Is Undenominational Christianity Possible Today?

Introduction:

   The first human denomination came into existence hundreds of years after Jesus built his church, but the principle underlying modern denominationalism is condemned by the inspired apostle Paul at: 

1 Cor. 1:10-13, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.  For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chlo'e, that there are contentions among you.  Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" 

These people were divided, and they were wearing names which both contributed to and gave evidence of their division.  Paul condemned their division and their calling themselves after the names of human beings.  If such division, even in a local church of Christ was condemned by the inspired apostle, how would one go about seeking to justify modern-day denominationalism? 

   It is unfortunate that the idea prevails in the religious world that one who is a Christian either belongs to some denomination or else has chosen not to belong to any church at all.   Some seem to equate church membership with membership in some denomination.  Is it possible for people to belong to the church Jesus built, to be in an organized congregation so they may all work and worship together as a church, and none of them belong to any denomination?   

Discussion:

I.                   UNDENOMINATIONAL CHRISTIANITY IS POSSIBLE!

A.     The term undenominational Christianity never would have been used by Christians in the first century, because at that time there were not any denominations.

1.      In other words, when people heard, believed and obeyed the gospel, they were saved and added by the Lord to his church. 

Acts 2:47, "Praising God, and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." 

2.      They saw no need to form or join a denomination.

3.      Nothing in the gospel of Christ would lead one to become a member of any denomination. 

B.     This shows beyond a doubt that undenominational Christianity is possible.

1.      This fact is admitted by all.

2.      For example, should you ask a preacher of Denomination "A", "Do you believe one can be a Christian and not belong to your denomination?" his answer would be "Yes!"

3.      Should you ask him, "Does becoming a Christian make one a member of your denomination?" he likely would reply, "Certainly not!"

4.      This is not the same as saying one can be a Christian and not be a member of the church Jesus built.

5.      It is still possible for people to become Christians, members of the church Jesus built, without being members of any denomination.   

II.                THE NEW TESTAMENT DOES NOT LEAD ONE INTO A DENOMINATION.

A.     In the New Testament those who obeyed the gospel of Christ were added by the Lord to His church.

1.      Nobody in the New Testament was ever invited to join the church. Instead, the Lord added every saved person to His church. 

Acts 2:47, ".And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." 

B.     There is not one word in the New Testament that suggests one should become a member of some denomination.

1.      This fact is one upon which even preachers of various denominations would agree.

2.      One must go beyond the teaching of the New Testament in order to become a member of a denomination.

3.      Denominations, then, are made-up of those who have done something the New Testament did not lead them to do.

4.      Such is not true concerning the church one reads about in the New Testament; one becomes a member of that church by doing just exactly what the New Testament teaches, and nothing more. 

C.     Notice two very important implications of this fact:

1.      The only reason there is denominations in the world is because some have left the teachings of the New Testament.

2.      And every denomination would cease to exist if every person in the world would simply come back to the teaching of the New Testament.

3.      Both of these are necessary inferences from the acknowledged fact that the New Testament does not teach one to form or join any denomination.  But it does teach that the Lord adds every saved person to His church. 

III.             THOSE WHO ADHERE TO THE TEACHING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ARE NOT IN DENOMINATIONS.

A.     By adhering strictly to the teaching of the New Testament, a person becomes a member of the church we read about in the Bible, but one could never get into any denomination by so doing.

1.      If the New Testament does not lead one to become a member of a denomination, then one cannot adhere strictly to the teaching of the New Testament and get into a denomination.

2.      Only those not strictly adhering to the teaching of the New Testament can become something the New Testament does not lead them to become 

IV.              IS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST A DENOMINATION?

A.     There are some who affirm that the church of Christ is a denomination.

1.      They offer as evidence our shortcomings, our imperfections.

2.      While we readily acknowledge that we are far from being perfect, this does not prove we are members of some denomination.

3.      Christians in the first century were also not perfect, but they were members of the church Jesus built, and that church is not a denomination. 

4.      They were members of that church because they had obeyed the gospel of Christ and were saved, and the Lord adds the saved to His church.

5.      If the church of Christ is a denomination, then it is because those of us who are members thereof did something in becoming members thereof that the New Testament does not teach us to do.

6.      If such were the case we should immediately get out of that denomination and obey the simple gospel of Christ.

7.      But the man or woman does not live who can show that we did something other than that which the New Testament teaches one to do in becoming members of the church. 

