Have you ever considered this question, “Where did they place their membership?” When people were first saved, what was their denomination? Human traditions would lead us to believe that many denominations had their origins in the first century. However, the Bible mentions the names of none of them. Some groups have adopted names from the descriptive phrases used of the church in the Bible. But these were never used as names, but merely as explanations of some fact about the church.
Peter, James, and John, etc., were just Christians. Like all Christians in the first century, they wore no divisive names and espoused no sectarian creeds. They were simply members of CHRIST’s spiritual body. They were simply part of the ‘church’. Likewise, we are told it was HIS church in the following phrases (not names); the church of GOD (Acts 20:28) and the church of Christ (Romans 16:16). The only divine name we are given is the name ‘Christian’ (Acts 11:26).
The multitude of names and the popularity of the concept of many churches or denominations was born much later. It really began to flourish during the protestant reformation in the 16th century. It was a reaction to earlier departures from the pure and original Christianity of the apostles of CHRIST (1 Timothy 4:1-6; 2 Timothy 4:1-6).
Many tried to go back to the Bible at least in some areas with varying results. Their differences led them to divide from each other. Each one became a different church, a new denomination. However, as these groups grew in number, so too did the concept that each was merely a different ‘brand’ of Christianity. They were considered by many to be a division in the body of CHRIST, but still part of HIS church. This eventually led to the widely held belief that we can simply go to the ‘church of our choice’. In this scenario specific doctrines tended to become a matter of personal preference or interpretation. Many began to think it was okay to be different than what the Bible taught as revealed by the HOLY SPIRIT of GOD. This is quite different than what Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:19-21 “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, … 20knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Ignoring the inspiration and authority of GOD’s Word is what has led to having thousands of denominations in our world today.
Why can’t men and women be ‘just Christians’ today without any denominational affiliation? They can! There are thousands of believers in CHRIST who have given up divisive names and divisive human doctrines. They are turning their backs on human organizations and sectarian restrictions. They are trying to rely on the Bible alone as their source of authority in their religious practice. They see the Bible as the seed of New Testament Christianity (Matthew 13:23). If we accept this divine truth, we can be simply Christians without human divisions separating us. That is what GOD wants!
GOD never authorized denominations. JESUS only promised to build one church (Matthew 16:18). These truths are powerfully illustrated by the Lord’s prayer in John 17. Listen to the heart of JESUS HIMSELF as he prays to the FATHER in verses 20-21. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” JESUS wants us united and not divided. Notice how HE prays for the unity of ‘those who believe on ME through their word’. HE was praying for the apostles and for all who believed their teaching.
JESUS prayed for unity, and we can have it only when we trust in HIS Word as our sole authority. This is the Bible. HE inspired the apostles to write the Bible (John16:13) and that is what they preached. This is how the church began in Acts 2:37-42. “Those who gladly received his word were baptized.” “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” We must preach the same thing today to have the unity JESUS desired.
The refusal to accept HIS doctrine as preached by the apostles is what separates us today. By gladly continuing in the apostle’s doctrine, we can all have a part in HIS one fellowship. Obeying HIM unites us (2 Thessalonians 3:14) in HIS church. Obeying HIM saves us (Hebrews 5:9). When we were first saved GOD put us where HE wanted us to be. Acts 2:47 “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
I pray that we can all be just HIS church.
Dr. J. L. Edwards