Is The Church Of Christ A Denomination?
Is the church of Christ a denomination? Members of the church of Christ say "no", but members of denominational churches say "yes". Who is right about this ? Can it be determined who is right, and if so how? I answer that we certainly can tell who is right, and that it can be determined in several different ways — definition of terms, scriptural study of the church and denominations, also a historical study of them; and furthermore, by the unwitting admissions of the denominations themselves.
One false teacher recently declared that the word "denomination" means to give a name to, and then triumphantly asserted that the church of Christ was a denomination in spite of our denial, because we had a specific name. Such assertions show both ignorance and prejudice.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines denomination thus: "The giving of a specific name to anything, hence the name or designation of a person or thing( Lat. denominure, to give a specific name). In arithmetic it is applied to a unit in a system of weights and measures, currency or numbers. The most general use of 'denomination' is for a body of persons holding specific opinions, usually religious, and having a common name, or for the various 'sects' into which members of a common faith may be divided. `Denominationalism' is thus the principle of emphasizing the distinctions, rather than the common ground in the faith held by different bodies professing one sort of religious belief." (Vol. 7, p. 217). (Emphasis supplied).
Denomination And Denominator
Thus, in the religious sense, the sense in which this word is most generally used, it means simply a "sect". Both the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Webster's Dictionary use this word "sect" in defining the word denomination. It is also significant that the word "denominator" which means "to divide", also came from the same root word as "denomination"'.
A Dissenting Party — A Sect
To further clarify the meaning of this word, let us look at the definition of the word "sect". Webster defines it thus: "In religion: a party dissenting from an established or parent church; a denomination".
Holy Spirit's Definition
It should be apparent to all from this, that a denomination is a body of people dissenting from the true New Testament Church in doctrine and name. This is the exact definition given by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Hear Him — "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils." (I Timothy 4:1). Denominations are, therefore, nothing less than departures from the faith. That is God's definition. Doctrine and practice are the factors that make a denomination. A church becomes a denomination when it teaches or practices anything that cannot be found in the "doctrine of Christ". Let's look at an example or two.
Division At Galatia
In Galatia the brethren who added circumcision to the "gospel of Christ" were accused of "perverting, the gospel", and were to be "accursed" for thus "falling from grace". Let's read it from the Bible — Galatians 1:6-8, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed". Now, chapter 5 and verses 2 thru 4, "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace".
Denomination At Ephesus
Another case is the church at Ephesus. This church split up after a big church fuss (the Bible calls it a "trial") because some of the elders were making false claims of power, and teaching false doctrine — doctrine which the apostle Paul called "perverse things". Do you doubt it? Let's read it from the Word of God — Acts 20:28-30, Paul said to the elders of the church at Ephesus, "Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock ... for I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them".
There is the prediction, now let's look at the fulfillment — Revelation 2:2, "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write . . . I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars".
There you have it. When men began teaching "perverse things" the brethren rose up against it. A big church fuss followed — some taking one side and some the other. The church was divided. One group remained the true church, and God commended them for their opposition to the other group, who became a denomination — differing from the parent church in doctrine and then taking a specific name to identify it — which God condemned. Of course each group claimed that they were right. The true church did not "settle" (?) the dispute by saying that they were both right, but rather by "trying" their claims and doctrines, and finding them false.
Denominations Are Departures From The Faith
From these two examples it should be most clearly seen that all denominations are simply departures from the faith, as the Holy Spirit declared in 1 Timothy 4:1 — ". . . in the latter times some shall depart from the faith." You will notice, too, that these "departures" were not in forsaking religion, but in "giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils", hence false doctrine.
Have Not God
From 2 John 9 thru 11 we learn that all such is plainly condemned. "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds".
Worship God In Vain
On such "departures from the faith" hear Jesus Christ in Matthew 15:9-14, "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.. . Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch".
I repeat denominations are simply departures from the faith! (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:3-4). And they are everyone condemned! (2 John verses 9-11 and Matt. 15:9-14).
Church Of Christ Not A Denomination
The church of Christ is NOT a denomination because we teach and practice today exactly what Christ and the Apostles taught in the beginning. We will prove every point of our faith by a "thus saith the Lord" — chapter and verse — OR we will quit it. Try us and see.
To what denomination did Peter, Paul, James, John, the 3000, Cornelius, the eunuch, Lydia, the Corinthians and the jailor belong? They were members of the body of Christ, which is the Lord's church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Col. 1:18, 24), yet they were not members of any denomination. All who were saved became members of this body, the church, by virtue of the fact that God added them to it--Acts 2:47. Yet, they belonged to no denomination. They had been "called out" of the "power of darkness' or the world, and translated into the "kingdom of God's dear Son" which is the Church (Col. 1:13-14, 18), but still they were not members of any denominational church.
Undenominational Christianity Today
Just so, today, if a sinner believes in Christ, and is baptized, just as the 3000, the eunuch, Lydia, Cornelius, the jailor, etc., such would make him a Christian, but nothing more. (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:36-41; Acts 8:36-39; Acts 16:14-15; Acts 16:30-34; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27). This would not make him a member of any denomination. If a great number should do this, and no more, would they not be just a number of Christians? Should this number come together on the first day of the week for worship (Arts 20:7), call themselves by the same name as did the Apostles and early Christians, accept and teach the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice, select such servants as the Bible authorizes, and observe the same commands in the same way as the Apostles and early Christians did, and as are set forth in the Bible — they would be simply New Testament Christians, members of the body of Christ, or New Testament Church, assembling for worship, without being members of any denomination on earth.
The Church Of Christ
This is exactly what the Church of Christ is, and contends for. If you want to be a simple New Testament Christian — no more and no less — then be a member of the Church of Christ. If you want to follow the Bible strictly — without addition or subtraction — then come to the church of Christ. Remember, too, if you were baptized to get into some denomination, then your baptism was not scriptural, and you need to be baptized yet. (See Acts 18:24 thru Acts 19:5). Bible baptism puts one into the "one body" — the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:13). Any baptism that puts one into any body other than the body of Christ cannot be Bible baptism.
For true, undenominational, New Testament Christianity, attend the church of Christ.
(Delivered over KSEL, Lubbock, Texas, June 5, 1955)