None of the Above!
If we are none of the above, then what are we? Infidels? Heathen? Materialists? Moslems? Buddhists? Cultists? It could obviously cover a lot of ground. How about this one:
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 (Ephesians. 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 (1 Corinthians. 12:13; Acts 20:28; Ephesians. 5:23). The Bible teaches there is to be "one body" and "one faith," just as there is to be "one God, one Lord, one baptism, and one hope" (Ephesians. 4:4-6). This "one body" is the church of Jesus Christ (Ephesians. 1:22-23) which Jesus built, not men (Hebrews. 8:1-2). This spiritual house is made up of living stones (1 Peter 2:5) who are citizens of God's kingdom (Colossians. 1:13), saints (set apart ones) of the Most High God (Colossians 1:2), having been born again of water and the spirit into God's family (John 3:5; Ephesians 2:19). The church of Jesus Christ is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 2:20), not on the sand of denominational creeds and traditions. Jesus Christ, as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians. 2:20), is the only head (Ephesians. 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" (Hebrews. 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 Jehovah build the house, they labor in vain that build it" (Psalms. 127:1). Jesus said, "Every plan which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up" (Matthew. 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).
WILL YOU BE OFFENDED?
The teaching of Jesus on the subject of loyalty to denominational traditions offended the members of these sects (Matthew. 15:12). How will you react to the teaching of Jesus? Does the appeal to be SIMPLY A CHRISTIAN interest you? Are you concerned with having a part in answering Christ's prayer for unity among believers (John 17:20-21)? Or does a plea to be neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish offend you?
If this plea offends you, why? Do you view those who make such a plea today to simply be another sect or denomination themselves? Do you view this plea as coming from just another group of narrow-minded religionists? This, of course, is a possibility, but before you let your view hinder your investigation of this plea, realize that the family of God in the first century was looked upon by their enemies as being just another sect of the Jews and it was everywhere spoken against (Acts 24:5; 28:22). Before you reject this plea that all be simply Christians, please investigate to see if it is scriptural.
NEITHER CATHOLIC, PROTESTANT, OR JEWISH
There is a group of Christians in your community who are neither Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. The intention of this message is not to defend and uphold any practices that originated with us, but to call attention to the plea of Jesus Himself concerning the unity of all believers (John 17:20-21). We have nothing personal to gain in the way of money, attention, or honor by pointing out the error of religious tradition and division. Quite the contrary, by honoring only Jesus Christ, we repeatedly have been reviled by religious people of every faith. Loyal to the One who bought us and loving the souls of men, we heed the words of James, "My Brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).
We do not claim that we understand all truth, and believe anyone who claims to be infallible to also be guilty of blasphemy, but we do seek to point men back to the source of truth (Jesus and His Word) and point men away from the doctrines of men which Jesus said would make our worship vain (Matthew 15:9). It is for these reasons: our love for God and men, the shortness of life, and the certainty of judgment, that we will use great plainness of speech. We speak this way, not with a purpose of offending, but to challenge you to "examine yourself to see if you are in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5).
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" (John 14:6), 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 Thessalonians. 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, Papal Infallibility, Bull,Litany, Absolution, Confessional, Limbo, Purgatory, Indulgence, Penance,Transubstantiation, Mass, Sprinkling, Infant Baptism, God-Mother and Father, Pater Noster, Catechism, Sacrament, Ave Maria, Lent, Christmas, Good Friday, Ashes, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Relics, Epiphany, Praying for the Dead,Mortal Sin, Latria, Celibate, Easter, Confirmation, Holy Water, Rosary, Sign of the Cross, Immaculate Conception, Bodily Assumption, Mary as Medatrix, etc. All these doctrines came from some other source than Jesus Christ. Jesus said such traditions make our worship vain (Matthew. 15:9). NO MAN EVER BECAME A CATHOLIC BY FOLLOWING THE BIBLE.
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 Corinthians 1:13). Of course, to imitate another man as he imitates Christ is a scriptural principle (1 Corinthians11:1), 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 and their doctrines 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" (Romans 15:5-6). It is only when we drop our denominational names, creeds, and organizations that we can obey the charge to "all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). The only way to answer the prayer of Jesus concerning all His followers "that they may be one that the world may believe," is to all listen and obey the same Lord and authority (John 17:20-21; Colossians. 2:8-10).
SIMPLY A CHRISTIAN
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? Why will there still be Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, etc., tomorrow? Because all are following Jesus or because at least some are following 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 no 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 practiced 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 Corinthians. 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 (Ephesians. 2:14-17)? Jesus died to make all men one religiously. Did not Paul define that one religious body made at the cross as the church of Jesus Christ (Ephesians. 1:22-23; 4:4)? IS IT NOT PRESUMPTUOUS FOR MEN TO BUILD AND MAINTAIN THE WALLS OF DENOMINATIONALISM WHICH KEEP US SEPARATED RELIGIOUSLY? 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" (Ephesians. 4:4-6)?
DENOMINATIONALISM: A SIN
THAT WILL KEEP US FROM HEAVEN
Did not Paul condemn factions and heresy as a sin of the flesh that would keep us from the kingdom of God (Galatians. 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.) Heresy is sin and those who commit it have no part of the kingdom of God.
Who has the greater sin, the one who initially promotes the heresy, or those who loyally uphold and practice it? Will not both lose their inheritance in the kingdom of God? Did not Jesus say to the leaders of the Pharisee denomination, "Every plant which my heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone, they are blind guides of the blind, and if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit" (Matthew 15:13-14)?
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 practiced 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 Catholic and Protestant must deal with.
Does this author seem as an unnecessary alarmist when he warns that most priests, pastors and rabbis are teaching deadly doctrines of Satan that will condemn our souls if followed? Are we not aware of two Old Testament Priests who were consumed by fire down from heaven because they "offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them" (Leviticus. 10:1-2)? Do we not recall our Lord's own warning, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matthew. 7:15)? Will we continue to let the outward appearance of moral purity and good works in the majority of religious leaders deceive us into thinking that all are ministers of God? did not Jesus warn us that "many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in they name cast out demons, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me you who practice lawlessness" (Matthew. 7:22-23)?
Didn't Jesus say, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew. 7:21)? Did not Paul warn of religious leaders who would deceive us with their righteous appearance, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan himself disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness" (2 Corinthians. 11:13-15)? Will we not wake up to the fact that when 300 different denominations teach 300 different creeds, that they cannot all be in harmony with Jesus Christ?
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 1600 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 (Ephesians. 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.