Wednesday, September 23, 2015

School Paper: “Denominational Identity Essay” (Fall 2010)

This was a paper in which we were required to defend our personal denominational tradition, whatever that may have been. I’m probably less passionate about “non-denominationalism” now than I was then, though I think some of the passion exhibited here had a lot to do with just giving the professor what I figured he was looking for.

In the early days of Bible college, I was obsessed with learning, and using, new vocabulary words, a number of which make an appearance here. Appellation. Delineate. Preclude. Predicate. Ostensible. Remonstrative. Also, the things I say here about the mode of baptism are pretty funny considering what I’ve written on that topic since then.

Denominational Identity Essay
Baptist History
November 6, 2010


I grew up in a non-denominational church atmosphere. As the name would imply, non-denominational simply means “unaffiliated with a denomination.” Contrary to common assumptions, the appellation is in no way intended to connote hostility or resentment toward denominational Christians, though many in the non-denominational camp have sadly made this a justifiable misconception. The general attitude of the people in my home church, however, has never been one of haughty superiority and I am thankful. Outside of our home congregation, my family regularly visited denominational churches of every kind. While we remained persuaded in our conviction that Christ did not want his Church to be divided, this never kept us from enjoying regular fellowship with our brothers and sisters affiliated with official denominations.


It seems appropriate to begin with a defense of what is clearly the most distinguishing mark of my ecclesiastical tradition, namely, our lack of denominational affiliation. I define the word denomination as a group of individual, like-minded congregations who join together under an official organizational structure for purposes such as financial support and the synergetic effect afforded by cooperation. While the motives of these denominational bodies are undoubtedly laudable, I argue that the formulation of such organizational entities is unbiblical and conducive to the disunity of Christ’s church.

Denominations are non-biblical in the sense that no scriptural evidence can be presented for the legitimacy of Christ’s people dividing themselves into organizations to the exclusion of other brothers and sisters in Christ. Non-denominational Christians maintain a strong conviction “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). Denominations are also unbiblical in the sense that they actively work against the ideal prescribed for the Church in Scripture. Paul urged the Corinthian church to “be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). He reprimands anyone who would seek to partition the body of Christ with an incisive rhetorical question: “Is Christ divided?” (1:13) Paul later contends that division betrays fleshly tendencies rather than spiritual maturity (3:1-5). The conviction of my church to be unaffiliated with an established denomination reflects our desire to promote the kind of unity for which Christ prayed on the night of his death: “I do not ask for these [twelve disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” (John 17:20-21). The unity of those who follow Christ should portray the unity of the very triune Godhead; a portrayal that is difficult to achieve with a denominationally divided Church.

General Doctrine

Non-denominational churches have a poor reputation for doctrinal apathy. This, however, has thankfully not been my own experience as my home church has always stressed the importance of sound doctrine. A general and representative sampling of our theological convictions can be delineated in our doctrines of God, justification, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper.


My church has always firmly upheld an orthodox view on the triune nature of God. The doctrine of the Trinity is the belief that God is one and exists in three co-eternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While the word “trinity” is never used in the Bible, the idea signified by the word is found pervasively throughout Scripture.

The fundamental premise of the doctrine of the Trinity is Scripture’s clear revelation that God is one. In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses announces to the people of Israel the statutes by which they are to live and begins with the proclamation that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). James identified the oneness of God as a fundamental axiom that even demons do not deny (Jas 2:19; cf. 1 Tim 2:5, Rom. 3:30). Arguably no other truth is more basic to the Christian faith than the truth that there is only one God.

In addition to this unambiguous teaching that God is one, the Bible also speaks of plurality in the Godhead. This is a truth that is revealed most clearly in the New Testament, but evidence for a plurality of divine persons can also be seen in the Old Testament. One example is found in the creation account of Genesis wherein God states, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26; cf. 3:22, 11:7). The use of the plural pronoun rather than the singular indicates a plurality of persons in God. This plurality at which the Old Testament merely hints is fully revealed in the New Testament as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Each of these distinct persons is equally God. The Father is God (1 Cor. 8:6), the Son is God (John 1:1, Col. 2:8-9), and the Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4, John 3:5-6 with 1 John 4:7).

