Last week we saw that our language needs to change so that we speak of the Lord’s body undenominationally. The religious world teaches that the Lord’s body is made up of denominations and congregations. In fact, I recently heard a preacher on television speaking about how there ought to be no divisions in the Lord’s body and that all the denominations need to focus on the enemy, Satan. What the preacher failed to understand is that the Lord’s body cannot be divided because it is made up of saved individuals and not congregations or denominations. We also need to remember that a denomination is simply an alliance, coalition, or collection of congregations. By definition, it is very evident that most religious groups are denominations and therefore are unscriptural. But we also need to be careful that while we speak we are undenominational, that we also act undenominational.
Desire to Align Ourselves
Same name, times, order of worship, etc
One of the greatest and more recent pushes that has begun among Christians is the desire that all of us have the same name, meet at the same time, and so forth. What we will notice with all of these points, that while it may sound good on the outside, performing such an act would be denominational.
First, we need to be careful when we hear speak of “us” or “we.” When someone says that “we” all need to have the same name, we need to ask the question, who are the “we?” Usually “we” and “us” is a reference to the coalition of congregations that call themselves churches of Christ. Yet we have pointed out many times in previous lessons that such a concept is denominational and unscriptural. This was noticeable in a recent series of articles prepared by Truth Magazine titled “Where We Are and Where We Are Going.” Many of the writers made a point by asking who are the “we” in this title. If we are referring to the universal group of saved people, then we are where we always have been: in fellowship with Jesus Christ. If we are referring to our local church, then here are some of the issues and problems we are facing. However, if “we” refers to the collection of congregations calling themselves “churches of Christ,” then we have strayed away from the truth of God’s word, for such an alliance is a denomination. Unfortunately, many other writers missed this and began to speak in denominational terms of aligned churches of Christ.
What purpose would there be for the local congregations who call themselves churches of Christ to have the same name, same meeting times, same order of worship and so forth? It seems to me that the only purpose would be an attempt to identify who is in our coalition of churches and who is not. Who would be in charge of making sure “sound churches” would conform to the same name, same meeting times, and same order of worship? Who would have control of this action? Further, what point would it make? Many other churches have “church of Christ” on their sign, yet we know are involved in many false things. Such an act will not end confusion nor show who is sound and who is not. I was told by a brother that there is a Baptist church in Alabama with a sign that says, “the church of Christ.” Clinging to a title or name to bind together not only may harm us because others who are false use the same name, but, more importantly, is denominational and scriptural.
Fellowship and withdrawal
But want to go even further. Not do some say that we need to have the same name, times, and order of worship, but they also say that churches have fellowship with other churches. And if they have fellowship, they can also withdraw fellowship from another church. But let us go back to the scriptures. Do we see anywhere in the New Testament one local church withhold fellowship or granting fellowship to another local church? If you think so, keep looking, because you will not find such action in the scriptures. Fellowship is defined as joint participation, and as we have proven in previous lessons, one local church does not have fellowship with another local church. To have such fellowship is a denomination.
In Revelation 2-3 we read of the seven churches in Asia who were all in fairly close proximity to each other. Two of the local churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, did not receive condemnation. They were doing well in their working for Jesus Christ. Why didn’t these two churches withdraw fellowship from the other five churches in the area because of the false things they were tolerating? The answer is obvious. There is no authority for church to have fellowship or remove fellowship from each other. Unfortunately many churches today have not learned this lesson. I have seen churches “withdraw” for another church in the same town because of something the other church did. Such an act not only violates proper authority for fellowship, but it also violates church autonomy. One church is making a decision or ruling about another church. We never see such action in the scripture. It is purely denominational and we must avoid such actions.
A “Shibboleth” Denomination?
While claiming to be undenominational
Of course no one claims to be forming a denomination or to be part of a denomination. Yet, while denying such a denomination exists, many are inadvertently creating one. In Judges 12:5-6 we see the men of Gilead would make the Ephraimites say “shibboleth” to know if they were from Ephraim or not because they could not pronounce the word correctly. I believe that we see this attitude in many preachers and teachers today. While claiming to be undenominational, many go around checking to see if we say or do things the exact same way. If we do not say things the way they say it, or if we do not do things the way that they do it, then condemnation and marking comes from these people. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul tells the Christians in Corinth to be of the same mind and to speak the same things. In Philippians 3:16 Paul again says for them to be of the same mind. Who is going to make sure that we are of the same mind? How is this going to be accomplished? Should I, as a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ, go around the country making sure that all the churches are speaking the same things and have the same mind?
The Bible tells us how we are to accomplish this and it is not by men go around forcing people to speak the same words as them. In Ephesians 4:11-16 we read about how we have the same mind. We are being built up to come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. It is amazing what the Lord is telling us. When we study the scriptures, when we equip the saints, when we speak the truth in love, we will come to this unity. We will speak the same thing and have the same mind when we align ourselves to Christ, not to the “shibboleth” of man. When we are all obedient to the word of God, then we will of the same mind and spirit and therefore we will have unity. Philippians 3:16 says that when we walk by the same rule, then we will have the same mind. We create a denomination when we have people trying to make churches speak the same way or do the same thing. There is no head other than Christ. No one is to take His place in bringing about unity. We must align ourselves to Christ, not to the rules or traditions of men.
