Denominationalism

Denominationalism

A Study of the New Testament church from a Biblical perspective

Introduction

Everyone who reads this study is familiar with the fact of religious denominationalism.  Denominationalism is a basic part of our society today, but is it approved of God?  Did God authorize or command denominationalism?  Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18 that “I will build my church,” did He mean that He was forming numerous branches of denominations when He said this?  Is the universal church, no matter the denomination, all a part of the “one body” spoken about in Ephesians 4:4?  If Jesus did not intend on man creating branches off of His “one body,” then which one did He establish?  How may we know?  This study will seek to define denominationalism and answer from the words of God, not man opinions, what body we should seek to be a member of to please God and why!

Definition of Denominationalism

Denominationalism is the division of one religion into separate groups, sects, schools of thought or denominations.  Denominationalism as an ideology which views some or all Christian groups as being, in some sense, versions of the same thing regardless of their distinguishing labels, is not accepted by all Christian churches.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denominating)  As we can see a very definition of denominationalism is “the division” or “separate groups.”  Now let us take a look at how denominations themselves view their groups to fully understand this subject. 

When we put some coins – half dollar, quarter, two dimes and a nickel, they are “denominations” of that dollar bill.  This is the total; the whole bill and the total of these coins make a complete dollar, right?  This is the concept, in the religious sense; this is how those in the denominational world view the church.  All of God’s people are made up of various denominations – Baptist, Methodist, Lutherans, etc are all denominations of the whole.  We are all then members of Jesus’ “church” or “one body” (Eph. 1:22-23) in their eyes.  But, is this the Bible concept?  NO, that is not the concept that the Bible tells us.

Do the Scriptures Support Denominationalism?

  1. A.     John 10:11-16:  “11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (NKJV)

John 10:16 is often a Scripture that is read and used to support that Jesus spoke of denominations in His ministry.  However, to gather this thought from this verse would be incorrect and an addition to the intended meaning of Jesus’ words.  This statement refers to Gentiles.  Jesus has sheep in the fold who are Jewish; there are other sheep which, while not of the same fold, belong to him also.  This evokes the mission of the Son in John 3:16-17, which was to save “the world” not just the nation of Israel.  The verse goes on to say, “There will be one flock, and one shepherd.”  This unity of the one flock is not a given unity, naturally existing, but a unity created in and by Jesus.  It is the end result of what Jesus has done by His death and resurrection on the cross as we can read in detail in Eph. 2:11-22 that helps us to better understand Jesus’ words here in John 10.  So for our first example of Scripture used to support denominationalism; do the Scriptures support denominationalism?  No!

  1. B.     John 15:1-7:  “1I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you£ will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  (NKJV)

Denominationalism argues that this verse concludes that Christ is the vine and Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc. are the branches.  Look closely at verse 5, “I am the vine, you are the branches” – does this speak to individuals or churches?  It obviously speaks to individuals or else it would read, “I am the vine, and the denominations are the branches.”  But that is not what Jesus said.  Now note verse 6 and 7 – “If anyone does not abide in Me…”, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.    Christ is talking about a man as an individual, not a church.  Let us notice the use of personal pronouns as Jesus speaks.  “If anyone does not…”, “he is cast out”, “and they gather them and throw them into the fire and they are burned.”  Jesus is speaking to the individual follower or non-follower of Himself and His Father.  If this verse was speaking to the denomination and not the individual wouldn’t the judgment spoken of verse 6 apply to the entire denomination?  Jesus is not speaking in terms of an entire body or a whole denomination of believers being “thrown into the fire.”  If that were so, then the sin of one member of that denomination could easily bring damnation to the entire denominational body.  In our second example does Scripture support denominationalism?  No!

  1. C.      1st Corinthians 12:12-27:  “12For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.  13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”  (NKJV)

If these verses were to teach Christians that denominationalism is God’s will it should read, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into different denominations—whether Catholic or Protestant—whether they be Baptist or Methodist—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”  However, that is not what the God Breathed Scripture teaches at all.  The Bible does not say it does not make any difference, that by one Spirit we have all been baptized into different denominations.  The Bible does not say do not worry if you were baptized into the Baptist church or Catholic church, for by one Spirit we have all been baptized into different denominations.