Justification By Faith

Justification is an act of God in which he declares as righteous those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that the sinner becomes intrinsically righteous or meritorious, but that the perfect merits of Christ are imputed to the one who trusts in Christ’s finished work. Paul spoke of this alien righteousness in his letter to the Philippian church: “that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9). This doctrine is diametrically opposed to the idea of earning justification through works of the law. Paul clearly taught that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16). Justification is received through faith alone apart from works of the law (Rom. 3:28).

At this point, the familiar reader of Scripture may stumble over the contention of James that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24). James is here using the word justify in a different sense. As evidenced by the context (condemnation of faith that doesn’t evidence itself by works), James is using the term justify to mean something similar to the word verify. In other words, his argument is that the legitimacy of one’s faith is verified by works and not by a mere faith without works, which is dead (v. 17). We are declared righteous in the sight of God by faith alone, but we are seen to be righteous in the sight of men by the works which accompany true saving faith. James, rather than contradicting Paul, profoundly complements the teaching that we are justified by faith.


Baptism is the ordinance in which a new believer is immersed into water for the purpose of publicly identifying themselves with the body of Christ. The proper mode of baptism is not explicitly stated in Scripture, but immersion appears to best fit the biblical accounts of baptism. Mark’s gospel records that John the Baptist baptized “in the Jordan river” (Mark 1:5), which appears to preclude the notion of mere sprinkling as practiced in some Protestant traditions. In John’s gospel, we’re told that the reason John the Baptist baptized in a certain area was “because water was plentiful there.” Since neither sprinkling nor pouring requires much water, this lends support to the view that the proper mode of baptism is immersion.

Christians have also historically disagreed over the question of who should be baptized. The testimony of Scripture seems clear that only those who have exercised a conscious faith in Christ should be baptized. Luke records that “those who received [Peter’s] word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). Later, in light of a surge of new believers, Peter asks the question, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit, just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) These passages seem to indicate that baptism is predicated upon believing the gospel.

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is the second ordinance of Christianity which, unlike baptism, is observed many times throughout the life of the believer. This ordinance corresponds to Christ’s ostensibly bizarre teaching in the sixth chapter of John: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). The institution of the Lord’s Supper is recorded in all of the synoptic gospels (Matt. 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:18-20).

The principal purpose of observing the Lord’s Supper is to remember the death of Christ. Jesus explained that the broken bread represented his body and the wine his blood (Matt. 26:26-28). When we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we are remembering Christ’s broken body and the blood he shed for our sins. Paul wrote that as we continually observe the Lord’s Supper, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). As believers, we take great joy in having the privilege to participate in this memorial supper as we wait for the return of our Savior.

Concluding Remarks

While maintaining a respect for my brothers and sisters in other denominations, I do not anticipate becoming part of another ecclesiastical tradition; at least not in the foreseeable future. I have always been suspicious of what I believe is an unhealthy emphasis of Pentecostal churches on miraculous gifts such as tongues and healing. Methodist denominations are pervasively Arminian, which is troublesome at best for a Calvinist such as me. While I deeply admire the Reformed traditions of Presbyterianism, I cannot in good conscience concede the legitimacy of infant baptism. I do, however, maintain much doctrinal agreement with Baptist denominations, and while I remain non-denominational at heart, I am currently active in a local Baptist congregation where I enjoy valuable fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

This class has been extremely helpful in forcing me to think critically about my ecclesiastical traditions and to understand them in light of the historic, organizational methods of the Baptist denomination. After the first class lecture, I had a fresh understanding of what it meant to be a Baptist and I realized that “baptistic” was a legitimately helpful way to describe my own non-denominational tradition. I am more thankful now for the work that God has done through Baptists over the past four centuries, and I have a deeper appreciation for those remonstrative Christians on whose shoulders I stand today.

No comments: