Last week I wrote a piece on The Only Ones that, for this blog, went viral. The post had over 12,000 views. That is over half the annual average for The Morning Drive. Thank you. If you did not read it, you can find the post by clicking on the title or by clicking HERE.
That piece generated discussion in the comments, on Facebook, and I learned from a few people that it generated family discussions. Some of those discussions centered around the concepts of ecumenism, denominationalism, non-denominationalism, and un-denominationalism.
Before we dig too deeply, allow me to define my terms. I want to make certain you and I understand each other.
- Ecumenism – the whole inhabited world of Christianity. The ecumenical concept is that all churches of Christendom are part of the body of Christ. Every flavor of church is just one of many ways that one can be a child of God, worship God, and get to heaven. This often includes Catholicism, Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, as well as all Protestant and Evangelical Churches.
- Denominational – This ideology is very similar to ecumenism in that each individual sect of Christianity with differing doctrinal beliefs and practices are parts of the whole concept of the church. Just a $5 bill is one denomination of money, _____________ Church is one denomination of the Universal Church (Body of Christ). Many also distinguish denominations by their councils, synods, associations, such as The Southern Baptist Association. These councils elect presidents and leadership that define and redefine doctrinal stances and church creeds.
- Non-denominational – In current Christian culture this label often refers to a church that does not identify with any one particular main-line denomination. The congregation may be similar to other churches in the area, but they do not align themselves with any local, state, or national council, synod, or association. There may be two, three, or more churches in a larger geographical area that are satellite campuses or adhere to the leadership of the original group. Many of these would adhere to a concept of Ecumenism, although they do not adhere to one denomination, they think of themselves as part of the church universal.
- Un-denominational – These churches are independent, autonomous congregations. They have no national, state, or city leadership. The only governing body is the local congregational leaders. There is no individual or group outside of the local assembly that determines doctrine, practice, assembly times, educational material, leadership, or ministry staff.
That should suffice in helping us lay down a framework for the rest of this article as we try to answer the question, “Is there just one Church?”
Is there just one Church?
Every concept above will say, “Yes.” but each defines the Church in slightly and sometimes significant ways. Ecumenism and Denominationalism says, “There is one universal truth. Non-denominational groups may or may not agree that all other churches are simply different ways to get to heaven. Un-denominational groups will sometimes be vehement in their opposition to ecumenism and denominationalism and some will demonstrate concern for only the local congregation and leave the determination of the faithful individuals and congregations to God.
But is there just one Church? What does the Bible teach?
After Peter confessed faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus stated to Peter and the other apostles, “on that rock I will build my church . . .” The rock is not Peter – that name means “chip off the rock.” The rock is the confession Peter made that Jesus is the Christ. The Christ is the Cornerstone – the foundation of the church (1 Peter 2:6-7). The Church, from a Greek word meaning the called out assembly, must find her foundation in the person and teaching of Christ and those inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down His teaching. Jesus lays out a promise for ONE CHURCH.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul addresses the letter “To the church of the Thessalonians . . ” When Paul writes to the Christian Philemon concerning the run away slave, he addresses not only Philemon, but also Apphia, Archippus, “and the church in your house.” (Phm 1:1-2) These are simply two examples of Paul writing to individual congregations who followed the teachings he learned from Christ through the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 14:23 Paul and company appointed elders (plural) in every church. When Paul writes to the church in Philippi he addresses the letter to the saints (Christians) the elders (overseers), and deacons. These assemblies were self-governed having their own leadership.
Wait! Doesn’t Galatians 1:2 and Romans 16:16 use the plural “churches?” Yes, those passages do use “churches. ” Contextually, in both cases, Paul is referring to a individual assemblies of those who obeyed the gospel and worshiping according to Jesus’ teaching as taught by Paul and other inspired apostles and leaders. He writes to those assemblies in the geographical area of Galatia and in Romans he is sending greetings from assemblies in the many areas as he visited and worked with.
Just reading these passages I learn that God designed His Church to be autonomous congregations organized with leadership from within the congregation. Each independent assembly was comprised of those who obeyed the Gospel as they put on Christ. Each church was governed by her own leaders from within the congregation without the oversight of an outside synod or governing body other than Christ (Ephesians 1:16-23).
Is there just one Church?
That church is separate from any denomination. That church crosses political borders. There is no earthly headquarters, president, or leader that determines what that church believes. There is no authority above her, but Christ. She has members who the Lord added when they obeyed His commands to become His child (Acts 2:47). They devote “themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42). A plurality of elders look out for the spiritual well-being of the congregation (Acts 20:28) making certain to the best of their collective ability and maturity that their local congregation as a church of God (church of Christ, part of the Way) follows the faith delivered once for all (Jude 1:3).
Are you a member of the ONE Church whose head is Christ?
I challenge you to look to scripture and scripture alone to answer that question using the following as a guide:
- Am I a child of God by faith as I put on Christ through immersion? (Gal 3:26-27) and therefore having my sins washed away as I call His name my own (Acts 22:16)?
- Do the Christians I assemble with follow the pattern the inspired writers of the New Covenant in the way they organize the assembly and how they worship the Creator?