James Bales wrote a tract with the above title many years ago (my copy is so brittle that is didn’t survive the scanning process). We present it here for your enjoyment and consideration.
Is the Church a Denomination?
We are faced with religious division and the denominational conception of Christianity. These various denominations did not always exist. Secular history records their origin and they are not mentioned in the New Testament. They exist in spite of the New Testament, for Christ prayed for unity which would be based on His Word (John 17:20). Yet when people today discover that you are a Christian they ask you to what denomination you belong. They cannot conceive of one who is just a Christian without being some particular brand of a Christian. This is in contrast to the fact that in the days of Paul if one said that he was a Christian no one would then ask him, What denomination do you represent.
I. Denominationalism: Its Meaning, Cause, Curse, Naming and Cure
The Meaning of Denominationalism.
Denominationalism as it exists among professed Christians is the organization of professed Christians into different religious bodies. These bodies do not claim to be the whole church, but only a part of it. It means that people regard the church as something which is divided, with various groups with different faiths and practices in many instances. Denominationalism conceives Christianity as divided into sects.
The Causes of Denominationalism.
First, the party, self-centered, spirit which attempts to build up a certain group instead of the church as a whole. These look away from the Bible and walk more or less by their own wisdom. Second, mis-interpretations of the scriptures which are pressed and bound on others to the point of divisions. Third, a division over personalities. People form groups around certain individuals (Acts 20:30). Some in Paul’s day tried to form parties around various preachers and Paul condemned that condition (I Corinthians 1:1042). Fourth, some do err and form denominations because they are ignorant of the Scriptures and of the power of God. Fifth, others build a sect on one passage of the Scripture, or one doctrine, to the neglect of other passages and doctrines. Sixth, at the root of all denominationalism is sin in one form or another. Once a denomination is formed it is perpetuated by the ignorance of its adherents of Bible teaching, by pride and by the party spirit. Children often take the religion of their parents without even once comparing what their denomination teaches with what the Bible teaches.
The Curse of Denominationalism.
First, it opposes the prayer of Christ for unity (John 17:20). Second, it is a cause of infidelity and brings reproach on Christ for people discredit the Bible by saying that it cannot be right and teach so many conflicting doctrines. However, the conflict is in the ignorance of the people and not in the Bible. Jesus prayed for a visible unity on earth that the world might believe (John 17:20). Third, such division is condemned by Paul (1 Cor. 1:10-12). Fourth, It is a mark of carnality (1 Cor. 3:1-4; Gal. J :19’21). Fifth, it consumes time and money because of the duplication of work. Sixth, it hinders world evangelism because each tries to build up his own sect rather than convert the world.
The Source of Denominational Names,
First, names of persons. Second, names of countries. Third, names of ordinances. Fourth, names drawn from forms of church government. Fifth, some are named from a certain doctrine which they stress.
The Cure for Denominationalism.
First, the proper respect for Christ and for the word by which we are to be judged (John 12:48; Acts 17: 30). Second, a sincere effort to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where it is silent (1 Pet. 4:11). Third, a study of the New Testament to determine what constitutes the church. Fourth, a study of our own faith and practices in the light of the New Testament with the willingness to change wherein we fail to abide by the New Testament. Fifth, love and forbearance which do not press and bind differences of opinion (Rom. 14).
II. Is The Church of Christ A Denomination?
The Meaning of the Term “church.”
The Greeks used the term to designate an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by legitimate authority. In the Gospels, Christ said that I will build my church (Matt. 16: 18). The term is used, when speaking of His church, with reference first to individual congregations (Acts 8:1; 9:22, 26; Rom. 16:1, 4, 5; Gal. 1:2) and second the whole body of believers or Christians (Matt 16:18; Eph. 1:22; 5:10; Heb. 12:23). (Samuel W. Barnum, Smith’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the Bible, 1868, p. 175).
The unbelieving Jews referred to it as the sect of the Nazarene and as the sect which was everywhere spoken against (Acts 24:5; 28:22). They believed it was a division which had been cut off from the Jewish faith or church. However, that which they regarded as heresy (Acts 24:14), and as everywhere spoken against, constituted God’s church and God’s only church in this dispensation. The church, it is true, was named and cut off, separated, from all other religious bodies. However, it was not a denomination in the modern sense of the term which defines a denomination as a religious organization containing a part of the saved; a group which constitutes a part of the church instead of the whole church. What the Jews called a sect was in reality the church.
The church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:18, 24; Eph. 1:22, 23). The saved are in Christ’s body, in His church, and they got there by being baptized into Christ (Eph. 5:23 Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 3:27; Acts 2:40, 41, 47; John 3:5). They are born into it (John 3:5). The church of Christ is not a part, it is the whole. It has done nothing to break itself off from those who are Christians and Christians only. It is not a denomination because: First, it is the body of Christ, composed of the saved, and there are no saved people outside of it. One cannot be a Christian without being a member of Christ’s church. Second, it was founded by Christ’s apostles and it is the only church founded by them. Third, it is characterized by the names which are set forth in the New Testament. Fourth, it does not preach a denominational message. Fifth, its head is Christ. Sixth, its creed is His word. Seventh, its worship is in spirit and in truth. Eighth, it is entered by the new birth (John 3:5). Ninth, it is both undemoninational and anti-denominational.
There are those who deny that it is possible to be only a Christian. They assert that one must be denominational Christian. However, the disciples of Christ in Paul’s day were Christians only and we today can be Christians only by following God’s word. The seed, which is God’s word, when planted by itself in a heart, produces a Christian only (Luke 8:11). It takes something more or less than the Word of God to make something else.
It is true that some Christians have wandered into denominations. All who have been born of water and the Spirit have been added to the church by God Himself (Acts 2:38-47). However, those who have wandered into denominationalism ought to forsake it and be just Christians. They ought to come out of Babylon (Rev. 18:4).
It is true that members of the body of Christ often fail to live perfect lives. Thus at times they may adopt a denominational attitude and fail to respect both the voice and the silence of the Scripture. However, such shortcomings do not mean that denominationalism is approved or that the goal and message of the church of Christ is wrong. It means that individual Christians fall short and that they ought to try to do better.
Friend, why not be a Christian and a Christian only? This is possible, desirable, necessary and scriptural.