Tri-County church of Christ, Watertown, NY, North Country

September 1, 2001, Vol.1, No.5.
Two new articles every two weeks. Bible Question? E-mail us.
THIS ISSUE: "The Church Jeus Built" (see below)
and "
A Psalm for the Discouraged (Psalm 42)"


by Keith Sharp


Jesus promised His apostles, "I will build my church." (Matthew 16:18). Beginning seven weeks after the Lord's resurrection from the dead, the New Testament speaks of this church as in existence (Acts 2:47). What is the church Jesus built?

Is It a Denomination?

Before we answer this inquiry, we need to examine the problem negatively in order to remove misconceptions. We need to see what most people think the church is and determine if their ideas harmonize with the New Testament. To do this, we will go to the dictionary, for the function of a dictionary is to give the common usage of a word by educated people. Thus, if we look up the word "church" in the dictionary, we will find what the majority of educated people think the church is. The dictionary gives "denomination" as one definition of the term church (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. 404). Is the church Jesus built a denomination?

Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines "denomination" as "a religious organization uniting in a single legal and administrative body a number of local congregations." The unabridged dictionary gives as one meaning of the term "church" "a body of Christian believers holding the same creed." (404) It recognizes a religious denomination as "a class or society of individuals called by the same name." (602) Thus, the various denominations have three characteristics in common: ecclesiastical organization tying local churches together, sectarian creeds, and party names. Does the church we find in the New Testament have these traits?

Christ is the only Head of His church (Colossians 1:18). Since He is in heaven, His church has neither head nor headquarters on this earth. The only earthly organization revealed for the church is the local congregation (1 Corinthians 1:2). Each local church is to be governed from within by its own shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4); thus, each congregation is independent, separate from all other congregations, and is not a part of any ecclesiastical machinery such as a diocese, synod, conference, convention, association, society, or sponsoring church organization, in which a number of local congregations do a common work through the oversight of one sponsoring congregation. The Lord's church lacks the first characteristic of a denomination, ecclesiastical organization tying local churches together.

Does the church of the New Testament have a human creed to bind on its members? Our word "creed" is derived from a Latin word, "credo," which means "I believe." A "creed" is "a brief authoritative doctrinal formula .... intended to define what is held by a Christian congregation, synod, or church to be true and essential and exclude what is held to be false belief." (Webster's [unabridged]. 533) If you just followed the Bible alone, would you join the Catholic Church? Where do we read of the Catholic Church in the Bible? One must follow catechism. But the same principle is true of membership in every Protestant denomination. Each has its own creed, written by uninspired men. The Bible only and only the Bible produces Christians only and only Christians. One will simply harvest Christians (Acts 11:26) if he teaches only the word of God, the "incorruptible" seed (1 Peter 1:23). The seed of the kingdom will no more produce the various denominations than seed corn will produce soy beans. Both in the natural and spiritual realms, each seed produces after its own kind (Genesis 1:11-12; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 4:16). We must neither add to nor subtract from the Bible as the authoritative guide for God's people (Revelation 22:18-19). The only creed we may accept is the Bible. The church Jesus built has no human creed.

Does the church we read of in the New Testament wear party names? The apostle Paul severely rebuked the Christians in Corinth for calling themselves by various names as a means of sectarian identification (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). The church of the New Testament may be called by such names as "church of God" (1 Corinthians 1:2) and "church of Christ" (Romans 16:16), but these names are not to be used exclusively as a party designation. Rather, they describe the allegiance of all God's people. Individually we may be described as "members" (1 Corinthians 12:27), "disciples" (Acts 8:4; 9:1), or "saints" (Acts 9:13), and we should wear the proper name "Christian." (Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16) But we should never identify ourselves religiously by sectarian or party names, such as Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Episcopal, or Catholic, for these names indicate party loyalty rather than undivided loyalty to Christ. The church Jesus built has no sectarian name.

The church we read about in the New Testament has no ecclesiastical organization binding congregations to one another, no human creed, and no sectarian name. The church Jesus built is not a denomination.

Is It Composed of Denominations?

One dictionary definition of the word "church" is "the total body of Christians regarded as a spiritual society." (Webster's [unabridged]. 404). This definition is good, but most people think that this church is a "mystical body" of which the various denominations are parts. Philip Schaff, the great religious historian of the nineteenth century, voiced this opinion when he penned, in his History of the Christian Church, "Every denomination and sect has to furnish some stones for the building of the temple of God." Billy Graham demonstrates the same attitude when he counsels those who respond to the "altar call" in his crusades, "Join the church of your choice." Is the church of the Lord composed of the various denominations which profess faith in Christ?

