The Chapel Hill church of Christ is a non-denomination, autonomous congregation of the Lord’s church.
That’s a mouthful and someone might be excused for not understanding what that means exactly. So, let’s deal with the question: What does non-denominational mean?
Firstly, it might be helpful to understand what a denomination is. The word denomination comes from a Latin root, meaning to give a name to. It is closely related to the math term, “denominator,” which is the lower number in a fraction. A denomination is thus, formally, the given name by which a thing is classified into a group, normally so as to distinguish it from other, similar things. In cards, for instance, the hearts are one denomination, and the spades would be another. In money, a five-dollar bill is one denomination of currency, and a ten-dollar bill would be a different denomination.
In religion, a Christian denomination is the name given to a particular group of believers to distinguish their doctrine, practices and worship from other such groups. The Methodists are thus one denomination, the Baptist another, the Catholics a third and so on and so forth.
Which brings us back to the term “non-denominational.” There are actually two different ways that “non-denominational” can be used and they both originate from the same idea, but represent two different approaches to a perceived problem.
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus built only one church. Our Lord Himself said, “On this rock, I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18b) The rock in question was His own identity, confessed by Peter. (cf. Matthew 16:16) And the Lord’s intention was to build His church, or assembly of people, on Himself through the work of the apostles. But He only mentioned building a single church, and we thus deduce He only meant to build one church. Later, Jesus would pray that His followers be as united to one another as He Himself was united to the Father, that they would all be one. (cf. John 17:20-23) Later, the apostle Paul would write on several occasions of the church, stating plainly that there was only one body. (cf. Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:4).
In like manner, the Bible warns against division in the Lord’s church, stating, amongst other things, “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy Him.” (1 Corinthians 3:17)
So, in as much as each denomination represents a division within that body of believers which should be united, there is a problem. We are not being what Christ wanted. The question then is how to solve it.
The first approach, and the first meaning, for some, of “non-denominational” is to ignore all such differences and try to accept anybody and everybody, regardless of what they preach or teach. This approach is called ecumenicalism. So long as you claim Christ, that’s good enough for them, and they will leave all other judgments about such things up to God. There are some things to be said for an ecumenical spirit (cf. Romans 14:10-13) but one can also point out, that on matters of doctrine, it fails to fully capture the teachings of the Bible. When Christ spoke of His unity to the Father, He did not mean that they had agreed to disagree. Rather the opposite.
The apostle Paul pleaded with the Corinthian church regarding division, stating, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10; NKJV)
God doesn’t want division, but He desires unity, and He desires that unity on the basis of a shared faith and understanding. Concerning this, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “I, …beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, … endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all,…” (Ephesians 4:1, 3-6; NKJV) The Bible presents certain doctrines to us, and it is through the acceptance of those doctrines that we find true unity, such as Christ had with the Father.
Christ only built one church, and He only gave us one doctrine. We can be a part of that church if we obey Him and accept the salvation He gives (cf. Acts 2:47). If we have been added by Christ into His body, the church, we don’t need to be a part of any other body, or a part of a division within that body. And this is the second meaning of “non-denominational.” It is a rejection of division within the church, a desire to be a part of the one church Jesus built, without recourse to other doctrines, creeds, or organizations foreign to the New Testament. It is a desire to seek unity through following only Jesus and His word.
The church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.