By Mike Willis
In recent years, the charge has been more and more frequently made that the churches) of Christ are just as denominational as any of the other religious groups in America. During the Memphis meeting with the Herald of Truth representatives, the charge was made that Lynn Anderson, preacher for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, had said, “You know, the church of Christ is a big, sick denomination, and I meant exactly every one of those three words, big and sick and denomination” (Memphis Meeting With The Representatives of the Herald of Truth, September 10, 1973, p. 36). The writings of men like Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, and the contributors to Voices of Concern repeatedly make similar charges that the church of Christ is just another denomination among the many which presently exist. Hence, I raise the question, “Is the church of Christ a denomination?”
What Is a Denomination?
Although the New Testament knows nothing of a denomination, twentieth century religions have accepted the situation of a multitude of churches as if they were approved of God. Several years ago, the different denominations used to fight among themselves over their distinctive doctrines; now, the denominations, being filled with the spirit of ecumenism, have agreed to quit fighting among themselves. Any denomination which continues the warfare with the other denominations is considered a disrespectable sect whereas those who have quit fighting with the other denominations is considered a respectable denomination.
Because modern man accepts denominationalism, many have concluded that God also accepts denominationalism. However, there are two charges against denominationalism which prove beyond shadow of reasonable doubt that God disapproves of it. (1) God disapproves of modern denominationalism because He disapproves of religious division (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-15; Eph. 4:1-6; Jn. 17:20-21). (2) God disapproves of modern denominationalism because He disapproves of the false doctrines taught by the various religious organizations (cf. Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Jn. 9-11). These two charges make it clear that God disapproves of modern denominationalism.
Recognizing that God disapproves of denominationalism, we all must be concerned with avoiding becoming a part of it simply because it is sinful. Hence, we need to know exactly what denominationalism is that we can avoid it. I know of no better way to describe what denominationalism is than to use as an example the religious organization instituted by Jeroboam. God had revealed the pattern of worship which He desired; when Jeroboam broke away from Israel and started an independent kingdom, he instituted a system of worship in Bethel and Dan which was in competition with the God ordained worship in Jerusalem. He tried to make the system of worship which he instituted as nearly like that which existed in Jerusalem as he could. Yet, his system of worship was one which was not divinely ordained worship. Just as God had revealed a pattern for Israel to follow in her worship, so also He has revealed a pattern for us today. Denominationalism is the rejection of God’s revealed pattern in order to establish a system of worship which one personally approves; it is the rejection of divinely ordained worship in order to establish a human system of worship.
How does one recognize a denomination? One must know the characteristics of a denomination before one can positively identify any religious group as a denomination. Hence, before we can answer whether or not the church of Christ is a denomination, we must know the characteristics of a denomination. The situation is the same as if I asked you, “Is the church of Christ a snark?” Before you could answer that question, you would have to know what a snark was. Until you knew the characteristics of a snark, you could not tell whether to classify the church of Christ as a snark or not to so classify it. Hence, one needs to know the characteristics of a denomination before he can tell whether or not to classify the church of Christ as one.
Here are some of the characteristics of a denomination: (1) It does not teach the divine plan of salvation; (2) Usually wears a sectarian name; (3) Has a creed in addition to the Bible; (4) Has organizational arrangements not characteristic of the New Testament church; (5) Practices items of worship not authorized in the New Testament; (6) Engages in unauthorized programs of work. Perhaps there are other characteristics of a denomination which might be cited but these should prove sufficient to test whether or not the church of Christ is a denomination.
Is The Church of Christ a Denomination?
1. The church of Christ is not a denomination because it teaches the Bible plan of salvation. Unlike the denominations which teach salvation through faith only and pervert the action, subject and purpose of baptism, the church of Christ conscientiously strives to teach the plan of salvation exactly as it is revealed in the Bible. Hence, in obedience to the Great Commission, we teach that faith, repentance, and baptism are all essential to salvation. Those who obeyed this gospel plan of salvation in New Testament days were added to the Lord’s church; since God is no respector of persons, I conclude that those who do the same thing today are made members of the same church-the Lord’s church and not a denomination in competition with that church.
2. The church of Christ is not a denomination because it wears only a Bible name. The names by which the church of the New Testament was called include the following: church of God (1 Cor. 1:2); body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23); Kingdom of God (Col. 1:13-14); churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16); etc. The church of Christ is called by any or all of these names. Not only is that so, but the churches of Christ persistently refuse to wear any name not found in the Bible. Hence, the church of Christ will not wear a name which glorifies a man, honors a religious ordinance, or exalts a type of church government. Hence, the church of Christ cannot be considered denominational because of the names which it wears.
3. The church of Christ is not a denomination because it has no sectarian creed. Whereas the various denominations have confessions of faith, church manuals, creed books, and disciplines, the church of Christ recognizes only the Bible as its statement of doctrine. One is expected to believe only what the Bible teaches in its direct statements, approved examples and necessary inferences; he is not expected to give allegiance to some human creed.
4. The church of Christ is not a denomination because it has no organizational arrangements other than those authorized in the Scriptures. The Bible reveals that the only permanent officers in the New Testament church are elders and deacons. You cannot read of arch-bishops, popes, brotherhood elders, etc. as officers in the New Testament church. (I must add that the liberal churches’ acceptance of organizational arrangements other than those revealed in the New Testament indicts them as denominational.) Hence, the church of Christ cannot be considered a denomination because of our organizational arrangements.
5. The items of worship of the churches of Christ are not denominational. Most denominations have perverted the worship of the New Testament church in more aspects than Jeroboam perverted the worship of ancient Israel. They have perverted the frequency of the observance of the Lord’s Supper, its elements, and its purpose. They have added instrumental music to the singing, organized choirs, and brought in special singing groups to entertain themselves. They have demanded that their members tithe; they pray in Mary’s name or in no one’s name at all. Their sermons are not the public proclamation of the word of God. In contradistinction to these, the churches of Christ are careful to practice New Testament worship. We give as we have been prospered on the first day of every week, we partake of the Lord’s Supper weekly, we sing making melody in our hearts instead of on some mechanical instrument of music, we pray fervently to the Lord through Jesus Christ, and our lessons are taken directly from the New Testament revelation. Hence, if the churches of Christ are denominational, it is not because of their worship!
6. The church of Christ is not denominational because of its program of work. The works in which the New Testament churches were involved included the following: evangelism, edification, and benevolence (relieving the needs of the poor among the saints). Whereas denominations are involved in building hospitals and colleges, establishing programs of recreatic becoming involved in social reforms and political matte the churches of Christ are careful to engage in only tho programs of work which are authorized in the Bible. (The liberal churches of Christ are indicted as denominations on the basis of their involvement in programs of work not authorized in the Scriptures.) Hence, if the church Christ is a denomination, it is a denomination because something other than its program of work.
If the church of Christ does not have any of the characteristics of a snark, how can I say that it is a snark Similarly, if the church of Christ does not have any of the characteristics of a denomination, what right does anyone have to charge that it is a denomination? So long as the church of Christ adheres to the Bible in its worship, work and doctrine, it will be the church which is revealed in the Bible. When and if it ever becomes involved in program of work, items of worship, or doctrines that are not revealed in the Bible, it will then be a denomination. Hence, I demand that those who classify the church as denomination point out the place wherein we are violating the Scriptures. Until a person can demonstrate that the churches of Christ fit the characteristics of denomination, he has no more right to classify them as denomination than he does to classify them as a snark. (By the way, the word “snark” is a fabricated word; you will not find it in your dictionary.)
Truth Magazine XXI: 2, pp. 19-21
January 13, 1977