Are There Any Faithful Christians In Denominations?
by John Grubb
Please note very carefully the title of this lesson. It is not, “Are there
Christians in denominations?” The question is: “Are there FAITHFUL Christians
in denominations?” If you ask those who are in the denominational world, the
answer will be “yes”. Even if you ask some members of the church, the answer
will still be “yes”. Take, for example, Marvin Phillips. Marvin Phillips is
the preacher of the Garnett Road church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Brethren
in Australia have heard of brother Phillips. He used to live over here and was
just recently in Australia. How would brother Phillips answer the question?
He is on the Editorial Staff for ONE BODY MAGAZINE. This magazine was
founded by Don DeWelt, a well-known Christian Church preacher. Many of those
still involved with this magazine are members of the Christian Church
(Associated churches of Christ). Brother Phillips is also adjunct professor at
Kentucky Christian College. This is a Christian Church school. He also wrote a
book entitled, “Don’t Shoot! We May Both Be On The Same Side”. On page 39 of
this book, brother Phillips was talking about Don DeWelt (mentioned above). He
said, “We may disagree on a few things, but I know if Don DeWelt and I found
ourselves together in the same town, we would find a way to worship God
together. I’m happy to count him my brother in Christ”. Brother Phillips makes
it clear he believes there are faithful Christians in denominations.
What about F. LaGard Smith? How would he answer the question? According to
a recent e-mail report, brother Smith will be making a tour of Australia and
New Zealand during the month of June. The announcement says, “He will work
with churches in Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane where he will hold the second
effort of the Australian churches’ efforts to ‘reunite’ in the name of Jesus.
They have for many years been divided over trivial disagreements, but lately
there has been a movement to restore the unity which Jesus prayed for. Members
from churches of Christ in the USA, Harding University, Lipscomb University,
the Does God Exist? Program and many others contributed to this effort which
began in 1996”. It would be interesting to know more details of this proposed
In his book, “Baptism: The Believer’s Wedding Ceremony”, brother Smith lets
us know what he thinks about the necessity of being baptised.
‘But’, someone will ask, ‘suppose a person dies after coming to believe in
Christ but before the time he is to be baptised. Does that mean he would not
be saved?’ As with every other question dealing with man’s salvation, only the
God of all judgment can answer that for us. I would be neither surprised nor
disappointed if God were to save in this situation. God is a merciful God. But
what God may or may not do in that situation doesn’t give us room to make
baptism anything less than what Christ intended it to be - an essential part
of our response to His divine initiative. (Page 93).
Do faithful believers who were baptised only as infants stand in eternal
jeopardy? Are those who have committed their lives in faithful service to
Jesus Christ, but who have never been taught the need for water baptism,
spiritually lost? Can it be that those who see baptism as a matter of
obedience, but not of salvation, are risking God’s judgment? The thought of
condemning to hell the vast majority of believers throughout the Christian
centuries is one of the most compelling reasons for the recent moratorium on
any serious discussion of baptism. (Page 200).
None of us can presume to know about the eternal destiny of anyone, on the
basis of any question of doctrine - be it predestination, charismatic gifts,
the washing of feet, or even baptism. All we can do is give our best efforts
to knowing God’s will, as revealed in His written word. (Page 201).
Are unbaptised believers destined to hell? Are those who have received only
infant baptism in eternal jeopardy? Only God knows. On one level, these are
questions we have no right even to ask. As seen in this study, there is an
abundance of scriptural language that, on its face, regards baptism as an
essential part of our turning to God. Nevertheless, I would hope that God
might apply the “common law marriage” approach for those who have lived a
lifetime of service in His name without having participated in the wedding
ceremony of baptism. (Page 206).
I believe brother Smith teaches there are faithful Christians in
denominations. Maybe that is why he felt comfortable appearing on the 700 Club
THE CHURCH JESUS BUILT IS NOT A DENOMINATION (Matthew 16:13-19)
In this passage, Jesus promised to build His church. If he did not, the
Bible is false, and we are wasting our time. If he did, we have to find out
all we can about it. Since Jesus is the builder, the church is a divine
institution, not a human institution. The church of Christ is as plainly
revealed in the New Testament as any denomination is revealed in its man-made
creed. In spite of the clear information revealed in the Holy Scriptures,
there are many who have no proper conception of the church of the New
People Are Confused:
There are hundreds and even thousands of churches all claiming to be the
church that Jesus built, or at least part of it. We hear phrases such as: “One
church is as good as another”, “All churches are alike”, and “You can go to
heaven through any church”.
