What is a Denomination?

When I took my logic class in school, one of the things that we learned was how to define our terms. One way to define something was to simply point to it and say, “That is it!” This method, of course, assumes that you indeed know what it is that you are trying to define, and that the thing being defined conforms to that definition. This method generally works until you find something that fits the definition, but looks different from what you originally defined. For example, suppose I pointed at a red apple and said, “Apple.” That would be quite sufficient until, at least, I came across a green one, and then I might be at a loss. At that point, I need a different method of defining what it is that I was trying to communicate. However, there is always something specific about what it is that you are trying to define that includes everything of that class and excludes everything not of that class.

This is exactly the problem that we run into when those outside of the Lord’s church point at us and say, “Denomination!” They see that we have a “church,” worship God, have a “pastor,” believe in Jesus, study the Bible, meet at about the same time that they meet, have a sign in front of the “church,” which bears a name that they see on other “churches,” and conclude that we must be something similar to them. “If we are a denomination, then they must be one too,” or, at least, that is the kind of thought process I would expect goes through most people’s minds when they see our building with our sign on it that says, “CHURCH OF CHRIST.” It’s not until you really start to look at the churches of Christ that someone starts to understand that there are major differences in how things are done from the way denominations do things. The churches of Christ partake of the Lord’s supper every Sunday. The churches of Christ don’t use instrumental music. The churches of Christ baptize for the remission of sins. The differences add up eventually. But there is that one attribute that includes all the denominations in the class “denomination,” and excludes the churches of Christ from the class “denomination.”

Think about this for a moment. When we speak of the term denomination in reference to money, you have the dollar bill, the five dollar bill, ten dollar bill, twenty, fifty, and the Benjamin Franklin. What is it about these bills that makes them a denomination? They are all different, but profess to be of the same kind or class–the class of legal tender. They all bear the inscription, “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” Now, suppose that I’m head of the federal reserve and I decide that I want to print another denomination of money. Let’s say that I wanted to print up a twenty-five dollar bill. That would be handy. Four of them would make $100.00. So I print up the bills, but I don’t put the inscription on the bills. There may be some who would “buy it” so to speak, but most would not take it because it is the belief in that statement, if you will, that makes those denominations valuable. Without the belief in that statement, then the denomination would only be worth the sum of the ink and paper with which it was printed. It would not be able to settle any debts, whether public, or private. That’s what makes a denomination of money just that, the belief that it will settle debts. That’s the defining trait that excludes it from everything else, and includes it in the class it is in.

So what is that attribute that excludes the churches of Christ from being a denomination and includes all of the denominations within the class, “denomination?” It is the belief, that all “churches/denominations” are all part of the one universal church. That belief can be illustrated with the following graphic, which, by the way, is not original to me. This is the denominational model of the church, which, to be a denomination, one must believe.

You will notice that the largest circle represents the church universal. The medium sized circle represents the denomination, and the smallest circle represents the local church. This is what one must believe in order to be a religious denomination. This is the defining aspect of what it means to be a denomination. This defining aspect includes everyone with this belief, and excludes everyone without this belief. The only problem with this is that you will not find this organization in any part of the Bible. If you want to be a denomination, then this is how you do it.

Now what makes the churches of Christ not a denomination is simply this, members of the churches of Christ do not hold this belief. Just as that twenty-five dollar bill is not a member of the denomination of legal tender. It is the belief in that one defining factor that makes it so. Without that belief, it simply isn’t so. Someone might ask, “Well, why do you not believe this?” The answer is really amazingly simple. This belief is not found in the pages of the Bible. The denominational model is completely foreign to the New Testament. There were only two types of organizations discussed within the Bible in relationship to the church. There was the local church, and there was the universal church. There were no denominations under the faith for which Jesus bled and died. You will never find a single one. Moreover, you will never find Jesus or any of his apostles advocating such a situation. In contrast, they advocate absolute unity of the church (John 17:20-23; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Ephesians 4:3-6). What is the model for church unity in contrast to the denominational model? There is the universal church and there is the local church. That’s all that is there. The following illustration shows this.

