|Are You a Denomination?
ARE YOU A DENOMINATION?
The New Testament never asks "What denomination are you," or "to what church do you belong," because there are no denominational distinctions made in the New Testament. There the church is "one body" (Eph. 4:4) with one head built on one foundation, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). However, some congregations did have problems with divisions or denominating themselves. The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians address this specific issue. There was a schism in the Corinthian church where they were denominating themselves into different groups, and holding sectarian attitudes toward one another. 1 Cor. 1:10-13 says: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul;' another, 'I follow Apollos;' another, 'I follow Cephas;' still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?"
Paul had received some reports from friends that the church in Corinth was divided along the lines of significant preachers who were known to Corinth. One group aligned themselves with Paul, but others aligned themselves with Apollos. Others followed Cephas (Peter). Indeed, some were even taking the name of Christ in a schismatic fashion, as if to say, "I am a Christian, but you are not." "I follow Christ" was a "slogan" by one of the parties or schisms in the Corinthian church alongside the other schisms, and thus, equally wrong. There were some who claimed the name of Christ, but were schismatic in doing so. They were divisive and sectarian with the name of Christ. Paul condemns them along with those who used his own name in schismatically.
For whatever reason, Christians in Corinth were denominating themselves into separate groups. They were centering their Christianity on either the people who brought them to Christ, that is, who baptized them, or who had taught them. They were enamored with the servants of God, they were enamored with those who baptized them, and had lost their focus on the servant of God, Jesus Christ. They were beginning to follow human traditions rather than Jesus.
Paul asks three questions which respond to the division at Corinth. He resets their focus, and re-aligns their loyalty. First, he asks, "Is Christ divided?" In other words, has Christ divided himself into separate factions? Has Christ been chopped up into bickering parts or groups? Paul's question reminds the Corinthians that their present schisms do not reflect the reality of the oneness of Christ's body. The Corinthian Church is the body of Christ, and Christ only has one body (1 Cor. 12:12-13). The Corinthians need to be united just as Christ himself is one. Since Christ is not divided, neither should his followers.
But where do we focus this unity in a practical way? How can this unity become visible? Paul points to the answer in his next two questions. The second question he asks is, "Was Paul crucified for you?" The unity of the church is rooted in the message of the gospel, that is, Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Christians should not align themselves with human personalities and human traditions because the message of God is Jesus Christ. Jesus must be center of our unity, and the focus of our faith. Paul did not die for us, neither did Peter, but only Christ. The message of the gospel unites Christians because we proclaim our common faith in the one who acted to forgive our sins and redeem us from death through his own death and resurrection. Unity must focus on Christ instead of human personalities and traditions.
The third question Paul asked also speaks to the nature of that unity. The unity of Christians is expressed not only in the message preached, but in their common obedience to the gospel. Paul asks, "Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" Their baptism was the testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, not of their faith in Paul. Their baptism was the moment where their relationship to Jesus Christ began--they were baptized into the name of Christ (see also Matt. 28:19). It was a public moment of faith when they entered the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Rom. 6:3-4). They were not baptized into Paul's body, nor were they baptized into the name of Peter. They believed the message about Christ and him crucified, and they were baptized into a relationship with Christ. As unity focuses on the undivided Christ, the visible, public character of that unity is reflected in the common message and baptism which Christians share. Christians ought to stand together as one people who believe in Christ and have been baptized into him.
What makes a Christian? What unites people together in the body of Christ? It is not the one who does the baptizing. It is not the one who does the preaching. It is not the name on the sign of the building. On the contrary, it is the fact that together we have believed the gospel about the death and resurrection of Christ, and we have all been baptized into the name of Christ. This is what unites us, and that is why we do not follow the one who taught us, or the one who baptized us, but rather we follow Christ. We do not take the name of the one who taught us, or the one who baptized us, but rather we wear the name of Christ. As a body of believers, we do not wear the name of a human person or tradition, but we wear the name of Christ.
The focus of unity is not the name on the building, but it is the name you call upon for your salvation and the name into which you were baptized. You belong to Christ if you have believed the message of the gospel and have been baptized into his name. Whoever has responded to the gospel in that manner is a Christian. They are members of the body of Christ; they are members of the "Church of Christ."
The point is really simple. At the Ross Road Church of Christ, we do not want to be a denomination. We do not want to use the name "Church of Christ" in a denominational or sectarian manner. We use the name to identify ourselves as a congregation belonging only to Christ and to no higher authority. We want to wear the name of Jesus alone. We just want to be Christians, and only Christians. The Ross Road Church of Christ is simply a group of believers who meet together to study the Bible, pray, praise and minister to our community. We invite everyone to join us and wear only the name of Christ as a badge of faith.
First published as a tract by the Ross Road Church of Christ in 1996.