Please note very carefully the title of this lesson. It is not, Are there Christians in denominations? The question is: Are there FAITHFUL Christians in denominations? If you ask those who are in the denominational world, the answer will be yes. Even if you ask some members of the church, the answer will still be yes. Take, for example, Marvin Phillips. Marvin Phillips is the preacher of the Garnett Road church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Brethren in Australia have heard of brother Phillips. He used to live over here and was just recently in Australia. How would brother Phillips answer the question?
He is on the Editorial Staff for ONE BODY MAGAZINE. This magazine was founded by Don DeWelt, a well-known Christian Church preacher. Many of those still involved with this magazine are members of the Christian Church (Associated churches of Christ). Brother Phillips is also adjunct professor at Kentucky Christian College. This is a Christian Church school. He also wrote a book entitled, Dont Shoot! We May Both Be On The Same Side. On page 39 of this book, brother Phillips was talking about Don DeWelt (mentioned above). He said, We may disagree on a few things, but I know if Don DeWelt and I found ourselves together in the same town, we would find a way to worship God together. Im happy to count him my brother in Christ. Brother Phillips makes it clear he believes there are faithful Christians in denominations.
What about F. LaGard Smith? How would he answer the question? According to a recent e-mail report, brother Smith will be making a tour of Australia and New Zealand during the month of June. The announcement says, He will work with churches in Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane where he will hold the second effort of the Australian churches efforts to reunite in the name of Jesus. They have for many years been divided over trivial disagreements, but lately there has been a movement to restore the unity which Jesus prayed for. Members from churches of Christ in the USA, Harding University, Lipscomb University, the Does God Exist? Program and many others contributed to this effort which began in 1996. It would be interesting to know more details of this proposed trip.
In his book, Baptism: The Believers Wedding Ceremony, brother Smith lets us know what he thinks about the necessity of being baptised.
But, someone will ask, suppose a person dies after coming to believe in Christ but before the time he is to be baptised. Does that mean he would not be saved? As with every other question dealing with mans salvation, only the God of all judgment can answer that for us. I would be neither surprised nor disappointed if God were to save in this situation. God is a merciful God. But what God may or may not do in that situation doesnt give us room to make baptism anything less than what Christ intended it to be - an essential part of our response to His divine initiative. (Page 93).
Do faithful believers who were baptised only as infants stand in eternal jeopardy? Are those who have committed their lives in faithful service to Jesus Christ, but who have never been taught the need for water baptism, spiritually lost? Can it be that those who see baptism as a matter of obedience, but not of salvation, are risking Gods judgment? The thought of condemning to hell the vast majority of believers throughout the Christian centuries is one of the most compelling reasons for the recent moratorium on any serious discussion of baptism. (Page 200).
None of us can presume to know about the eternal destiny of anyone, on the basis of any question of doctrine - be it predestination, charismatic gifts, the washing of feet, or even baptism. All we can do is give our best efforts to knowing Gods will, as revealed in His written word. (Page 201).
Are unbaptised believers destined to hell? Are those who have received only infant baptism in eternal jeopardy? Only God knows. On one level, these are questions we have no right even to ask. As seen in this study, there is an abundance of scriptural language that, on its face, regards baptism as an essential part of our turning to God. Nevertheless, I would hope that God might apply the common law marriage approach for those who have lived a lifetime of service in His name without having participated in the wedding ceremony of baptism. (Page 206).
I believe brother Smith teaches there are faithful Christians in denominations. Maybe that is why he felt comfortable appearing on the 700 Club sometime ago.
THE CHURCH JESUS BUILT IS NOT A DENOMINATION (Matthew 16:13-19)
In this passage, Jesus promised to build His church. If he did not, the Bible is false, and we are wasting our time. If he did, we have to find out all we can about it. Since Jesus is the builder, the church is a divine institution, not a human institution. The church of Christ is as plainly revealed in the New Testament as any denomination is revealed in its man-made creed. In spite of the clear information revealed in the Holy Scriptures, there are many who have no proper conception of the church of the New Testament.
People Are Confused:
There are hundreds and even thousands of churches all claiming to be the church that Jesus built, or at least part of it. We hear phrases such as: One church is as good as another, All churches are alike, and You can go to heaven through any church.