If any truth is clearly taught in the New Testament, it is that God wants believers in His Son to be one. Jesus prayed for the unity of those who believe in Him (John 17:20-21). Paul revealed to us a practical plan whereby we may "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-6) In spite of these plain passages, denominational preachers tell us that the existence of some three thousand or so separate religious bodies in America, most of them claiming to be part of the body of Christ, is according to God's will. They continue to thank God for their sinful divisions and to exhort trusting, misguided souls to help foster sectarianism.

Furthermore, the doctrine of Christ scathingly condemns sectarianism as a damnable sin. Among the "works of the flesh," of which the apostle Paul warns, "those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God," are "dissensions" and "heresies." (Galatians 5:19-21) Dissensions are a standing apart ... indicating division" (W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. 1:329), whereas "heresies denotes: an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects...." (Ibid. 2:217)

Sectarianism is a sin which will cost one his soul. How then can denominationalism, the fruit of sectarianism, be considered acceptable to God?

The church Jesus built is not composed of denominations, nor is it sectarian in any way. We must turn away from all religious denominations, sects, and parties and have an undivided loyalty to Christ. My friend, don't let loyalty to a denomination stand between you and salvation in Christ.

Body of Christ

The True scriptural concept of the church is quite simple. The inspired apostle Paul described the church in its relationship to Christ as "His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:22-23) The church is the spiritual body of Christ, and Christ is the spiritual Head of His church. Just as Christ is the Christian's fullness, the One who supplies all our spiritual needs (Colossians 1:19; 2:8-10), even so the church is the fullness of Christ. Anyone in Christ is in His church, and anyone in His church is in Christ. Any blessing in Christ, and in Him are all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3), is in His church. One can no more be in Christ and not be in His church than he could be in a bathtub full of water and not be in the water.

How many bodies does the Lord have? Paul affirms, "There is one body." (Ephesians 4:4) If there is one body, and the body is the church, how many churches does Jesus have?

Since the church is the fullness of Christ, and salvation is in Him (2 Timothy 2:10), all saved people are members of this church. Does this mean the church saves us? No, Christ is the only Savior (John 14:6). But whom does Jesus Christ save? "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body." (Ephesians 5:23) The Lord saves His body, the church. The church is the saved, not the savior.

Must one then join the church to be saved? No, one cannot join the church Jesus built. The Lord adds the saved to the church (Acts 2:47).

This does not mean that the church of the New Testament is some exclusive club that only lets select people in. We invite all to come to Christ and be saved (Matthew 11:28-30; Revelation 22:17).

It just means the church of the Lord is not a denomination. Denominations have man made membership requirements, and men determine who may join. But the church Jesus built is composed of all who have accepted Christ by the obedience of faith and have been saved by the gospel (Romans 1:5,16-17). No man or group of men determine its membership. There is no official roll of members on earth. The Lord adds people to His church, the body of the saved, as He saves them, and their names are enrolled in heaven (Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:15).

Definition of Church

The church Jesus built, then, is simply the assembly of people called out of the world into fellowship with God. The church is the spiritual assembly of God's people (Hebrews 12:23), composed of those who have responded to the gospel call (2 Thessalonians 2:14), have forsaken the fellowship of the world and its sin (2 Corinthians 6:17-18), and have been brought into fellowship with God (1 John 1:3,7).The church of Jesus Christ; His body; disciples; assembly; fellowship


Members of this church are called certain things as individuals. Saul of Tarsus "made havoc of the church." (Acts 8:3) In doing this, he persecuted the "disciples of the Lord." (Acts 9:1). A "disciple" follows his master and learns his teaching. We are disciples, and Jesus is our Master (Teacher). Further, Saul did harm to the "saints." (Acts 9:13). "Saints" are people separated from sin and consecrated to God. Relative to God and sin, we are saints. The "disciples were called Christians." (Acts 11:26). This means "those belonging to Christ," and is the proper name we wear individually to honor Christ.


I do not ask anyone to join a denomination, accept a human creed, or wear a sectarian name. I plead with people to avoid all these sinful practices. I simply implore all people to believe and obey the gospel, that the Lord might add them to His body, the church, for only in Christ, in His body, the church, is salvation found. Have you done this? If not, why not?

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