A"denomination" is a mere religious group! It's not cancer or an heresy! The "Church at Ephesus" was a denomination as were the other early churches. Each of them did the best they could to teach the doctrine of Christ! People group together according to their own interpretation of scripture. That grouping is because of doctrine. Neither is "doctrine" a contagion. It's merely "a belief system" and believing isn't sinful. It's a requirement for salvation! Those who have a strong belief in what scripture means are highly denominational, or "dogmatic". Of all the churches the most dogmatic are those which claim to be the "only church"! Their doctrine damns all those who don't follow their doctrine and go to their church. Whereas, Jesus taught grace and provided grace, dogmatic churches have little. In their eyes only they are right and all others are wrong! They are proud churches and the most prideful attend those.
Why do people separate in groups to worship? It's because they have the same understanding of God's word! That's not evil. Churches which lie to themselves that they are without doctrine and are not denominations,are the most doctrinal and denominational of them all! They refuse to worship with other Christians because they don't see eye to eye on the meaning of scripture! Whereas, Paul teaches unity, it is unity in Christ, not man.
1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV) "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."So called non-denominational denominations are totally divided from the universal church! Whereas, most church people seem to think heaven will be cellular with each denomination clustered in their own enclave, and that's wrong too, dogmatic churches believe that heaven will be without those others who humbly follow the teachings of Christ. Paul asked that we Christians all follow Christ here on earth. After all, we will be worshiping together in heaven! We don't want to be out of our comfort zone do we?
Early church father's came together and developed "creeds". Creeds are the statement of beliefs which Christians agree upon and is their understanding of scripture. Creeds are an attempt to understand what Christ taught and write down those understandings. Because a church hasn't formalized their creed, doesn't mean they don't have creeds! Such "creeds" are as follows:
- Worship can only be as it was in New Testament times.
- Instruments don't belong in worship.
- Salvation is a process finalized by baptism .
- Baptism is a requirement for salvation (sacrament).
- Baptism must be by immersion.
- Churches can't be a denomination.
- Only members of their church are truly saved.
- Others outside this church shall be shunned.
- Denominations are judged as sinful heretical acts.
- and so forth!
These "beliefs" believed by these groups (denominations) are "creeds" and are part of their own "doctrine". They are in denial! This is heretical on their part because scripture says:
Acts 2:21 "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."It doesn't say that worship must be copied off those groups of times of old, worship which even differed from city to city. It says nothing about being baptized a certain way or even to be baptized for that matter! It says nothing about shunning other believers, singing without instruments, belonging or not belonging to an organized group or any of those things. These "dogmas" are much like the Pharisees. This DENOMINATION has taken "Laws" and made them requirements for salvation.
These groups believe that their understanding is the only valid understanding. By this the implication is that they are the only group (denomination) of people to whom God speaks. That's pride! The "creed" of those groups is "It's our way or the hell way!" Therein lies no grace. Their hearts are deceived.
Creeds are important! Denominations are the outcome of creeds. As I grew up I had no idea what a General Baptist Church was. I'd never even heard of them! As I studied scripture I discerned. I believed that God led me to believe the truths of scripture. Being only human, I know that I do have errors in my belief because only God is perfect. Therefore, out of humility I allow that others may be correct in some areas and me wrong, although I cling to my beliefs, unless proven wrong. My beliefs are The Doctrine of Larry Herrin. When I write down what I believe (as I'm doing here), that is The Creed of Larry Herrin.
To be in unity (what Paul says to do) I want to worship with those who understand truth. I believe my understanding is truth or I wouldn't believe it! There is no group (denomination) called "The Church of the Larry Herrins"; aka Herrinites) so I select a church whose doctrines (written down as creeds) harmonize with The Creed of Larry Herrin". I've attended several groups (denominations) which come close and they are truly Christian, but the General Baptist Church and I are in 95% harmony with our doctrine and creeds. With the other 5% I can be in error or they can be! However, it's likely that both the General Baptist Church and I have greater degrees of misunderstanding than that, but on "crucial points" I believe we are in agreement with scripture!
"Crucial points" are those doctrines regarding the concepts of heaven and hell, good and evil, the efficacy of the blood of Jesus, sorrow, repentance, acceptance, grace and the resurrection. As a group we differ with groups who call themselves "non-denominational" because we do not accept baptism as a sacrament (saving) because scripture tells us that faith is a gift and salvation is not of our own works.