Christ would not have built a denomination after praying that all His
believers might be one, or united (John 17: 20-22). Christ is not divided (1
Corinthians 1:10-13). He did not want his disciples divided up into
denominations, sects, and parties (Ephesians 1:22,23). Paul denied the church
is a “sect” (Acts 24:5,14). He instead speaks of the importance of unity
Some think that the church is divided up into scriptural “branch” churches
(John 15:1-8). But in this passage, a branch represents a Christian or
individual disciple, not a church (verses 4-8). Furthermore, the same seed
will not produce different kinds of branches, some bearing grapes, some
olives, some apples, some oranges, etc. (Luke 8:11).
If you asked a follower of Christ in the first century what denomination he
was part of, he would not be able to answer your question, because there were
no denominations in the first century. They were simply “churches of Christ”
(Romans 16:16). They were simply called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). By the way,
what is a denomination? A basic definition is: “a man-made church”. The church
Jesus built is not a man-made church, therefore it is not a denomination.
THE ORIGIN OF DENOMINATIONS
The church Jesus established began on the first Pentecost after Jesus rose
from the dead (Acts 2). It was hundreds of years after this before there were
any denominations. You need either more or less than the Bible to establish a
denomination. We are not to add to, subtract from, or change the Bible in any
way (Revelation 22:18,19; Galatians 1:6-9). If you would throw away the creed
books, you would destroy the basis for denominationalism. Man-made churches
will not save us. They will be destroyed (Matthew 15:13). Denominations are
HOW TO IDENTIFY THE LORD’S CHURCH
We know the Lord’s church exists today. We know it is not a denomination.
But there are so many different churches today teaching so many different,
conflicting doctrines. How do we find the church Jesus built? We find it by
the characteristics of the church. We identify people by using
characteristics. People are identified by name, description, identification
numbers, etc. People can be identified by fingerprints. No fingerprints are
We identify automobiles by characteristics. If you paid $50,000 for an
automobile, would you want that automobile to be a small cheap car? It had
better be a Mercedes or BMW. What is the difference between a Mercedes and a
small cheap car? They both have engines, windows, doors, tires, etc. They are
about the same, right? NO. They are similar, but they are not the same. If we
pay that much money, we will not be happy with a small cheap car.
The same is true with the church. There is only one church that Jesus
built. Even though it may seem to be like other churches, unless a church has
all the characteristics of the church we read about in the New Testament, it
cannot be the church Jesus built. The New Testament tells us the
characteristics of the church. Once we know these characteristics, we can
compare the churches in the world and see which one has the same
characteristics as the church Jesus built. The church Jesus built still
exists. By using the characteristics found in the Bible, we can identify that
church and become a part of it.
Characteristics Of The Church:
When did the church Jesus built begin? Where did it begin? By what name is
it called? Who is the founder and foundation? What kind of organisation does
it have? How does it worship? What does it take to become a member of His
church? The New Testament gives us the answers to these questions.
The church Jesus built began on the first Pentecost after he rose from the
dead. This is found in Acts chapter two. The people were in the city of
Jerusalem in Acts chapter two. So, to find the church Jesus built, we must
find a church that began in the city of Jerusalem about A.D. 30. The church is
called “churches of Christ” and “church of God” (Romans 16:16; Acts 20:28).
The founder and foundation of the church Jesus built is Christ (Matthew 16:18;
1 Corinthians 3:11). The church Jesus built does not have any earthly
headquarters, but instead is organised into local congregations overseen by a
plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17,18,28). The church Jesus built
worships God according to the teaching of the Bible (John 4:24). They sing
(without any instrumental music), partake of the Lord’s supper every first day
of the week (using unleavened bread and fruit of the vine), give of their
means, pray, and teach (Ephesians 5:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16: 1,2; Acts
12:5; Acts 2:42).
To become a member of the church Jesus built, a person must believe the
gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1,2); repent of sins (Acts 17: 30); confess Christ
(Matthew 10:32,33); and be baptised (Acts 22:16).
If a church does not have “all” of these characteristics, but only has
some, then that church cannot be the church Jesus built in the first century.
When we find a church that has every one of these characteristics, then we
have found the church Jesus built.
Salvation is in Christ and in His church (Ephesians 1:3; 5:23). There is no
salvation in denominations (Ephesians 2:12). You can go to heaven without ever
being part of a denomination. You cannot go to heaven without being in the
Lord’s church. Therefore, the Lord’s church and denominations are not the
same. There are no faithful Christians in denominations.