Church of Christ—Denomination or Not?
I am a member of the Church of Christ. I’ve preached and helped out at a number of different assemblies, and I think that we are a denomination, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, but we’re one that I’m pretty comfortable with, as often we have some solid, Biblical teaching.
I’ve noticed that our beliefs can vary a bit, too. In one town, in the assembly, the women will say prayers out loud. Not leading others, but rather just down on their knees praying. The assembly uses that time to let every member say a prayer so that we all have an understanding on what’s going in the person’s life—what’s really important to them. Across town is another assembly, and they won’t fellowship over this, but their women run many administrative functions and give announcements. (Other than praying, the first assembly is overall more conservative in regards to women, including their typical garb.)
In another town, the assembly is a cappella, though many members think this is simply a better tradition, and not a command from God. Go north a bit and there’s an assembly that finds it to be a command from God to not use instruments. Go north a bit more and there’s yet another assembly who sometimes uses a piano (and sometimes not), and gladly forgoes using it if someone feels that their conscience is violated by it.
The thing is, what we’re referring to as a “denomination” can be hard to define. The word “denomination” isn’t to be found in the Bible; it’s a man-made term, so it has many man-made disputes that are attached to it. Per Merriam Webster, it’s
In that respect, the Church of Christ, of which I am a part, is a denomination. As a practical matter, I’ve noticed people say both of the following statements without noting any incongruity:
► “We’re not a denomination.”
► “Whenever I go to another town, I always look for the Church of Christ sign.”
But one thing is true: we are named. So we are “denominated.” Here’s the etymology of the word “denomination,” which is in line with the definition that is standard:
late 14c., denominacioun, “a naming, act of giving a name to,” from Old French denominacion “nominating, naming,” from Latin denominationem (nominative denominatio) “a calling by anything other than the proper name, metonymy,” noun of action from past-participle stem of denominare “to name,” from de- “completely” (see de-) + nominare “to name,” from nomen “name” (from PIE root *no-men- “name”).
So yes, we are a denomination. And it’s not a dirty word. It’s just a word that means, “These folks use a name.”
These names are often designed so that we can find comfortable in-groups (not wholly bad; it’s an easy screen to narrow down your choice when you’re on a roadtrip), but they can also produce nasty byproducts of division and a lack of learning. These cloisters prevent people from seeing us in a natural form. Instead, people will go and google, “What does the Church of Christ believe,” and come to a conclusion based on that, yet it is almost certainly not a good description of *my own* conclusions about the church of Christ. When I visit churches of Christ “down South,” I often find them strikingly different—often more aggressive and more “denominational”—than the ones in the Northwestern Rockies.
One day I thought to myself, “What would happen if the sign out front of the building alternated every week? If we weekly chose a different description of “the church” that God uses in the Word, such as “Church of God,” “Church of the Firstborn,” “The Way,” etc?
When that one sign that we always have out front becomes the “official” term by which our group is distinguished, we have in essence become a denomination, even if we don’t have, say, a Pope. We still have “Polishing the Pulpit” and other “branded” things.
This isn’t to say that these things are wrong. Not at all. I just think that we should rigorously examine the strength of our grouping, as well as the weaknesses, while admitting that there might be Christians out there in places we don’t normally “expect.”
And that is uncomfortable.
With love, always,
PS—Are there other Christians out there? What does God say? E pluribus unum might just be a Christian concept.