Is The Church of Christ A Denomination?
S. Leonard Tyler
This question demands a characterization as well as a categorization of the church and denominationalism. Are the churches of Christ and denominations established and sustained by the same authority? If the church is a denomination, is there a real identifiable church of Christ? If the true church is composed of the saved in all denominations, then is the Lord's church lost (at least her identifying qualities) in denominationalism? Would not this mean that the denominational qualities are stronger and more to be desired than the church's? The church of the Lord or the Lord's people, according to denominational reasoning, becomes .unidentifiable, in reality indistinguishable, and in fact visibly non-existing. If otherwise, how in a real recognizable .sense can it be identified?
It is impossible upon an empirical basis or mythical feeling to discover, to come to know, the qualifying characteristics of the Lord's people. If one, by understanding the teaching of the Bible, can learn how to identify the Lord's people, can he not recognize the church`' For that is what the church is: the saved, called out people, of the Lord (Acts 2:37-42, 47; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:22-23; 2:9; Eph. 1:1, 13, 20-23; Rev. 2:1).
The Church of Christ Is Not A Denomination
I. The church is not a denomination because of what a denomination is. A denomination is "a religious organization uniting in a single legal and administrative body a number of local congregations" (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary). Denominationalism is "a class, kind, or sort designated by a specific name; ecclesiastically, a body or sect holding peculiar distinctives" (Baker's Dictionary of Theology, 1960, pp. 163, 164). Therefore, a denomination is a division, a part of the whole-real thing, designated by its name, doctrine, organization and practice usually consisting of a number of local groups of the same class, kind or sort bound together by superficial or real ecclesiastical laws. Denominational teaching and/or practice encompass, circumscribe, or allow "more than" or "less than" the Bible or it would be the church. Compare a human creed with the Bible; it must contain "more than" or "less than" the Bible or else it would be the Bible. The denominational theology accepts and nurtures the sectarian spirit that affirms that a divided religious condition is justifiable wherein most of the saved are found. Notwithstanding, they sometimes completely bypass the church and all denominations and have some saved disassociated with any religious group. If the church of Christ is a denomination, it is non-essential to God's eternal scheme of man's salvation.
Where does the Bible fit denominationalism or denominationalism fit the Bible? It presents the religious world as an arena for contentions, a maze of divisions and contemptuous wranglings, a mad house of doctrines and emotional justifying and condemning. How can any one with Bible authority, approve or commend such a worldly, dissentious and humanized anarchy as representing the chosen, sanctified, saved or "called out" people of the Lord? God is not the God of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). He is the God of peace and salvation to them that obey Him.
What Is The Church Of Christ?
II. The church is not a denomination because of what it is. The church of Christ is defined as follows: "The" is a definite article to specify. "Church" is from the Greek word ekklesia which means "called out or from" and is translated "assembly, congregation, company, church." "Of Christ" is a prepositional phrase of possession and means, Christ owns or possesses. The church of Christ, as set forth in the Scriptures, circumscribes and is the people belonging to the Lord by right of their faith in and obedience to Christ to the saving of the soul (Acts 2:37-38, 41-42, 47; Col. 1:18). They are called by the gospel (1 Cor. 1:9; 15:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:14) into fellowship with God, Christ, Holy Spirit and all the saints (1 John 1:3-10; Rom. 1:16). Christ is the absolute head of His church with all authority in every sense in which the church of the Lord is used with approval in the New Testament (Eph. 1:1, 20-23; James 4:12). If and when sin enters the church, it must be stopped and repented of, for salvation of the sinner. If sin effects or corrupts the whole body, the candlestick will be removed and she loses her identity with the Lord (1 John 2:1-6; Rev. 2:4-5, 20-23; 3:19). Therefore, the Church of Christ is the saved anywhere and everywhere in\the whole wide world, in the individual relationship with God (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:18; Gal. 3:26-27). In the local sense, it is the saved in any given locality meeting together worshiping and working within the divine arrangement prescribed in the New Testament (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). These belong to Christ through their total commitment to Him in respect to His voice (Heb. 12:22-29). The local congregations must be one in name, doctrine, organization, worship, work or promises for the same authority regulates them all (Matt. 24:20; 1 Cor. 7:17; 11:16; Col. 2:5-9).
