The Churches of Christ have accidentally established this identity of a "nondenominational denomination" because of its high priority on separating itself from denominations. Somewhere along the line the focus was deflected from being nondenominational Christians to being anti-denominational Christians.
Many people in the Churches of Christ have become prejudiced. They have already made up their mind on people they have never met. When they hear a person is from a Baptist church they make twenty assumptions about that person. They have judged them beforehand, prejudiced.
Not all Baptists hold the Baptist doctrine 100%. Not all Presbyterians believe everything the Presbyterian church tells them to. There are Christians in the denominations that are saying what we say, "We should just follow the Bible." The distinct possibility is that some within their congregations are unspotted from their doctrines and practices.
In the church in Thyatira was a woman which Jesus calls "Jezebel" who claimed to be a prophetess and encouraged sexual immorality and idolatry (Rev 2:18-24).
[Rev 2:20 ESV] 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
But within that congregation were some who had not defiled themselves with this false doctrine and sinful action,
... 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden.
In the church in Sardis Jesus calls them dead and in need of repentance (Rev 3:1-6),
[Rev 3:1 ESV] 1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 'The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. "'I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. …
But within that congregation were some who were still spiritually alive,
… 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
It is important to note: Jesus did not tell these innocent people within the corrupt congregations to leave it and begin their own congregation.
NOTE: I am not saying we should fellowship denominational churches. Because an overwhelming majority of denominations come with false doctrinal baggage. I am not trying to change our practice; I am trying to change our perception: we must judge people (and congregations) on their own merits and not on the merits of others. We must forget the names and focus on their doctrine and practices. Usually the name of a church can hint at what their doctrines and practices are, but not always, especially on the individual level.
Our insistence to be purely Christian free from manmade corruption is good. The judgmentalism upon any who do not bear the name of "Church of Christ" is bad. We must welcome any and all who truly bear the "name of Christ" and our loyalty must be to him.
We must recognize that the Churches of Christ do not have a copyright on following the Bible alone and striving to be part of the church which Jesus built. We should recognize there are disciples out there who preach the Gospel fervently but need some assistance in understanding (Acts 18:24-28) or need some guidance in getting close to the Lord (Acts 19:1-7).
In Acts 18:24-28, Apollos preached what he knew and was competent in the scriptures but he didn't know the Gospel. Priscilla and Aquila did not just condemn him or scoff at him with judgmentalism--they took him aside and taught him the Gospel. He needed assistance in understanding.
In Acts 19:1-7, Paul found some people dedicated to God. They were called disciples but did not know about the Holy Spirit or about Jesus. Paul did not just walk away--he taught them the Gospel because they needed some guidance in getting close to the Lord.
But to maintain this separation from any non-Church of Christ individual, especially when paired with judgmentalism, prevents our fruitful evangelism and any potential unity.
When we find ourselves being anti-denominational, then we truly become a denomination because it is then that our identity is no longer defined by God, instead it is defined by being the opposite of manmade organizations which is still a definition of human origin. A true nondenominational Christian doesn't care about labels, even the label "Church of Christ."
When we are anti-denominational, we are like the disciple John who told Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us" (Mark 9:38). John could not imagine someone who followed Jesus outside of his group, as if to have a copyright on doing the Lord's work.
A nondenominational Christian and church seeks to obey God's word and doesn't care about the labels. "Are the Churches of Christ a denomination"—they shouldn't care! Let people label us however they want! Call us a denomination, or conservative, or liberal, or evangelical, or whatever. All I know is that we should seek God's word alone and seek to be part of the church Jesus built. Beyond this, it is out of our hands.
Like Priscilla and Aquila, if you find someone who loves the Lord but doesn't understand it fully, teach them. Like Paul, if you find some people who are disciples of God but need help getting closer to the Lord, teach them. Just follow the truth and help others follow the truth as well. Lift up God's word. Follow it. The Bible, especially the New Testament for New Covenant Christians is your path to being part of the church saved by God.
In the course of seeking my Master's Degree in Biblical Studies I took a course on Restoration History with an emphasis on Stone and Campbell. The Restoration Movement is the historical origin of the Christian group that calls themselves "Churches of Christ" and the two most prominent actors in this movement were Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. This course has opened my eyes to several things that is necessary for us to hear:
1. These men were terribly flawed.
I grew up hearing about the heroes of these men, particularly Alexander Campbell, without hearing about any of the negatives. I was shocked to hear the false doctrines they entertained, from my analysis that is.
Barton Stone was a charismatic (believing in modern day Spirit empowerment like tongue-speaking) and a unitarian (rejecting the Trinity). Alexander Campbell was a legalist (for his youth, he was over-emphatically against saved by faith alone), was a judgmental critic (who employed an vicious critique of every denomination—an attitude which survives in the Churches of Christ today), a unitarian (see above), a post-millennialist (believing Christ's return would come after the world established God's vision of Christian truth and unity), an over-confident sectarian (believing his movement alone was the first ever for Christians to use the Bible as their sole guid), and, at the end of his life, a denominationalist (believing all Protestant denominations were acceptable in God's sight).
