30 Minute Radio Lesson - WAVG Radio 1450 AM
Clarksville church of Christ
September 17, 2000
Speaker: Richie Thetford
"The Undenominational Character of Christianity"
Good morning and welcome to another presentation of "What Is Truth?" I'm Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ, located at 407 W. Hwy 131 in Clarksville. I want to thank each and every one you for taking the time to listen this morning as we examine another truth of God's word. It is my hope and prayer that those of you that are listening today will honestly examine your heart to ensure that you are in fact doing only those things that are pleasing to our almighty God. As we discuss the topic of the hour,"The Undenominational Character of Christianity", I want to encourage you to have your Bible readily available so that you can examine the scriptures to make sure that what I am presenting is in fact God's will for you. Remember, the Bible clearly states that we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). It is my hope that each one of you this morning will have the kind of heart that the Bereans did back in the first century. It was said of them that "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Also the apostle John warns us that we should "....not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). By looking at the Bible passages, you can see for yourself that what I am teaching this morning can in fact be backed up by book, chapter, and verse in the Bible. This is so vitally important as we strive to do only that which is authorized by God and not what some man may say about a given subject. Now I invite you to please have your Bible, pen and paper ready and let's study together another truth of God.
The constant encouragement from my brethren and friends who hear this program serves as an undying force, enabling me to present the simple gospel of Christ in all of its purity and power. The hope of the world today and of the posterity of tomorrow is the simple religion of Jesus, honestly believed and sincerely practiced. With this infallible truth in mind I want to call your attention to the undenominational character of the Christian religion, how that true Christianity cannot be denominated by man, but is all sufficient to save, and is perfect even as he was perfect.
When the Son of God came to earth, to deliver to his disciples the abiding principles of his kingdom, he found the world divided into sects, parties and denominations. Sects had sprung up among the people of God and their peculiarities were of more concern to their adherents than the basic commandments of Almighty God himself. The traditions of the elders superseded the law of the Lord, and every party gloried in the things that made them differ one from the other. In Luke 18:10-14, a Pharisee stood and thanked God that he was not as other men were, and gloried in that fact. Here is what the passage of scripture says, "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess. And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." The things that caused the divided condition at the time of Christ and the evils of those things, are dealt with by the Master himself in a very definite manner in the following reading from Mark 7, verses 5-10, "Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men--the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do." And He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death."
Christ declares that the Scribes and the Pharisees thought more of the traditions of their sects than they did of the law of the Lord, and adds that by following their peculiar opinions they had set aside the word of God and were worshiping in vain. The Sadducees were in the same position and thought more of the privilege of being Sadducees than of the exalted honor of simply being servants of the Lord. There is little question that the great evil of sects and parties among the professed people of God caused Christ to pray in John 17: 20-21: "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me."
He knew from the bitter experience of personal sorrow, the effects division had and the part it had played, in his own people rejecting him. His concern for the religion that he was to die for, caused him to say, let them be one, and then gave the reason: that the world may believe. He knew that if his followers loved party more than principle, and division more than mankind then they were doomed to failure in their mission to cause the world to believe in him. He gave the principle and stated it in this manner in Matthew 12:25: "And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand."
Let us consider now the undenominational character of the true religion of Christ. We need to grasp and master the principle that Jesus fought against party division all of his life on the earth, and gave a system and way of life that was to be forever free of such denomination.
Consider first the universal character of the gospel, how the glad tidings oŁ the risen Lord were to be preached to all creatures under heaven, that men of all races might hear, believe and obey. Christ gave the great commission, universal in its scope, in these words: "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Certainly there is nothing about this charge that could be limited to the few. All men, whether beggars, urchins or merchant princes, were to be the recipients of the saving message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This message, then, could not be the property of any one sect, group, or denomination, but belonged to all mankind. No man or set of men could claim a copyright in its proclamation. It could not belong to any group or set, for the entire race was fallen and in dire need of its saving power.
But notice now that just as the gospel was universal in its scope, It was also universal in its requirements. Listen again to the great commission, "Go into. all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16). Not only were all men to hear, but all men were to do the same things to be saved. This is not the state merit of creeds and manuals, but a direct quotation from the Son of God. In the days of Christ, the Israelite had to do one thing to be a Pharisee and another thing to be a Sadducee. The requirements necessary to make a Hebrew a Pharisee would not make him a Herodian or a Sadducee. So it is in this day in which we live. It takes one set of principles to make a man a member of one denomination and an entirely different group of requirements to make him a member of another. Oh, how far today this is from the undenominational gospel of the humble Galileans. He gave exactly the same steps in order to obtain salvation to the Greek that he gave to the Jew, and prayed that they might be one, that the world might believe. Is it any wonder today that Protestantism is failing and other institutions, deadly in their effect but united in their members, are winning victory after victory? The very evil that Christ anticipated and prayed that it might be avoided, has come to pass, and men choose to put party, above Christ.
Not only is the gospel universal in its scope, and undenominational in its requirements, but let us now give attention to the nonsectarian results the preaching of the gospel could achieve. Paul stated the results of obedience to the gospel in Galatians 3:26 to 29: "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Thus we see that when men obeyed the gospel, they were all one: one in Christ. All other affiliations were lost and other
peculiarities were given up for the all-sufficient part of the Christian. The Jew could boast of the traditions of his fathers no
longer, and the Greek could no longer chant his drinking songs to his pagan gods. The unifying power of the gospel was to
break down the middle wall of partition and to make men of all races one. I would to God that we would let the same
gospel, with its same power break down the middle wall between the multiple denominations of our time that we might be
one, that no room could be found for sectarianism and party devotion, but that we might all go back to the Bible, keeping
"the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace." The only way that this can be achieved will be for the preachers of this day to
do exactly what the apostles did in that day: To speak and preach the same thing that there may be no divisions among us.
