A Denomination, in christendom, can be defined as a subgroup that operates under a common name, tradition, or identity. It may be centered around a particular man, a particular doctrine, or a specific emphasis or even practice...any of which may be more or less Biblical.
To be sure, a denomination is not merely a group like the mainline ones; Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. The modern denominations are more subtle and would claim a non-denominational status, yet they still gather around certain practices, such as sign gifts (tongues, signs & wonders), praise and worship styles, positive thinking/confession, and charismatic men (or women, God forbid). One such man, a megachurch founder, was recently in the news. He was an edgy preacher, using sensationalism to draw in the crowds, who wondered what he might say next. This work expanded to several megachurch campuses until recently he was disciplined by its leadership team. Before long more than one of these "megachurch's" closed down. Why? Because they were really gathered to him, and the key problem of a denomination is that you have to "keep them" with what "drew them". Cowboy Church? Children's Church?, sigh.
Herein I wish to express why I departed from the denominations, and now seek by God's grace to meet with like-minded believers accordingly.
Why do you take the name "baptist"?
Not long after I was saved, my wife and I attended a great many types of Christian gatherings as we tried to figure things out. From the Church of Christ, to the Methodists, Presbyterians, Charismatics, and Baptist. We eventually settled in among the latter, a medium-small sized group that met in a building just 2 blocks away from our home. Before getting into things in detail, I would preface by saying our experience among Baptists showed us many good things, and it is just because our primary experience was among them, therefore the story follows that line. This isn't a Baptist bash. I thank God for my brothers and sisters who call themselves Baptists. He doesn't call them by that name.
Here we spent a couple of years, profitable ones, where there was a good core of believers and a deacon/pastor governance that included many sincere and godly men. There was decent teaching, hospitality, and care for progress in Christian living. One day very early on, I did ask the pastor a question that even I as a new and mostly ignorant believer could ascertain was problematic, which was, "why do you call yourself a baptist?" In my thinking was this: that a Christian is a Christian, and why take a name like that that separates one believer from another. A mild and sensible answer was given, followed not too long thereafter by a short sermon series on "why I am a Baptist." Not being satisfied with the answers given, yet being biblically illiterate I let it slide for the time.
1 Corinthians 1: 12-13 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or
“I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Christ is divided...
Among the deacons at this gathering of Baptists was one that influenced me concerning a love of the scriptures. He led a Bible study on the book of Isaiah, which we (sadly) attended very poorly. Yet something precious was caught from this man, it was "caught" and not "taught". And that was .....a love of scripture. I recall well this verse in particular:
Isaiah 2:22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in
his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of ?
And in this I look back and am thankful for this man. Now I too am a lover of scripture. Yet this is also the reason why I had to separate from the denominations. The scripture became the guidebook for us as Christians. It is true others would profess allegiance to its tenets, but as one looked around, things were very different in the book, compared to inside the building.
Rightly dividing the word of truth.
Soon my wife and I did what many in such circles do, as we got serious about our faith. We wanted to serve, perhaps as overseas missionaries, so we set about to go to seminary- which is a pre-requisite to such service in this denomination and others. For that matter, it is the only avenue of "full time" service in most of christendom. We would find out in time that this is not biblical, but it took some pain to get there.
We picked up and moved 300 miles away, and set about to be proud super-christians. We had a young family now, I worked a full time job, did seminary in the evenings, and we ministered in an apartment complex ministry on Sunday morning. We were zealous, we were moving forward in Christian ministry. Super saints. Super soon exhausted serving in the flesh. What had gone wrong? Human strength endured only so long, and we soon found ourselves giving up the seminary, giving up the apartment ministry and were defeated. It was a painful but a very good lesson. Working it out took time. Much of Romans 7 here.
In fairness, it would be remiss to blame any denomination for our choices and pathways, yet it was the very genre of the denominational mindset that led us this way after all, these were the avenues to service, or so we thought. If one is serious about Christian service, the seminary or bible school is a must.
At some point, came something life changing. To this day there is no clear memory of its giver or source, but a Scofield Study Bible was received. Herein was learned some precious truths about the coherency of scripture, a book which now came to life. It was like being born again...again.
2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman
that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Soon came a deeper love of scripture, and a realization of the value of distinguishing things that differ. We learned of the differences between Israel and the Church, and between the Law principle and Grace. We had further clarified in our thinking the priesthood of all believers. Yet this led to a further examination of earlier questions, why gather in a denominational sense? Why go to seminary? It did not make a person godly. Personal immaturity as well as these valid concerns eventually led to our separation.
Coming all together now:
One day a man gave me a catalog that was previously unfamiliar (Bible Truth Publishers- some really helpful stuff - though some was quite sectarian and thus denominational!). But much was solid food and it opened the doorway for me to find & read other such writers and publishers. I began to order a few materials (tis what you had to do before the internet!) and read some solid perspectives on Christianity in general and church truth specifically, things previously unknown and undreamed. It touched some of those earliest questions about the divisions in the body of Christ. Learning now grew in this sphere and some lovely truths discovered included (to be fair, a few were reinforced truths):
Christ as the gathering center for believers as opposed to gathering to the man with charisma, the ordinance, or the signs and wonders, the pomp, the show, or the denomination.
The completeness of Christ's work, God is satisfied.
Positional Truth, the believer is complete in Christ.
Believers Baptism, for the regenerate only.
All believers are members of the church universal. There is no membership in the local church, but there is reception into its fellowship.
Simplicity of the Biblical pattern: Its four tenets: Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Doctrine, Fellowship, Breaking of Bread, Praying.
