By Johnny Stringer
There are hundreds of denominational organizations in the world today. One group of congregations is organized into one denomination, while another group of congregations is organized into another denomination. Each denomination has its own doctrines, its own headquarters or governing body, and its own brand name. They are all different, yet they all claim to be following the same Christ!
Such a situation as is described above cannot be found on the pages of the New Testament. There is quite a contrast between the church as it is described in God’s word, and the denominationalism that prevails today.
The word “church” in the New Testament is used in reference to the saved–God’s people. This usage is obvious from a consideration of the passages in which the term is found (Acts 2:47, 8:3, 11:26, 1 Cor. 1:2). Sometimes it refers to the saved universally-that is, without reference to locality (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22-23). Other times it refers to the saved in a particular locality who banded together to worship and work as a unit. Thus, we read of the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), the church at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1), various local churches in the province of Galatia (Gal. 1:2), various churches which sent wages to Paul (2 Cor. 11:8), and a number of local churches which saluted the Romans (Rom. 16:16). Today, such local churches are commonly referred to as congregations.
It is important to note that no local church in the New Testament was apart of any denominational organization. Rather, each one was absolutely independent, for the only oversight was on a local level. Each local church had its own overseers, called elders (Acts 14:23, 20:17, 28, 1 Pet. 5:1-3). We do not read in the New Testament of any human oversight over a local church other than its own elders; thus, having no outside human authority over it, each local church was independent to direct its own affairs and was not a part of any organizational structure such as prevails in modern denominationalism.
In the New Testament we do not read about some congregations being organized into one sect while another group of churches was organized into another sect. Rather than finding denominational organizations, we simply find independent local churches, which formed when Christians in the same localities banded together to worship and to perform the work which God assigned the local churches. There was no such thing as one man’s being one brand of a Christian because he was in one sect, and another man’s being another brand of a Christian because he was in another sect; all were simply Christians.
The local church of which this writer is a part is not affiliated with any denominational organization. We have no ties with any denomination. We wear no sectarian brand names-we are simply Christians. We are merely an independent group of Christians who have banded together to form a local church, just as the Christians of the first century did. We follow the dictates of no ecclesiastical council, we adhere to no human creed book. We simply make an earnest effort to follow the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and to abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 9). Like the local churches in the New Testament, we are a church of God (1 Cor. 1:2)-that is, one of God’s churches, a church belonging to God; we are also a church of Christ (Rom. 16:16)-that is, one of Christ’s churches, a church belonging to Christ.
“Church of Christ”-A Denominational Name?
Christ did not give His church any one official name. Men in human denominations must give their denomination its own official name in order to distinguish it from other denominations. The local church of which I am a part, however, does not belong to any such organization, hence wears no such denominational name.
Some mistakenly believe that the congregation of which I am a part is one member of a network of congregations which all together make up “The Church of Christ,” and that we call ourselves a church of Christ because that is the official name worn by all member congregations in that network. This is not so. We are an independent group of Christians, not tied to any denominational structure with a denominational name. We do not regard “The Church of Christ” as our exclusive official name. The phrase “church of Christ” simply describes what we are a local church belonging to Christ (Rom. 16:16). We are a church of God (1 Cor. 1:2) just as certainly as we are a church of Christ. I refer to us in both ways. I also refer to us as the Lord’s church; this is an accurate, scriptural description, for the meaning is the same as that of the phrase “church of Christ.”
When I use the phrase “church of Christ” in reference to the church universally, I do not refer to a denominational structure bearing that official name; I refer simply to the saved, the people of God. I call the saved the church of Christ, not because that is their exclusive official name, but because they belong to Christ (Matt. 16:18). I also call them the church of God, the Lord’s church, God’s people, the household of God, the body of Christ, etc. These are not official names, but scriptural descriptions.
While knowledgeable brethren understand this, it is difficult to get denominational friends and neighbors to understand it. Since most all of the Lord’s local churches use the designation “church of Christ” as the one they put on the sign in front of their building and the one they use in their advertising and business transactions, it is not surprising that denominational people think these churches compose a denominational structure called “The Church of Christ.” It is understandable that they think that all these congregations would not wear the same name if they were not member churches of a denomination by that name. They do not understand that each congregation is independent, and that the decision regarding what to paint on the sign is made independently by each congregation. Knowledgeable brethren know that a congregation could scripturally paint something else on their sign, but all congregations known to me have chosen to use the description found in Rom. 16:16. There are two congregations in the town in which I live which have “Church of Christ” painted on their signs. This does not mean, however ‘that these two congregations belong to the same denominational structure. In fact, there are no organizational ties between them, and these congregations are as different as daylight and dark.
Some people think that congregations commonly known as churches of Christ constitute a denomination started by Alexander Campbell. This is false. I am in no organization founded by Alexander Campbell. I was baptized into Christ for the remission of my sins (Acts 2:38, Gal. 3:27). This made me nothing but a Christian. It did not make me a Campbellite any more than it made people of the first century Campbellites when they did it. I have attached myself to an independent group of Christians who have formed a local congregation like the ones we read about in the Bible. My affiliation with this local church does not make me a Campbellite any more than Crispus’ affiliation with the local church at Corinth made him a Campbellite. Christians today are in no organization which Alexander Campbell started and we teach no doctrine which originated with him. In fact, we disagree with him on some matters.
Teaching on this Subject
In teaching men and women the gospel, we must strive to show them the truth regarding denominationalism and the Lord’s church. We must not give them the impression that we want them to leave one denomination and come into another denomination because it is better, We should stress that they should obey the gospel to be saved, and that they will then be in the Lord’s church. We should teach them that after they have obeyed the gospel, hence become a part of God’s church; they should attach themselves to some local church of the Lord, as is taught in the New Testament. We should stress that they ought to be extremely cautious in choosing a local church to become a part of. They should be certain that it has no organizational ties with any denominational body; such ties are unscriptural and sinful. They should be certain that it is composed of those who have met God’s conditions for becoming Christians; some independent congregations are not composed of people who have complied with those conditions. They must be certain that it is strictly adhering to the scriptures in all its activities.
Truth Magazine XX: 48, pp. 758-759
December 2, 1976