The Churches of Christ believe they are the one True Faith, and all others are sinful. Of course, what religious movement doesn’t think they are the true one? Anyway, In Gospel Minutes (one of the publications of the CoC congregations), August 20, 2010 edition, the writing refutes the idea that the Church of Christ is a denomination.Let’s look at just why they are, despite their claims. Now, first I don’t seek to disparage the faith. I still consider myself a Christian. I simply seek to illustrated how absolutist opinions of faith get in the way of understanding.
Denomination – n. 1) religious grouping: a religious grouping within a faith that has its own system of organization. 2) unit of value or measure: a unit in a scale of value, especially monetary value, weight, measure, or size 3) name or designation: a name or designation given to a class, group, or type
Encarta® World English Dictionary
The Churches of Christ postulate that they are the original church Jesus founded. In the article, they ask if Jesus built a religious sect [Matt 16: 18] and added to the church daily [Acts 2:47]. Since Jesus was strictly Jewish and a Pharisee, as the Gospels describe, the answer from a historical reading is emphatically yes, but I digress. Paul writes about the church and Christ being married. The author of the article then asks “And who would accuse him [Jesus] of having 300 wives?!” We need to step back a second and consider this.
In the Gospel of Mark 9:37-41, the apostles approached Jesus and told him about a man who was casting out demons, teaching, and healing people but didn’t follow them. They told Jesus they forbade the man. Jesus get’s upset and tells them not to forbid the man stating:
“Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on ourside. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Jesus basically states that anyone who follows His message of compassion is doing his work. Such people are on his side. This certainly conflicts with the message the Church of Christ reads into Paul’s statements of Jesus and the “one” church being married. When Paul discusses this and when Jesus states he will build his church, they are referring to a group of people who practices the teachings of Jesus. So far Church of Christ members would mostly agree with me. But remember how the man the apostles complained about didn’t follow them? This is where the idea of denomination comes in. The man was essentially a denomination, yet Jesus didn’t see him as such. Obviously the man also had some differing ideas from the apostles. Otherwise they would not have noticed him from the crowds that normally followed them.
Now let us return to the idea of a “church.” In Jesus’ time, the word was used only by it’s Greek definition. Church derives from the Ancient Greek κυριακόν (kuriakon), neuter form of κυριακός (“belonging to the lord”) from κύριος (kurios, “ruler, lord”) and the Greek κυριακόν (kuriakon) was used of houses of Christian worship since circa 300 AD, especially in the East, though it was less common in this sense than ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia, “congregation”) [ from Wiktionary]. So when Jesus states “I will build my church,” he is really saying “I will set up those belonging to the lord” or “I will build my house of worship.” In context of his lesson with the “denominational man, ” Jesus is obviously keeping the definition of church open to anyone who follows His teachings.
But what are His teachings? What about baptism? Jesus taught us only to love God and love our neighbors. Everything else hangs off of that. [Mark 12:30-32]. Jesus only states baptism is necessary in Mark 16. However, the oldest version of Mark’s last chapter omits this ending. Of course, this is a heavily mined battlefield for scholars. The text of Mark 16:16 alone leaves enough ambiguity:
He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.
Some, like the Churches of Christ, read that baptism is necessary. Others read the grammar differently and say belief is important to avoid damnation. Of course, the statement doesn’t say “damned to hell.” It simply says, damned. It is likely Jesus was referring to how those who don’t believe in His teachings (ie compassion, love, and forgiveness) will be damned by their own actions. Contrary to modern thinking, the Jews of Jesus’ time generally didn’t believe in an after-life. So, to His apostles, damnation upon death was a strange concept.
Phew, that is a lot of text but bear with me. We are almost there.
In light of this analysis, it doesn’t matter if the Churches of Christ are a denomination or not. It doesn’t matter if any group of people is a denomination as long as they follow Jesus’ teachings of love, forgiveness, and compassion. The Church of Christ and other churches make the fundamental flaw of believing they understand God’s thoughts through the Bible. The Bible is a flawed book. It is flawed because of time, transcriptions, and human understanding. We read the Bible differently than the early Christians read it. The first Christians didn’t even have the Bible! The lucky ones had just a letter from an apostle or a gospel copy.
The first church was never unified. Paul and James fought each other. Paul and Peter argued. James inherited the first congregations from Jesus, but Paul planted far more. Each had limited access to letters. Most just had oral traditions to go on. Denominations occurred as soon as the apostles began teaching. People simply understand things differently. Even now, Christianity is different from those first century sects. It is rather arrogant to proclaim to be the one true church and not a division. It is akin to knowing the mind of God.
The problem with faith is the lack of evidence it holds. I keep my faith through evidence, not in spite of evidence. The Church of Christ is a denomination of Christianity because it exists. Just like the early congregations had different faiths despite Paul’s efforts, all Christian groups are denominations. Remember James had yet a different faith from Paul in Acts and history to illustrate the point. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. According to Jesus, anyone who is for Him is in the Church. Those who are for Him are those who practice love, compassion, and forgiveness. All the other points are details that only proclaim alignment with those teachings. Judging another person because of their faith is arrogant. I leave it up to God to decide. When we wrong someone we don’t stalk up to them and proclaim ourselves forgiven. We let them decide.
We have all wronged God one way or another. We have wronged others. We are unified in our mistakes no matter what we believe.