The Church Is God's Creation
III. The church is not a denomination because it is God's own creation. Paul, setting forth the mystery hidden for ages in God, said, "Who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:10-11, NASB). He continued, "Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Eph. 3:13-14). And concludes, "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end" (Eph. 3:21). God designed the church. Christ established and sustains the church which is to stand through all the ages to give God glory.
The Church Is Essentially One
IV. The church cannot be a denomination because~the church of the New Testament is from design to accomplishment essentially one. The Bible contains all the divine information and instructions there are relative to the Lord's church. As J.W. Shepherd wrote, "God has revealed to us the things that pertain to his church - the faith, the practice, and the promises - and with these it is my purpose to deal. Here, all is faith and assurance; beyond this, all is opinion and fruitless speculation" (Church, Falling Away And Restoration, p. 6, 1948).
This article is based upon the understanding that the New Testament is written to reconcile and unite in one body, the church, man to God and to one another (Eph. 2:13-22; 2 Cor. 5:18-21). These "called out, united" people, under the teaching of Christ, are designed to serve God's purpose upon the earth and the faithful will enjoy His eternal blessings (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Cor. 15:58).
I doubt, if one can express this fundamental truth more decisively or understandingly than did Thomas Campbell in his first proposition of his Declaration And Address. He said, "That the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct; and of none else, as none else can be truly and properly called Christians" (Memoirs Of Alexander Campbell, by Robert Richardson, Vols. I-II, page 256). This quotation I believe, expresses very forcefully and emphatically a truth firmly established in the Divine Volume.
Christ Built His Church
V. The church of Christ cannot be a denomination because Christ said, "1 will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). He sent His apostles to disciple all nations and said, "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). Those who are taught, have believed, are baptized and observe His teaching are to be His people (Mk. 16:15-16; John 6:45; Matt. 17:5).
In the fulness of time, this came to pass. It was on the first Pentecost after Christ's death, burial, resurrection and ascension. The Holy Spirit, sent from heaven, filled the apostles and they spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance. The multitude came together and were confounded because they heard each one of the apostles' speak in his own language (their dialect) the wonderful works of God. The hearing of the gospel pricked their hearts and they asked, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter responded, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." They that received his word were baptized and continued in the apostles doctrine. "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2). This was the beginning, but before the close of the first century, the gospel was heard throughout the whole world (Col. 1:23) and the church of Christ was established in such places as Antioch (Acts 11:26), Corinth (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:2), Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5; Rev. 2:1), Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1), the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:1, 6-12; 3:26-27) and on and on. The preaching of the gospel, believed and obeyed, made Christians and Christians made the church.
The Word Is The Seed
VI. The church of Christ is not a denomination because the word of God is the seed of the kingdom and produces only Christians and Christians make up the church of the Lord (Luke 8:11; 1 Pet. 1:23; Acts 11:26). This is what Christ commissioned His apostles to preach, the gospel (Mk. 16:15-16). They preached it (1 Cor. 2:1-13; 15:1-3; Acts 8:4) and charged others to preach it (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
They were warned not to preach any other doctrine (Gal. 1:6-10; 1 Tim. 1:3-5; Rom. 16:17) and of false teachers who would destroy the church and lead them into divisions (I Tim. 4:1-3). Paul pointed the elders at Ephesus "to God and the word of His grace which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). The seed of the kingdom today is the word of God and will produce the same product as always. If and when the word is preached today, it will produce the same product - nothing more and nothing less than it did when preached in the first century. It produced Christians, disciples of Christ, or children of God who made up the church as revealed in the New Testament and that is exactly what it will produce today.
