Cled E. Wallace
Paul was suffering much anxiety of heart over the spiritual state of the Corinthian saints. “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears” (2 Cor. 2: 4). They were restless and threatening to break out of gospel bounds. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ” (2 Cor. 11: 3). Many today, even in the church, have “itching ears” for something more than the simplicity of the gospel. There is no prominent item of New Testament teaching which has not suffered because of the pious profanity of some religious busybody who imagined he could improve it somewhat. The simple gospel is still “foolishness” to many and “a stumblingblock” to others.
In the early days of the church the simple proclamation of the gospel led men and women to believe in Christ, repent of their sins, confess Jesus as Christ, and submit to baptism. They were then considered Christians, members of the body, the church. “But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8: 12.) “For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.” (Gal. 3: 26, 27.) “Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof.” (1 Cor. 12: 2’7.) These members of the body were associated together in various localities in independent “churches of Christ” for work and worship.
The organization was very simple. Each congregation had its “bishops and deacons” and members. Its mission was fulfilled in the simple program of edifying itself, looking after the needy, and preaching the gospel to the lost. The worship of God in these assemblies was so simple that we note the absence of all gaudy ceremonialism. It does not remind us of the “carnal ordinances” of either popery or Judaism. The New Testament does not mention “the holy sacrament” in discussing the Lord’s Supper, nor is there any burning of incense or instrumental music in the prayer or praise of the New Testament churches. The simplicity of the New Testament order should be scrupulously observed by Christians today.
We are hearing too much about organizing Friday Night Clubs and Endeavor Societies and Ladies Aids and other symptoms of displeasure at the “simplicity and purity that is toward Christ.” In some religious circles a man does not amount to much who is satisfied to be just a Christian and a normal member of a local congregation of others like him. A man with a New Testament who starts out to worship and obey God, serve his fellows, and finally reach heaven, will not find it a stunt-performing program. A lot of the frenzy and fuss of modern religion is a bid for the attention of men rather than the glory of God. The warning of Paul is still a timely one.
Is it is a Partisan Use of the Term?
What are you in religion? “I am a Christian.” Is that a partisan use of that term? It is a New Testament term. It was not used in a partisan sense there. It is not so used now so long as you mean by it what was meant by it in the New Testament, all that was meant by it in the New Testament, and nothing less than was meant by it in the New Testament. Because of the divided condition of religious people, it may be necessary to explain with some care that Christians in the New Testament were the disciples of Christ, saints of God, and brethren in a common, spiritual family known as the church of God. What church do you belong to? “I am a member of the church of Christ.” Is that a denominational use of a religious term? Not if you mean by it all and nothing less or more than was meant by it in the New Testament. For obvious reasons it may be necessary to explain that the church of Christ in the New Testament was the body of Christ, which included all Christians. They were members of it because they were Christians, and Christians because they were members of it. God added all the saved to the church, when they were saved and because they were saved. There was no such thing as being saved and not being a member of the New Testament church. If our explanations do not go over, it is a good idea not to run the risk of becoming sectarian in an attempt to make the matter any plainer than the New Testament does. It would still be a pretty plain book if sectarian goggles had never been manufactured. Don’t be afraid to say: “I am a Christian, and therefore a member of the church of Christ.”
What is a Denomination?
There are hundreds of denominations in the United States. What is a denomination? You will get your information outside the New Testament. The simple order of the New Testament includes individual Christians made such by the preaching of the gospel. They all belonged to, were members of, “the church, which is his body,” the church of the Lord. There were congregations of them in various localities. These local bodies had elders, deacons, and members. Christians were not much handicapped in New Testament times trying to wiggle around under official board piles. Sometime this side of the New Testament the idea of a religious body larger than a local church and smaller than the whole body of Christ took objective form. If some Christians were at liberty to thus organize themselves into a denominational ecclesiasticism then others could do likewise. It is named and organized after the order of a partisan brotherhood. It may be named after some man, as the Lutheran or Wesleyan denomination; or after some form of church government, as the Presbyterian denomination; or after some ordinance in religion, as the Baptist denomination; or carry the name of method, as the great Methodist denomination. But this is all contrary to the Scriptures.
God did not intend for any of His people to emphasize some truth above other truth and make it the creed of a partisan brotherhood. If so, then a man would have to be a member of all the denominations to be in possession of all properly emphasized truth. As it is, a man can take a New Testament, believe what it teaches, do what it commands, be just a Christian, and a member of nothing but the body of Christ, which includes all Christians, and not be a member of a denomination at all. It will not rob a denomination of its sinful character to make an adjective out of some Bible noun and call it the “Disciple Church” or the “Christian Church,” or even apply to it the title, “Church of God” or “Church of Christ.” The thing itself is wrong, regardless of what you call it; and if it is called by a Bible term, the term is misused. The only fool-proof way to steer clear of all denominational affiliations is to refuse to be anything but a New Testament “sort” of a Christian and refuse to belong to anything in religion but the body of Christ.
Christians were not classified and sorted after the order of their partisan preferences in New Testament times. In the nature of the case, denominationalism could never be right unless it should become right and consistent for all Christians to belong to all of them, and then, in the nature of the case, denominationalism would cease. If a man is satisfied with the New Testament in his faith and practice, no unscriptural terms will have to be invented to describe him, nor will it be necessary to use Scriptural terms in an unscriptural sense to do it. “Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 1: 13.)