When I was inducted into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1956, I was asked in Boot Camp at Cape May, New Jersey whether I was Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish? They wanted this information to be included on my “dog tag.” My response was that I was neither Catholic, Protestant, nor of the Jewish faith. The one seeking this information insisted that I had to be one or the other of the three
I explained to him that I was in the church of Christ. It was established nearly 600 years before the Roman Catholic Church fully came into existence, and since the Protestant churches broke off of the Catholic Church, I certainly was not a member of one of those denominations. Also, the Mosaic Law which was given only to the Jews was nailed to Christ’s cross when He died upon it, so I certainly was not of the Jewish faith. Guess what. They went ahead and embossed “Protestant” on my dog tag because most people think in denominational terms.
While the Son of God was incarnate upon earth, there was much confusion among many as to who He was. The following passage of scripture brings this matter out as follows:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:13-18).
From that passage we see that there was much misunderstanding in the general public as to Jesus’ identity. Simon Peter correctly acknowledged: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
Even during the first century, while the apostles were still living, there was much misunderstanding pertaining to the Lord’s church. After the Apostle Paul was taken as a prisoner to Rome, he had opportunity to invite Jewish leaders to meet with him. They said unto him,
…We neither received letters out of Judea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came showed or spake any harm of thee. But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against (Acts 28:21-22)
The fact that they referred to the Lord’s church as a sect proves that those Jewish leaders did not understand the nature or purpose of Christ’s church and that which pertained to the new covenant. The Greek word hairesis, translated as either sect or heresy, carries the meaning of “disensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims; that which is broken off of the main body.” Those Jewish leaders who referred to the church of our Lord as a “sect” looked upon it as a splinter group of the Jewish religion.
We Are Not Of The Jewish Religion
There are many basic beliefs that we hold in common with those of the Jewish religion. We believe that the one true and living God is the One worshipped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We also recognize the Old Testament as being inspired of God. Of the Ten Commandments given unto Moses on Mount Sinai, nine of them, in principle, have been incorporated in the new covenant. The Sabbath day was the only one left out of the new covenant.
On the other hand, there are some major differences between the church of Christ and those who profess the Jewish religion. The Mosaic Law is no longer in effect, it was nailed to the cross when Jesus died upon it (Col. 2:14). The New Testament is also an inspired part of God’s revelation. The offering of animal sacrifices is no longer required because the Son of God was offered once and for all (Heb. 9:27-28).
Since the Mosaic Law is no longer in effect, we are under the new covenant. At Col. 2:14, the Apostle Paul pointed out that when Jesus died on the cross, He “[Blotted] out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” This same truth is revealed at Heb. 10:9-10. “Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
We Are Not Of The Catholic Church
The church of Christ was established on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of our Lord and Savior; whereas, the Roman Catholic Church was not fully developed until 606 A. D. when Boniface became its first universal pope.
We do hold some basic truths in common with the Catholic Church. We both believe that the Old Testament and the New Testament are the inspired Word of God. Both the Catholic Church and the church of Christ recognize the church as being universal in scope. After all, Jesus Christ said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
In contrast, there are some major differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the church of Christ. Whereas, we believe the Bible is the complete and only revelation from God, the Roman Catholic Church upholds its traditions as being equivalent with the Bible. At Second Timothy 3:16-17, the Apostle Paul declared: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
And at Matthew 15:9, are the following Words of Jesus Christ: “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
We reject the concept that a person has to have a priest of the Catholic Church to intercede on his behalf. Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and man. First Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Also, every Christian is a priest in the Lord’s spiritual house. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).
Since the church of Christ was established before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, it did not break off from the Catholic Church and is no part of it.
Nor Are We Protestants
We certainly believe many of the same truths that most Protestant churches believe. They profess belief in the God revealed in the Bible. Most of them recognize Jesus as the Christ. Many of them acknowledge that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We believe and uphold these same truths.
Faithful churches of Christ recognize the New Testament as the pattern for us today pertaining to the church, salvation, and morality. But Protestant churches do not use the same standard for doctrine and practice. Many who profess that the Bible is the Word of God actually give allegiance unto catechisms, prayer books, creed books, their own subjective feelings as well as other standards instead of, or in addition to, the Bible. They have church governments which are foreign to that which the Lord established for His church and they add innovations to their worship that are not authorized by the New Testament.
But There’s A Sense In Which We Are All Three
Although we are not of the Jewish religion, we are spiritual Jews and, as a people, spiritual Israel. This truth is plainly taught in the following passages of scripture:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Rom. 2:28-29).
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed (Rom. 9:6-8).
Even though we are not members of the Roman Catholic Church, we are catholic in the sense that the Lord’s church is universal. The word “catholic” simply means “universal.” The following scripture speaks of the New Testament church in a universal sense: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25).
We are not members of any Protestant denomination, but we are protestants in the sense of protesting and speaking out against that which is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament (Jude 3; 2 Tim. 4:1-4).
We Who Obey The Gospel Are Added To The Church By Christ
One who has been scripturally baptized does not have to join any denomination. The Lord adds that precious soul to His church. “Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). Metaphors of the church reveal that all obedient believers are baptized into the church. This truth is revealed when the church is depicted as the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). It is also true when the church is presented as the spiritual kingdom of our Lord (John 3:5; Col. 1:13).
Obedient believers are Christians only (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). There are no hyphenated Christians. In the first century, there were not different kinds of Christians, nor did they recognize different brotherhoods.
Man made churches are not authorized in the New Testament. Most will agree that no one has to be a member of a denomination to be saved. However, the church of the New Testament is the saved. It is the family of God upon earth (Acts 2:47; 1 Tim. 3:15) and God has no children outside of His family.