belong to this "right church."
The Marks of the "True Church"
Many sectarians build their belief in the "rightness" of their church on the identity of their leader or founder and/or the name and other distinctives of their group. To illustrate, let me cite four sects indigenous to the Philippines that make this claim.
1. Members Church of God International. Mainly through its widely known TV program, "Ang Dating Daan" (The Old Path), this church finds confidence in the assertion of their leader, Eliseo Fernando Soriano, that he is "the only pastor" in the Philippines who teaches the whole, unadulterated truth of God's Word.2
2. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ The Name Above Every Name. The founder of this church, Apollo Quibolloy of Davao City, claims to be God's "audible voice" today -- he being "God's Appointed Son." Alluding to the Noahic deluge, he preaches that those who wish to be saved should "enter into the Ark of Salvation" (i.e., his church).3
3. Pentecostal Missionary Church of Christ (4th Watch). Arsenio T. Ferriol is the apostle destined to lead the "final watch" in these last days, according to this group. I've had conversations with some of their members in Naga City who insisted that in order to be saved, everyone should submit to Ferriol's apostleship and be a member of his church.4
4. Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ). This sect interprets the latter part of Revelation 6 and the first part of Revelation 7 to be a prophecy on World War I. The four angels were the "Big Four" (David Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, and Vittorio Orlando), and the 5th angel from "the East" (i.e. Philippines) was Felix Ysagun Manalo who, in 1914, founded the one, true church. He was God's messenger for these last days, and everybody should be a member of the Iglesia to be saved from eternal damnation.5
Two other groups originating from abroad that are also known for their exclusivism are the Jehovah's Witnesses who claim to be God's sole "visible organization today"6 and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which teaches that this group is "the Lord's Kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the second coming of the Messiah."7
I have also observed the same mentality among some Catholics who have interpreted Cyprian of Carthage's expression, extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation) differently from John Paul II who argued that the said dictum does not really teach "ecclesiocentrism" or "ecclesiological exclusivism."8 I have also heard several Pentecostals, Baptists and other Evangelicals regard other Christians as "unbelievers" since these belong to what is perceived as a totally corrupt religious institution. Then there's this friend who told me that his church must be the true one because it carries the right name -- "Church of God, Faith of Abraham" (with great emphasis on the last three words).
Among Churches of Christ in the Philippines, many are still caught up in this mindset. They take pride in the CoC's "marks of the one, true church" (right name, undenominational status, a capella tradition, etc.)9 and regard those outside this religious institution as outside of God's grace.
I have met many CoC members in the Philippines though who somehow share the thoughts of three noted professors of Abilene Christian University (ACU) who wrote:
...we are repulsed by the spirit of exclusivism, legalism, and judgmentalism that still lives among us, and we question whether it has a truly biblical basis. We believe that those who assume that their understanding of truth is the understanding, and who tolerate little, if any, diversity of teaching or practice, do not reflect the teachings of Scripture or the spirit of Christ. Perhaps, more than any other factor, it is this exclusivist, judgmental spirit that has driven a wedge among our churches and fueled the polarization and divisiveness that has often characterized Churches of Christ in the twentieth century.10
In their analysis of this trend towards openness among many CoC members in the United States, these church historians cite three major factors: realization that a sectarian spirit is not consistent with Christian principles, studies on social factors influencing CoC doctrines, and exposure to a greater number of Spirit-filled Christians outside the CoC.11
The same factors, along with others, served as eye-openers to me, leading to my deconversion from sectarianism.
Facing up to Reality
As a hot-blooded sectarian more than a decade ago, I was smug in the belief that were Judgment Day to come, our little flock of 15-20,000 members plus a number of those who have already died were the only ones in the Philippines who would be privileged to stroll the streets of gold, dwell in eternal mansions fair, eat of the 12 fruits of the Tree of Life, frolic in the river that flows from God's throne, and sing praises to the Almighty forevermore. For after all, in line with our biblical, restorationist slogans, we spoke where the Bible spoke and were silent where the Bible was silent; we called things by Bible names and did things the Bible way; we were just Christians -- neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Jewish; we restored the purity of the gospel and the simplicity of the New Testament Church; choosing to be non-/undenominational, we kept our white garments unsullied from the corruption of denominationalism.12
It felt sad to think that a majority of well-meaning professed Christians would, at the Judgment, be shocked with the familiar verdict, "I never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work iniquity!" but, on the other hand, it was a thrill to think that we the chosen ones would finally enter the narrow gate and hear those familiar, endearing words: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." 13
Thankfully, much of that hot blood poisoned by the venom of sectarianism has gone out of my system after submitting myself to "blood-letting" with the blade of reality and having the bad blood replaced with something fresh through the process of deconversion.
