After having completed a study of denominations (accessible at astudyofdenominations.com), and after publicizing it within the Internet community, some people who assemble with a church of Christ responded to me and asked, “so, where’s your page on the Church of Christ denomination?” This kind of statement demonstrates that in the minds of these individuals, the “Church of Christ” is a denomination, in that regards no different from the rest of “Christendom.” Is it true that the Church of Christ is a denomination, just like the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination, the Baptist denomination, and the multitude of other denominations in the world today? Let us begin a study on denominations in an attempt to see first what they are and what characteristics they share, and then later to examine what practices that are seen in churches of Christ that may lead to denominationalism.
First, we must ask: what is a denomination? Webster’s Dictionary defines it as the following:
name, designation; especially: a general name for a category; a religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body.
The dictionary gives us the first, and preeminent, definition of a denomination: a group of congregations that are bound together in a religious organization with an administrative body. When we read about the church in the New Testament, do we see such an organization? By no means! The elders of the church in Ephesus were told to shepherd their flock, not the flock of any other church (cf. Acts 20). While there was certainly kinship felt amongst members of different local congregations (e.g., Philippi and Thessalonica), there is no evidence that any group of congregations were legislated by some earthly head or administration. Therefore, even according to the dictionary definition of the term “denomination,” the Church that the Lord established is not a denomination.
Is organization, however, the only mark of a denomination? By no means! Let us now look at some characteristics of denominations that are not a part of the Church established by Jesus Christ:
- Denominations will often regard the writings and deeds of a man or men in great esteem, often discussing them with or instead of Scripture. Many times these writings are actually considered Scripture or are considered to be binding statements of belief on all members of that denomination. Christians in the Lord’s Church are to adhere to the Scriptures, and the Scriptures alone (cf. Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- Denominations will often have schools and ordination procedures in order to have control over those who would minister to their congregations. Christians in the Lord’s Church who desire to minister to congregations need only to understand the Bible and its message in order to do so (Romans 1:16).
- Denominations, by their very nature, will often collect a portion of the treasury of the congregations in order to fund projects and events. Christians in the Lord’s Church give to the Lord’s Treasury, and the funds contained therein are to be spent or given wisely only by those entrusted to shepherd that local flock (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8-10).
- Denominations hold to titles and names very often not found in Scripture; in this way, they resemble the erring Corinthians of 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 who named themselves often after men and not after God.
These are only a few generalizations of many characteristics that are marks of denominations and denominational attitudes. We see, then, that a denomination is really an organization established, without Scriptural authority, that often professes authority in some collective form that is also not seen in the Scriptures. We intend to examine certain practices that are seen in many churches of Christ today and how they demonstrate signposts on the path that leads toward denomination, and also, hopefully, a way to prevent more Christians from walking down that path.