Understanding the Church of Christ – Part 2

Intro: When I say the words “church of Christ” what comes to your mind? This local church? The church of the NT? A religious institution that teaches the Lord’s supper on Sunday and baptism for the remission of sins? Those people that think they are the only ones going to heaven?

  • Word (ekklesia) used 2 ways: just people – 1) all the saved – universal; 2) group of saved people who worship and work together as a group. But most people picture a denomination called the church of Christ. Wrong concept of the church that belongs to Christ.

I. The Church of Christ is Not a Denomination – We often make this statement in our advertising or in Bible discussions with others. Can we properly explain why this is true? Can we defend our claim of undenominationalism in a denominational world?

A. What is a Denomination? A very basic definition is some smaller unit that is part (or a denomination) of a large unit. We understand the word denomination best by example. A quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a penny are all denominations of a dollar. They are smaller units that make up the whole. But what is a denomination in the religious world?

1. Donald G. Tinder in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says, “Denominations are associations of congregations–though sometimes it might be said that congregations are localized subdivisions of denominations–that have a common heritage.”

2. Tinder defines denominations as an association of congregations, but even a little more than that. The congregations are localized subdivisions of the greater whole.

II. The Elements of Modern Denominationalism: Modern denominations include many local congregations tied together through common beliefs and practices, supported by the development of specific creeds. The denominationalists claim there is one universal church composed of all “saved” people. But they add something new – the denominations. All these “saved” people in all these local churches are now divided into denominations (an affiliation of congregations.

Each denomination has its own peculiar name, doctrine, organization, plan of worship, etc., which distinguishes it from other denominations.

Each denomination claims it is composed of Christians, but it does not claim to contain all faithful Christians. Each denomination believes there are faithful children of God in other denominations.

If the Lord’s church were a denominated whole, what would it look like?

A. A Church of Many Religious Groups? It is a common view of the Lord’s church that it is comprised of all the religious groups that believe in Christ. Therefore the church is made up of the Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholics, Episcopal, and so on.

1. The proof text which is generally used for this teaching is found in John 15:1-6. Here we are told that each branch of the vine is a denomination. But is this what Jesus taught? Does Jesus say that I am the vine and denominations are the branches? Does Jesus say that I am the vine and the churches are the branches? Not at all. Jesus is talking about people. He that abides in me and I in him bears much fruit. Individuals are the branches in Christ.

B. A Church of Many Congregations? Another common false teaching is that the universal church, the Lord’s body, is made up of local churches. It is not all the religious groups out there, but the church is made up of all the churches of Christ. So we have the church in North Ft. Myers, Cape Coral, Ft. Pierce, Okeechobee, and so on.

  1. Alexander Campbell in the Millennial Harbinger of July 1834 said, “The church…is not one congregation or assembly, but the congregation of Christ, composed of all the individual congregations on earth.” Twenty years later in the Millennial Harbinger of June 1853 said, “Every individual church on earth stands to the whole church of Christ as one individual man to one particular church.” He had been so surrounded by denominations that he had accepted the same concept of the Lord’s body. But the scriptures do not teach either of these concepts about the universal church.

C. The Lord’s Church is a Church of Individual Christians.

1. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 we see that Christ is the body and there are many members of it. – For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free– and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.14 For in fact the body is not one member but many…

2. Now look at 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” The body of Christ, the universal group of the saved is not made up of churches or religious groups, but individual Christians. Turn to Hebrews 12:22-23. Verse 23 says, “to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.” This passage gives us a great definition of the Lord’s body. What consists of the general assembly and church of the firstborn? Is it congregations? No, it consists of the spirits of just men made perfect.

3. Let’s illustrate the nature of the church this way – Start with a single chain link. The plural is many chain links, not interconnected, laying next to each other. If we connect the links together, then we have a chain. It is the same for the Christian. Matthew 18:15-18 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

a. In this passage we find a single Christian – “if he hears you…”

b. a plurality of Christians – one or two more…

c. and then a collectivity of Christians called a church. How is Jesus using the word church here? It seems obvious that He is speaking of a local congregation of Christians (could not possibly take the matter before the universal church. So then, the church here is a local group of Christians (chain links) linked together.

d. The N.T. often uses the word church to refer to a single local congregation of individual Christians working and worshipping together. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 we have the church of God at Corinth.” Here Paul is speaking about one local church. We read of a plurality of churches, each acting independently, in Galatians 1:2, “the churches of Galatia.” This is also seen in Revelation 1:11, “send it to the seven churches which are in Asia.”

4. Now, what passage can we turn to where we will find churches (congregations) in a collectivity? None.

That would indicate a denomination by definition, an association of congregations. But the scriptures do not define the universal church as a collection of congregations. Thus,

The universal church of Christ has no collective responsibility in the NT.

a. There is no collective action greater than our own local church. Nearly all religious bodies today consider themselves to be part of a cooperative collection of congregations. These congregations assume collective responsibility and act collectively. But the Bible does not describe such collective activity, and thus they act without divine authority. Denominationalism leads to attempts to activate the universal church. This results in institutional religion, which has never been what God desires.