“Keeping the church pure”
What many argue in their justification is that we need to keep the church pure. This is how we can protect the church and keep it pure. Let us go back to our definitions and see if this fits. Does the universal group of saved people need to be kept pure by man? No, for Christ is the head of the church. He is the head of the all the saved. Christ will protect the church and keep it pure. Is this not one of the messages of Revelation? Christ will not allow wickedness or any unfruitful works of darkness into the church. By definition, the universal church is pure because the Lord adds only those who are in fellowship with him.
All that we are left with is working to keep the local church where we are worshipping pure. This is the example and command in 1 Corinthians 5. The Corinthians were to withdraw from the fornicator to save the fornicator’s soul and to keep that local congregation pure. Why do we need to keep the local church pure? 1 Corinthians 5:6 tells us “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
We do not want one person’s rebellion to cause others to fall. This charge is left to each congregation and no one else. Again, was it the job of the church in Smyrna to keep the church in Ephesus pure? No. Was it the work of the church in Philadelphia to keep the church in Laodicea pure? No. Each of those congregations were told to take care of the problems themselves. They were not to tolerate the false teaching that was taking place. But these churches were not told to take care of other churches’ problems. Such an action would be denominational. Yet, when people speak of “keeping the church pure,” they are often referring to a denomination, the coalition of churches of Christ.
Creeds produce denominations
One of the easiest ways that we bring about a denomination is through the use of written or unwritten creeds. A creed is defined as, “a brief statement of religious belief; a specific statement of this kind accepted as authoritative by a church; a statement of belief, principles, or opinions on any subject.” There are two great problems with creeds. The first problem is rather obvious. A creed removes our dependence upon the word of God and places it upon something that man has written. A creed takes the place of the authority of God. Even if all the principles in the creed are the same as found in the scriptures, the effect takes the authority away from the word of God and places it on a document created by men. Such an action is dangerous and unscriptural. But there is another problem created by creeds. Creeds create denominations. What other purpose is there for a creed except that it will cause congregations to follow, say, or do the same thing? The purpose of a creed is to align congregations to do the same thing on a particular belief or issue. It is also important for us to recognize that creeds can be written or unwritten, expressly stated or generally understood. Yet we are only to follow the word of God and nothing else.
Creeds in “undenominational” churches
Sometimes Christians may be naïve to think that creeds only belong to those in the religious world. However, I know of many who have created creeds, despite their denial of it being a creed, in an effort to clarify God’s word or align local churches.
27 Questions. Some time ago, one church through the help of a preacher, decided to come up with 27 questions to ask a preacher before supporting them to know if the preacher was sound or not. Now, on the surface, this sounds like a good idea. However, a creed had been created where churches would rely upon the words of man to determine soundness to the scriptures. Of course, such an action is unscriptural and because of the objection of many Christians, it was exposed for what it was.
Romans 14. More recently, men have written down what they believe to fit into Romans 14 and what does not fit into Romans 14. This would be used to determine fellowship between Christians. However, if I itemize what belongs and what does not belong in Romans 14 and use it to try to test fellowship, I have created a creed. I have removed authority from God’s word and placed it upon my writing. God did not specify what issues belong and what issues do not belong in Romans 14. Where do I have the right to be more specific than God?
Again, these creeds are written or spoken with good intentions to unite beliefs among Christians. But what needs to unify Christians? Only the word of God and nothing else.
The harm of creeds
As we have mentioned, but it is worth stating again, there is great harm in the creation of creeds. First, we are destroying the wisdom of God. We think we can write something better than what God has written. We are acting as if God could not do a good enough job in writing something to create unity, and we can do a better job. Can the Bible as God gave it to us produce the unity God desires? Yes. Then I all I need to do is study and follow the word of God. Further, creeds place a dependence on men. We strip away the authority of God for the authority of our words and thoughts. This is an easy trap to fall into. When we read a commentary instead of the word of God, we are doing the same thing. When we would rather study the writings of men instead of the writing of God, we are looking to man for wisdom and not God. Commentaries have their place in helping us see things in the text that we may not have noticed. But I cannot depend on man’s writings or treat man’s words as authoritative. Only the word of God has this power.
How easy it is to fall into the trap of acting denominationally. Good intentions many times will pave the way to lawlessness. Many have had good intentions of trying to be of the same mind and judgment. But to try to align local churches, to force other churches to speak and do the same thing, or to write creeds to line up churches is without the authority of God. I pray that all Christians will have the same mind of Christ by placing their dependence upon God and His word. Only through diligent study and edification of each other can we grow up into Christ, grow up into unity, and grow in the faith. May each of us strive to do this without the way of denominationalism.