Is the Church of Christ a Denomination?
The church that the Lord built, the church of Christ, is a unique and different institution from all other religious bodies on the face of the earth. One of many ways it is different is that it is not of protestant denominationalism. Other times when we claim that the church is not a denomination, people generally ask, “What do you mean that the church of Christ is not a denomination? Is it non- denominational? Like a community church? What is it and how is it different?”
This is the way that many see the church of Christ today: just another denomination or calling it a non-denominational community church. Even today, some church members have become confused if the church is or is not a denomination. I know that I have refused to join any denomination and have chosen to be just a Christian. Can one be a Christian without joining a denomination? Surely he can. But, if one becomes and remains a Christian only, is he a member of any church? And if so, whose? The answer of course is Christ’s church and his church is not a denomination.
When Christ said that he would build his church (Mat. 16:18), did he have in mind a denomination or a federation of denominations with their own organizations, their own creed books and their own ideas of how the church is to be? When reading passages such as Romans 16:16, do we perceive that they were all denominations? Were they not simply local congregations of people who had become Christians only? If one in the first century could be just a Christian before there were any denominations, why can’t one be just a Christian today in the 21 st century without being a member of any denomination?
Now some may make the accusation saying, “I thought a man by the name of Alexander Campbell was the one who started the church of Christ?” However, the truth is that Alexander Campbell was almost 1800 years too late to establish the church of Christ. Campbell was born on September 12, 1788. But as was already noted, the churches of Christ existed back when the book of Romans was written by the hands of the apostle Paul. Thus, Campbell was not the founder. He simply took on the name used in the first century as does every church of Christ today. The fact is that many back in the 1700-1800 in various denominations concluded that they should abandon human names, human creeds, human traditions and human religious bodies and return to the New Testament as our authority of religion. Campbell, like many others, withdrew themselves from the denominations which they had been raised in and preached in and began to free themselves from all human interferences and hindrances and became free to preach the Gospel as it is in the New Testament. This drive of individuals began to speak where the Bible speaks and remained silent where it is silent. Many desired to be Christians only without being affiliated with any denomination and thus members of the one spiritual body of Christ, the church. Alexander Campbell and others did not seek to make a new denomination, but to be part of the body of Christ that already existed in many other places during that time.
It is wonderful how men are able to pick up God’s guide book, the Bible, and start working toward restoring the original church founded by Christ. This is what the men of the restoration did which was far more glorious and significant than the reformation movement of the 1500-1600’s who out of that did start all the major denominations that we see today.
Today, it is possible for one to hear of Christ, believe on him as the son of God, repent of all sins, confess faith in Christ and be baptized in the water for the remission of sins just as people did in the first century. This is not a great mystery, nor is it impossible to achieve. Yet, such actions will make the same thing today as it did 2,000 year ago, simply a Christian, a member of the Lord’s church. All today who do this in a particular geographical location make up the church of Christ in that location. If they remain true to New Testament teaching in doctrine, worship, practice and daily life they continue to be, even in this complex century, simply a church of Christ, but without being a denomination of any kind. Indeed the church of Christ is not a denomination, but simply Christians following the uniqueness of God’s Word as should all mankind.