III. Concepts and Consequences: Some might see this as so much semantics. What difference does it make?

A. Denominational religion is divisive. 1 Corinthians 1:10-1310 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? Paul pled with the Corinthians that there be no divisions among them (verse 10). Are their divisions in a denominated church? Surely, so how can anyone excuse their existence and say God will accept them?

1. Is Christ divided (verse 13)? The answer is no. He does not contradict Himself or teach contradictory things to His followers? How can all the denominations be truly following Him and truly accepting His headship when they contradict one another? It must be true that some people are really not following Him and that is why the division exists.

a. Paul is addressing division that existed at the local level at Corinth; “Some are of Paul, some are of Cephas; some are of Christ”. There were no denominations in the first century. But certainly he would rebuke the far greater division that exists in denominationalism today.

B. Denominational religion strips one of the freedom to follow Christ alone The church is viewed as a divided entity and those who would come to the Lord are called to give allegiance to a creed or church doctrine. Is there such a thing as a Hyphenated Christian? (Baptist-Christian; Methodist-Christian; Presbyterian-Christian; Church of Christ-Christian?)

1. The consequence to believing in undenominational Christianity is that it clearly identifies my allegiance & mission. My allegiance is to Christ alone – not to the church, or to a part of the church. Last week we referenced Acts 11 when those who were scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution went to Antioch with the gospel. Those who believed were called upon to turn to the Lordencouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts… and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. My mission is to follow Christ & lead others to Christ alone – John 10- The sheep know the voice of the shepherd and they follow. He has the freedom to go in and out and find pasture because he knows the shepherds voice and has decided to follow Him – no matter what.

2. Certainly some who use the terminology “church of Christ” to describe themselves view the church as a denomination (collection of congregations who hold to the same view on certain doctrines or certain practices) Though we adamantly deny being a denomination, we often think and speak denominationally and then wonder why others do not accept our claim. (use church of Christ as an adjective – church of Christ schools; church of Christ doctrine; even church of Christ preachers. )

a. Have you ever been asked “what does the church of Christ teach on that?” How do you answer?(might be speaking about a local church, and one could answer definitively. But most are looking for the doctrine of a denomination) “I don’t know and I don’t care”. The church of Jesus doesn’t have a doctrine to follow – Jesus does.

b. The true Christian says, “I believe what Jesus teaches about that.” What does He teach? I don’t know, but when I find out that’s what I’ll believe.” That is the freedom of undenominational Christianity. The freedom to study God’s word for myself, and develop my own faith through hearing the word of God alone.

3. An Imaginary Church –Suppose a church that taught all the following things: Would you be a part of this church?

We follow the Bible as our sole guide in religion, but we also follow the Book of Mormon, the Catholic catechism, and Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower publications as authority.

We believe that a child of God can so sin as to be eternally lost, but we also believe that it is impossible for a child of God to so sin as to be eternally lost.

We believe that immersion is the only true form of baptism, but we also practice sprinkling and pouring as valid forms of baptism.

We believe that man is justified by faith alone, but we also teach that obedience is essential to justification.

We believe that the seventh day of the week is the Christian sabbath and the first day of the week is a perversion, but we also believe that the first day of the week is the Christian sabbath for worshipping God.

We worship the God of the Bible as our only God and Jesus as our only Savior, but we also worship the sun, moon, stars, and Satan.

a. What would you think of a church that believed and practiced all these contradictory doctrines? “Ridiculous! Hypocritical!” But when different churches (denominations) teach these contradictory doctrines, most see this as acceptable religion. Can Jesus be in all these churches?

b. This is the real issue. Jesus teaches truth, and truth does not contradict itself. Denominations contradict one another. Therefore, they cannot all be teaching truth, and they cannot all be following Jesus!

IV. Christ Did Not Die and Resurrect to Build a Collection of Denominations. He died & rose again to purchase the One Church that belongs to Him Alone. Eph 4:4-6. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

A. Those who are redeemed by Christ are not added to a denomination, but they are added to the church – Acts 2:47 And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. To be a part of a denomination you must join or accept the teaching of the denominated body, in addition to what God says in the Bible. Obedience to Christ alone makes one a Christian alone – a member in the undenominational church of Christ.

B. After you obey Christ through repentance and baptism, and subsequently the Lord adds you to His church, you can join yourself to a local church of committed individuals and work together for Christ. (as Saul of Tarsus joined himself to the saints at Jerusalem after his conversion). But your relationship to Christ is not sustained through the church, but through the blood of Christ, and your continued obedience to His will alone. Are in Christ, the True Vine? Have you been added to the Lord’s Church?