Individual members are being spoken of in this passage and how they are to be members of the “one body” of Christ to be in harmony with the words of God.  This passage also teaches unity; not division of followers of Christ.  This passage teaches that Jesus does not care what your social position is, but that He died for all men to be saved by His blood.  (John 3:16)   In Acts10:34-35 Paul tells us that God “shows no partiality” but every nation is accepted by God.  In 2nd John 1:9 we read, “He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.”  The doctrine of Christ written here refers to the unity written about in 1st Corinthians, and also refers to obeying commands such as being a member of the “one body” our Savior and Creator command us to be members of to be saved.

Another Scripture that helps to clarify this point of “one body” is this.  In Ephesians 5:23 we read, “23For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.”  This verse helps illustrate that “Christ is the head of the church” equals “husband is head of the wife.”  The Bible does not say “Christ is the head of many different denominations” equals “husband is head of many different wives.”  No one would argue this point in any church, so we need to take this consistency with all Scripture we look at in the Bible.  Man is head of his one wife and Christ is the head of His one body, His one church that he established and shed His blood for.  So again we need to objectively read Scripture and ask the question, do the Scriptures support denominationalism?  No!

 

Do the Scriptures Condemn Denominationalism?

Often times in the New Testament Christ’s disciples had to confront and correct divisions and false teachings.  Divisions among the saved of Christ can be seen early amongst first century Christians, but Jesus’ disciples are quick to point out mistaken views on divisions and denominationalism type thinking.

In 1st Corinthians 1:10-13 Paul corrects divisions in the Corinthian church, Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  What Paul is pointing out in the passage is it is wrong to wear human names as a body of Christ.  In verse 12 he points out that some Christians are singling themselves out as followers of “Paul” or “Apollos” or “Cephas.”  He then reminds them that Paul, Apollos, or Cephas were not crucified for your sins or that they were not baptized into those names.  Jesus our Christ and Savior is the only one who died upon the cross for our sins and the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are the only ones we are baptized into, not men of this earth.

For a modern day example we can apply the same principle to ourselves today.  If we are attending and a member of a Catholic church, what are we saying?  We are similarly as those in 1st Cor. chapter 1 saying that we are “of the Pope” or were saved or baptized into the name “of the Pope.”  If we are members of a Baptist church, what are we saying?   We are similarly as those in 1st Cor. chapter 1 saying that we are “of John the Baptist” or “of John Smythe” depending on the belief of your Baptist church or were saved or baptized into the name of “John the Baptist” or “John Symthe.”  If we are members of a Presbyterian church, what are we saying?  We are similarly as those in 1st Cor. chapter 1 saying that we are “of John Calvin” or were saved into or baptized into the name of “John Calvin.”  If we are members of a Methodist church, what are we saying?  We are similarly as those in 1st Cor. chapter 1 saying that we are “of John Wesley” or were saved into or baptized into the name “of John Wesley.”  You get the picture!  These men listed are named founders or leaders of each of these denominational bodies.  So what is wrong with that?  What is wrong with that is that there is only one founder, leader, or head of Christ’s church or Christ’s body and that is Jesus Christ himself.  Ephesians 1:22-23 reads, 22And He(God) put all things under His(Jesus) feet, and gave Him(Jesus) to be head over all things to the church23which is His(Jesus) body, the fullness of Him(Jesus) who fills all in all.”  Also in Acts 20:28 we are told that the church was “purchased with His (Jesus) own blood.”  If we purchase a house or a car do we ask permission from neighbors and friends on how to control and use our property we have purchased?  No!  Likewise it unacceptable to Christ for us to tell Him how we will worship Him or the name we will follow and worship under.  Christ purchased His church and is the head of His church; we must only wear the names provided to us by the New Testament Scriptures.

The following names can be found in the New Testament as names we can wear as the “one body” or “one church” of Christ.

  1. a.      Church of Christ – Romans 16:16
  2. b.     Church of God – 1st Corinthians 1:2, 10:32; Acts 20:28, 1st Timothy 3:5
  3. c.      Church of the Firstborn – Hebrews 12:23
  4. d.     The Church – 1st Thessalonians 1:1; Ephesians 5:23

After looking at the Scriptures do the Scriptures condemn denominationalism?  Yes, the words of God tell us to be saved we must be members of the “one body” or the “one church” Christ died for and established.  If we are a part of any denomination we are following under churches created by men and their religious ideas and opinions from reading the Scriptures as noted in our study of 1st Corinthians 1:10-13.

Can One be a Christian Without Being a Member of a Denomination?

The New Testament Christians and apostles of Christ are the examples we should seek to learn from and follow.  Let us explore 2 out of many examples that will answer this question with the words and examples of the Bible.