I grew up hearing about how Campbell and others rejected denominations and false doctrine to establish a group that followed the Bible alone. This is partly true (they rejected false doctrines but not fellowship with all denominations), but they themselves would not be welcomed into the modern-day version of their movement. Were the great Alexander Campbell resurrected today and asked to preach on a Sunday morning, I would be extremely hesitant to recommend it—plus his sermons usually lasted two hours.
In reading their words and seeing the historical records of their actions, they would plead for us to remember them as they were, flawed human beings simply seeking the Truth. If they were here today they would love to sit down and hear our perspectives on these issues. I would gladly sit down and teach them how I think the Bible establishes the Trinity and they would without a doubt "examine the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11). That was their greatest strength.
2. The greatest contribution these men gave us was a principle and an approach.
Thomas Campbell, his son Alexander, Barton Stone, and other restorationists all disagreed on many things but their greatest unifying factor, their biggest strength, and the greatest reason to praise them was their desire to seek God's word alone, pure and undefiled from man-made doctrines and traditions.
They have passed down to us the greatest doctrine of all, the sufficiency of God's word. All that is needed for salvation, for Christian unity, for glory to God, is God's word. Any addition to God's word is truly a subtraction that will lead to a division.
Thomas Campbell established a group of Christians dedicated to working inside churches to encourage this Bible-alone mindset, saying "that nothing be inculcated, as such, for which there can not be expressly produced a 'Thus saith the Lord'" and "Where the Bible speaks; we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent."
Alexander Campbell sought to recreate what he saw in the New Testament a blueprint for the original form of Christianity free from error. He brought to a, typically, topic of emotion and experience, rationality and reason. He sought to restore "the gospel and its ordinances … in all their primitive simplicity, excellency, and power." He believed he had developed something on the principles "which together constitute the original gospel and order of things established by the Apostles."
Barton Stone dissolved his congregation seeing as its constitution was mixed with error in order to establish a new one on its ashes that was built by the pure word of God. He said of his new congregation, "that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell."
These men changed their heartfelt convictions, were pushed out of their fellowships, lost their jobs, and lost friends in the name of searching for the Truth. They believed God's word is all that is needed to establish a congregation of the true Church which Jesus built. That is their greatest contribution to their movement.
If I Had to Bow to an Idol, It would be the Sun: No Other Created Object Tells Us more about the Real God
by Andrew Wilson, edited by Bobby Price
I have never been able to understand why anyone would worship a wooden statue. Or a tree or an Asherah pole, a cow or an elephant, or a god who looks like a frog. I think I get it at an intellectual level--they represent fertility or what-ever-but I cannot get my head around people being spiritually drawn to adore them, rejoice before them, or sacrifice to them. If I had been born an ancient pagan, I wouldn't have been the idol-fashioning, maypole-dancing type. (At least, I struggle to imagine myself that way.)
But I can see why people used to worship the sun. I'm not saying they should have, obviously, but I can relate to the instinct. So far as anyone knew until quite recently, the sun was by far the largest thing in the sky and the source of all light, heat, power, and life. Especially in Northern Europe, where I come from, the difference between sunshine and darkness, summer and winter, is so great that it must have been tempting to rush outside in the springtime and prostrate yourself before the giant yellow ball of fire. Were it not for Christianity, I suspect many of us still would.
Unsurprisingly, this presented a challenge to ancient Israel. Moses had to urge the people not to worship the sun, with fairly drastic legal consequences for anyone who did Deut. 4:19;17:2-5), and the prophets revealed that it was still a problem many centuries later Jer. 8:2; Ezek. 8:16). The risk of idolatry is partly why Scripture keeps pointing out all the things the sun is not. It is not eternal: The Bible's opening chapter makes clear that the sun was not created until day four, and its last chapter tells us that the sun is no longer needed, "for the Lord God will be their light" (Rev. 22:5, ESV throughout). It is not inevitable and can be darkened (and dethroned) at will by the one who created it (Ex. 10:21-29). It is not in control; it can be made to stand still (Josh. 10:12-14) or to move shadows in the wrong direction (Isa. 38:8). These might look like random potshots at the sun, but they are ways of protecting Israel from turning a gift into an idol. The sun had the potential to be a huge theological problem.
Yet it also had the potential to be a huge theological opportunity. So long as people could use the sun as a way of meditating on and worshiping God, rather than as something to be meditated on and worshiped itself, they could learn a great deal about him. The psalmist is very happy to use the sun to shed light on the nature of God: The Lord God is a sun and shield" (Ps. 84:11).
There are numerous attributes of God we can see more clearly by thinking about the sun for a moment, and in a way that is true of nothing else in creation. Glory, for instance. Fire and the fear it produces. Otherness. The mysterious combination of great distance and felt presence, transcendence and immanence. The all-seeing, all-illuminating orbit, bringing heat and revelation to the entire world (Ps. 19:4-6). The fact that the sun is always shining, even when its light is concealed from us by the position of the earth or the covering of the clouds. Radiant brightness. Sheer power. When the apostles want us to see the splendor of Christ, sunshine is the only metaphor they need. "He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light" (Matt. 17:2; see also Rev. 1:16).