That new reality lopped off my self-assurance in the worthiness of a judgmental stance, and woke me up so I could finally see how inauthentic my life was under a legalistic system:
1. It didn't matter that an overwhelming number of believers outside our fellowship have reflected the transforming power of the Cross far greater than most in my church have -- we were still the chosen ones! They may have preached Jesus, but they were not "one of us"! 14
2. We casually denied the genuineness of the Christian experience of hymnodists whose compositions filled our hymnals. Fanny Crosby ("Praise Him, Praise Him"), Stuart K. Hine ("How Great Thou Art"), John Newton ("Amazing Grace"), Isaac Watts ("Joy to the World"), and many others may have written inspirational hymns, but they will have to suffer the eternal flames of hell -- they were "denominationalists"!
3. We profited from the lifelong studies of a host of archaeologists, Greek/Hebrew lexicographers, Bible commentators, and preachers and yet arrogantly claimed that they haven't studied the Bible enough to be able to "see the light." Matthew Henry & Henry Thayer (Anglicans), Charles Haddon Spurgeon & Archibald Thomas Robertson (Baptists), Adam Clarke & William Foxwell Albright (Methodists), Albert Barnes & Francis Schaeffer (Presbyterians), Frederick Fyvie Bruce & Paul Eagelson Little (Brethren), and many others -- the collective role of these Bible scholars in the advancement of Christian scholarship may have dwarfed that of our own, but still they had not advanced close enough to God! They simply did not belong to the right church!
4. The conversion stories of Boris Nicholayevich Kornfeld and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russia), Richard Wurmbrand (Romania), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Germany), Clive Staples Lewis (England), Charles Colson (USA), Zhang Boli (China), and many others are to be doubted -- they had to be taught the right doctrine, baptized specifically "for the remission of sins" 15 and be a member of the one, true church to be truly converted!
5. Too, the missionary works of Jozef De Veuster (Molokai), Hudson Taylor (China), Don Richardson (Irian Jaya), K. P. Yohannan (India), Martin and Gracia Burnham (Philippines), and many others resulted in the damnation, not conversion, of millions -- they were or are not "our" preachers and some of their doctrines do not square with the plain teachings of the Bible!
6. We must recognize the importance of Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Girolamo Savonarola, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin and many others in the development and reform of systematic theology. However, we must remember that they taught false doctrines and are therefore children of the Devil. Many of the Reformers brought us closer to the correct understanding of Gospel truth, but not close enough! The world had to wait for our group to restore the New Testament Church in our time! 16
Looking back to all these arrogant claims and inconsistencies we had in what we taught and practiced, I couldn't help being ashamed of myself. There are times when I would ask myself whether my more than 12 years with sectarianism was such a terrible waste of time, and forsaking several promising career paths for the sake of "the Ministry" was such a great blunder. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that I might have lost some opportunities for secular advancement, but having gone through these religious experiences, I also gained a form of wisdom which I would not have gained some other way. I remain thankful that I do not have to get old until I realize a lifetime's devotion to a pharisaical advocacy did not really make me a better person.
At least, I have come to an understanding that in the final analysis, only God knows who His genuine people are, that God saves us not by our membership to a particular sect but by our personal, individual response to His calling according to the "available light"17 we have been given. I have come to realize that the "True Church" transcends sectarian and denominational boundaries. I have come to the point that I don't have to wake up each day consigning people to hell simply because they do not parse some sacred texts the way I do. I don't have to require that a person be doctrinally and behaviorally perfect (according to my group's standard of perfection) in order to be accepted by God.
I continue to hope that Christians will keep tearing down the fences they have erected that have kept them from engaging in meaningful dialogues with their religious neighbors, and from realizing that real unity can only be attained not through conformity, but through diversity. For again, as Ketcherside had well put it:
Unity in Christ is not conformity but community. We are one because we share a common faith, and not because we hold the same opinions. The only passage which declares there is one faith informs us that in our calling we must live "with patience, forebearing one another in love" (Ephesians 4.2). Patience and forebearance are not qualities of robots, but of thinking men and women. God made us to differ mentally as we differ physically. We can no more all think alike than we can all look alike.
