Is Denominationalism a Viable Christian System? (2 of 3)

Last week we noted the charge of “cult” that denominationalism levels at those who claim to be New Testament Christians today. One of the additional reasons this charge is leveled against us is that to the denominational world, it is unthinkable that the church of Christ (the church that belongs to Christ) would be one small group out of the millions of adherents to denominational philosophy. The proponents of denominationalism may confess that there is a “church of Christ,” but that it is far more broad and diverse than we believe it to be. In fact, they argue, that the “church of Christ” is merely the great body of believers throughout the world composed of the various denominations worldwide. In essence, they claim, anyone who believes in Jesus as their Savior is a member of the “church of Christ” regardless of what particular denomination they are a member. To disagree with this concept relegates the contester to the status of “intolerant” and “uncharitable” of other’s peculiar beliefs and practices. They ask, “how could one be truly loving of another by saying that they are wrong and need to repent?” Of course, Jesus was loving, but He demanded repentance out of those He dealt with (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17).

Somewhere in this mix, it will be pointed out that we all believe in the same Jesus and that this is the only uniting bond that we need respect when it comes to unity within the Christian world. Passages such as 1 John 5:1, (“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God�”) and John 3:16 are bandied about in an effort to “prove” that mere faith in Jesus (without any sort of God-work on the part of the believer) is all that is necessary to be part of the one great “body of Christ” and that this tenet of faith alone is enough to unite all believers. Such thought fails to take into account the words of Jesus in John 17:21-23, the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 and especially Ephesians 4:1-5 where Paul lists at least seven uniting principles upon which Christians MUST agree, one of which is baptism. There is more to Christian unity than mere mental acknowledgment of Jesus as the Christ. It is due to the purposeful overlooking of this one key and vital fact that denominationalism cannot see the division that it is in reality fostering upon its adherents.

Denominationalism is not a viable Christian system because it promotes divisions instead of unity. One of the primary accusations leveled against churches of Christ is that they are divisive. Those who make such an accusation say we are divisive because we demand that everyone else come out of denominationalism and unite upon God’s word instead of being tolerant of the (truly divisive) creeds and church disciplines of the denominational world. They claim that because we do not accept the same standard of salvation as the denominational world, that we are being divisive. What is truly amazing is that those who are part of denominationalism fail to realize the divisions that already exist among them. One denomination is named the Methodists, another, the Lutherans, yet another Presbyterian, Episcopalians, Baptists, etc. The names themselves are divisive. Paul told the church at Corinth that such division was sinful (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). However, this is not the only area of divisions. Ask a Methodist about baptism and see what they say. Turn around and ask a Baptist and see what they say. You will find two completely different answers given. Yet we are supposed to believe that you may “go to the church of your choice” and that will be “ok” with God? How can God be “ok” with such divisions in teaching regarding a very important subject? A subject important enough for Paul to include in Ephesians 4:1-5 as a fundamental principle of Christian unity? Jesus prayed for unity among believers, but not the unity that the denominational world espouses. Jesus prayed for complete and total unity as He and the Father were united (John 17:21-23). Can a supposedly Christian system be valid and viable when it ignores obvious divisions and even promotes and encourages them among “the saved?” It cannot.

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Is Denominationalism a Viable Christian System? (3 of 3)

Last week we noted that denominationalism doesn’t recognize the inherent division within its organization because it fails to acknowledge any other doctrine of the Christian faith as truly important and grounds for unity except belief in Jesus as the Christ. On this account, denominationalism fails to realize that there could be any distinguishing marks that identify the one true church of Christ. Hence, proponents of denominationalism criticize any who would claim to be the one true church of Christ. After all, every denomination is part of the “church of Christ,” at least, according to denominational thinking. Saying that there are ways to identify the church of Christ through scripture in essence requires that there be more tenets of unity other than mere mental acknowledgement of Jesus as Christ.

When we look into the scriptures, we find that indeed, God through Christ has left us both the teaching and the example that the church is to be found identified through a clear pattern of behavior. That is, that the church of Christ that was established by the apostles and prophets of the first century behaved in such and so a way is clear from the scriptures. Should we seek to behave in such and so a way as well, we should have clear indication that we are the church of Christ as well. The example that we find within the New Testament of what it means to be the church of Christ is available for us today and we ought to emulate that example if we want to be the church of Christ. Obviously, we are not talking about emulating things which are pointed out by the apostles and prophets to be sinful and wrong. We must avoid those things. However, in looking at the things that the apostles and prophets taught the church to be, we ought to be those things as well. This is also known as the seed principle. Luke 8:11 teaches that the seed is the word of God. In reading the context of Luke 8 and understanding the parable of the sower, one discovers that God’s word contains within it the same pattern that a seed would contain within it. When that pattern is sowed, it grows into a plant. When the plant grows in good soil, it produces fruit.