Christ would not have built a denomination after praying that all His believers might be one, or united (John 17: 20-22). Christ is not divided (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). He did not want his disciples divided up into denominations, sects, and parties (Ephesians 1:22,23). Paul denied the church is a sect (Acts 24:5,14). He instead speaks of the importance of unity (Ephesians 4:3-6).
Some think that the church is divided up into scriptural branch churches (John 15:1-8). But in this passage, a branch represents a Christian or individual disciple, not a church (verses 4-8). Furthermore, the same seed will not produce different kinds of branches, some bearing grapes, some olives, some apples, some oranges, etc. (Luke 8:11).
If you asked a follower of Christ in the first century what denomination he was part of, he would not be able to answer your question, because there were no denominations in the first century. They were simply churches of Christ (Romans 16:16). They were simply called Christians (Acts 11:26). By the way, what is a denomination? A basic definition is: a man-made church. The church Jesus built is not a man-made church, therefore it is not a denomination.
THE ORIGIN OF DENOMINATIONS
The church Jesus established began on the first Pentecost after Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 2). It was hundreds of years after this before there were any denominations. You need either more or less than the Bible to establish a denomination. We are not to add to, subtract from, or change the Bible in any way (Revelation 22:18,19; Galatians 1:6-9). If you would throw away the creed books, you would destroy the basis for denominationalism. Man-made churches will not save us. They will be destroyed (Matthew 15:13). Denominations are man-made churches.
HOW TO IDENTIFY THE LORDS CHURCH
We know the Lords church exists today. We know it is not a denomination. But there are so many different churches today teaching so many different, conflicting doctrines. How do we find the church Jesus built? We find it by the characteristics of the church. We identify people by using characteristics. People are identified by name, description, identification numbers, etc. People can be identified by fingerprints. No fingerprints are the same.
We identify automobiles by characteristics. If you paid $50,000 for an automobile, would you want that automobile to be a small cheap car? It had better be a Mercedes or BMW. What is the difference between a Mercedes and a small cheap car? They both have engines, windows, doors, tires, etc. They are about the same, right? NO. They are similar, but they are not the same. If we pay that much money, we will not be happy with a small cheap car.
The same is true with the church. There is only one church that Jesus built. Even though it may seem to be like other churches, unless a church has all the characteristics of the church we read about in the New Testament, it cannot be the church Jesus built. The New Testament tells us the characteristics of the church. Once we know these characteristics, we can compare the churches in the world and see which one has the same characteristics as the church Jesus built. The church Jesus built still exists. By using the characteristics found in the Bible, we can identify that church and become a part of it.
Characteristics Of The Church:
When did the church Jesus built begin? Where did it begin? By what name is it called? Who is the founder and foundation? What kind of organisation does it have? How does it worship? What does it take to become a member of His church? The New Testament gives us the answers to these questions.
The church Jesus built began on the first Pentecost after he rose from the dead. This is found in Acts chapter two. The people were in the city of Jerusalem in Acts chapter two. So, to find the church Jesus built, we must find a church that began in the city of Jerusalem about A.D. 30. The church is called churches of Christ and church of God (Romans 16:16; Acts 20:28). The founder and foundation of the church Jesus built is Christ (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:11). The church Jesus built does not have any earthly headquarters, but instead is organised into local congregations overseen by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17,18,28). The church Jesus built worships God according to the teaching of the Bible (John 4:24). They sing (without any instrumental music), partake of the Lords supper every first day of the week (using unleavened bread and fruit of the vine), give of their means, pray, and teach (Ephesians 5:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16: 1,2; Acts 12:5; Acts 2:42).
To become a member of the church Jesus built, a person must believe the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1,2); repent of sins (Acts 17: 30); confess Christ (Matthew 10:32,33); and be baptised (Acts 22:16).
If a church does not have all of these characteristics, but only has some, then that church cannot be the church Jesus built in the first century. When we find a church that has every one of these characteristics, then we have found the church Jesus built.
Salvation is in Christ and in His church (Ephesians 1:3; 5:23). There is no salvation in denominations (Ephesians 2:12). You can go to heaven without ever being part of a denomination. You cannot go to heaven without being in the Lords church. Therefore, the Lords church and denominations are not the same. There are no faithful Christians in denominations.
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Tract courtesy of Truth for the World