That there is no clergy/laity system in the bible (this includes the one man pastorate, almost universal in christendom- without a shred of biblical warrant) The biblical pattern for governance is a plurality of oversight, with servants/deacons. Philippians 1:1 gives astounding insight into a non clerical pattern: Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Notice, the saints first, then overseers/servants. Plurality in oversight. We recall one pastor being frustrated that the laity didn't do enough Christian work, my (oh how wrong) thought was that which was on the minds of many, "we pay you to do that."
The centrality of the Remembrance of Christ, the Lord's Supper. Neither mystical as per my Catholic upbringing, nor tacked onto the end of a quarterly celebration - as kind of an afterthought - which also tended to be somewhat mystical. But central. God's portion. Also: The Lords Supper is for believers only, not the unregenerate.
This also led to a new and simpler understanding of worship, with the leading of the Spirit of God as opposed to choirs, worship leaders, and worship teams (today it is much worse with worship bands - dreadful developments). Much of what I previously saw as "enhancements" to worship was really the pride and show and performance of man. Perhaps that is a broad brush to paint with, but it was I saw, and was what I also did. One thinks here of a better and simpler way: Matthew 17:8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, except Jesus only.
That the Biblical pattern of Missions is found in Acts 13:2-3 "...As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away...." Notice they "sent them away". This is apelusan in the Greek. A helpful note from Vine's Expository Dictionary is pertinent: "the sending here is not of 'commissioning' but of letting go (loosing)". We find that the biblical pattern of missions is not a mission board sending or controlling the workers sphere nor movements, but instead a commissioning by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:4 ekpemphthentes) in concert with the local believers "loosing them" or freeing them up to the work. Of course they were responsible and would report back to the home assembly, but are freed unto the work as God calls them. Additionally, the modern tedious methods of fundraising with regard to mission work is completely absent from scripture. God sends the workers, and He provides their needs through believers giving, rather than through pleas for funds.
That the local church is the training & growing ground for believers, not a seminary, nor a bible school. The local church is the sphere of interaction, the exercise of gift, the body building itself up in love, which includes being longsuffering. These things can't be done in sending a man off to a school, and he comes back looking for a job. Where did we professionalize the ministry? (we recognize in grace, that seminary is a good place to get Greek and Hebrew; we also recognize in the third world in pioneer areas that a good bible school can be a profitable stop-gap...but that it should be very short term and NEVER become institutionalized - history proves it a potent snare that can feed the pride of the seminary professor; liberties are like that). Ephesians 4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
The differing roles of men and women. Here is a touchy issue. Distinctive roles are widely and increasingly ignored in christendom. The headcovering of sisters is a beautiful ministry with headship and glory and angels in view, but is almost gone in christendom (1 Corinthians 11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have the symbol of authority on her head because of the angels.) Then was the silence of sisters in church meetings and prohibitions against her leading. (I Timothy 2:12 I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.) These are reaffirmed and precious truths. Not in a legal or harsh manner, but as doing all things decently and in order. 1 Cor. 14:40
In truth, not all of this was understood at first, and there were missteps along the way which may be profitable to share. When we first began separating from denominationalism, we tried a couple of things. One was a Bible Church, which is basically a more doctrinally sound church setting than most but increasingly ignores true woman's role, still elevates the one-man ministry, and has music ministers, and much of the flavor of professionalism and the clergy/laity mentality. Increasingly it also embraces Reformed Theology.
It has a seminary grad ministry requirement, and hinders the development of men in the biblical way. As the seminary declines (the source of its ministers), so do the local churches. We also tried a home church setting but found therein (not a large sample was experienced) a gathering that was "unto what is wrong in christendom." That did not last long, one cannot gather to a principle of what is wrong everywhere else. There were also brief encounters with the home school patriarch types, but one felt pulled back into the Old Testament, or towards Covenant Theology there. Perhaps the home church and biblical pattern will re-merge soon enough, as the darkness spreads in the Western world. Who knows?
Having said that, much of what is written above may seem to be a "whats wrong with christendom" rant. But I do not wish that to be what is the lasting impression. Keep in mind the thankfulness I have from those in the denominations from whom I gained much profit. With light though, comes responsibility. What I have found in separation from that which is increasingly of man, to that which at least seeks to be biblical, is as follows.
There is a God-ordained arrangement. I have learned from godly men what it means to worship in reverence, to lift up the Son to the Father in Remembrance. In Matthew 18:20 we find that the early days, believers were drawn to Him. They saw that wherever 2 or 3 were gathered in His name, He was in the midst. Christ in the midst. I have found this. Perfectly? No. Super saints? Not hardly, I own a mirror. But there is a growing confidence that the simplicity of His pattern, is the best way forward. It won't create a megachurch, will turn away feminists, and won't attract the mystics (for long). It will not provide an avenue for me to exhibit my personal talents, nor feed my ambition or flesh. It won't allow me to dominate the ministry or be central and if I'm not gifted publicly it won't feed that either-it may expose my pride if I press it.
And it will take me time to grow and learn to use my gifts, instead of trying to use gifts I don't have (oh yes that does happen). It will be a harder pathway for those who want the church to be a playground to meet the needs of the kids and provide them a social gathering (oh this bane is on the rise, it is understandable but WRONG). It also won't feed the desires of youth for meeting those strong peer desires and modern music. and actually can be a very hard pathway for the young people in western culture.
But it does provide a pathway, where Christ is the Centre, or can be, if pride is kept in check. Those that gather in such simplicity have little to brag about, actually none...well we can boast... of Him.
We who gather this way....we too are trending towards denominationalism and decline, it is a very hard pathway to avoid as well meaning brethren push for "change". Let us return to Him in simplicity, and love one another. Let us teach sound doctrine, enjoy the common fellowship of Himself and one another, let us be faithful in the breaking of bread, and to be much in prayer. In the end, it is and will be worth it.