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Volume 21, Number 1, January / February 2003 Editor: Robert Johnson

The New Testament Church: What The Bible Says About Divisions And Denominations

What The Bible Says About Divisions And Denominations:
Jesus Established Only One Church:
Jesus Desires That All His Followers Be One With No Divisions:
The Inspired Writers Condemned All Divisions In The Church:
Who Established Today’s Denominations: When and Why?
Conclusion: Jesus Wills There To Be Only One Undivided Church!

In our last issue of Life Resources, we began a study of the New Testament church. This is the church you can read about in your Bible. The one Jesus and His Apostles established. It patterns itself after the original in teachings, organization and its worship. It truly accepts Jesus as “Lord” of all it believes and teaches. It is willing to challenge all doctrine with Jesus’ amazing, truth finding, question: “Is it from heaven or from men.” In this issue, we will examine some more details of what the original church of Jesus Christ is meant to believe.
I am convinced that coming to an understanding of God’s truth is far easier than admitting how those truths must affect our lives today. One of the most difficult truths to deal with is that God did not create or authorize any denomination that exists today. We hear, “attend the church or synagogue of your choice.” But, if Jesus is Lord and we regard His authority we must ask only what He desires. Time for the amazing, truth revealing question (Matt 21:23-27): Is it from Heaven or From Men?
There were no denominations in the New Testament, none were created by God. You cannot learn how to become a member of any denomination in the Bible. Try finding the membership requirements for becoming a “Lutheran”, “Methodist”, etc. in the New Testament. Can we truly be loyal to the Lordship of Jesus’ Words and also loyal to a denomination created by men? Which denomination does God want you to join? Which denomination did Peter or Paul belong to? If Jesus came back to visit the church He established would He recognize it, could He find it? Is love for God and walking after the Spirit compatible with membership in a man made religious organization?
To understand what the Bible says about this matter we only need look at three things: How many churches did Jesus establish? What was Jesus’ will for the disciples in that church then and now? And who established the denominations of today; when and why were they established?

Jesus Established Only One Church:
Jesus said He would build His “church”, not “churches” (Matt. 16:18). If there is one thing that stands out about Jesus’ purpose for the church it is that God intended it to bring an end to the divisions and walls between those who would follow Him. Jesus said a house divided against itself shall not stand (Matt 12:25). Jesus said what God has joined together, man must not “put asunder”, (divide, put space between) (Mark 10:9). God unites all true believers in One body, the church and only Jesus is the Head:
"And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." (Col 1:18).
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Is religious division a blemish???) (Eph 5:25-27).
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." (Eph 5:31-32).

"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." (Col 3:15-17).
"But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; ... And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:" (Eph 2:13-16).

When the scriptures speak of many members in the one body, it is referring to individual Christians and not denominations (which did not yet exist).
"For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." (Rom 12:4-5).
"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (1 Cor 12:12-13).

When a plural form of the word “church” is used, it is always used to refer to local congregations in different locations, not to a pile of different human denominations. "Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you." (Rom 16:16).

Jesus Desires That All His Followers Be One With No Divisions
Let us consider Jesus’ prayer to God for His disciples (the church) in John chapter seventeen. Jesus’ desired oneness and unity of belief in His disciples: (Oneness - No divisions).
"And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are....Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word (That’s us! rj); 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." (John 17:11, 20-23).
Did you take note that Jesus applied this prayer to us today? (“...them also which shall believe on me through their word.”) Notice what Jesus did NOT pray: “.....That they be divided into hundreds of denominations, all teaching different things.” “.....That they be similar in their “core beliefs”, as we agree on the major things.” “.....That they may change whatever we have said as long as they say they believe in the Christ.” “.....That they all may believe what they want as long as they are sincere.” “.....That they all love and accept one another, no matter what doctrines they teach.”
Note that this oneness is to be like the oneness that Jesus shares with His Father: Jesus and His Father spoke the same Words:
"And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak." (John 12:47-50).

The Inspired Writers Condemned All Divisions In The Church
Jesus requires us to be united in our love for God, others and our willingness to say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Some might think Jesus prayed for the impossible, but the Apostles, by inspiration, insisted on the very same thing. Paul condemned the divisions (potential denominations and denominational names) which were threatening to spring up among the Corinthian Christians.
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name." (1 Cor 1:10-15)
He identified divisions to be a result of carnality (fleshly, human desire, 1 Cor 3:3). He points out that seditions (factions, divisions, were a work of the flesh, not a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:19,20). He commands the church in Rome to identify those who would cause divisions and offenses (stumbling blocks) contrary to the doctrine they had learned and to avoid them. (Rom. 16:17-19). Paul warned the congregations in Corinth and in Galatia about those who would teach them “another gospel” other than that they had received. (2 Cor 11:4; Gal 1:6). Even if an angel gives them news that they should follow another way, they are to consider them accursed and perverters of the Gospel (Gal 1:7,8).
Jude also saw the dangers of the church being divided and exhorted the church to fight for the faith that had “once been delivered.”
"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. 4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ." (Jude 1:3-4).