This is the model of the church for which Jesus bled and died. This is the model for church unity. We invite all of our friends who may be members of denominations to study these matters. We exhort them to demand the same kind of unity within the church for which Jesus prayed (John 17:20-23) and for which Paul contended (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). We encourage them to search the scriptures to find those things upon which we MUST be united in order to be the Lord’s church (Ephesians 4:3-6). The church of Christ is NOT a denomination. There are other differences between churches of Christ and the denominational world, but this is the one key difference that defines what a denomination is, versus what the church of the Bible is. Here is the key to getting beyond that old point and look way of defining a “church” and defining the church in the terms that the Bible defines it in. It starts with this one belief–the unity of the body of Christ based upon what the scriptures authorize her to be. Here is where denominationalism ends and where the church that belongs to Christ, the church of Christ, begins.

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How Do I Study the Bible?

There are many people who ask this question today. It is difficult to answer such a question in so short a space as I have in the bulletin, but I am going to try to give a few practical bits of information that I hope you will find valuable as you purpose to study the scriptures on a regular basis.

First, when you study the Bible, you should pray. Prayer sets the right tone for your Bible study. It places you in a respectful position of God’s word and invokes God’s guidance. Prayer focuses you on the task at hand. Prayer will cause you to shut out all other purposes you may have in mind. Prayer helps Bible study!

Second, reading the Bible properly is important. John pronounced a blessing upon those who read (Revelation 1:3). Ezra read from the book of the Law to all the people (Nehemiah 8:8). You can’t study without reading in one form or another, but be warned, reading is not necessarily the same thing as studying. Many people “read” the Bible without studying. To truly study the Bible, we must put on our thinking caps and meditate about what we have read. Reading out loud will help you to think about the words you are reading.

Third, when studying the Bible, ask yourself questions. Who am I reading about? What is he doing, saying, teaching? When is he doing it? Where are they at? Why is he writing this? Asking questions about the text is a good way to help yourself find the answers in the text that you are looking for. Get out a piece of paper when you study and write down questions that come to your mind. If you don’t understand something, then write down why you don’t understand it. Many times when you write these types of things, the answers become more evident.

Fourth, keep a good dictionary handy. When studying we often come across words that we don’t understand. We need to understand those words in order to study. That’s what a dictionary is for, to help us understand the meaning. Bible dictionaries are even more helpful, because they tend to define words in the context of the original culture in which they were used. Bible dictionaries also offer help in understanding weights and measures of Bible times, as well as giving information regarding proper names in the Bible. Understanding the meaning of words and names goes a long way in helping us study the Bible and learn more about God.

Fifth, try studying the Bible by topic. There are several helps and aids that you can acquire that will expedite your study this way. Most Bibles have a abridged concordance in the back. A concordance groups Bible verses based upon key words. So if you want to know more about the topic of “love,” you just look up that topic and study the scriptures in which that word is found. You can also acquire more comprehensive concordances that index every single word in the Bible. These books are great when you are trying to study the Bible by topic.

Sixth, another way to study the Bible is by cross reference. Many Bibles have cross references in the text. These are often indicated by small letters. When you see one, look up the associated scripture and try to think of how those two scriptures relate. Maybe they speak about the same person; maybe the same subject; maybe they just have the same word, but it is used in a different sense in each passage. There are also larger books that contain nothing but cross references to Bible verses. Studying cross references can give you valuable information regarding one particular passage of the Bible.

Now, what are you waiting on? Get out there and study that Bible!

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Mysteries of the Bible Explained!

We have all watched shows from time to time purporting to explain certain “mysteries” within the Bible. Usually in these programs, the writers set forth an allegedly “unexplained” phenomenon discussed in the scriptures and then seek the professional opinions of scholars and educators from different institutions of higher learning. The result of these programs is often a conclusion to which most believers in the Bible are shocked and dismayed. Additionally, many who have trusted the Bible on its own merits, after watching such programs, are left with a sense of doubt and generally have more unanswered questions than answered.