Terms Used Show Oneness
VII. Christ expressions during His personal ministry leads to a oneness: (a) "The kingdom" (Matt. 4:23; 13:44-45) which must be first (Matt. 6:33, 13:38); (b) The vineyard or householder (Matt. 20:1-16; 21:28-31); (c) The sheepfold, even the "other sheep" of whom Jesus said, "They shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd" (Jn. 10:1-16); (d) The vine and branches; Jesus is the vine, Christians are the branches ("ye") who must abide in the vine and bear fruit (Jn. 15:1-8). Each of these expressions teaches a oneness - not a denominational concept.
The expressions of the apostles teach oneness, unity and peace: (a) The church (Acts 8:1; Eph. 3:10); (b) The body (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18, 24; 1 Cor. 12:18, 27); (c) The bride of Christ (Rom. 7:1-4; 2 Cor. 11:1-3; Eph. 5:21-32); (d) The house of God (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 4:17; Heb. 3:6); (e) The church of God (1 Cor. 1:2), of the Lord (Acts 20:28 ARV), of first born (ones) whose names are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23); (f) The kingdom (Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:28); and "the churches of Christ salute you" (Rom. 16:16). All these terms circumscribe the Lord's people identifiable by their absolute dependence upon Christ for doctrine, faith, practice and promises. No denominational division can be found or justified by any of these terms. Jesus said, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth" (Luke 11:17).
We Stand Or Fall Upon The Word Of God
VIII. The church of Christ is not a denomination because she most sincerely believes and faithfully submits to the teaching of Christ as revealed in the New Testament (Rom. 6:17-23; 1 Cor. 12:13-27; 15:1-3, 58; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 3:1-4; 1 Tim. 3:15). The word of God reveals all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). It is the standard or means, by which men are led to be reconciled to God in Christ (Eph. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:18-19). This is essential because: (1) Man is unable to direct his own steps (Jer. 10:23); (2) It may seem right to man but result in death in the end (Prov. 14:12); (3) Man's thoughts and ways are not God's. We must obey God rather than man (Isa. 55:8-9; Acts 5:29; 2.Cor. 10:3-6, 12-18).
We need to call attention to some essentials at this point. (1) Men are made believers by the gospel (Rom. 1:16-18; Mk. 16:15-16). (2) Christians live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). (3) Faith comes by hearing God's word (Rom. 10:17). (4) The word of God is effective when believed and obeyed (Heb. 4:2; James 2:17, 20, 24; 2 Thess. 1:7-10). (5) Christians must keep the faith firmly with confidence unto the end (Heb. 3:6, 12-15; 10:39; Gal. 5:6). (6) The word of the Lord is the means by which one is led to Christ by faith for salvation and by which he is sustained in life (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:1-4; 5:12-14; 10:25-27) both individually and collectively.
Paul demonstrated these truths when he counted "all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ . . . that I might win Christ" (Phil. 3:8). He brought his body into subjection, lest after preaching the gospel he might be lost (I Cor. 9:27). He gave the outcome of such a life when he said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" and with assurance declared the crown of life to be hirs 0 Tim. 4:7-8).
The only way Christians can speak the same thing and have no divisions among them, "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment"; "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together; "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;" and enjoy the unity for which Jesus prayed is to abide in the teaching of the Lord as revealed in the Bible (I Cor. 1:10; Phil. 1:27; Eph. 4:3-6; John 17:20-22). This will effect "the faith once delivered," the practice set forth, the characterizing features by which recognition can be given, the hope and aspirations of a Christian resulting in complete acceptance at the eternal judgment. Therefore, all Christians should pray, and earnestly pray, "Father, help us to humbly and sincerely pray, as Jesus, `Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt, (Matt. 26:39). Help us to honestly seek to know Thy will and to apply it to our lives." This will bring forgiveness, peace at heart, unity among believers, accomplishment in God's service and eternal salvation.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 3, pp. 53-56