Who Established Today’s Denominations: When and Why?
Though Jesus and His Disciples demanded oneness, they also knew there would be false teachings and apostasy (a falling away from the truth) in the church. Paul spent years warning the church of false teachers and the coming apostasy:
"For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears." (Acts 20:27-31)
A brief look at history will reveal that over the past two thousand years, many religious people have departed from the original church of the Bible and formed groups of disciples, each with their own brand of religion. Let us consider briefly a chart which illustrates the origins of some denominational churches: (See Chart: Origins of Denominations).
A few years after Jesus established His church, its leaders began to change its organization and to depart from the simple doctrines and truths found in the New Testament. The Roman church actually drew many of their practices from the Jewish laws which had been superseded by the new covenant brought by Jesus Christ (Heb 8:8-13). Things like a separate priesthood, candles, incense, daily sacrifices (Mass), sacred buildings, instrumental music, substituting baptism in place of the Jewish circumcision of babies, etc. When “Christianity” became the official religion of the Roman empire, things really took a turn towards human invention, corruption and idolatry. Things became so corrupt that even some in the Roman church began to see a need for change. Martin Luther, a Roman priest, is credited for inspiring the beginning of the “Reformation” movement (1500’s). Many different men and groups determined to “reform” the church. Most of the major denominations came into existence during this effort. The problem is that instead of attempting to restore the church to its original inspired state, new organizations and creeds were created. Each group took a different name to distinguish themselves from other groups. These attempts to make things better resulted in the creation of hundreds of human denominations.
None of these denominations existed in the New Testament. None of them were established and authorized by Jesus? We do not question the sincerity or good intentions of those who founded these organizations, nor do we deny that they all contain some good and follow the truth on some matters. But after seeing what the Bible says about the one church and the unity Jesus desires, we must ask some serious questions: Are these denominational organizations a result of New Testament teaching or a result of apostasy from the truth (Most began as an effort to reform Catholicism- Protestants?). Are they identical to the original church in teachings and organization or is it more accurate to say they represents man’s best efforts to reform religious teaching which had been in apostasy for over a thousand years? Did they go all the way back to Jesus and the New Testament for their authority, names and teachings or did they stop short at various places?
Around the 1600’s, men from many different denominations began to question God’s approval of these divisions. Many determined that the only way the church could be what God desired was to go back to the Bible and allow the New Testament to be their only guide and creed. They discarded their denominational loyalties and worked to restore the church by patterning it after the inspired original that had been revealed by God. They began calling Bible things by Bible names. They sought to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent. They determined only to believe what could be proven by the Bible and to worship only in the way the original church worshipped. By their submission to God’s Word as their only authority, they sought to serve God in a “way that is right and cannot be wrong.” Are you willing to find such a congregation of the Lord’s New Testament church today?
Does Denominationalism represent rebellion to God? You decide! Do denominations recognize ONLY the Bible as their creed book and authority for their teaching or would you need another creed to know what they believe? Does Jesus authorize the different names they wear? No, the names serve to distinguish or divide them from others. Is their origin, headquarters and organization the same as the original church? NO. Can they give book, chapter and verse for all they believe and teach? NO. What about when you show a member of a denomination what the Bible says and they say, “I don’t agree with all my church teaches, but I will never change.”

Conclusion: Jesus Wills There To Be Only One Undivided Church!
Jesus established only one church. Jesus prayed that all His followers be one as He and the Father are one. The inspired writers of the New Testament condemned division as a work of the flesh and foretold there would be false teachers and divisions. Denominationalism is a result or fulfillment of that prophesy. What will you do with these simple truths? Will you join yourself to the human denomination that you think is best or will your desire to find the church Jesus established cause you keep searching till you find it? You should be looking for the church of Christ, established in Jerusalem in 33AD. The one founded by Jesus Christ. The one where Jesus is still the Head and Lord. Its headquarters are heaven and its only creed is the Word of God.
Lord willing in our next issue we will show the answer to Jesus’ Prayer: Finding the Church That Jesus Built.

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