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 Vol. 7, No. 1 

January 2005

~ Page 9 ~

What Is a Denomination?

By D. Gene West

Image Denominations, as we know them in America today, have existed for more than five hundred years. In reality, they have existed much, much longer than that. As a matter of fact, when one begins to read the history of the religion called "Christianity," he will find that from almost the time of its beginning heresies arose in the midst of Christians that eventually divided the church and formed new churches, or what we call denominations. The biblical word for heresy and heretics has reference to those teachings (doctrines) and teachers who "split" the early church with their false views, forming new denominations. For this reason the great apostle Paul, in Romans 16:17-18, wrote these words to the Christians in the ancient capital of the world, "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple." Many, if not most who today claim to be Christians, find such commandments as this harsh and opposed to the pseudo-unity movement in our world today that exists under the banner of tolerating anything, so long as it stands for nothing.

The Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines the word "denomination" in this way: "one of the grades or degrees in a series of designations of quantity, value, measure, weight, etc." Hence, a pound is a denomination of weight; five feet, a denomination of height and twenty dollars is a denomination of money. The dictionary also adds that a denomination is a religious group usually including many local churches, often larger than a sect. The source then names a religious body as an example. However, when this has been said, we have insufficient information to really tell us what a denomination is. Two other important things must be added. (1) There must be an organizational concept added into which the local churches are drawn for the purposes of identification and function. Hence, denominations are organized collections of churches. (2) There is collective function or activity. There are usually units such as synods, associations, districts, dioceses or something of the sort through which churches with common views operate in a given area. In addition to this, there are usually national organizations such as general conferences, conventions, councils or bodies with similar names that meet periodically for the purpose of giving national direction to the churches that make up that particular fellowship. Usually, there is a great deal of "machinery" connected with these bodies, though many do exist as independent and fundamental groups. But even they band together in some way.

Still another characteristic of a denomination is that it has some kind of formal creed that sets forth, usually in few words, the fundamental beliefs of that body. There are confessions, creeds, manuals, standard manuals, disciplines, books of common prayer, etc. that attempt to set forth in some sort of an orderly way the doctrines and rules of the particular denomination using that book. These books often supplant the Bible becoming much more authoritative so far as local churches and leaders are concerned.

In addition to these things, denominations wear special and peculiar names that designate such things as one of their outstanding ceremonies (baptism), their form of church government (presbyterian), the name of the person whom they claim as founder. Some claim to be "catholic," "orthodox" or named from the country of their origin, such as "Anglican," whom we know in this country as "Episcopalian," which designates their form of government. Usually, each of these denominations is very distinctive in its own right, and while denominations tolerate other denominations, they do not unite with them, though sometimes they amalgamate to form new ones. Denominations offer great variety in religion, which would be wonderful, if that is what Christ wanted.

[Denominations vary widely from each other and from the church about which anyone can read upon the pages of inspiration. Review articles from the Gospel Gazette Online Archive about the distinctive nature of the Lord's church. ~ Editor]Image

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