What Makes A Church A Denomination?
One brother pushes for changing the sign from something biblical (“church of Christ”) to something else (no more expedient than the other sign). He argues that to object to changing the sign is a “denominational marker”. But, if the sign was scriptural and right to start with, if brethren see no need to change the sign, why would he be divisive about it? He perceives that it is important to change the sign because he perceives that the name on the sign has become an obstacle to outsiders. On the one hand he argues that those who do not change the sign are in a denomination. If this is so, he needs to be honest and tell everyone in a church of Christ to LEAVE the denomination. Changing the sign does not make a denomination become a scriptural church. If the Baptist Church changed the name to “the church at _______” has it now ceased to be a denomination? Masking the exterior name on the sign becomes deception. We don't need to use deception to get people in. It is still a denomination that teaches the distinguishing doctrines that formed the Baptist denominations.
If our brother wants to charge “churches of Christ” with being a denomination, he needs to address the doctrines or teachings that distinguish modern churches of Christ from the first century churches of Christ. This is hard to do on an issue of expediency. The early churches of Christ did not have an expedient option of a building, and if they had a building, it was not expedient to put a sign up to advertise the nature of the group that met there. That is still the case in some places like China. It is more expedient to meet in secret and never put up a sign to advertise your meeting and the nature of the group. But, in a free society, we find it expedient to advertise the nature of the group that meets in this building. This may not always be the case, but so far it has been helpful.
“Church of Christ” is a good and expedient description. It does not denominate us FROM Christ and His church. It does not denominate us from the nature of the early churches. We are not only advertising what we are, but what the early churches were. If the time comes when it is expedient to meet in secret again because of similar circumstances of persecution, then we will still be churches of Christ, but will opt to not have a sign. The sign does not make us any less the undenominational church belonging to Christ. Changing the sign does not make us change from being a denomination to now being non-denominational.
We need a better definition than our brother gave in Part 2 of this series. A better definition of what constitutes a denomination is as stated in the following quote:
As far as I know, there is no denomination using the name "Church of Christ." A typical definition for a denomination is: "A group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy." While churches of Christ are united under a common faith, that which is found exclusively in the Bible, and many, but not all, use a common name based upon Romans 16:16, there is no single administrative and legal hierarchy here on earth. The only head recognized by Christians is Christ Jesus (Matthew 28:18). http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVanswers/2007/04-13c.htm
Now, this is what makes a denomination. A church is not a denomination just because someone imagines that it is, nor that someone with an ax to grind SAYS it is. It is not a denomination because it shares common faith with other like churches (that would make the early churches a denomination). It is a denomination if it divides itself from the original order in how it describes itself AND in the doctrines and practices that separate it from the original order. It can do this by organizing into a group larger than the local church but smaller than the universal church. The Southern Baptist association is an example of an organization of churches into an order larger than a local church but smaller than the universal church. Thus, a division that is away from the New Testament pattern.
A local church can become a denomination by dividing away from a legitimate, scriptural local church in order to press some unscriptural practice such as making the Lord’s Supper into a common meal and making a distinguishing law that they must meet in personal houses instead of in buildings purchased by the group. A church is not denominational because they happen to meet in a home with no sign out front, but by divisive, distinguishing doctrines of men.
All denominations are actually “sects”. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “sect’ as “Body of persons agreed upon religious doctrines, usu. different from those of an established or orthodox Church from which they have separated, and usu. having distinctive common worship, non-conformist or other Church as described by opponents, party of faction in a religious body, religious denomination. . . followers of a particular philosophy or school of thought” The Greek equivalent to “denomination” is “HAIRESIS”, it is translated in our English Bibles as either “sect” or “heresy”. It means “An opinion, then, a party” (Bullenger’s Lexicon) W.E. Vine defines “HAIRESES” a division developed or brought about by an issue” The word appears among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 and has a marginal definition of “parties”. Today there are thousands of parties (or denominations) which were begun by men at various times in history. http://www.churchofchrist.com.au/Tracts/Denom.htm
It is SINFUL and fleshly to start and continue to support a heresy or sect or division. If one is in a denomination, they must destroy it or get out. There is no scriptural authority to be in one and to support one. The only way to avoid being in one is to obey the will of God. That will mean proving what is acceptable to the Lord (Rom.12:2-3; Eph.5:11; 1 Thess.5:21). If the organization is acceptable to the Lord and you can prove it, then it is to that extent the will of God and undenominational. If it is local only in order and organization and the local order is within the will of God, then it is not a denomination. If the assembly is conducted within the will of God, then it is not a denomination. If the teaching advanced and supported is provable by handling aright the word of truth, then it is not a denomination. If what the local group calls itself is within the will of God, then it is not a denomination.
When all of the above is proven by the will of God, then the local church should object to someone trying to characterize them as a denomination. When preachers start doing this, it is time to test what he says and object when he is wrong. I know that I have never been part of a “church of Christ denomination”. I don’t intend to start being a part of one. But, neither am I going to sit quietly and say nothing when some preacher wants to make the charge that unless we are willing to change a scriptural designation on the sign that it MAKES a church a denomination, I will object to this unfounded charge. There are several preachers pressing for such a change of sign, but that can be making a divisive issue where it does not need to be pressed. Divisive brethren need to be marked and avoided (Rom.16:16-17). Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let Jesus have “all authority” and be “preeminent” and do all in His name. Prove what is acceptable to the Lord and then act accordingly. You will not be in a denomination, but you will be working with brethren of like precious faith. That is part of truly living for Christ. If you are in a local church of Christ that makes doing the will of God their mission and priority, and the groups is acting by the authority of scriptures, then don't let someone get away with calling you a denomination just because you don't see a need to change the sign and they want to be divisive about it. Put the responsibility on them to prove that it is necessary to do the will of God to do what they say we must do. –Terry W. Benton