Christians only? Is it really possible to be simply a Christian—apart from denominational modifier or ecclesiastical name? Consider the case of the early disciples who lived after the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit.
The first believers in the Lord gathered in small groups or communities to worship God, build up each other, reach out to the lost, and share their common life of devotion to Christ. What do we know about these communities? What about believers in our own day who seek to be what the early Christians were and seek to live as they lived?
Are these Christians Protestant? Are they Catholic? How are they designated? Are they a denomination, a sect, or a cult? Just what were the early believers—and what should contemporary believers seek to be if they are committed to be true to the Lord Jesus and His word? The following points by way of comparison and contrast are offered for your study and consideration. What do we know about true followers of Jesus in our day?
They are catholic. This word means “universal.” The commission of Jesus to His ambassadors or “apostles” was to “go into all the world.” They were to preach the good news of Christ to every person (Mark 16:15) and make disciples of “all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). God’s people, though few, are found throughout the world (cf. Revelation 5:9; 7:9; Colossians 1:6). In this sense, I am a “Catholic,” one who believes in a world-wide body of Christ, but I am not a member of The Roman Catholic Church.
They are baptists. In one sense, a “baptist” is one who baptizes (Matthew 3:1,6). In current parlance it refers to one who regards immersion in water as Scriptural baptism. This appears to be a Scriptural position (cf. Matthew 3:13,16; John 3:23; Romans 6:3-5), so in this sense I am a “baptist,” but am not a member of a Baptist Church.
They are methodists. The work of God should not be carried out carelessly but should be carried out systematically, orderly, and methodically. Paul directed that in public assemblies of Christians, all things are to “be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40). I am a “methodist” in this sense, but am not a member of The Methodist Church.
They are presbyterian. In the Greek language, this indicates leadership by a body of older or elder men, mature in the faith (presbuteroi). Paul appointed such qualified older men in the various groups of Christians he set in order (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). In this sense, I am “presbyterian,” but am not a member of The Presbyterian Church.
They are episcopal. This signifies, in the Greek (episkopos), leadership by “overseers.” These men, as well as “servants” (deacons, diakonos) were found in the Philippian assembly (Phil. 1:1). The “overseer” and the “elder” were the same shepherds of the flock (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5,7; 1 Peter 5:1-3). In this sense, I am “episcopal,” but am not a member of The Episcopal Church.
They are congregationalists. This term indicates the autonomy of an assembly in a given locality, as opposed to a central government or president over many churches. The New Testament communities practiced such autonomy (Acts 20:17,28). Each was responsible for its own affairs, though Christians everywhere loved and shared with each other (Acts 11:27-30). I am a “congregationalist,” but not a member of The Congregational Church.
They are friends. Jesus said, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15), and John wrote, “The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name” (3 John 14). I am a friend to other disciples, but not a member of The Society of Friends, the Quakers.
They are adventist. This term signifies one who awaits Christ’s second coming of “advent” from heaven in the future. The Philippian and Thessalonian believers, for example, waited for the Lord’s return (Philippians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). I am an “adventist” in this sense, but am not a member of The Seventh Day Adventist Church.
They are orthodox. This means “correct” in doctrine or teaching. The early believers saw the necessity of this for the “one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). I am “orthodox,” but not a member of The Eastern Orthodox Church.
They are saints. This term denotes those who are holy, set apart, or separated from sin and the world. The believers at Rome were “called as saints” (Romans 1:7). I am a saint, but not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons.
They are disciples. A disciple is a learner or follower of a teacher. The early Christians were disciples of Jesus their Lord (Acts 11:26; 13:52; 14:22). I am a disciple, but not a member of The Disciples of Christ Church.
They are brothers and sisters. Jesus said to His followers, “You are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8). I am one of the brothers, but not a member of The Church of the Brethren or The Brethren Church.
They are pentecostal. The body of Christ formally began on the day of Pentecost about AD 30 when the Spirit was given (Acts 2:1,4,16-17,33,38-39). In this sense alone I am “pentecostal,” but not a member of The Pentecostal Church.