United we could take the world for Christ; divided we are destroyed by our own differences. Divide and conquer is new in
the realm of government, but it is as old in religion as the mind of Satan. The scripture is as plain as it is possible for a thing
to be. Christ said, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved," and Paul declares, "You are all the children of God by
faith in Jesus Christ, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." This made men and women
children of God and not members of any sect, party or denomination on the face of the earth. All men with open minds and
an open Bible could determine this fact with a few minutes of study. Friends, what will we answer to our Lord in the great
judgment day if we fail to read and heed the word of God?
Let us now for a moment center our thoughts on the universal name that the followers of Christ are to wear. Notice that it, above all names, is nonsectarian and undenominational, that it is a name that all can wear without giving offense to any while at the same time giving glory and honor to him who died for us. All of the children of God can wear it with pride for it is a God-given name. Isaiah said in Isaiah 62 that "They shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall name." Thus the God given, saving and all prevailing name of Jesus is not of sectarian origin. In Acts 11:26 we find that the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Cornelius and his house had been baptized, as recorded in Chapter 10, and now, with both Jew and Gentile, were in the Church of the living God and were given the name that all can wear. There is no other name that can save. John had this statement to make at the close of the 20th Chapter, verses 30, 31: "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." One sure way to break down the middle wall between the parties of our time and to take one step nearer to that unity for which the Saviour prayed would be for all believers to abandon the names given to denominations that are of man-made character and bow before that glorious name that one day will receive the confession of every tongue. The thinking men of our time are realizing more and more the truth of this statement. Sects are doomed in the day of reckoning. Christ answered the Pharisees with this statement in Matthew 15: 13: "Every plant which my Heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up." The abandonment of crumbling creeds and the denominations that they serve, and a return to the simple undenominational religion of the Master, would plant his blood-stained banner on the highest hill.
As the light of the distant city, the power of his truth would go forth to guide the weary traveler on the way of life.. This is the principle we set forth at the beginning of each and every program when we say that the church of Christ is not a denomination but pleads for. all men to return to the Bible and speak where the Bible speaks. We do not mean that the Clarksville church is an undenominational group peculiar to itself. We simply mean that it is one of the thousands of churches in this great land of ours, who take the Bible as their only creed, and Jesus Christ as their only King and Head. From the city of Clarksville and across this whole Nation, in every state in this mighty American union congregations of simple men and women are content to abide within the doctrine of Christ in all matters of faith and practice. They meet on the first day of the week, and continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and in prayer. Their preachers decry all human titles, and are content in the great work of making known the gospel of Christ. In these undenominational churches, there is a unity that enables all to give the same answer to the question "What must we do to be saved" without a single disagreement: All of this without a single line penned by man or a single article of a man-made creed.
Unity in the organization and worship is just as easily and simply achieved, for Christ gave the New Testament to settle these very things. If all men would go to the New Testament, or Covenant of Jesus Christ, and open its pages with a determination to take Christ at his word and let the scriptures speak for themselves, there could be no divisions among believers. Paul wrote to Timothy in the long-ago, that the scripture will completely furnish the workman to every good work, and nothing can be added or taken away.
But now, finally, let us give attention to the undenominational character of the church for which Christ died. Here again we will find just the opposite to anything that would give encouragement to sects and parties. The word "Church" means the "called out," and includes all who have been called out of the world into the service of God. It could not correctly be used in a denominational sense, for the very term denomination suggests a fraction, or part of a whole. The church of the Living God is not a part of anything for it is the body of Christ. Just as it cannot be a denomination, the church cannot be a sect, for the word sect means a section. The church is not a section of anything, but is the blood-bought, spirit-filled, God-given family and household of God. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23: "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."Not only is the church the body of Christ, but by these verses the number of churches can be determined. If there is one head, there can be but one body, for as the head is one, so must the body be.
The church is the household or family of God. Ephesians 2: 18- 19 says, "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." All of God's children are in his family, and the family constitutes not a part of the saved but all who are children of God. In addition to these truths, the church could not be sectarian in its nature for it was purchased by the blood of Christ. In the book of Acts 20:28 it says, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." If the blood of Christ was shed for all men, then the church that the blood purchased must be for all men. The church is as universal as the blood. If all have to come under the blood to be saved then all have to come into the church the blood purchased. Paul declares exactly this in Ephesians when he said that we were reconciled in the one body, and that the body is the church. In verse 16 of Ephesians 2 it states, "and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity." Not only is this true, but if the Savior of the world belongs to all mankind, then it must follow as the night the day that the church purchased in his death was to belong to all who would come in. Just as no man could denominate Christ, no man can denominate his church. Even the Hadean world could not prevail against it. It carried the fullest blessing of high Heaven from the day of its beginning, when (in Acts 2) God poured out His spirit upon all flesh. God endorsed its offices and services to a fallen race, and thought enough of its composition that he reserved the right to add to its number. Luke, at the conclusion of the account of the glorious happenings on that Pentecost day, when three thousand were baptized for the remission of their sins, had this to say in verses 46 and 47 of Acts chapter 2, "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." How easy it is then to see that if Heaven approved it, Christ purchased it, only God can add to it, and the Holy Spirit filled it, that it cannot be a denomination, for it is the fullness of him that fills all in all.
Yes we can say that the religion of Christ is undenominational in its every phase. The Gospel is universal. The Name is universal. The church is universal. The religion of Jesus can never be found within the limits of sectarianism, or the bounds of denominationalism, with their faulty creeds, and erring precepts, but in the New Testament, the word of the living God, that lives and abides forever!
This is Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ thanking each of you for listening to this morning's broadcast and invite you to listen again next Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. for another presentation of "What Is Truth?"