First, in Acts 2 we can read the account of the apostle Peter preaching the first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost after Jesus had ascended into heaven to be with His Father once again after His resurrection.  In this account Peter preaches to the Jews who were in favor of crucifying Christ.  He preaches to them that the one they crucified was “both Lord and Christ” (vs. 36) and once they heard these things verse 37 “they were cut to the heart,” meaning touched and knew they were in sin.  What we want to notice next is that Peter tells them to be saved they must repent and be baptized (vs. 38) for the remission of sins.  Finally once they received His word and were baptized they were added to the number of saved in God’s eyes.  Let us read verse 41 and 47.  Acts 2:41, 41Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them(saved or members of Christ’s saved body).”  Acts 2:47, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Let us notice in Acts 2 that once those were saved what were they added to?  They were added to the “church daily those who were being saved.”  This passage does not tell us that anyone was added to a denomination, but rather were saved and added to the church.  So in this case can we say in Acts 2 were Christians being made and saved without being a member of a denomination?  Yes, people were becoming saved Christians without any mention of a denomination in the Scripture.

In Acts 8:26-39 we have another account of someone becoming a Christian.  A disciple named Philip was told by an angel of the Lord to go and teach a man seeking the truth of God’s word and how to correctly understand and follow it.  The one he was to go and teach can be found in verse 27, a Ethiopian eunuch who was a treasurer for Candace the queen of Ethiopia.  After Philip taught the Ethiopian of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice He made for all sinners in verse 35 the Ethiopian in verse 38 was baptized into Christ.  What we want to notice is that not once in these verses did Philip preach about a denomination, instead Philip preached Jesus and Jesus alone.  Once the Ethiopian heard the good news of Jesus and His sacrifice he was baptized and saved from his sins and became a Christian.  Acts 8 does not say he was baptized and became a Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.  The Ethiopian simply became a member of “the church” that Christ died and arose for and established and is the head of.   In Acts 8 was the Ethiopian being saved without being a member of a denomination?  Yes, the Ethiopian had been baptized and saved without any mention of a denomination in the Scripture.

If one follows the same instructions the first Christians followed, he/she will be added by the same Lord to the same church they were, Christ’s church!  Further examples of conversion into “the church” and not into a denomination can be found in the following Scriptures.

  1. a.      Samaria – Acts 8:5-13
  2. b.     Saul – Acts 9:17-18
  3. c.      Cornelius – Acts 10:34-48
  4. d.     The Jailer & his Family – Acts 16:31-34
  5. e.      Lydia Acts 16:14-15

Finally, if we look at two more verses we can plainly see that Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:18-19 and Mark 16:16 what to do to be saved and neither verse mentions anything about becoming a part of a denomination in order to be saved.  Matthew 28:18-19 reads, 18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Amen.”  Jesus makes no mention of baptizing anyone into a denomination of men, but rather baptize and save all nations into “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Likewise in Mark 16:16 we read, 15And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  Again, Jesus tells His apostles and us today that when we will believe and be baptized we will be saved.  He does not say believe and be baptized into a denominational name, but just simply saved into the “one body” or “one church” we have already learned about in the books of Corinthians and Ephesians.

Conclusion

Denominationalism is defined as “the division of one religion into separate groups, sects, schools of thought or denominations.”  As we read in 1st Corinthians the apostle Paul through the guiding of the Holy Spirit strictly prohibited any divisions or separation of Christians.  The root of a denomination is a division from the word of God.  A denomination forms from the following equation, the Bible plus human creeds, thoughts, or ideologies.  One who follows a denominational church is one who follows the Bible plus human creeds, thoughts, or ideologies.  We are all warned what will happen to those of us who add to or take away from the words of God in Revelation 22:18-1918For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things,  God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

In order for us to be in perfect harmony with the Father and Son we must use the Bible and the Bible only to follow and become Christians not the Bible plus human creeds, thoughts, ideologies, and denominations.  While the heart of a denominational member may be pure and seeking the truth that will not make them saved in the eyes of the Lord.  Matthew 15:7-9 Jesus ways, 7Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”  This tells us is that there are some religious people who say they love Jesus and say they praise and honor Jesus, but the manner that they do it is not as Jesus wants.  In fact Jesus calls these people “hypocrites” and says they are worshipping as “doctrines of men,” meaning they are following the teachings of men and not the Bible.  That is why it is important to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and teach everyone we can that Jesus has commanded “one church” not many so that we can help as many souls as we can and be thankful that we were taught the truth of God in return.  By obeying the Bible today, one can be just a Christian; a member of Christ’s church without including the denominationalism of men.

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