And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch - Acts 11:26
Which are we? Catholic? Protestant? Messianic? None of the Above? How about this one: Simply Christians.
In a world so filled with religious traditions and denominational structures, the concept of being simply Christians is difficult to communicate, yet a careful reader of the New Testament will realize that Jesus did not die so that His followers could be divided into sects and parties. Jesus died that He might reconcile all men in one body to God through the cross (Eph. 2:16).
To belong ONLY to Christ, to have been baptized into the one body of which Jesus Christ is the Savior, is something altogether different from belonging to just any one of the other 300 religious bodies in this country alone (1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:23). The Bible teaches there is to be “one body” and “one faith,” just as there is “one God, one Lord, one baptism, and one hope” (Eph. 4:4-6).
This “one body” is the church of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23) which Jesus built, not men (Heb. 8:1-2).
This spiritual house is made up of living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) who are citizens of God’s kingdom (Col. 1:13), saints (set apart ones) of the Most High God (Co. 1:2), having been born again of water and the spirit into God’s family (John 3:5; Eph. 2:19).
The church of Jesus Christ is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), not on the sand of denominational creeds and traditions.
Jesus Christ, as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20), is the only head (Eph. 1:22) and all authority in heaven and in earth rests in Him. This leaves no room for Popes, councils, synods, conventions or so-called “latter-day prophets.”
Just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle: “See that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mount”(Heb. 8:5), Jesus built the church according to the divine pattern God gave Him.
A house built by Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, Mary Baker Eddy, the Popes of Rome, the Watchtower Society, or any other is not recognized by the Lord. “Except God build the house, they labor in vain that build it”(Ps. 127:1).
Jesus said, “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13).
Jesus warned the leaders of the various sects and parties of His day, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the traditions of men. You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. You invalidate the Word of God by your tradition which you have handed down, and you do many things such as that” (Mark 7: 8,9,13).
Jesus quoted the Prophet Isaiah to show the end result of such DENOMINATIONAL LOYALTY, “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far away from me, BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men”(Mark 7:6-7).
The teaching of Jesus on the subject of loyalty to denominational traditions offended the members of these sects (Matt. 15:12). How will you react to the teaching of Jesus? Or does a plea to be neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish offend you? If this plea offends you, why? Before you reject this plea that all be simply Christians, please investigate to see if it is scriptural.
Neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jew
Being a Jew is different from being a Christian
It is possible, of course, to be of Jewish blood and to be a Christian, but not possible at the same time to practice the Jewish religion. While there are many good, moral, upright people of the Jewish faith who claim allegiance to the God of Heaven, they have rejected Jesus and are without the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by Me” (John14:6), and “For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).
In reality, the Jews do not know God, because they do not know the Son (John 8:19; 14:7). If God were their Father, they would love Jesus (John 8:42). I know we speak very bluntly and plainly, but we only speak the words of our Savior, the Hope of Israel and the world.
Being a Catholic is different from being a Christian
A loyal citizen of the kingdom of God will give allegiance to only one king, one head, one source of authority. A Christian recognizes that Christ is the only head of the church and that He rules from the right hand of God and not from Rome.
A Christian will heed the warning that whoever “exalteth himself” on earth to such authority works iniquity (2 Thess. 2:1-12). The work of Christ and His apostles does not mention such things and doctrines as Clergy, Pope Pontiff, Vicar, Cardinal, Archbishop, Abbott, Laity, Parish, Diocese, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Papa Infallibility, Bull, Litany, Absolution, Confessional, Limbo, Purgatory, indulgence, Penance, Transubstantiation, Mass, Sprinkling, Infant Baptism, God-Mother and Father, Pater Noster, Catechism, Sacrament, Ave Maria, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Relics, Epiphany, Praying for the Dead, Mortal Sin, Latria, Celibate, Holy Water, Rosary, Sign of the Cross, Mary as Medatrix, etc.
All these doctrines came from some other source than Jesus Christ. Jesus said such traditions make our worship vain (Matt. 15:9).
Being a Protestant is different from being a Christian
Paul made it plain that to be loyal to him or Apollos, or Peter, was not to follow Christ. “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13).
Of course, to imitate another man as he imitates Christ is a scriptural principle (1 Cor. 11:1), but to loyally line up with Martin Luther (Lutheran Church), John Calvin (Presbyterian or Reformed Church), John Wesley (Methodist), Joseph Smith (Mormon), Ellen White and William Miller (Adventist), Charles Russell (Watchtower Society or Jehovah’s Witness), or Alexander Campbell (Christian Church) is to show disloyalty to Christ.
It is only when we drop our loyalty to these men that we can “be of the same mind one with another according to Jesus Christ: that with one accord we may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.15: 5-6).
It goes without saying, that a person could read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, follow everything in it intended for men of this age, and he would never be anything else than SIMPLY A CHRISTIAN.
It would take something else besides the Bible to make one a Lutheran (Luther’s Catechism or the Augsburg Confession). It would take the Baptist Manual to make a Baptist. It would take the 39 articles to make an Episcopalian or an Anglican. One would have to follow the Methodist Discipline to be a Methodist. You can become a Mormon if you want to, but not by following the Bible and the Bible alone. You don’t become a Jehovah’s Witness without submitting to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
What passage of scripture would one obey to become a member of any of these churches?
What is it that perpetuates these denominational distinctions ~ obeying the scriptures or following the commandments of men?
When people on the day of Pentecost complied with the conditions of grace for their salvation (Acts 2:38-41), “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). To which church did God add them? Was Peter a member of a religious organization that John did not belong to, and was Andrew a member of a denomination that Peter and John were not members of?
Does not this question seem absurd to you? Certainly no one would claim that Peter, John and Andrew were anything other than SIMPLY CHRISTIANS!
