|Volume 25 Number 9 September 2023
Louis Rushmore, Editor
As a fluke when looking for information for this article, I typed “predenominational” into an Internet browser. To my surprise, I found the following quotation in the first entry on the first page. I was taken by surprise to find it on Baptist “debate forums.” It is a carefully worded and accurate representation of what the churches of Christ (Romans 16:16) are supposed to be pursuing. However, the paragraph below was penned by someone in 2010 from Indiana who veiled his identity and noted his affiliation with a house church.
A predenominational Christian is a Christian or disciple of Christ who seeks to base all of his religious beliefs and practices upon the New Testament itself, starting with the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He desires to recover original New Testament Christianity, or the faith once delivered unto the saints. He is neither Catholic nor Protestant and rejects any and all Catholic and Protestant traditions that are inconsistent with or contrary to the New Testament, no matter how deeply-entrenced (sic) these traditions may have become. His overriding goal is to be true to Christ and true to the New Testament. (adisciplinedlearner)
The first response and immediately on the same day as the post by adisciplinedlearner was highly critical and an unapologetic defense of religious confusion among believers in Christ, which has resulted in the existence of the Catholic Church and a myriad of denominations and nondenominational churches – as well as endless doctrines that conflict with each other and with the Word of God. Someone calling himself Dr. Walter responded, “Your definition is basically the definition that every cult and a (sic) every new movement (which eventually becomes a denomination) that has every (sic) arisen within Christendom has used (sic) has (sic) espoused and used to defend its separation from the rest of Christendom in the history of Christianity.” Dr. Walter doesn’t appear to have any interest in biblical integrity for what he believes and practices or for what anyone else believes and practices religiously.
Viewing additional web browser entries and as I expected, there were entries written by members of the churches of Christ, such as an article by Aaron Purvis entitled, “Pre-Denominational Christianity.” Interestingly, though, an Orthodox congregation also represented itself as a source of pre-denominational Christianity, despite that the Orthodox Catholic Church began hundreds of years after the establishment of the Lord’s church in Jerusalem about A.D. 33.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word “nondenominational” was first used in 1858. The word appears in a history of Christendom that was first copyrighted in 1918 (Walker). I don’t know when our brethren began using the term “nondenominational” to refer to the Lord’s church, but I’ve heard it since I obeyed the Gospel over 50 years ago. I’m sure its use predates that, perhaps by several decades.
“Nondenominational” means “not restricted to a denomination” (Merriam-Webster). While that is true regarding the churches of Christ, the expression falls far short of adequately distinguishing the Lord’s church from manmade churches. These days, there are many nondenominational churches, however, which are no more practicing primitive Christianity revealed in the Bible than the denominations they disdain. They are springing up everywhere with their eccentric names, such as Sacred Fire Church, Second Chance Church, Open Circle Church, Celebration Church, White House Tabernacle, Influencer Church, The River Church and Sonshine Ministries Church.
It’s no wonder that members of the churches of Christ at some point began using the word “pre-denominational” instead of “non-denominational.” The earliest that I’ve found in print for the use of “pre-denominational” is in an advertisement by 21st Century Christian that appeared in 2003 and 2004 editions of The World Evangelist, which Basil Overton edited at that time. I suspect that the saying predated those ads.
Of course, the churches of Christ are not trying to be different from anyone or anything; that’s just not our pursuit. Instead, we’re trying to be identical to the church for which Jesus Christ died to establish (Acts 20:28), over which He alone is the Head (Ephesians 1:22) and for which at the Second Coming He will return to retrieve and take back with Him to Heaven forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Also, our members are not perfect, and neither were Christians in the first century sinless (1 John 1:8, 10). Especially the epistles to the church at Corinth and Revelation 2-3 were written to correct sinful behavior. The New Testament books exist to make things aright where Christians and congregations failed to practice Christianity correctly, as well as to provide needed guidance. Today, we do not attempt to imitate the failures of persons and churches about which we read upon the pages of inspiration, but we endeavor to follow the examples of exemplary people such as the apostle Paul. He wrote, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NKJV).
We try to implement the ideals for the Lord’s church as specified throughout the New Testament. We turn to it to discern what God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ have authorized for salvation, Christian living, Christian worship, Christian service and doctrine. Though sometimes we falter as Christians and even as local churches, “…we have an Advocate [attorney] with the Father, Jesus Christ…” (1 John 2:1) through Whom our sins can be forgiven (Acts 8:22). All have sinned (Romans 3:10, 23), and remaining in that condition is eternally fatal (Romans 6:23). One way to view the difference between the “saved” (Acts 2:38, 41, 47) and those outside of the Lord’s church is to contrast forgiven sinners with unforgiven sinners.
Yes, the first century church about which anyone can read in the New Testament – and that we earnestly seek to be in the 21st century – is certainly pre-denominational. I left my family religion on a quest to find the one, true church – the one, true church of the Bible – and it appears to me as I look back at the days leading up to my conversion that God’s providence put everything in place for me to discover the Lord’s church in our time. I won’t go back, and I refuse to forsake the Captain of my salvation (Hebrews 2:10), though I’m sometimes a weak specimen of God’s people (Romans 7:19; Galatians 5:17). Let’s march on together toward the heavenly horizon (Hebrews 11:10; 13:14), determined to persuade as many precious souls as possible to make the pilgrimage with us (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Adisciplinedlearner. BaptistBoard. 23 Jul 2010. 1 Sep 2023. <https://www.baptistboard.com/threads/what-is-a-predenominational-christian.61772/>.
“Nondenominational.” Merriam-Webster. 1 Sep 2023. < https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nondenominational>.
Purvis, Aaron. “Pre-Denominational Christianity.” Let Us Reason. 3 Dec. 2012. 1 Sep. 2023. <https://www.letusreasononline.com/single-post/2012/12/03/PreDenominational-Christianity>.
Walker, Williston, et al. A History of the Christian Church. Fourth Edition. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918, 1946, 1959, 1970, 1985.
Walter, Dr. BaptistBoard. 23 Jul 2010. 1 Sep 2023. <https://www.baptistboard.com/threads/what-is-a-predenominational-christian.61772/>.