Denominationalism is not a viable Christian system because it fails to offer identifying marks of the one true church of Christ. Denominationalism is not concerned with emulating the pattern of the church as found in the New Testament. Their concern is merely with following after their own church manuals, creeds, confessions of faith, and disciplines. Denominationalism says “attend the church of your choice.” That in essence says that there is no one “church” that is specifically following what God wants them to follow. It in essence says that each “church” is just as good as another. What does that mean except that there are no real identifying characteristics of the church of the New Testament? That each “church” has the right to do what it pleases as long as it hangs onto the truth of Jesus as the Son of God? Is that really right? What would be the purpose of the New Testament if it didn’t matter what the behavior of the church was? In fact, there is no purpose of the New Testament if the only thing that matters is that Jesus is the Son of God. A large portion of the New Testament is letters sent to churches instructing them how to behave. In those letters, the apostles instructed these churches to behave in certain ways (ex. 1 Cor.16:1). In the epistles, each church was given instruction, but all churches were expected to behave in the same way in key matters (1 Cor.7:17). Such key matters include salvation, church discipline, church organization, the worship of the church, the work of the church, and future hope of the church. It is not just a good idea to teach the same things in these matters, it is commanded (1 Cor.1:10; Phil.2:2; Eph.4:1-5). Can the system of denominationalism be a valid Christian system when it frankly denies that there is a pattern for the church that is commanded and needed? It cannot.

In this series of articles, we have noted three key areas in which denominationalism cannot provide viability as a Christian system. Denominationalism cannot be viable because it promotes the doctrines of men above the word of God. Denominationalism cannot be viable because it promotes divisions instead of unity. Denominationalism cannot be viable because it fails to offer the identifying marks of the New Testament church as the New Testament expects the church to have. Dear friends and neighbors, it is time to leave the shackles of denominational Christianity. We must unite upon God’s truth, the Bible, and simply be Christians and Christians alone. Not Baptist-Christians, Methodist-Christians, Presbyterian-Christians, and etc, but simply Christians. Surely we can agree upon this. Surely we can take the word of God as our only standard of authority to accomplish this task. Surely we can unite based upon the truths therein. Surely we can read those truths and recognize the one true church that exists today. Let us work and endeavor toward the unity that God wants us to have as His children. Let us respect the wishes of our Lord Jesus in these matters. Let us seek to be the one true church of Jesus, the church that belongs to the Christ, the church of Christ today upon the earth.

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Loose Canons

Reading through the news today, I came across an article on one of the presidential candidates wherein one of his former military commanders had said that he was a “loose cannon.” Just the other day, one of our members was telling me about a man who claimed to be a “loose cannon” religiously; we took that as meaning that he didn’t attend at any one particular “church.” And just the other day, I was listening to a CD narrative of the battle of Gettysburg which we purchased while we were on our family vacation this year; it reminded me of just what a “loose cannon” was. When the soldiers attending to a cannon were all wounded, captured, or killed, then the cannon would be turned around by the opposing force and aimed in the other direction back at those to whom it originally belonged. A “loose cannon” can be a very dangerous thing.

Just from looking at these thoughts behind the idea of a “loose cannon,” three different pictures emerge. The first idea represented is that of lack of respect for authority. That is, the individual who is described by his superior as a loose cannon doesn’t know how to respect the chain of command; he is an authority to himself, but respects no other authority. Second, the individual who described himself as a “loose cannon” represents himself as having no affiliation with one side or another. And third, the actual loose cannon on the battlefield represents the idea of something that has been captured and is now being used by the enemy. Christians ought not to be “loose cannons” in any of the senses indicated above.

First, Christians are to respect authority. We are first and foremost to respect the authority of our Lord who has been given all authority (Matthew 28:18) over all flesh (John 17:2). We respect Christ’s authority by looking to His word for everything that we say and do in service to Him in His kingdom (Colossians 3:17). Second, we are to respect the authority of those who are in places of authority such as parents (Ephesians 6:1, 2), elders (Hebrews 13:17), and government leaders (Romans 13:1-6). Jude says of those false teachers in his day that they are those who do not respect authority (Jude 1:8). Let’s not be guilty of being a “loose cannon” in not respecting authority.

Second, Christians are to be affiliated with something, namely, Christ and His church. All those who are baptized into Christ are baptized into Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:13), which is His church (Colossians 1:18). Christians belong to Christ and are members of his body, the church. Unfortunately, denominationalism has blurred many people’s understanding regarding the one true church of Christ, and caused them to think that they need not be “affiliated” with any “church”/denomination. Truthfully, no Christian ought to be affiliated with a denomination, but all ought to be affiliated with Christ’s church. To not be affiliated with the church of Christ is to abandon the head of the church himself, Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:22). It is to take oneself out from among the saved (Acts 2:47; Ephesians 5:23). It is to remove oneself from those who are called saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). Let’s not be guilty of being a “loose cannon” by not being affiliated with the church of Christ (Matthew 16:18).

Third, Christians are not to be captured and used by the enemy. We have an enemy, no doubt! (Matthew 13:39) And we, as Christians, must take up the whole armor of God and fight! (Ephesians 6:11) Our enemy is not flesh and blood but that which exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:3, 4). How tragic, then, should we be captured by our enemy and turned to fight God! Yet some have done this very thing. How? 1) By seeking worldliness. The friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4). 2) By being apathetic toward God (Revelation 3:16). We’re not supposed to be lukewarm as Christians. 3) By looking to satisfy self (Philippians 3:18). We’re not of those whose god is their belly. Let’s resolve not to be captured by the enemy, and never be a “loose cannon.”

Being described as a “loose cannon” is not something of which I would be very proud, whether that was in respect to authority, affiliation, or being captured by the enemy. Each one of us has a responsibility to respect authority, maintain fellowship with God and each other, and fight against the enemy in our life, whereever that enemy may give battle. “Loose cannons” have no place within the ranks of Christ’s army. Let us not so be.

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