They taught and practised the same thing in the name of Jesus Christ. If they were alive today, no denomination could claim them, for the apostles’ teaching made men and women Christians, not Protestants or Catholics. No doubt, if Peter and Paul were alive today, they would be the enemy of Protestant and Catholic denominations, for their doctrine would conflict with the traditions of men. If all believers today listened to the apostles’ teaching as recorded in the New Testament, denominationalism would die a sudden death. Did not Paul show the sinfulness of following men to the Corinthians (1 Cor.1: 10-13)?
Did he not teach the Ephesians that the only wall of separation ever ordained of God to distinguish between men on a religious basis was the Old Testament, which differentiated between Jew and Gentile?
Did not Paul say that Jesus broke down that wall of separation, reconciling all men in one body through the cross (Eph. 2:14-17)?
Is the Bible still true? Is it still God’s will that there is only “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God” (Eph. 4: 4-6)?
Did not Paul condemn factions and heresy as a sin of the flesh that would keep us from the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:20)? (Heresy is defined by Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words as the choosing of 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.)
When do heresies, factions, and divisions cease to be sin?
If a heresy or denomination began due to the damnable doctrines of one man 500 years ago, is the heresy made right because it is 500 years old? Is the self-willed opinion of a small group of men 500 years ago made into the salvation of Protestant America because it is 500 years old and practised by millions of people? Do the opinions and dogmas belonging to the “Church Fathers” of the second and third centuries become the law of Jesus Christ because they are over 1500 years old and reverenced by millions of Catholics the world over? Do the fake visions of Joseph Smith in the 1820’s become the revelation of Jesus Christ today because they are believed by the fastest growing sect in the United States ~ the Mormons?
These are questions that every honest Christian must deal with.
The Irony of it all
It is sadly ironic that most members of the various denominations not only contradict the will of Christ in their allegiance to the denomination of their choice, but they contradict the pleas of denominational founders and leaders. Charles Spurgeon, a prominent Baptist preacher, said:
“I look forward, with pleasure, to the day when there will not be a Baptist living. I hope the Baptist name will soon perish; but let Christ’s name endure forever.” (Spurgeon’s Memorial Library, Vol.1, p.168).
Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran Church, said:
“I pray you to leave my name alone, and call not yourselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine. I have not been crucified by anyone. St. Paul would not let any call themselves after Paul, not Peter, but Christ. How then does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to the children of God. Cease, my dear friends, to cling to these party names and distinctions; away with them all, and let us call ourselves only Christians after him from whom our doctrine comes.” (The Life of Luther, Stork, p. 289).
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, said:
“Would to God that all party names and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world were forgot; that we all agree to sit down together, as humble, loving disciples at the feet of a common master, to hear His words, to imbibe His Spirit, and to transcribe His life into ours.” (Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. IV, p. 216).
We cannot help but wonder what changes would have taken place in religious history had the followers of these men heeded their pleas. The pleas, however, went unheeded. Denominationalism exists and will continue to exist until our Lord roots it up in the last day. But meanwhile, no one has to be a part of the spirit of division and guilty of the sin of heresy.
CAN PEOPLE TODAY BY SIMPLE FAITH IN AND OBEDIENCE TO JESUS CHRIST BE SIMPLY CHRISTIANS, WITHOUT BELONGING TO A DENOMINATION?
“A resounding YES! “
To answer otherwise is to admit that the “faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) is not the same today as it was during the first century.
In the first century, on the basis of what was written and spoken by the apostles (which has been written and preserved for us in the Bible), people were able to obey God, and to do whatever God wanted them to do.
They were being saved; they were complete in Christ, lacking nothing that pertained to life and godliness; they were dying in hope of heaven. This was centuries before the first human creed, centuries before the Catholic Church was present to establish “Divine Tradition or to “interpret” the scriptures, centuries before there was a universal pope, long before the doctrines of celibacy, sprinkling, transubstantiation, purgatory, extreme unction, Mary worship, and confession before a priest. It was 1800 years before the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope.
It was 1400 years before Luther’s revolt against Catholicism, 1400 years before the Church of England (Anglican or Episcopal) or the Presbyterian Church, over 1500 years before John Smyth and the first Baptist church in history, and 600 years before John Wesley and the Methodist Church. It was 1700 years before Joseph Smith and Mormonism, and William Miller and Adventism. It was 1800 years before a Jehovah’s Witness knocked on your door.
Do you realize what this means?
It simply means that all the creeds, the traditions, the “revelations,” and the institutions of men that have cropped up over the past 1900 years to clutter the religious scene and to confuse the minds of the people are at best unnecessary;
… unnecessary to obedience to God, unnecessary to salvation, unnecessary to completeness in Christ, unnecessary to life and godliness, and unnecessary to the hope of heaven.
But it also means that the whole concept of modern denominationalism in not part of the true Christianity originating in the mind of God, revealed by the Holy Spirit, and preserved in the new Testament.
God purposed the church of Jesus Christ before He even made the world (Eph. 3: 10-11; 1:3-4). Did He purpose the Lutheran Church or the Episcopal Church from eternity? Did anyone ever become a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon simply by obeying the scriptures? Did the Holy Spirit, who inspired the apostles in the first century, reveal to them the doctrines and names that make the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Catholics distinct denominations?
Can we be SIMPLY CHRISTIANS? Certainly!
No one ever became anything else by following the Bible and Jesus. Follow the Word of God as it stands, not after it has been filtered through the creeds and doctrines of men, then let that make of you what it will. It will make of you what it made of others in the book of Acts. Those who continued in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42) were believers, disciples, saints, Christians; it made a group of them the church of God or the church of Christ, and that is all the apostles’ doctrine will ever make of anyone.