In the New Testament, from the beginning to end, the thought and actual fact that the saved existed as a collective known as the “church” or “body” of Christ is clearly self evident (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22, 23, 4:4; Acts 2:47).
This body, the church, was part of God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:10, 11) for the redemption of the human family, and so, any attack upon this divinely established body is an attack upon the eternal purpose of God.
One such attack is the destructive and egregious error that there can be various differing religious bodies (denominations) that claim to follow Christ and to exalt Him above everything (Matt. 6:33; 1 Pet. 3:15; Col. 1:14-18), and yet they neither resemble nor attempt to practice the “pattern”, the “standard” of New Testament Christianity (Rom. 6:17).
The truth of the matter is that this type of division is completely illogical and sinful; which we can see if we look into the things that are written (John 8:31-32). Furthermore, such movements to be a Christianity apart from the New Testament instruction is explicitly unbiblical.
Before looking at these two points the Bible student should be refreshed as to the meaning of the term church, as it is used in the New Testament. In this way, the error which will be dealt with can be clearly and honestly seen.
The word church comes from the Greek word, ekklesia, “from ek, ‘out of,’ and klesis, ‘a calling’ (kaleo, ‘to call’)”, thus etymologically it means: the called out people (Matt. 16:18).
In the Septuagint (= Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures), the term ekklesia has the distinction of being used to translate the Hebrew term qahal in those instances “which denote the congregation of Israel when it assembled to hear the Word of God on Mt. Sinai, or later on Mt. Zion where all Israel was required to assemble three times a year”. This is consistent with how the term is used used to refer to the “church” – or rather “assembly” – of the Jews during the wilderness wanderings (Acts 7:38).
This reflects its Greek background used for military “calls to order”, or as “the popular assembly of the full citizens of the polis, or Greek city state” (cf. Acts 19:32, 41). This is in a nutshell the Greek background of the word beneath our religious word “church.”
As the word became vogue for God’s people, the Lord used the term this way. The “church” (ekklesia) essentially is, then, an assembly summoned together through the redemptive power of the gospel to be people of Christ’s teaching (2 Thess. 2:14; Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 1:16-17). It refers to the redeemed with two applications:
(1) the entire church (Matt. 16:18), and
(2) local congregations (Rom. 16:5ff).
The New Testament focuses upon this latter usage of the term for the redeemed in Christ. Other terms are used synonymously such as disciples, believers, saints, etc.; hence, in consider the New Testament church these terms are understood as references to the same body.
The local congregation, when fully matured, is composed of elders, deacons, evangelists, and members (Phil. 1:1). An interesting point to note and to emphasize is that there is no organization beyond the local congregation given in the New Testament.
What a complete contrast to many, if not all of the way man made religions are organized. Although the biblical conception of the church was not dealt with completely here, there is enough knowledge to accurately and honestly look into the error of man made religions.
Man Made Religions are Illogical
Why is denominationalism illogical? Man-made religion is illogical because it does not fulfill the unity for which Christ prayed for (John 17:20-21).
The Lord has speaks on unity when he prayed in “the Garden”. There the Lord said:
Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their [the apostles’] word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me.
One of the many hindrances, from the world’s vantage point, is the stumbling block of a “divided” Christianity.
People have often queried: “how do you expect me to believe that Christianity is from God if there are so many different forms of it?” The question is understandable, for they areconfused at the division. It does not appear logical.
If Christianity is the one true religion of the one true God why should there exist man made religions? This confused reaction demonstrates that we need to practice the religion of Christ based upon his “word” and not the teachings of man made “theologies”, “movements”, or “revelations”.
It is so tragic that would be “authentic” teachers seeking to showcase a “vintage” Jesus seem to be comfortable with “theological diversity” and “relational faiths”, when standing counterpoint to this aberration of “Christian” thinking are the words of the “vintage” One: “through their word… they they may all be one”.
In light of the above unity prayed for by Jesus, consider this thought. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 the beloved apostle Paul states that the church should speak the same things and “that there be no divisions among you.” These words were penned to counter attack a problem in this church.
The Corinthian brethren had become divided over certain men; men, who had an influence on them and their Christian life.
This problem developed into a division (or schism) in the body of Christ at Corinth. Paul addresses the issue and gives instruction to dissolve this carnal, divisive problem. With this instruction he hopes to mend the wounds that were inflicted to the Body of Christ.
Now, if local congregational division is erroneous, how can universal church division, in the light of so many man-made religions, be logical? It cannot be logical, and I say this kindly, loving, yet forcefully.
Man Made Religions are Sinful
Man made religion goes beyond what the Bible says concerning the church. In a nutshell, N. B. Hardeman captures the problem perfectly; namely, they are:
Larger than the local church, and smaller than the redeemed in the aggregate [i.e. universal sense]. Therefore it comes in between, separate and distinct from the church of the Bible at both ends of the line.
As we have observed above, by definition, man-made religions go beyond the doctrine of Christ and therefore it is sinful, and we must kindly (without compromise) reject it and its promoters (2 John 9-11). Man-made religions walk in the sphere of human presumption. They take the simplicity of the rich faith of the Gospel, and impose upon it the names of men or visions, or “conversations”.
The methodologies of men, though helpful as they can be, are not the foundation of the church. When men like Luther who for all their forward thinking can reject books of the New Testament like James, labeling it a “a perfect straw-epistle” containing “in it nothing of an evangelic kind”, how do buildings wear their names and not Christ? And the Lutheran group is not alone in this travesty.
Also, we suggest, man made religion is division in its most basic and simplest form. A denomination is a sect, a division, a part of a whole, a piece of the puzzle; and so, it violates God’s teaching on the nature of the church of the New Testament (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4).
Could one honestly conceive of such chaos and anarchy as we experience today among the apostles? Such theological battles between them, and the development of churches of their own? History bears record that this was not the case; in fact, the church was adamantly opposed to any sort of division (1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 1:27, 2:2).
The simplicity of New Testament Christianity is unfortunately overshadowed by the division and confusion in the denominational world. I firmly believe were we to reject the denominational mentality (as many have done) and return to the word of God for teaching and practice (2 Kings 22-30) our “church” would be approved by God. No church but His, no head by Christ, and no doctrine but the Gospel.
- William E. Vine, et. al, 1986, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, Tenn.; Nelson), 2:42-43. See also: Jovan Payes, 2010, “Preliminary Thoughts on the Church”, BiblicalFaith.wordpress.com.
- Peter T. O’Brien, 1993, “Church” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press); 123.
- O’Brien, 1993, 123.
- Nicholas B. Hardeman, 1922, Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, volume 1 (Repr. Henderson, Tenn.: Freed-Hardeman University Press, 1990), 226-27 emphasis added.