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Is The Church Of Christ A Denomination

by Ian McPherson

The church of Christ came into existence long before any denomination was even thought of. It is 100 percent of Divine origin and design. Ephesians 3:9-11 --- “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:” Could anyone successfully claim that the modern monstrosity known as “denominationalism” is a product of the omnipotent Mind of God?

The word “denomination” came into religious use of necessity after various churches with different names, creeds, doctrines and headquarters began to emerge, all of which claimed to belong to Christ. The dictionary defines a denomination as “a name, esp. a name given to a class or kind of thing, e.g. a religious sect. (Learners Dictionary Of Current English). According to the English dictionary, there is no essential; difference between a “denomination” and a “sect”. 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. How did these arise?

“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 Corinthians 1:10-13. Paul, Apollos and Cephas were faithful Christians, but the members at Corinth were beginning to follow these men. Paul rebuked them for this. It would only have taken one of these men to go astray and they could have gained followers and begun a denomination, by pulling people away from the established church, and forming their own party.

This is in fact what did happen later on in history. Powerful and influential men gained followers who eventually drew up their own creeds and doctrines and formed churches. Although no wide spread denominationalism, as we know it today, existed in the first century, there were small parities that were gaining influence and disrupting the unity of the first century church. One such party was the Nicolaitans. John commended the Ephesian church for making a stand against this doctrine. Revelation 2:15 says “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”. Most believe that this was an heretical movement led by Nicolas the Proselyte of Antioch who was one of the seven men “full of the Holy Spirit”, and originally chosen to care for the widows in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:5). Various other small parties (sects) like this arose in the church throughout its early history. These were formed because of the influence of paganism and religious traditions which surrounded them. For example in about 233 AD Neoplatonism was launched by Platon who used some ideas of Ammonius Saccas and others who tried to harmonize asceticism with Christianity. Also around this time the Ebonites arose holding that Moses was equal in authority to Jesus Christ. In A.D. 311 Donatus began to teach that Christians who had weakened and bowed to pagan god’s under the severe persecution of Diocletian had committed the “unpardonable sin” and could not be restored to the church.1

The Roman Catholic church was the first major world wide denomination. This evolved gradually through a succession of,Councils, influenced greatly by pagan ascetic surroundings, political pressure, and the quest for world domination. It was not fully formed until Boneface III declared himself to be the universal head of the church in 606 AD. The apostasy of the original church into the Roman Catholic church was prophesied in the Bible. Notice 1 Timothy 4:1-3 - “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” We see that both “forbidding to marry” and “commanding to abstain from meats”, are described as doctrines of demons. Both these practices were matters of faith put forward by the Catholic church. Although Celibacy of Priests was under discussion at the ecumenical council in A.D.325 it did not become Catholic law until it was enforced by Gregory VII in A.D. 1079. The practise of not eating meat on Fridays was, until recently, by the Roman Catholic Church.

Another Scripture which clearly points out this apostasy is 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 - “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” This prophecy speaks of a “man of sin” who would usurp the Lord’s position as head of the church –the spiritual temple of God today – (1 Cor 3:17). Surely this prophecy refers to the gradual centralization of power in the church which culminated in papal power. Christ (not the pope) was given the position as supreme and only head of the church. This position was given to Him by His Father upon his death, triumphant resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (Eph 1:19-23). There is no room for any other head either in heaven or on earth (Matthew 28:18).

After the full formation of the Roman Catholic church, many erroneous doctrines were introduced. For example kissing the Popes feet (AD 709), adoration of Mary and other saints (AD 730), adoration of the cross, images and relics (AD 788), celibacy enforced on priests (AD 1079), rosary beads (AD 1090), Transubstantiation (AD 1215), purgatory proclaimed ((AD 1438), tradition held equal to the Bible (AD 1514), Immaculate Conception of Mary (AD 1845), the Apocryphal books added to the Bible (AD 1546) and the infallibility of the Pope (AD 1870) 2 The Roman Catholic church was the only major world wide denomination for hundreds of years, but now there are over a thousand.

The first major denomination after the Roman Catholic church was the Lutheran church. This was begun by Martin Luther who in AD 1517 reacted negatively to Pope Leo X offering remission of temporal punishment for sins to individuals if they would contribute money towards the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He challenged the Catholic church by nailing a 95 thesis opposing the Catholic doctrine to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. The world was blessed in many ways by Luther’s work who began what is commonly called the “reformation movement”. However many of the denominational doctrines taught by the Catholic church were retained by Luther. He also introduced the heretical doctrine of “justification by faith alone” which forms the basis of the Lutheran church. The only place that “faith only” is mentioned in Scripture is in James 2:24 - “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”

After Luther, many other denominational churches were founded. Although all these groups differed, having their own particular creeds, doctrines, and organizational structures which divided them from the others, they were united in opposing Catholicism. Because of this, became known as “protestant denominations”. The church of the Bible however is not a denomination. The Lord Himself promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). It was established after His death, being purchased by His blood (Acts 20:28). After being raised from the dead, to sit at God’s right hand, the Lord Jesus was placed in the position as being the supreme head of the church (Ephesians 1::20-23, Colossians 1:18).

The only rule of faith for the church is the New Testament, which provides it with an infallible, authoritative pattern (Hebrews 8:5-7; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 John 9; Romans 10:17 etc.) There is only one church (Ephesians 4:4). Although Romans 16:16 mentions “churches” (plural) “of Christ”, these were not denominations, but were all part of the one unified body ruled by Jesus from heaven. Every local church taught the same thing – the apostles doctrine – (1 Corinthians 4:17, Acts 2:42). When these local churches had men qualified, they would appoint elders to oversee each local church (Acts 14:23). There were no creed books because the inspired word of God is sufficient to unite all men in one body (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Men can unite on the Bible. If they cannot then Christ’s prayer for unity on the basis of the apostles word was an impossible dream (John 17:20), and Paul’s command to all agree and teach the same thing was unattainable (1 Corinthians 1:10). However Christ’s prayer was realized in the first century, when every Christian belonged to the same church. Bible unity was achieved without denominational division.

Let us therefore receive Paul’s’ admonition in Ephesians 4:3-6 - “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”


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