There are several types of these programs aired. There are the programs that explain the miracles within the Bible in terms of nature. I watched one program that explained the crossing of the Red sea by the Israelites in terms of a big wind blowing the sea apart at a shallow place. Such naturalistic explanations of the miraculous are common in such programs. Other, similar, programs try to explain the authorship of the Bible in human terms; some question the purity of the life of Jesus; and still others level charges of misogyny against Paul. In these programs, the possibility of God’s existence and intervention in such things is usually ignored and/or relegated to the beliefs of right-wing fundamentalists. How should the Christian respond to such programs?

The Christian should recognize that the people who create such programs base their beliefs upon modern day philosophies more than they do the Bible (if they have any respect for the Bible at all; many do not), and postmodernism is the philosophy of the day. While there are many facets to postmodernism, one of its basic tenets is the belief that there really is no objective truth. Rather, “truth” is the explanation (theory) of something that holds up best against what is called “deconstruction,” a process of providing criticism that tests the explanation (theory). Postmodernism never uses the word “truth” per se, but the word theory (or explanation), in place of truth. The theory or set of theories that is the most falsifiable (that is, has the ability to be falsified by empirical data), but has the least evidence to prove that the theory is false becomes the accepted explanation for what is correct. What that means is that one can never prove the theory or set of theories to be true, it is just that there is no (or little) evidence to contradict the theory (i.e. it can’t easily be deconstructed). So the standard for truth becomes the theory that has the greatest potential to be falsified, but has the least evidence to contradict it. This leads to theories of the “unexplained” that are very naturalistic, because natural processes are more subject to falsification than supernatural theories.

The fact of the matter is that the fundamental assumption of postmodernism is false; truth exists. The statement “there is no truth” would be self contradictory if true, so it must be false. From the conclusion that there is objective truth, we can eventually come to the understanding that God exists and that the Bible is God’s word. Once that is established, we can easily recognize that the Bible contains all of God’s truth and we must believe it. Unfortunately, many people have bought into the philosophy of postmodernism, including many “Christians.” One, however, cannot be a true Christian and hold to the philosophy of postmodernism. It is simply contradictory to many of the plain statements of the Bible. Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Jesus believed in truth. The Bible teaches that we can know God’s truth and that it is God’s truth for all mankind today. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life�” (John 14:6).

What ought a Christian to do about such programs? The Christian ought to keep in mind, that such programs are going to try to explain the supernatural in naturalistic ways. They are not going to assume God is the explanation of the Bible. That means that the miracles of the Bible are going to be explained in ways that would conform to scientific phenomenon. The writing of the Bible is going to be explained in terms of human collaboration and authorship. The personality of Jesus and his relationship to his apostles are going to be explained in terms of modern day psychology. The “hard” doctrines of the Bible are going to be explained in terms of cultural prejudice. Just about anything that would be objectionable to the “modern,” and “scientific” mind, is going to be explained in a naturalistic and unbiblical way. I read a book not too long ago that suggested that Jesus had narcissistic personality disorder.

The Christian knows, however, that God exists; that God, through the Holy Spirit, wrote the Bible by inspiring the apostles and prophets to write His words; that Jesus was raised from the dead; and that there are very supernatural explanations to the “unexplained mysteries” within the Bible. Certainly if God can raise Jesus from the dead, then He can do all of the other miracles in the Bible, as well as inspire men to write His words. The Christian need not bow to the philosophy of postmodernism, nor allow his faith to be shaken based upon the speculations of men who hold their mutable philosophy dear. Tomorrow, the world will be influenced by a different philosophy and when it is all said and done, there is nothing upon which such men can hang their proverbial hat at the end of the day. The Christian, however, puts his faith in God and his word, the unchanging, unbending, and unbreaking standard of truth.

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