NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIANITY
asking, "What do you mean when you talk about nondenominational New Testament
Christianity, not being a denomination, and being nondenominational New
Testament Christians? You talk about local, undenominational New Testament
churches. What do you mean?" The answer is quite simple because nondenominational
New Testament Christianity is all that is found in the New Testament. Denominations,
as we know them, had not come into being yet.
Meaning of "Denomination"
To understand what is meant when we speak of
the nondenominational New Testament church, it is good to know what the
word "denomination" means. Denominationalism signifies division and the
word "denomination" itself means those who have been denominated, or named,
in this division. Religiously speaking, the dictionary says "denomination"
means "a particular religious sect or body, with a specific name, organization,
etc." Denominations are characterized by distinctive names and doctrines
that separate them from other denominations (and from the Biblical viewpoint,
divergent names and doctrines from the New Testament). Thatís what makes
One Lord, One Body---One
Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, "I will build
my church" (one, not many). In John 10:16 he said, "there shall
be one fold and one shepherd." Then further looking to the
future, he prayed, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which
shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as
thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:
that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" John 17:20,21). Fittingly
in the second chapter of Acts, the day the church was started, we read,
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one
accord in one place" (Acts 2:1). Those who repented and were
baptized were "baptized into one body" (Acts 2:38-41; 1 Corinthians
12:13), having been "called in one body" (Colossians 3:15). There
is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Read all of Ephesians 4:4-6).
In this same epistle, Paul wrote that Christ had broken down the wall of
partition that divided humanity, "that he might reconcile both [all] unto
God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Ephesians
2:14-16; Galatians 3:28).
Therefore, it is very apparent that denominationalism,
which means division, is decidedly wrong. In fact, it is strongly condemned
in the New Testament. "Heresies" (KJV), which involves the opinions of
men and division, is listed as a work of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21.
Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 and the 3rd chapter of 1 Corinthians. Sectarianism
was raising its ugly head as the Corinthians were saying, "I am of Paul;
and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." Paul raked them over
the coals and said, "For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I
am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?" Paul would even tell the Christians
at Rome to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the
doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). He also
said, "A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject"
(Titus 3:10). Yes, in that Scripture in Ephesians (4:3-6) that emphasizes
the oneness of Godís plan, he starts out by saying that we should endeavor
"to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Even in the Old
Testament, Psalms 133:1 asserts, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it
is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
Abiding by the Great
The Great Commission stands as the fountainhead
of authority and charter behind all Christian endeavor. It reads, beginning
with Matthew 28:18 and going through verse 20, "And Jesus came and spoke
to them, saying, ĎAll authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe
all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even
to the end of the age.í Amen" (NKJV). The resurrected Christ spoke with
all authority in giving this commission. Its details were to be carried
out. They were to (1) "go," (2) "make disciples of all nations," (3) "baptizing
them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,"
and (4) "teaching them to observe all things" that he had commanded. The
promise of Christ being with them was conditional that they abide by the
particulars of the commission. The commission went beyond the immediate
disciples in its execution; it was to be carried out unto the end of the
"world" (age). To accomplish what the Lord wants accomplished and to be
acceptable with him, we must abide by its terms today. Otherwise we are
not included in the promise of him being with us (and denominationalism
is not in his scheme of things).
Called into One Body
(No Authority for Denominations)
As we brought out from the New Testament Scriptures,
the Lord initially established one church. When the Great Commission is
faithfully carried out, those who accept Christ in accordance with the
Scriptures are made a part of this one church. One doesnít join it like
a denomination is joined. On the day the church was started, in Acts 2,
those who repented and were baptized [immersed] for the remission of their
sins were "added to the church" by the Lord (Acts 2:38-47). No one voted
on them. No one joined. It was an act of the Lord that put them in the
church. According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, we are "baptized into one body."
Colossians 3:15 says that we are "called" into one body. If we are made
a part of the "one body," which is the church (Colossians 1:18), and called
into one body, why in the world join a denomination and be a part of division
that is condemned in the Word of God? Anyone claiming to be working under
the Great Commission has no authority to invite you to become a part of
a denomination. There is no authority from Christ for even the existence
of a denomination. His one church was begun in the first century. When
we faithfully preach the gospel, and abide by the Great Commission, the
Lord will add those who respond to this one church, the undenominational
church of the New Testament. Thereby let us simply be a Christian, no more
and no less. It is that simple.
The Local, Autonomous
Paul admonished the Ephesians to "keep the
unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). He is not talking
about a denominational unity, or union. It is a spiritual unity that comes
about by being in union with Christ (and with every other person who has
been united with him, Galatians 3:27,28). This union basically is to be
recognized within the bounds of the local church and therein expressed.
A careful study of the New Testament Scriptures will reveal that the early
church was made up of local, autonomous congregations. The universal church
was not organized. There was no organization of the church beyond the local
church. Evangelists were sent out to win souls and thereby start other
local, autonomous churches. We are admonished to "love the brotherhood"
(1 Peter 2:17), not organize it. Any movement away from the local church,
even in attaching national and regional names to gatherings, is in the
wrong direction and is to be avoided. It is how denominations exercise
and express themselves as denominations. The only headquarters we have
is in heaven where our head is, the Lord Jesus Christ. Too many Protestant
denominations seem to be headed back more and more to the mother of apostasy.
Others seem comfortable in joining them.
The Word of God and
The Lord prayed for unity for whom? They who
believed on him through the word of the apostles (John 17:20). On the day
of the churchís inception into the world, the multitudes cried out "unto
Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we
do?" (Acts 2:37). We know what the answer was (Acts 2:38), and after they
were baptized, "they continued stedfastly in the apostlesí doctrineÖ" (Acts
2:42). They were "with one accord" together (Acts 2:46). This refrain reoccurs
throughout the book of Acts. In the context of them being in "one accord"
we repeatedly read that "the word of God increased" (Acts 6:7), "the word
of God grew and multiplied" (Acts 12:24), and "so mightily grew the word
of God and prevailed" (Acts 19:20). Their oneness, and their unity, was
all brought about and interwoven with the Word of God. Paul tells us that
"all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,
for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy
3:16). Paul also tells us that people will not endure sound doctrine, and,
consequently, the injunction is given to "Preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
And so with denominationalism today, another
ingredient is added that causes problems, that is the doctrines and traditions
of men. (What the Lord thought about such can be seen in Mark 7:1-13).
In the protest against Catholicism of yesteryear, reactionary doctrines
came into being among Protestants (thus, "faith only"). At the same time,
not being all that removed from this system of error, certain practices
were brought over and incorporated into doctrines of the new denominations.
Through the years other movements have come into being, many times emphasizing
one doctrine out of proportion to another. So in time, to hold their adherents
together, man-made creeds or creed books in one form or another were brought
into being. Many times immature thinking was crystallized in these books
to be imposed upon oncoming generations, rather than just following the
Bible and that alone. Many today naively donít even know that denominational
creeds influence what denominational preachers preach.
when we talk about simple, undenominational New Testament Christianity,
we are talking about what we read in the New Testament uncluttered by denominational
names and traditions. When we talk about being a part of the one church
that was established in the first century, there is nothing self-righteous
or arrogant about this. One church is all that the Lord started. As we
have noticed, in becoming a Christian we are called into one body. If we
choose to belong to a denomination, we have chosen division. We have gone
against the Lordís prayer. We have chosen the narrow, sectarian way of
looking at things, limiting ourselves to a denominational outlook, instead
of simply being Christians and that alone.
We challenge you to be a New Testament Christian.
That is the only kind you find in the New Testament. Why be anything else?