The True Church and Denominationalism?
The word, church, in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word, "ecclesia," meaning "the called out." The simple meaning of this word is "assembly" and originally had no religious significance. The word was used with refer-ence to any group of people called together. In Acts 19:32, 33, 39, 41, the word, "ecclesia," is translated "assembly" and used in reference to a riotous mob assembled to persecute Christians in Ephesus.
In this study, we are primarily concerned with the use of "ecclesia" as it is used with reference to God's called-out people. In this sense the term is used in two ways, in reference to the church universal and the local church or congregation.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it" When Jesus made this promise He was speaking of the universal church, not a local church and certainly not a group of denominations. The church universal is the body of Christ Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18), and there is only one body Eph. 4:4).
The church universal is made up of individuals and not churches (1 Cor. 12:12-14). When a person obeys the Gospel, the Lord adds him or her to the church universal. The church does not save, it is the saved (Acts 2:47).
The church universal has no earthly organization. Christ is "head over all things to the church" (Eph 1:22). The only other officials of the church universal are the Apostles and New Testament prophets. We have these today in the same way the Jews of Jesus' day had Moses and the prophets; through the written word Lk 16:29-31; 2 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible says nothing about Popes, Archbishops, Directors, Presidents, or any other universal officers. Having no earthly organization, the church universal has no collective mission.
The word, church, also refers to Christians in a particular place who have banded together to worship and serve God (1 Cor. 1:1-2; 2 Cor. 1:1). The local church is a functional unit and has a collective mission. It has organization (Phil 1:1). Elders, or overseers, shepherd (pastor) the flock of God (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Their oversight is limited to the local church where they are elders (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1-3). Deacons are appointed in local churches to serve (1 Tim 3:8-13; Acts 6: 1-6). Evangelists, or preachers, are proclaimers of God's word (2 Tim 4:2, 5). Local churches also have members, saints (Col. 1:1-2).
The New Testament church has a three-fold mission. Its first responsibility is to preach the Gospel to the lost (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Tim 3:15). Second, it is to edify those who are already Christians Eph. 4:11-16). Third, it is to provide benevolent help to needy saints (1 Cor l6:1-2) The mission of the church is to be fullfilled using the organization God gave the local church (Phil. 1:1; Eph. 4:11). To look for a more expedient way is to show a lack of faith in God's way.
Most of the preceding Scriptures come from the writings of Paul the Apostle. The things he wrote were given to him by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10-13; Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:3-5). Furthermore, Paul taught the same things in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 14:33; 16:1; Titus 1:5). The things he and the other inspired men wrote constitute the "one faith" of Ephesians 4 which "was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). He expected "that you all agree, and there he no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10; see also, Phil. 1:27). In Philippians 4:9. Paul wrote, "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you" if we want the "God of peace" to be with us, we must pattern our personal lives and the church after the Word of God.
Denominationalism disputes and contradicts almost every point we have made. Denominationalism thrives on division. Jesus prayed, ".that they may a be one, even as thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send me And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may he perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me" (Jn. 17:21-23).
Denominationalism has different "faiths" (i.e.: the Baptist faith, the Methodist faith, et al), while the Bible says there is "one faith" Eph. 4:5). Denominationalism believes the church is made up of the various denominational churches, instead of every individual who has been baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:27).
Denominational Associations, Synods, Conventions, Missionary, Societies, and even the institutions among some churches of Christ are nothing more than attempts to organize the church universal, something God did not choose to do.
The denominational presidents and directors, as well as the church of Christ elders overseeing more than one local church, are no more Scriptural than the Pope and College of Cardinals in Rome.
Denominationalism has a "live and let live" attitude about sin and false teaching, contrary to the Word of God Eph 5:11).
Denominationalism offers false worship to God (Matt 15:7-9) and false hope to its adherents (Jas 2:24).
Denominationalism in all its manifestations, is sinful from beginning to end!
The church of Jesus Christ is not a denomination, although some congregations are very quickly moving in that direction. Brother J.D. Tant used to warn, "Brethren, we are drifting." I believe some congregations have already drifted over the waterfall of apostasy and crashed onto the denominational rocks below. Others are drifting closer by the minute.
The big-name churches with big reputations for doing big things in big ways need to heed the warning of Revelation 3:1-3: "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you art dead. Wake up and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die: for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you."
Brethren, let us continue the restoration of the New Testament church and resist the call to return to the Egyptian-like bondage of denominationalism. We have been called out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Pet.2:9).
"Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them" Eph 5:11).
By Richard C. Sims
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