By Frank Powell, edited by Bobby Price
“If your church is serious about the Great Commission, it also needs to be serious about understanding this generation.”
6. Transparency and authenticity are not high values.
Despite what I often hear, most millennials value transparency and authenticity. If your church portrays a “holier than thou" mentality and most of the sermons leave everyone feeling like terrible people, your church will be largely devoid of the next generation. Why? Because the next generation knows something the church has largely denied for a long time: Church leaders are not in their position because they are absent of sin, temptations or failures. Millennials have seen too many scandals in the church and witnessed too many instances of moral failures among prominent Christian leaders. Millennials are not looking for perfect people … Jesus already handled that. Millennials are looking for people to be real and honest about struggles and temptations.
7. Mentoring is not important.
This is a common misconception about millennials. While they do not like paternalistic leadership, they place a high value on learning from past generations. I have a good friend who lives in Jackson, Tennessee, and he occasionally drives to Nashville (two hours away) to sit at the feet of a man who has mentored him for years. He does this because his mentor has knowledge my good friend highly values.
He is not an exception. I have driven as far across Texas to spend a weekend with a family I love and respect. I had no other reason for going than to watch how they parent and allow this man give me nuggets of wisdom on following Jesus and loving others. Many might think this is ridiculous, but this is what makes millennials unique.
They value wisdom and insight. It is a valuable treasure, and they will travel long distances to acquire it. Millennials aren’t standoffish toward those who have gone before them. They place a high value on learning. But they want to learn from sages, not dads. If your church is generationally divided and refuses to pour into the next generation, you can be sure your church will not attract millennials.
8. Culture is viewed as the enemy.
Millennials are tired of the church viewing the culture as the enemy. Separationist churches that create “safe places” for their members, moving away from all the “evil” in the city, are unlikely to attract the next generation. The nextgeneration is trying to find ways to engage the culture for the glory of God.
Millennials are increasingly optimistic about the surrounding culture because this is the model of Jesus. He loved all types of people, did ministry in the toughest parts of society and engaged the culture. They also know the church does not stand at the cultural center anymore.
In past generations, preachers could stand in pulpits and lecture about the evils of the culture because the church shaped the culture. Today, this is not true. The goal of Christian living isn’t to escape the evils of the culture and finish life unharmed. To reach people today, the church must be immersed in the community for the glory of God.
9. Community is not valued.
This might be the greatest value of millennials. Community is a non-negotiable part of their lives. And they aren’t looking for another group of people to watch the Cowboys play football with on Sunday. The next generation desires a Christ-centered community. They value a community that moves beyond the surface and asks the hard questions.
Community keeps millennials grounded and focused. Community challenges them to reach heights they never imagined alone. Jesus lived in community with 12 men for most of his earthly ministry. Jesus spent a lot of his time pouring into people. Community isn’t an optional part of a millennial’s life—it is essential.
Personally, I have seen the value of community on so many levels. Without authentic Christian community, I wouldn’t be in full-time ministry today. I wouldn’t have overcome serious sins and struggles. I wouldn’t have been challenged to live fully for God.
In a culture that is becoming increasingly independent and disconnected, millennials model something important for the church. There is power in numbers. As an African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go ALONE. If you want to go far, go TOGETHER.”
Millennials want to go far and want their life to have meaning. In their minds this is not possible without deep, authentic, Christ-centered community.
10. The church is a source of division and not unity.
Nothing frustrates millennials more than a church that doesn’t value unity. Jesus’ final recorded prayer on earth, recorded in John 17, has been preached for years. What many churches miss is one of the central themes in that prayer: unity.
On four separate occasions, Jesus explicitly prays for unity. It was important to him. He brought together tax collectors and Zealots (just do some research if you want to know how difficult it would have been to bring these groups together). He brought people together. This is why places like coffee shops are grounds (like my pun?) for a lot of millennials. They want to be in environments where everyone feels welcomed and accepted.
Churches that value racial, generational and socioeconomic unity will attract millennials. Why? The gospel is most fully reflected when all of these groups are brought together, and most of them are just crazy enough to believe the power of the Spirit is sufficient to make it happen.
Some churches and leaders don’t see the value of changing to reach this generation, but once they realize this mentality is wrong, it will be too late. Millennials are a huge part of the population today (about 75 million strong), and if your church is serious about the Great Commission, your church also needs to be serious about understanding this generation.
Bobby Price was born and raised by Christian parents in Perrin, Texas. Bobby decided early in life to become a preacher of God's word. He attended the Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas where he graduated in 2015 with his Bachelors of Biblical Studies with a focus in Congregational Ministry. Afterwards, he interned for a year at the valley view Church of Christ in Jonesboro, AR. He is currently working on his Masters of Biblical Studies, through the Sunset International Bible Institute Graduate School.