They are biblical. The “church” or community of the Lord is revealed in the bible, guided by the Bible, and teaches the message of the Bible or the Scriptures. I am in the “church” (community, assembly) revealed in the Bible, but am not part of The Bible Church.
They are Christians. Peter says that if one suffers as a Christian, “in that name let him glorify God” (1 Peter 4:16). I am a Christian, but not a member of The Christian Church.
They are united brethren. They are obligated to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). I seek to be united to other faithful brothers in Christ, but am not a member of The United Brethren Church.
They are in the assembly of God. The Greek word ekklesia is more accurately translated “assembly” or “community” rather than church (cf. Acts 19:32,39,41 in the Greek). The assembly does belong to God. For example, the “assemblies of God” or the “assembly of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 1:2). I am in the assembly of God, but am not a member of The Assembly of God Church.
In short, I am not a member of any religious denomination. Denomination is derived from denominate which means “to give a name to.” I refuse to give a proper, exclusive, distinguishing title to the body of Christ or any of His communities of believers. I am opposed to the practice of appropriating a Scriptural term and making a sectarian usage of it. The “Brethren” are distinguished from “Friends,” and “Disciples” from “Saints” as well as “Christians.” The height of such folly is seen when a group calls itself United Brethren to distinguish itself from Brethren, Friends, and Disciples.
I am in the “church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2), but am not a member of The Church of God, a modern sect.
This “church” is worldwide in scope and mission, but I am not a member of The Worldwide Church of God, a modern sect.
I seek to share the Scripture’s “witness” to Yahweh (Jehovah), but refuse to become part of The Jehovah’s Witnesses, a modern religion.
I may agree with some of the reasons for Martin Luther’s opposition to the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation, but I cannot be a member of The Lutheran Church, a contemporary sect.
I may appreciate much of the stand of Menno Simons in the “Radical Revolution” of the sixteenth century, but I refuse to be a member of The Mennonite Church, a modern sect.
I am in the “church of God in Christ Jesus” (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14), but am not a member of The Church of God in Christ, a modern sect.
I am in the “church of Christ” (cf. Romans 16:16), but refuse to identify myself as a member of The Church of Christ.
There are modern groups designating themselves as The Church of God, The Churches of Christ, The Church of God in Christ, The Assembly of God, and The Churches of God. The usage, however, is incorrect and wrong when used in an unscriptural sense. It is wrong to take any Scriptural term and elevate it as a denominational title to the exclusion of other terms given by the Holy Spirit of God in Scripture.
It is doubly wrong to take an unscriptural term and make it a denominational designation. It is even more unscriptural and wrong to elevate a human being, however honorable, so that a denomination takes a man’s name as its official title (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:3-6, 21-23).
I am a part of the community of Christ. It is the body of the Lord, the assembly of God, the flock of God, the congregation of Christ. I am in the kingdom of God, am part of the temple of God, and am a member of God’s family.
It is composed of brothers and sisters, believers, saints, disciples, followers, Christians, and friends. Every saved person on earth is in it—in regard to its worldwide manifestation. Every faithful Christian should seek to be part of an obedient fellowship in its local setting. It is not a party. It is not a conglomeration of sects. It is not a denomination, sect, or cult. It is not an institutional organization or religious corporation. I am simply a Christian!
It is clear from this discussion that it is possible to be neither Protestant nor Catholic, but to be simply a Christian. It is possible to be nothing more and nothing less than the early disciples were: Paul, Peter, Timothy, John, Barnabas, Silas, Titus, Mary, Ananias, Philip, Lydia, Priscilla, and Aquila.
You do not need to be molded by the denominational world around you. It is possible to be undenominational. It is possible to be a Christian only. If you are presently a member of a sect, party, church group, or denomination, won’t you thoughtfully consider this message? You too can be a Christian only!
(The above study was found in a little paper some 40 years ago, written by a controversial preacher, but it has been extensively adapted and revised.)