Denominations

In the past few years I have noticed a rapid increase on the number of Churches claiming to be "non-denominational." They fall into very many different categories so it will be very difficult to address this issue cohesively. Many of the older "non-denominational" churches are indeed very denominational; they call themselves non-denominational because of their highly congregational government. Some of the newer types call themselves "non-denominational" because they try to be very open theologically in order to accommodate, in the name of unity, many views or beliefs although they may have an intricate government spanning many churches locally and even nationally.

The first issue I will address will concern the older churches, because many fundamentalists sects fall under this category and their theology is more established. They have in common a distaste of denominational nametags because of an interpretation of the first chapter of I Corinthians.

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Cor 1:10-13

Paul duly chastises the Corinthians for their divisions, as we should be chastised for our divisions. Every word that Paul preaches here is true and must be heeded, but is becoming or calling ourselves non-denominational the way of achieving this? First let's look at the definition of denomination.

"A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy." AHD

It is under the last part of this definition that many of our friends will claim exemption from denominational status. I think they are disingenuous if they do this because the first part of the definition clearly applies to them. Likewise the basic definition clearly applies to them.

"A name or designation, especially for a class or group." AHD

This definition clearly attaches itself to any group of people, otherwise they would be without identity. So if a group claims to be non-denominational are they claiming to be without identity? Clearly they are not. Just saying youíre not a denomination does not mean you are not. Many will try avoiding a denominational tag and rallying around the words Christ or Christian. "We are of Christ" is a common phrase. This can be good and fine and it is my prayer that they are indeed of Christ but this no way to avoid a denominational identity or heed the teaching of St. Paul. Indeed, if I say I am of Luther or Calvin or Rome or Canterbury and I do it with puffed up pride, I am guilty of going against St. Paulís teaching. Saying, "I am of Christ" is no King's X of avoiding division or promoting unity. If you will return to St. Paulís teaching, you will notice that those who said they were "of Christ" were as duly chastised for division as those who identified themselves with Paul or Peter. In some "non-denominational" literature I have actually seen that they left "and I of Christ" out of their quotation I Corinthians 1:12.

There was another piece of literature that I read in which the writer claimed "we are neither protestant or catholic." I would never say this in light of their historic definitions. First, the word protestant comes from the word protest. It was used to describe those who protested the oversight of the See of Rome, otherwise you would not be protesting against the See and thus in the fold. One hundred percent of these groups share common heritage that evolved from Protestant traditions. They are thoroughly Protestant by heritage and doctrine despite their claims. Likewise, saying "we are not catholic" is something I think only an ignoramus or a fool would say. The word catholic comes from the Greek "katholicos" meaning "whole, universal" when applied to the church it means

"Of or relating to the universal Christian church. Of or relating to the ancient undivided Christian church. Of or relating to those churches that have claimed to be representatives of the ancient undivided church."AHD

If you read their literature you will see that the claims about the nature of their church is just as the word catholic is defined above, all the while denying that they are catholic. The see of Rome has no exclusive claim on the term "catholic" just as our friends have no exclusive on the phrase "of Christ." I would never dare say that I am not "of Christ" just because it became associated with a group I disagree with.

It may be protested that the word "catholic" never appears in Scripture. This may be true but this is no reason to avoid the term. The concept is thoroughly scriptural. Likewise the terms "trinity or tri-unity" are never found in scripture, either, in the relation to the nature of God, but the concept is well founded and I donít think that any orthodox Christian wants to deny that. The term "catholic" in reference to the Church is very ancient. The first known use of it that I am aware of is by St. Ignatious of Antioch.

"wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

This dates from the early second century and his use of it is as though his readers are well aware of what he is talking about and not as though he is coining a term.

It is also protested that "denominational churches" do not wear scriptural names. The truth is that, in scripture, church identity can be associated not only with Christ, and God, but also by city, nationality, and geographic area. The Church is identified with Gentiles, (Romans 16:4) Saints, (I Corinthians 14:3) as well as Asia (I Corinthians 16:19) Galatia (I Corinthians 16:1 & Galatians 1:2) Macedonia (II Corinthians 8:1) Judea (Galatians 1:22) as well as many cities. I think the inspired writers would be convicted of denominationalism by our friend's definition.

On the other side of the coin are the non-denominational churches that try to be accommodating to a wide array of beliefs and practices. This may be worse than those I have just spoken about. The only result of this method will be a watered down Christianity in which the word of God is compromised. This may be fine for many people, but how can you stand firm and be passionate when you are going to have to be accommodating to someone who views it differently? There are indeed some things that can be compromised, but there are definitely some that cannot be. It is the discernment of these things that have caused the divisions in the Body of Christ we know today. Indeed, one purpose of this book is to bring things to the table for discussion so we can put to rest the things that divide us. We cannot be working for true unity if we arrogantly say we have all the answers or hide our heads in the sand and say "what problems?" I know of no denomination, church etc. that has an exclusive on the truth. I wear a denominational nametag but I wear it as a scarlet letter. It is a bitter reminder of the division that exists in the body of Christ today and our inability to unite under the common truth.

You may be asking yourself now that you are this far into the book what denomination do I (the author) belong to? Well Iíll tell you Iím a Baptist because my church baptizes. I am Catholic because I belong to the one universal Church. I am also Presbyterian because my church ordains elders. I am Episcopalian because bishops oversee my church. I am Pentecostal because my church received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and still cherishes the gifts received that day. I am Apostolic because my church was founded by and heeds the teaching of the Apostles. I am Charismatic because my church depends of the gifts of the Spirit for function. I am Church of Christ because my church has one true head and that is Christ Jesus.