By Parnell McCarter



We should look upon the proliferation of denominations in much the same way we look upon divorce.  Just as God is, as a general rule, displeased with rents in marriage, so too He is displeased with rents in His visible Church.  Although there can be valid reasons for formation of a new denomination, just as there can be just grounds for divorce, there are significant pre-conditions which must be met before such drastic action is taken.  It is not satisfactory that there simply **may** be doctrinal differences; there should be clear and well evidenced doctrinal differences on a chief doctrine of scripture before there is ecclesiastical separation and formation of a new denomination, just as there must be clear and well-evidenced adultery on the part of an offending spouse for there to be divorce.


Clear and well evidenced doctrinal differences generally should be seen in the constitutional standards, or at least in a synodical decision.  For instance, it is clear in the case of most American Presbyterian denominations that they have rejected the Establishment Principle, by their revisions to the Westminster Standards.  It would be a vain waste of time to try to take the matter back up through the church courts of such churches.  Anyone who adheres to the Establishment Principle should rule out joining with such denominations on the basis of their constitutional standards.  Other doctrinal differences can be seen in the synodical decisions of churches.  For instance, it is clear that the Associated Presbyterian Churches permit attendance at the Romish Mass, and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (FPCS) forbids it, based upon synodical decisions of both churches.  But discussions with merely certain individuals in a church, when it is far from clear based upon the constitutional standards and past synodical decisions that the individuals’ opinions represent the synod’s decision, does not typically constitute adequate evidence of real doctrinal difference.  Too, the difference must rise to the level of being a difference of view over a plain and clear Biblical doctrine, such as were outlined in the Westminster Standards, and not over an obscure or petty matter, or one which is more a matter of preferred semantics rather than requisite semantics.


There is a false sense of admiration in our day of tolerant feelings between divorced couples and between different denominations.  One hears of Hollywood couples who divorce over “irreconcilable differences”, yet each partner publicly speaks in the most glowing and tolerant terms of the ex-spouse.  Too, we witness different denominations who relate on a most warm and cozy basis, yet do not make clear to the public precisely what are the serious errors or sins of the other denomination which keep them ecclesiastically apart.  This is not the way it should be at all.  First, there should only  be divorce at the personal or ecclesiastical level where there are clear and well evidenced differences which would justify such a split.  Second, it is the duty of each offended party to make clear why the personal or ecclesiastical divorce had to occur, that the offending party might be publicly shamed, and thus be led to repent.  By hiding the cause of the rent under the bushel, it prevents an important means by which repentance can more readily be effected.  In addition, hiding the cause of rent under the bushel undermines the doctrine that God hates divorce and proliferation of denominations.  The existence of the “split P’s” should be a cause of much shame.