V.                 CALLING THE CHURCH A DENOMINATION DOES NOT MAKE IT ONE.

A.     When Paul was taken as a prisoner to Rome, certain religious leaders among the Jews referred to Christianity as a sect. 

Acts 28:21-22, "And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came showed or spake any harm of thee.  But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest:  for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against."  

1.      These Jewish leaders knew that the Jewish religious world was divided into a number of different sects.

a.       Two of the major sects of the Jews were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. 

2.      The Jewish leaders at Rome thought Christianity was simply another Jewish sect.

a.       They called Christianity a sect, but that did not make it a sect.

b.      The fact they were uninformed concerning the church of Christ made them think of it as simply another sect.

c.       But that which they mistakenly referred to as a sect was the church which had been purchased by the blood of the Son of God. 

Acts 20:28, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."

3.      The Jewish leaders of Rome were not being mean in referring to the church as a sect; they simply did not know any better.

a.       They were very familiar with sectarianism among themselves, and they evidently assumed that any religious group would be a sect.

b.      Those who affirm that the church of Christ is a denomination are not necessarily being mean in so doing; they simply do not know any better.

(1)       Being familiar with denominationalism, they erroneously assumed that any religious group must be a denomination. 

B.     Occasionally we are asked, "What are you religiously?" or "What denomination are you a member of?"

1.      When we answer, "I am a Christian," the person inquiring may say, "Yes, I know, but what kind?"

a.       To answer by saying, "The kind one reads about in the New Testament," or "A New Testament Christian," is not very helpful to the questioner.  He or she does not understand that there is such a thing as undenominational Christianity, and that people can be members of the church Jesus built without ever belonging to any denomination. 

VI.              WHAT DENOMINATION WOULD THIS BE?

A.     Several years ago, a group of Christians made an evangelistic trip into one of the countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain.

1.      While there they advertised their efforts using the words, "New Testament Christianity."  After they dismissed one of their assemblies and many of the people left, but a rather large group lingered behind to talk.  They said they had been reading and studying the Bible, and were committed to it as their only guide in religious matters.  Each one of them had been immersed for the remission of sins after a simple confession of his or her faith in Christ.  They claimed to be nothing but Christians.  The words, "New Testament Christianity," had caught their attention.  They wanted to know if there could possibly be other people in the world who, like themselves, had obeyed the gospel of Christ and were trying to be nothing more or less than the New Testament leads people to be.

2.      Question:  Of what denomination were those people members?  It is obvious they were members of no denomination at all.  But were they members of any church?  Oh, yes!  They were members of the church one reads about in the New Testament.  They did not join that church; they did not have to.  They were added to it by the Lord the moment they did what the New Testament teaches one to do in order to be saved.  

VII.           THE SEED PRINCIPLE.

A.     In explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said, "Now the parable is this:  The seed is the word of God" (Luke 8:11).

1.      We understand that seed produces after its own kind. 

Genesis 1:11-12, "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth:  and it was so.  And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind:  and God saw that it was good."

a.       Example:  Watermelon seed. 

B.     In the first century, when the seed of the kingdom was sown, that is, when the Word of God was preached and people became obedient thereto, they became Christians, members of the church Jesus built.

1.      The seed did not produce one kind of fruit in Jerusalem and still another kind in Rome.

2.      That seed did not produce a Baptist Church in one city, a Methodist Church in another, a Lutheran Church in another, and a Presbyterian Church in still another city.

3.      Wherever that seed was planted, if it produced anything at all, it produced churches that belonged to Christ, and which were undenominational.

4.      A church different than that found in the New Testament was produced by something other than the word of God. 

C.     It is sometimes suggested that, since it cannot be shown that pure New Testament Christianity has been passed down to us from generation to generation, then it is not possible for the church Jesus built to exist in this century.

1.      But this idea overlooks the seed principle.

a.       If the seed is the Word of God, and it is (Luke 8:11), then the only thing necessary for the existence of the church Jesus built is for the seed to be planted in the fertile soil of honest hearts.

b.      What it produces in the 21st Century will be the same as that which it produced in the 1st Century.  That was not a denomination; it was the church of Christ.                                                        

Conclusion:

   Jesus prayed, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:  that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20-21). 

Our plea in churches of Christ is that all forsake the human names and human doctrines that divide the religious world and which stand in opposition to the prayer of our Lord, and instead follow the New Testament.  In doing so, all will be led into the church built by Jesus.  That church is not a denomination. 

 

--Dub Mowery

 

Copyright © 2004 - 2005 by Pritchett Church of Christ. All rights reserved.