Vol. 3, No. 11
To what do the words churches or church of Christ (Romans 16:16) really refer? Does this biblical phrase have any reference to denominationalism? Is the church of Christ today merely one of several denominations that comprise the religious community? What is the church of Christ?
Ironically, at least one prominent commentator exhibits in his writings a notion of the true nature of the church of Christ. Yet, he completely fails to realize that he and his fellows can or need to personally attain membership in it.
Adam Clarke, for instance, refers to the "Church of Christ" as something that is aloof and distinct from denominationalism. Clarke treats the "Church of Christ" as a spiritual structure -- built by Jesus Christ. Commenting on Galatians 6:10, Clarke writes:
Let us help all who need help according to the uttermost of our power but let the objects of our regards be those who are of the household of faith -- the members of the Church of Christ, who form one family, of which Jesus Christ is the head.
In his comments on 1 Corinthians 14:36, he pens: "Are you the mother church? that you should have rules, and orders, and customs, different from all others; and set yourselves up for a model to be copied by all the Churches of Christ?" Clarke also freely uses other biblical terminology descriptive of the one church of the Bible: "Church of God" (referring to the same verse). Of false teachers addressed in Romans 16:18, Clarke writes: ". . . they have intruded themselves into the Church of Christ . . ." Regarding the canonicity of the Book of James, Clarke further writes of the first century church thus: "The chief and proper evidence of its being canonical must be taken from the fact that it was universally received by the Church of Christ, and without scruple incorporated with those writings, which were, on all hands, allowed to have been given by the inspiration of God."
However, neither Clarke nor those who share his religious heritage conceive of personal and individual membership in the "Church of Christ." He and others demonstrate an awareness of the essence of the 'church of Christ' and neglect to apply that knowledge to themselves personally. Remarkably, none of these imagines that the 'church of Christ' has a physical manifestation and a congregation of which may even meet in their own communities.
There is a spiritual church in contrast to denominations. One does a grave disservice to his own edification and to the promotion of pure Christianity when he identifies the church Jesus built with man-authored sectarianism.
When Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18) or "kingdom" (Matthew 16:19), he was not promising to build an earthly, sectarian church. Jesus also declared that his kingdom (or church) is not of this world, but spiritual (John 18:36).
So, the church of Christ, of which the Bible speaks, is not a denomination! Neither is the church of Christ a spiritual body in which man-made denominations are members. The church of Christ, according to the message of John 15:1-6 (the vine and the branches), is comprised solely of individuals; Verse Six reveals that a branch is "a man" -- not a denomination.
Hence, there is no legitimate comparison between the church of Christ and denominations; the former is spiritual in nature and originated with Christ, whereas the latter are worldly and the products of men. Additional to these contrasts, the church of Christ is further distinguished from denominations by its distinctive God-authored worship, organization, mission and valid eternal hope, all of which are abundantly declared in the Bible.
What is the church of Christ? It is not a denomination. It is the personal possession of Christ (Matthew 16:18; Romans 16:16) and it is singular -- one church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4). It is a spiritual body over which Jesus is head (Colossians 1:18) and into which individual members are baptized (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). Finally, the church of Christ is a contemporary duplication of first century Christianity, disclosed exclusively in the Bible (Colossians 3:17). Words fail me to adequately impress upon the mind that the church of Christ of which the Bible speaks and of which all men need to be faithful members is so unique that it has NO RIVALS. Congregations of the churches of Christ meet throughout the world. There may even be a church of Christ meeting in your community.
Though often characterized as a Christian nation, America is really filled with idolatry. Furthermore, millions of religious souls, among whom are many Christians, unwittingly practice this idolatry. Proportionately, there is as much idolatry in our esteemed and beloved country as the apostle Paul found in Athens (Acts 17:16-23). Since God views idolatry as spiritual adultery (Jeremiah 3:26; Judges 2:17; Ezekiel 6:9), these equate to highly serious charges.
One idol god often worshipped in the world's prosperous nations is the god of materialism. This type of idolatry dominates much of the western civilization of which Americans are major stockholders. There is no question that the world in which we live is becoming increasingly more materialistic. The many blessings and relative prosperity with which Christians have been endowed also pull them toward the worship of the idol god of materialism. Therefore, materialism poses a threat even to the Lord's church.
A myriad of people sincerely but mistakenly engage the following type of idolatry, too. That popular idol god on which much homage is bestowed in America is the god of denominationalism. Really, there are thousands of denominational gods competing among themselves and with the God of heaven for the hearts and souls of men. This type of idolatry is strikingly similar to the idolatry with which the heathen and the children of God have been beset throughout human history.