We are not in the fellowship because we see everything alike, or because we like everything we see. We are together because God has called us all, and received us all when we responded to his call. God did not call angels, but men! We are human before we are called and we are human after we are called...
Being human, there is only one type of unity possible for us, and that is unity in diversity. If we do not accept this form of unity there is no other for us. Fellowship results from a mutual sonship, brotherhood from a common Fatherhood. We are not one in opinion, but one in Christ Jesus. To interpret the word of God to fragment those who are in the Son of God, and thus to justify their carnality and immaturity, is to do despite to the Spirit of Grace.18
Needless to say, exclusivists regard the above quote as "heretical" and continue to tell the world by their speech and deed that Christianity -- and even God -- must be consigned to a sectarian straitjacket. Or a cadaver bag.
1 Church of Christ historian Leroy Garrett has an excellent article on this topic entitled, "Our Costliest Sin: Exclusivism" published in Cecil Hook, ed., Our Heritage of Unity and Fellowship: Writings of Leroy Garrett and W. Carl Ketcherside (Beaverton, OR: by the author,), 152-157; available online @ freedomsring. Another fine article online is Al Maxey's "The Spirit of Sectarianism." Edward Fudge also has an enlightening discussion on legalism/sectarianism with Bruce Edwards (click here).
2 Click here for Soriano's podcasts.
3 Apollo C. Quibolloy, "The Great Revolutionary," Pinas: The Filipino's Global Newspaper, 20 August 2005, 9, 14-15, 24.
4 See a summary and critique of Ferriol's doctrines here.
5 Bienvenido C. Santiago, "What We Believe and Why," Pasugo: God's Message, September-October 1988, 3; Feljun B. Fuentes, "Remembering God's Messenger in These Last Days," Pasugo: God's Message, May 1994, 4; Antonio E. Bocobo, Jr., "Brother Felix Y. Manalo: A Brief Biography," Pasugo: God's Message, May 1994, 5-8, 10, 16; Nicanor P. Teosen, "'Come to Me,...': An Invitation to Salvation," Pasugo: God's Message, September 2007, 8-11.
For a critique of the Iglesia's truth-claims, read this book: Ruivivar, Tino C. The Absurd Claims and Biggest Mistakes of the Iglesia Ni Cristo. Quezon City: Evangelical Life Publishers, Inc., 2005.
6 Watchtower & Bible Tract Society, You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (Brooklyn: Watchtower & Bible Tract Society of New York, Inc.), 191-202; Par. 8 of the Introduction to The Book of Mormon, Triple ed. (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981), ix; cf. Gordon B. Hinckley, Truth Restored: A Short History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), 106. Cf. Donald Platt, Counterfeit (Manila: OMF Literature Inc., 1981), 9-54, 73-85. Although published more than two decades ago, Platt's book still stands as a popular resource for Filipino Evangelical Christians in their discussions with the Iglesia and the JWs.
8 John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1994), 140-141. He pointed out in this same book that "Besides formal membership in the Church, the sphere of salvation can also include other forms of relation to the Church" by which he meant that other Christian groups are welcome partners in world evangelization (pp. 140-141). Since Vatican II, several Catholic and Evangelical leaders have been engaging in unitive dialogues which have been subsequently published. One good example is the book edited by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus -- Your Word is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002.
9 Cf. Leroy Brownlow, Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ, 50th Anniversary Ed. (Fort Worth, TX: Brownlow Publishing Company, Inc., 1973), 28-37, 186-192; Alan E. Highers, "What is the Church of Christ?" The Spiritual Sword 37 (July 2006): 1-3.
Recommended online readings on the "name" issue: Charles A. Holt, "What's the Difference?"; Charles A. Holt, "Where are the Christians"?; Charles A. Holt, "The Non-Biblical Word: Church"; Neal Griffin, "Is the Church of Christ a Denomination?"; W. Carl Ketcherside, "The Name Pattern"; Dusty Owens, "Why I Left the Church of Christ" (or click on this link). I can email you these articles (Word format) should you have trouble accessing Charles Holt's site.
On the issue of "instrumental music in worship" and related topics, go to the following websites: Al Maxey, Dallas Burdette), Edward Fudge, and Leroy Garrett. I also recommend this website and this discussion group by former CoC members.
10 Jeff W. Childers, Douglas A. Foster, Jack R. Reese, The Crux of the Matter: Crisis, Tradition, and the Future of Churches of Christ (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2002), 13.
