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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Can One Be Just A Christian Without Being In A Denomination

Many years ago I asked a lady this very question--can one be just a Christian in Christ’s church without being in a denomination?  Her answer was that while that was once possible it is not possible today.  I have never understood that kind of thinking.  To her the church that is Christ’s could not exist today, in the modern era, alone by itself, outside of denominationalism.  That is a position that raises all kinds of difficulties.

In the early years of Christianity, the gospel message when believed and obeyed made Christians and Christians only that were added by God to the church, Christ’s church.  “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47 NKJV)  If the pure gospel message of the New Testament will not do that today then when, where, and how did it lose its power to do so?   Why must I today be in a denomination when all I want to be in is the Lord’s church?

But it is said that the gospel still saves just like it did in the first century, still puts you in the Lord’s church, but then after obeying it you must join a denomination.  Why?  They didn’t in the first century.  Oh, it is said you join one for edification, fellowship, and joint evangelistic and benevolent efforts.   So, is it being said that the first-century church lacked these things?  Is it being said you cannot be in that church today for it does not exist as a stand-alone institution today?  If it doesn’t when did it die out as a stand-alone institution? 

Does the gospel message now when believed and obeyed add you both to the church Jesus built and to a denomination simultaneously?  If so, when did that begin?  If so where can I read about it in the Bible?  If so which denomination does it add me to in addition to the Lord’s church?  If so why is that needed now but was not needed for hundreds of years after the first century had come and gone?  If so when did the gospel lose its power to make me just a Christian, no more, no less? 

When did Jesus and the gospel begin to need help in the saving business?  When did his church alone cease to be the body of the saved?  “He is the Savior of the body.” (Eph. 5:23 NKJV)  The body is his spiritual body, his church, “He is the head of the body, the church.” (Col. 1:18 NKJV)  The Lord adds us to the church when we believe and obey the gospel (Acts 2:47).  Paul says of Christians, “You are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12:27 NKJV)

But it is now said that that is not enough--if the lady was correct.  Now to be saved you must also be a member of a denomination (the assumption being that all Christians are).  So, you must be both in the Lord’s church and a denomination to be saved, is that right?  It is if the church Christ built is not sufficient by itself.  But, most denominationalists would say it is not essential to be a member of their particular denomination to be saved, others will do.  Then please tell me of what earthly or heavenly good that denomination serves other than to be a divider of men, one group of believers divided against another group of believers?  If it is not essential to the salvation of men get rid of the thing that causes all the strife and division.

The truth is the church Jesus built does still exist on this earth today without the help of any denomination.  The gospel has not lost its power.  The church of Christ can exist anywhere in the world today when men and women are willing to forget just about everything they have been taught in denominationalism and just take the Bible alone as their guide.  If the church Jesus built does not exist as an operating entity upon earth today in your locality, wherever that be, as it did in the first century in the Middle East, there is only one reason for it in lands where the Bible is readily available--men love their denominations and would rather have them and their creeds and councils and governing bodies than just the simple New Testament church and its worship regulated by the word of God alone.

Let us be honest.  If we take the New Testament, the word of God alone, as our guide a lot of things will have to be given up.  One does not read in his New Testament of, as examples, sprinkling of infants, christenings, sprinkling of anyone at any age and calling it baptism (baptism is immersion), baptism for any purpose other than the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16), instruments of music being used in New Testament worship, dramas being performed, group musical performances, and a host of other things that have today become commonplace in denominational practices and worship services.  Are those things right?  You cannot read about them in your New Testament which raises the question of does one need a New Testament as a guide.

Nor will one read in his New Testament anything about one man rule of a congregation by a single individual designated as a pastor (each New Testament congregation had multiple pastors), oversight of a congregation by a national church organization, church-sponsored ball teams, raising funds by business ventures, seminars for everything from weight loss to how to do your taxes, and the list could go on.  One must go outside the New Testament for those things. 

