- Denominationalism and Denominations
The concept of denominationalism is the belief that all these different denominations are different parts of God’s church. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and all denominations are parts of the larger church and all of them are saved. This is not true. Because 1) the body of Christ is one and there should be no division in the body (1 Cor 12:25); 2) some of their doctrines are false doctrines that lead, not to life but, to destruction (2Pet 2:1).
Not all people who are part of a denomination believe all denominations are equal. There are many people in denominations that are trying to be part of the one true church and aren’t aware of better options for churches or who are working within their denomination to improve it.
The definition of a denomination is difficult to pinpoint. It ultimately depends on the context and personal definitions. Generally, a denomination is a Christian group that shares 1) a name, 2) a creed/set of beliefs, and 3) a structure/hierarchy.
- The Churches of Christ
In scripture and in spiritual reality, Jesus built one church. Since then there have been divisions, heresies, and different people trying to establish their own version of the one true church. There is a distinction between the one, spiritual church and the attempt to manifest that one true church which we know as the Churches of Christ. That distinction is important to make because it allows us to then compare and contrast; if we don’t distinguish between the Churches of Christ and the church in the NT we can never critique and improve the Churches of Christ to make it more pure and closer to the church in the NT.
The Churches of Christ historically were a product of the Restoration Movement created in the name of following God’s word alone, particularly New Covenant teaching, without creeds or any structure not found in it.The core identity of the Churches of Christ has been to be part of the church built by Christ and none other. They are not the first movement to attempt this, but I think they are the most accurate version I have read of.
This movement had many forerunners but the two most notable were Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, who shared the approach of going back to the Bible. They had decided to abandon all things that were not in the Bible as far as possible and to bind only that which is in the New Testament upon New Covenant Christians. They looked at the New Covenant teachings as a blueprint to replicate today. If this blueprint is followed, then the end product is a manifestation of the one true church. They saw the New Testament as a path and the destination is the one true church.
This approach differed in that it is rational and not experiential–it focuses more on reason than emotion. For centuries and even today still, people abandon their thinking when it comes to the Bible. Alexander approached the Bible like an engineer to analyze the parts, how they connected, which ones were absolutely necessary and which ones were convenient, and then he sought to replicate this structure in real life. To this day, I have never seen a denomination filled with so many people who fact-checking everything said in a sermon with the Bible compared to the Churches of Christ–and that is a good thing. I have not seen a denomination who approaches the Bible so systematically and analytically compared to the Churches of Christ–and that is a good thing. Could these things be bad if taken to an extreme? Absolutely and we must be mindful not to worship the Bible but to worship the author of the Bible.
So, this group that calls themselves the Churches of Christ, are they a denomination? Again, what is the definition of a denomination?
First, the CoC does not call itself a denomination and rejects denominationalism.
Second, do the CoC share a name? Yes.
Third, do the CoC share a creed? No.
A creed is usually a created manifest of beliefs, like the Catholic Church has a catechism. The Church of Christ shares slogans like “Where the Bible speaks, we speak,” or “hear, believe, repent, and be baptized” but we do not share a set list of beliefs. Some people might argue that we share a list of beliefs but it just isn’t written down. That is not a creed though.
So, do the CoC share a set of beliefs? Yes to kind of.
Fourth, do the CoC share a structure? Yes to kind of.
The CoC operates like nondenominational churches. They do not have a hierarchy. Many of these denominations have boards over churches. A pastor is taken from one church and sent to another. If one church gets out of line, the board will cut them off and they are no longer allowed to associate with that denomination.
In this way, when it comes to hierarchy, the CoC are truly nondenominational. Each congregation is independently run. If one church starts to get out of line and entertains false doctrine, there is no board to discipline them. The only thing the CoC can do is to try to convince them and then to not fellowship them. Why don’t we have a board? Because it’s not in the Bible. That is something humans added.
This approach is the core identity to the Churches of Christ, to follow the Bible and be part of the spiritual church of Christ, the one Jesus built, the one seen in Acts, the one saved by God, the one in the Bible. We reason, if we believe what they believe, do what they do, we will be what they were, and get what they get.
If the Apostle Peter told the Christians that the crucified Jesus was resurrected and is Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32,36), we should believe it too. If the Apostle Paul told the Christians that it is at baptism where a person is united into Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-4), then we should believe it too. If God’s word says we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), we should believe it too.
If we read that the Christians in the Apostles’ days got together once a week to eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20), so should we. If we read that the Christians in the Apostles’ days sang songs (Eph. 5:19), so should we. If we read that the Christians in the Apostles’ days took up a collection on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:2), so should we.
Following the teachings they received and obeying the commands they were given, we become what they were: Christians (Acts 11:26), saved (Acts 2:47), members of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:12); and we will get what they get: eternal life (1 John 5:13), adoption (Eph 1:4), God’s grace (Eph. 1:5), redemption (Eph. 1:7), forgiveness (Eph. 1:7).
The purest form of Christianity is the form found in the New Testament under the Apostles guided by the Holy Spirit sent from Christ. The closer we observe their commands and examples, the closer we will be to pure Christian faith, untainted by human error. That is the pursuit of the group Churches of Christ. The Churches of Christ seek to be in the spiritual, universal church of Christ.