Though denominational peoples purportedly believe in and worship Almighty God, such simply is not the case! Forasmuch as denominational people boast of and urge others to attend the church of their choice, they also worship the god of their choice. So, thousands of different gods are worshipped and served throughout America. The facts are not altered the least by denominational claims to membership in Christendom. An objective, unbiased observer (were there such a creature) could only conclude after carefully scrutinizing the religious community that idolatry is the true portrait of religion in America.
Most American communities host a religious shopping center in which the religious consumer can shop for whatever his heart desires. The churchgoer is invited to shop for the church of his choice, which implies shopping for the god of his choice. The same process allows him to shop for the salvation of his choice and the heaven of his choice. To complement all this, he frequently also shops for the Bible or creed of his choice. A flood of modern mistranslations of the Bible has been produced in addition to denominational creeds, disciplines, manuals, catechisms or doctrines.
Therefore, the god of Baptists possesses a different notion about salvation from the god of Presbyterians. The former attributes salvation to faith only whereas the latter declares that salvation is the product of unconditional election. The god of Universalists disagrees with them both and declares that his character will not allow any souls to be lost.
The god of Jehovah's Witnesses instructs his followers that at the commencement of eternity he will annihilate the wicked and assign most of his followers to a made-over earth. The God of heaven, however, has vowed to destroy the earth (2 Peter 3:10), punish the wicked in hell (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Matthew 5:22) and reward all his faithful followers with eternity in heaven (Matthew 25:46; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
A sampling of the idol gods worshipped in America includes the god of Catholicism, the god of Adventists, the god of Pentecostals, the god of Mormonism, the god of Methodists, the god of Lutherans and the god of Mennonites. The many gods of denominationalism possess different characters, issue forth different laws or creeds and teach about different heavens. Amazingly, however, the followers of these several gods have the audacity to claim they are all really worshipping only one God, the God of the Bible.
Books such as Handbook of Denominations in the United States by Mr. Frank S. Mead indicate that there are hundreds of different denominations and thousands of divisions within those denominations, all claiming membership in Christendom. Each group has its own god with its unique character and creeds. So, there are really at least 27 differing Baptist gods, four differing Adventist gods, eleven differing Lutheran gods, 22 differing Methodist gods, over 19 differing Pentecostal gods, 10 differing Presbyterian gods and so on the list goes. Every American community is in effect, a religious shopping center!
The idols about which one can read in the Bible were fashioned by men from lifeless wood, molten metal and stone (Isaiah 44:9-20; Habakkuk 2:18, 19). Modern men have fashioned their idols from their imaginations. The power and hold of these idol gods emanates from the creeds that councils, conventions and synods have adopted.
God refuses to walk with them who refuse to walk with him (Amos 3:3). He will no more walk with modern day idolaters than he would with Israel and Judah in their idolatry. The God of the Bible is not the god of denominationalism! Neither will he remain the God of Christians or churches who adopt denominational gods or fashion new ones. Those who would be the faithful children of God must recognize the distinctiveness of the God of the Bible and the church for which Jesus died.
Nothing should be allowed to cloud one's knowledge of the distinctiveness of the one God of the Bible (Ephesians 4:4-6) and the church of Christ (Romans 16:16). The apostle Paul warned first century Christians about establishing relationships with idolaters (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Intermarriage with the heathen frequently led Old Testament Israel into idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:1-6; Nehemiah 13:23-27). Under Patriarchy, the "sons of God" married the "daughters of men" which resulted in widespread wickedness, for which God destroyed the world with the universal flood of Noah's day (Genesis 6:1-7).
Although the Bible does not prohibit Christians from marrying non-Christians, our sons and daughters are biblically required to avoid unequal yokes in which they may be led away from the true God. Extreme caution is, indeed, in order when our children propose to court and marry the children of a strange god (Malachi 2:11).
There is only one God by whom "we live, and move, and have our being" and who "will judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:28, 31). As Paul with great boldness declared the True and Living God to the Athenians, let us with the same boldness declare the same Almighty God to the world and keep ourselves from vain idols! "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen" (1 John 5:21).
Dear Reader, this article presents a perspective on religion in America, the purpose of which is not to provoke anyone but to urge objective reflection on spiritual matters that will certainly affect many sincere, religious people for an eternity. Denominationalism obscures the primitive Christianity about which one can read in the Bible. Please, with an open mind, honestly compare the church and the doctrine with which you are acquainted to the New Testament. God's unadulterated and divine plan for man revealed upon the pages of inspiration will serve as the basis of our judgment in the last day (Revelation 20:12-15).