11 Ibid. pp. 10-11.
12 Cf. Hugh Fulford, "Shall We Be a Denomination?" The Spiritual Sword 39 (January 2008): 5-8 & Stafford North, "How To Be Undenominational In a Denominational World," in Jim Sheerer and Charles L. Williams, Directions for the Road Ahead: Stability in Change Among Churches of Christ (Chickasha, OK: Yeoman Press, 1998), 199-212.
The impossibility of a church group to be truly "undenominational" is well noted by Koivisto:
..any group of related churches which find part of their reason for being a unity in the opposition to denominationalism have already defined themselves denominationally. An undenominational group has never survived, by definition, as a "non-denomination"....
One cannot, by definition oppose denominationalism without becoming one. Those who are attracted to an anti-denominational status ultimately unite in their opposition. This requires mutual support and relationship, the earmarks of denominational relations.
Rex A. Koivisto, One Lord, One Faith: A Theology for Cross-Denominational Renewal (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993), 96-97
13 Matthew 7.23; 25.34
14 Cf. Mark 9.38-40. It was quite a shock to many Philippine Bible College PBC) alumni that the school's founder, the late Ralph Brashears, would write a few years before his death that "the kings of the earth [who will] bring their glory into the new city of God" include Pat Boone (considered an apostate to the faith by many CoC writers because of his defection to Pentecostalism), and other "non-Christians" or "false teachers" like David Livingstone, Socrates, Ronald Reagan, Paul Bunyan, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Jose Rizal, Isaac Watts, Augustine of Hippo, Louis Pasteur, John Wesley, John Calvin, William Shakespeare,and John Wycliffe. Ralph F. Brashears, The Revelation of the Christian Age (New York: Vantage Press, Inc., 1989), 427.
His 180-degree turn on the issue of instrumental music in worship is also known:
The doctrine that mechanical instruments of music, if used in Christian worship, is a sin, has not been proven by the Bible, logic nor authentic history, yet. John Calvin's dictum, that whatever is not authorized by God is a sin if you do it, is a human doctrine. He forbade uninspired songs, four-part singing, and mechanical musical instruments to be used in worship by this dogma. Since it is not commanded or forbidden in the New Testament, it is an optional, and should not be used to cause division in the body of Christ (Rom. 14; I Cor. 7:25-28). There are many commanded essentials that Christians should inculcate in the Church and not make laws that God has not bound on us (Matt. 12:36; Luke 16:10; I Cor. 11:2-16; I John 2:15). pp. 458-459; cf. pp. 268, 291.
15 On the issue of "re-baptism" in the CoC, I found this book a great resource: Allen, Jimmy. Re-Baptism? What One Must Know to be Born Again. West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Co., 1991.
16 See Shepherd, James W. The Church, the Falling Away, and the Restoration. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1973; Mattox, F.W. The Eternal Kingdom. Delight, AR: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1961.
18 William Carl Ketcherside, The Twisted Scriptures (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing Company, 1976; reprint, Round Rock, TX: Cecil Hook, 2005), 23-24.
The following books have given me a greater appreciation of how God has worked in the lives of various people in various circumstances:
Burnham, Gracia & Dean Merrill. In the Presence of my Enemies. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2003.
Colson, Charles. Loving God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.
Fudge, Edward. Beyond the Sacred Page: A Testimony to the Guidance of God in the Life of One Man. Houston, TX: Providential Press, 1995.
Hook, Cecil. Grit in My Gizzard. Round Rock, TX: By the author, 2006.
John Hunt Publishing. Christian Book of Records. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990. Reprint, Manila: Back to the Bible, 2000.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. 101 Hymn Stories: The Inspiring True Stories Behind 101 Favorite Hymns. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995. Reprint, Manila: Back to the Bible, 2000.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. 101 More Hymn Stories: The Inspiring True Stories Behind 101 Favorite Hymns. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995. Reprint, Manila: Back to the Bible, 2000.
Pugh, Jeffrey C. The Matrix of Faith: Reclaming a Christian Vision. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001.
Richardson, Don. The Peace Child. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1976.
Wurmbrand, Richard. In God's Underground. Ed. Charles Foley. Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book Co., 1993.
Yohannan, K.P. Revolution in World Missions. Carrolton, TX: Gospel for Asia, 2000.
Zhang Boli. Escape from China: The Long Journey from Tiananmen to Freedom. Trans. Kwee Kian Low. New York: Washington Square Press, 2002.
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