No, if you want the New Testament church that Christ built a lot of things will have to go by the wayside and you will end up with nothing much that is attractive to worldly men.  The worship service will not be like attending a rock concert or an entertainment event.  It will be very simple--singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, prayers, partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, the word of God will be preached, and a collection will be taken on the first day of the week to carry on the work of preaching the gospel and carrying for the needy.   

It is a hard transition from a denomination into the simple New Testament church that is led not by a single man or a national oversight organization but by a few select men who meet the biblical qualifications to be elders as found in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1.  These men have no authority to legislate for God.  Their role is simply that of overseers to ensure that the work is done that God has given the church to do.  These men will be chosen by the members of the congregation from among themselves.  No one person designated a pastor by the denominational world will run the affairs of the congregation nor will a national organization.

The name on the sign out front will not matter as long as it is a scriptural designation.  It could simply be called the church (for that is what it is), or the church of God, or the church of Christ, or any other scriptural designation.  The name is more descriptive than it is an actual name.

You will not be voted into the membership.  You cannot join this group of believers.  Why not?  Because God adds you when you obey the gospel.  As I heard one man say recently, he had it right but I had never thought about it that way, you cannot join the church because you are adopted into it and God is the one who does the adopting.

Critics say that in the very act of organizing such a group you immediately become just another denomination.  That goes along with the way they think for they do not want to leave denominationalism behind and thus insist one has to be a member of a denomination and cannot be just a Christian.  They thus proclaim the Lord’s church a denomination.  If they admit we can have just the New Testament church on earth today and worship in it they condemn themselves and they are not about to do that so all they can do is shout and shout over and over again “denomination.”  They will label you and truth be thrust to the wind.

But what they are really saying, if they would think it through, is that God’s word has lost its power to make just a Christian and lost its power to keep his church on earth today out in the open where it can be seen.  They are saying that the seed, “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11 NKJV), produces a different crop today than what it did back in the first century.  Back then it produced just Christians, now you plant it and you get both a Christian and a denominationalist.  Strange seed this is that has undergone a transformation like no other seed in human history.

They are caught in a bind.  On the one hand, they do not want to say you must be in a denomination to be saved but then on the other hand they want to insist you must because to them it is impossible to reestablish the New Testament church today and just have it alone.  They want it both ways; they want to eat the cake and save it all at the same time.  Life doesn’t work that way.  They cannot have it both ways.  But, that is their problem, not mine.

I think most people who are serious about their religion see the great contradictions in denominationalism.  However, they either do not know what to do about it or else their love for it is such that they will not give it up.  I readily admit it is hard to start over but that is what must be done if we are going back to the church Jesus built.

Denominationalism will always have a greater appeal to man than the Lord’s church for it allows more freedom of expression and gives man more say so in what is done and how it is done.  Man has a desire for that.  It has always been that way long before the church ever came into existence.  Mankind wants to do things they want to do unhindered by God.

The concept of restoration of New Testament Christianity is a valid one and there are many churches of Christ in the land today still operating on the principle that it is possible to be just a Christian alone outside of denominationalism, just be a member of the church Jesus built, take the Bible and do what they did in the first century, that and that alone, and be just a Christian.  Unless God’s word has lost its power it is still possible to do that.

The church can be established in its New Testament purity in any area where men and women are willing to leave denominationalism and just take the Bible alone.  It is not necessary to call it the church of Christ although no man should be hesitant to call the local congregation by that Christ-honoring name.  Just give it a scriptural designation, organize it by what you read in your New Testament, accept members based on the way men were made members in the original church Christ built, worship as they worshipped, do the work they did, and leave all manmade inventions out of it.

To answer the question that was the title of this article, “Can One Be Just A Christian Without Being In A Denomination” the answer is yes if the desire is great enough to do so.  But, be assured, those who love their denomination will have none of it.  The Catholics are not the only ones who love their traditions.  As the Apostle Paul said, “For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Gal 1:10 NKJV)  We can please men (humankind) or we can please the God of men.  Pleasing men means denominationalism.  We ought to choose to please God.

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