“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” (I Corinthians 1:12-13)?
Before I even get started on this article, I want to respectfully say that this article is not meant to bash ministers or churches who are members of denominations. Just as Jesus spoke of His disciples being in the world but not of it, in like manner, you can be in a denomination just not of it. You are of Christ. My hope, through this article, is to convey that the Bible is sufficient, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to order a body of believers to come together and have all the accountability, leadership, unity and order to function in a true New Testament fashion. I even asked myself, “Is it necessary to put out such an article? Won’t this just alienate me from ministers and saints who belong to a denomination?” Then I realized as I have done so often, if I can’t talk open and honestly about such things amongst the body of Christ, when and where can I? Should I go instead and complain to the world?
I want to note that when I refer to denominationalism, I am also referring to all groups who organize like a denomination, but prefer to use a different term to describe themselves. For the sake of convenience, I will use the word denomination throughout the remainder of this article.
Now as I get started you saw in our text, that Paul asked, “Is Christ divided?” The answer to that is, of course not. However, the church sure is. Some years back, in one of my articles, I stated that there are over 900 denominations in America. As I think about that statement, I have to yield to the fact that we can’t really know how many there are. A few websites say there are over 30,000 Christian denominations in this world. In America, the Baptist Church is the largest protestant denomination. Wikipedia gave a list of all the different Baptist denominations there are in America. I counted seventy nine of them. So we just don’t have differing denominations, but also differing factions inside one denomination. Hold back your criticism, you members of the Pentecostal / Charismatic churches. I counted thirty two different denominations in your ranks. One question looms large in my mind; “How can a people, who all say they read and believe the same book (the Bible), be so divided?”
Have you saint of God, grown so accustomed to denominationalism that you never bother to consider if it is even biblical? I know it seems the norm for the church. Have you ever asked, “Where in the Bible does it teach or promote denominationalism?” If we are honest, which we believers have no choice but to be, you will have to agree that you cannot find a scripture that teaches that we should create such organizations. In fact the opposite is true. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for picking favorites and identifying with a specific group (“I am of Paul; I of Apollos…”). Are you of Wesley, are you of Luther? Do you follow the ways of the Anabaptists or the Puritans? Is your religion Grandma and Grandpa’s style? Or are you of Christ? Are you a follower of Christ? Is the Bible your rule of Authority?
I am sure you surmised by now that I and the church I shepherd, do not belong to any denomination. Churches of the sort that I pastor are usually called non-denominational or independent. (I like to refer to my church as “dependent,” dependent on the Holy Spirit.) Even using these terms can take on a denominational feel as well. Why do we have to have labels anyway? Why do we look for another way to identify ourselves other than to have our identity in Christ and have the word of God as our authority? I ask you, why is it that the churches who incorporate seem to be the norm and those churches who don’t are considered illegitimate? I get it that there are a lot of troublemakers in the church who have rebelled against denominational authority and started their own little “us four and no more” non-denominational church. When I was a young believer, I used to think that those who were in non-denominational churches were all rebels. I have learned there are plenty of rebels to go around. They aren’t just in the non-denominational churches, but the denominational ones as well. In fact, there is very powerful politics in some, if not many, denominational churches. I have even heard a story from several people, of a high official in a denomination who openly lied to a church body. He did it for the sake of the denomination’s interests. That is what politicians do. Politicians lie, men of God promote truth, no matter the cost. Ministers do not have to lie to keep the saints faithful, but church politicians often lie to keep their denominational agenda on course. I am not saying that ministers who are good strong leaders in their church are a part of church politics, for I assume many are not. However, it is heart breaking to see the church operate like a political machine.
So what is the solution? Can we the church, really come together in love and unity, with true leadership in place and let the word of God truly be our final authority? Can we exist together without having to draft bylaws and corporation papers? Can we all really be members of a church body without having to take several classes and then sign a membership card? Absolutely, positively we can and we must. It starts with believing that it is God’s expectation for His church to be united as one body and then determining in your heart to see it happen in our generation. Again, all Christians will say they agree that there is only ONE body, but our hundreds of denominations tattle on us. They testify that we don’t believe what we say.
“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).
Seven times you see the word “one” in this verse. What don’t we get about that? What we all need to do is quit saying that we believe the word of God to be our final authority and simply let it be. That means that every Christian who belongs to a denomination, as I said earlier, must refuse to be of it.
I have asked some people if they are a Christian. It is not unusual to get an answer like, I’m Catholic, I’m Baptist or I belong to such and such a church. Let me ask you. Do you really believe the word of God? Are you, saint of God, willing to believe the whole truth as the Spirit reveals it to you, even at the expense of being cut off by your church or denomination? How about you, ministers of God? Are you willing to face losing your credentials, if that is what would come about if you were to preach a truth that is contrary to what your denomination believes? I know of some ministers who left their denomination and lost their retirement all for the sake of preaching the truth. What do you love more, your denomination or the truth of God? If we would dare believe the truth, our denominations would be considered irrelevant overnight.