In order to answer this question accurately, we must be absolutely clear about the definition of "denomination."
Webster's Dictionary defines "Denomination" as "The name of a class of things; a class or kind (especially of units) having a specific name or value." This definition is applied to such things as monetary currency which is divided into 1-dollar, 5-dollar or other denominations. So you see, for something to be a "denomination," it has to be a unit or part of other parts. It is never a single unit by itself. (A dollar bill is a denomination of U.S. Currency – a part of many other acceptable units which comprise the whole of U.S. Currency.)
A religious denomination would, therefore, be, by definition, "a class or kind of [religious] units, having a specific name or value." "Units" here would be local congregations. This conclusion is confirmed in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, where Dr. Donald G. Tender wrote: "Denominations are associations of congregations - though sometimes it might be said that congregations are localized subdivisions of denominations - that have a common heritage."
Now, to the main question: "Is The Church of Christ A Denomination?" Again, to accurately answer this question we need to be sure how we are using the term, "Church of Christ." If the questioner means "an association of congregations that have a common heritage, and are generally known as Churches of Christ," then the answer would have to be YES. Shocked by that answer? I would think so! But IF we accept the definition of "denomination," as seen above, then that answer would be unavoidable! (Please keep reading – don't give up on me yet!)
We have long affirmed (and I believe accurately) that the church of which we are members is NOT a denomination. The problem here is not with the definition of "denomination;" rather, it is the erroneous concept and definition of the "Church of Christ" which prevails in the religious world at large and even among members of the church. It is right at this juncture that, in my opinion, we have confused everyone, including ourselves, and created an atmosphere which has produced division.
We have been bold in asserting that we are members of the "church we read about in Matthew 16:18 ("...upon this rock I will build my church..."). And this is indeed the case if we have responded to the gospel as illustrated in Acts 2:37-47. But the church to which the Lord has added us is NOT "an association of congregations." In other words, it is NOT a denomination. It is, rather, an association or fellowship of the saved. This is what we have sometimes referred to as the "universal church." If this is not the case, then we have been added to a denomination and we'd better quit affirming that we are "non-denominational!" Instead of talking about the "One True Church," we'd be more accurate to talk about the "One True Denomination!" Remember that for something to be a "denomination," it has to be a unit or part of other parts. The church I'm trying to direct people to is not a part of other parts. It is the ONE body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4).
What is the "unit" of the church in Matthew 16:18 or the body of Christ in Ephesians 1:22-23? It is the individual Christian – not a congregation (see 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27). The "one true church" I am interested in getting people to be added to is an association of Christians – not congregations! I do not belong to an association of congregations. Another way of saying that is, I do not belong to a religious denomination. Nor does the congregation of which I am a member belong to an association of congregations. I can accurately and truthfully affirm that we are "non-denominational."
What difference does any of this make? Simply this: If we are going to be credible to a skeptical world, we need to be accurate and honest in the claims we are making. In future articles we shall show where this pervasive denominational concept of the church originated and how it has been perpetuated.
By Bob West, The Milpitas Messenger, September, 1996
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