To remain doctrinaire (true to scripture) most churches don't accept the idea that only immersion can save! That's outside scripture and falls into "salvation by works" for which Jesus chastised the Pharisees. This is an important distinction between "them" and "us". That's our understanding of scripture and they have theirs. However, we are humble enough that we say "So they believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. That doesn't diminish those who're truly saved. It just adds a burden to their salvation. We can agree to disagree!" However, they aren't nearly that merciful because many of those damn us because we go to a church with a "name" they don't understand!
As a group (denomination) we do baptize by immersion. It's not a sacrament, but an ordinance; a direction toward a proper testimony. Hence, baptism isn't a requirement for salvation, but a testimony that we are saved! Either way, by both groups, the final result is salvation, so what's to argue about? That's where Paul's teaching on unity is important!
Sometimes we have groups who don't believe the "crucial points" of scripture as enumerated before. If a denomination believes that salvation is by any other way than by Jesus, we are not to commune with them. If churches don't accept scripture as divinely inspired, they are not part of the universal church. If groups don't believe in the efficacy of the blood of Jesus, they are heretical. If groups don't believe in the Resurrection, they too are heretical. All these beliefs are "Christian Doctrine" and it's important! To neglect the importance of having written creeds endangers true Christianity and leads to heresy. That's why creeds were written by the apostles and the early church; because heresy had already begin to slip in to the different churches! Whereas some churches believe that creeds lead to heresy, heresy was indeed prevented by creeds!
Those churches without what they consider "denominational identifications" say that Methodists follow John Wesley, or that Presbyterians follow John Calvin, or that Baptist follow John the Baptist! We are no more followers of our group leaders than are "non-denominational" groups are of their leaders: Alexander Campbell or Barton Stone! Indeed they are more followers of those men than we are of ours, and their denomination is historically and rightfully called Campbellites.
I truly admire those churches of the restoration (Campbellites) desiring to worship as they did in New Testament times. That's a noble gesture, but doesn't fit into the concept of "salvation by grace". They destroyed other churches with their dogmatism. It's not HOW one does things, but did one ACCEPT God's grace! They are condemned by the confines of ritual and miss the freedom which love provides! My point is that it's entirely okay to have proper ritual, but proper ritual doesn't make a group more holy than another. If so, the Catholic Church would dwarf us all in holiness!
In spite of my argument, we must take precautions to stay beyond the communion of those groups who are heretical. If a denomination practices heresy (whether part of their creed or not), then we are to remain out of fellowship with them for by doing so, we validate their heresy. Heresies are beliefs not accepted by the early Pauline church as truth. The "Apostles' Creed" is the statement of doctrine from those closest to Jesus Christ:
Here the Apostle's Creed in Latin:
"Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae. Et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad ínferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, vitam aeternam. Amen."Admittedly, most of us don't understand Latin, so we have to use one of the several translations. I'll suggest one by the Church of England from which most evangelical "denominations" descend:
I believe in God the Father AlmightyWith the exception of "He descended into hell" this creed is agreed upon by the majority of Christians since the time of the Apostles. This creed was written to ward off an early heresy called gnosticism. Without this creed unifying the universal church of Christ, we would be non-existent today. This creed kept Christianity from being destroyed by false teachers and prophets! As Philip explained to the eunuch what scripture meant, creeds do the same to the church.
Maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried,
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead,
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy Catholick Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.
There is one warning: Don't be frightened by "The Holy Catholick Church"! That is merely a translation for "universal church" to which all Christians belong. It is NOT the Roman Catholic Denomination!
By the way we don't in our church really need this creed because that's what we understand from scripture anyhow, but without this creed, we would never have had the liberty of believing what we believe!
If I offended any Christians of other persuasions, that's not my intent. I am merely clarifying "doctrine" of which there are many. Please allow that just maybe we are Christians too and I will do the same! Furthermore, there are many independent churches who are less dogmatic than the extreme. Out of love we also need to allow others to interpret scripture without being so judgmental of their discernment! After all, some won't agree, but if anyone accepts that Jesus shed his blood in place of ours, hello fellow-Christian!