Author: Ron Graham
The Non-Denominational Way
—Adopting Undenominational Principles
This is a companion page to our mission statements. Here we further discuss some of the problems and issues faced by all who adopt the non-denominational way. It is a challenge for a congregation to be undenominational. We choose a hard road when we determine to be simply Christians and refuse to adopt the denominational names, creeds, and practices that divide the Lord's church.
1 The Faith Once Delivered
Jude appealed to the Christians of his time, “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Today there are many faiths and many denominations each promoting its own faith.
The gospel of Christ was delivered by the Holy Spirit in the first century, and we, in the twenty-first century, have full access to it through the scriptures. Why adopt anything else to contend for?
What creed do we need but the faith once for all delivered to the saints? Why adopt any other creed when the faith originally delivered to the saints is sufficient for all people and for all time?
2 The Unity of the Spirit
Paul urged the early Christians to diligently “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: one body... one Spirit... one hope... one Lord... one faith... one baptism... one God...” (Ephesians 4:2-6).
Paul said, “I exhort you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1Corinthians 1:10).
Jesus Christ himself prayed for the unity of believers, "That they all may be one, Father, as you are in me, and I in you..." (John 17:20-23). Do denominations accomplish this? Or is denominationalism just a big word for disunity?
What if a congregation somewhere severs its affiliation with a denomination, and by the scriptures simply follows Christ? Has that congregation adopted disunity and become a schism, or has it rather repudiated a schism and adopted unity?
3 The Priesthood of All Believers
Many denominations have a priesthood or apostolate of their own, and this clergy is distinct from the laity or ordinary church members. In the New Testament, however, we do not find this intermediate level of priesthood. Every Christian is a priest.
“You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy [and royal] priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1Peter 2:5,9, cf Romans 12:1, Hebrews 13:15-16).
“He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to his God and Father... priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him...” (Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, Revelation 20:6).
Above this general priesthood is the “great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14-15).
The “foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20-21). was not a higher priesthood, but gave the church its faith by revelation which is now preserved, and available to us, in the New Testament scriptures.
Why ordain a priesthood that stands above the priesthood of all believers and between those believers and Jesus Christ their great high priest? By all means let pastors and evangelists follow their vocation, but as sharing priesthood equally with all believers under Christ, not as adopting a special priestly position in the church.
4 The Fellowship of the Brotherhood
All Christians are “called into fellowship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1Corinthians 1:9). We are all —men and women alike— “sons [and heirs] of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-29).
For this reason we should “love the brotherhood” (1Peter 2:17). Is not our brotherhood in Christ a sufficient relationship and a full fellowship? Why adopt a lesser and narrower fellowship —that of a denomination?
Doesn't our affiliation with a denomination actually prevent us from being in full fellowship with the brotherhood of Christ? To leave a denomination is not to leave the brotherhood; but merely to leave a schism made by man.
5 The Independence of Congregations
In the first century there were locally “churches of Christ” in various places (Romans 16:16). and universally there was “the general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:22-24) —no intermediate level denominationally.
Originally there was no intermediate governing organization between the local and universal church. Each church followed the word of God revealed to “the apostles and prophets” by Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20). Should not congregations of believers do the same today?
When a congregation adopts the undenominational way, it adopts, among other things, the principle of congregationalism —the independence of each local church governed by Jesus Christ through the scriptures.
A member of such a congregation belongs only to that local church and to the universal church or kingdom of Heaven. The member, and the congregation, are not governed by, or affiliated with, any denominational organization or body. Of course this independence of local churches does not imply any lack of fellowship or co-operation between them.
6 The Fulfillment of Missions
It is self evident that Christians and congregations will at times need to co-operate in order to fulfill the great commission, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15-16).
This co-operation needs no governing organization. Without any governing body, the gospel “was proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). Furthermore, the churches responded to widespread poverty (1Corinthians 16:1-5).
Many ways can be found for independent congregations to accomplish their missions well, and to work together, without the agencies through which they do this taking control over the churches.
7 The Gatherings of Two or Three
Jesus said, “Wherever two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).
The Bible places no minimum or maxium for membership of a church. The Jerusalem church (circa AD30) was a "mega-church" exceeding 5000 in membership (Acts 4:4, 6:7). However, there were "simple churches" small enough to meet in a private home —as in Philemon's for example (Philemon 1:1).
Are we right to think that big is better? Big churches are good. But aren't small churches good too? Aren't they even advantageous in some situations?
Denominations may fail to maintain small churches. However, Christ could maintain, and empower, all the small churches that denominations don't want. There are undenominational churches of Christ great and small. Christ is among them all, even those whose membership is but “two or three”.