Denominational Thinking

The ThinkerIn the article “What Is a Denomination? (Part 3)” I made the statement that most in the Church of Christ do not know what a denomination is. One of the reasons I say this is because those in the Churches of Christ say quite a few things that reveal denominational thinking. For example, have you ever…

  • Said, “The Church of Christ teaches…”?
  • Said, “____________ Church of Christ is one of our congregations”?
  • Advised others to “find the right church”?
  • Used “Church of Christ” as an adjective
    • “Church of Christ” song books
    • “Church of Christ” preacher
    • “Church of Christ” college
    • “Church of Christ” bookstore

Do you see a problem with any of these statements? If not then you are thinking denominationally! Lets examine why these statements reveal denominational thinking. First, lets define the word “church” which is translated from the greek word “ekklesia” (ek-klay-see’-ah) (Strong’s 1577). Ekklesia was used to refer to a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place for the purpose of deliberating. In and of itself, ekklesia has no religious connotations. It simply means an assembly of people. This is evident where the word is translated “assembly” in Acts 19:32,39 & 41 to describe the multitude that gathered together in the theatre in the city of Ephesus.

The word is also used to describe “the assembly” of God’s people. The usage implies a gathering of people that have been called by God, not necessarily out of their homes, but out of the world. In the Bible, the word church (ekklesia) is used in two senses. First of all, it refers to all saved people in all locations. The “universal church” if you will. Below are just a few passages that demonstrate this.

  • Mt 16:18  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church <1577>, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
  • Ac 2:47  …And the Lord added to the church <1577> daily those who were being saved.
  • Eph 5:23  For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church <1577>; and He is the Savior of the body.

The word “church” is also used to refer to a local assembly of Christians in some specific location.

  • Ac 11:22  Then news of these things came to the ears of the church <1577> in Jerusalem…
  • Ac 13:1  Now in the church <1577> that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers…
  • Ac 16:5  So the churches <1577> were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

So there you have it. There are only two ways the Bible uses the word “church”: all Christians in all places and Christians in some location or locations. Note that the church is not an organization or an institution that people enter; it is people! The church is an assembly composed of people. Armed with this knowledge, lets examine the statements above.

It is common to hear someone reply, “I am Church of Christ“, when asked what kind of church they attend. Lets see which of the two ways this person is using the word church. When a person says this it is certain that he is not trying to express that he is all saved people in the world. No, he does not mean to imply that he is the universal church. This would be ridiculous.  So, the only other Bible meaning left is that he comprises a local congregation of God’s people. This is also absurd since a local church is more than one person. This statement really doesn’t make any sense when we examine it in the light of scriptures.

It should be obvious to you that the person is using the word church in a third way that is not used in the Bible. That third way is used when one is speaking of a denomination! This is no different than saying “I am Baptist” or “I am Methodist” or “I am _________” (fill in the blank). The answer says, “I am a part of a body of people separating themselves from others and following their own tenets and that body of people is called the Church of Christ”. If you’ll recall from our prior study, this is the definition of a sect.

It is not unusual to hear someone say, “The Church of Christ teaches…“. Applying our knowledge of how the Bible uses the word church, it is doubtful that the person means that the universal church teaches something. The universal church has no collective action nor organizational structure. Therefore it cannot teach or say anything. Neither is this person talking about what her local church teaches because usually no one outside the congregation cares what is taught on a local level. This person is using the word church in a third sense that is not found in the Bible. What this person really says is,  “A collective of congregations ( i.e. denomination) called the Church of Christ teaches…”. This is no different than saying, “The Catholic church teaches” or “The Pentecostals teach”.

At times I’ve heard someone say, “Such and such Church of Christ is one of our congregations“. The word “our” in this statement implies ownership or possessiveness. Who are we trying to say this congregation belongs to? Does it belong to the universal church? No, because the universal church is not composed of congregations, it is composed of individual Christians. Notice that Acts 2:47 says those who were added to the church were those who were being saved. God adds people to His church when they obey His gospel. He does not add congregations. It cannot be said that one congregation belongs to another congregation any more than we can say that one group of people owns another group of people. So we aren’t talking about a local congregation “owning” such and such church of Christ. So again, we are driven to the un-biblical third way that the word church is used. What we must mean is that such and such church of Christ is affiliated with the same denomination that I am a member of. We claim it as a “sister” congregation that is one of many in an informal association of local churches.

Have you ever encouraged people to “find the right church“? When we talk about the right church, do we mean the universal church? If so then we are sending folks on a wild goose chase because the universal church cannot be found. It does not have an earthly headquarters nor can you find it in the yellow pages. It has no phone number or street address. Since we all know that the universal church is composed of all the saved of all locations and has no physical manifestation, this isn’t the church we are referring to. Are we then talking about a local church? Possibly, but since there isn’t just one “right” congregation, we probably aren’t admonishing them to join a particular local church. Most likely we are trying to entice them to join a third kind of church that is foreign to the scriptures; a denomination. So it is with Church of Christ songbooks, preachers, etc.


Without realizing it, we have cultivated a way of thinking that is denominational. Our friends and neighbors pick up on this and marvel at how we can tell them straight faced how undesirable denominationalism is when our own speech and actions reveals that we are just as denominational! Let’s stop being hypocrites and either admit that the Church of Christ is a denomination, or truly abandon our denominational status by putting an end to our sectarianism and dropping our denominational name.