Keeping The Faith By Jack Kinsella Today’s Omega Letter isn’t for everybody. If things are…
When ‘Denominations’ Become ‘Religions’
By Jack Kinsella
One of the most paradoxical elements within modern Christianity is the sheer number of different denominations, doctrines and beliefs, all derived in some way from the same source Book.
It is at this point that we should consider two things to keep in mind as we progress; the first is that Christianity is not a ‘religion’ but a relationship; and the second is that denominationalism within that relationship is deliberate.
At Babel, God deliberately confused the languages of men and dispersed them into different nations. The purpose, according to Genesis, was to prevent them from all coming under the authority of a single dictator, as happened under Nimrod.
Denominationalism is the spiritual equivalent, ensuring that one powerful leader couldn’t take over Christianity and lead the true Church into error, as the Bible says the antichrist will during the Tribulation Period.
There is an effort by some world church denominations to reverse the process and bring all denominations together under the banner of ‘ecumenism’ but, because the separation is Divinely ordained, it has been unable to attract those denominations that most closely follow the Bible.
Jesus Himself addressed denominationalism, writing to the seven Churches in the first three chapters of Revelation. Each of these churches is different, both in their doctrine and in the emphasis they place on it.
Thus, we have the Church of Ephesus ‘hating the deeds of the Nicolaitanes’ (a separate status for clergy and ‘laity’) whereas the Church of Pergamos is depicted as holding to “the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.” (Revelation 2:6,15)
It isn’t the denominationalism that Jesus ‘hated’ but the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, who developed a complicated hierarchy of bishops, priests, and ‘laity’ to oversee a Grand Church, as opposed to the Biblical model of local church self-government.
As noted, there is a difference between a denomination and a religion. There are a number of denominations that share the same basic statement of faith, that of the sin nature, the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, the Power of the Shed Blood of Christ to cover sin, the free offer of salvation to all who trust Jesus’ sacrifice, and who share the belief that salvation is the product of a relationship with Christ, not a relationship with a church.
How can you tell if you are a member of a Christian denomination or a ‘Christian religion’? There are eight sure signs, any of which should make a Bible-believing Christian sit up and take notice.
‘Religion’ can be defined as man’s way of making himself acceptable to God, whereas Christianity is God’s way of making man acceptable to Himself through a personal relationship.
‘Religion’ imparts power to its leaders; Christianity empowers believers and views leaders as servants.
The first sign that a denomination has gone ‘religious’ is the denial of the true nature of God. The Unitarians deny the Triune nature of the Godhead, for example. Many allegedly Christian religions deny the Deity of Christ, commonly claiming that Christ as God was not an early Church teaching.
A second warning sign is the emphasis on salvation by works. Although many religions include the idea that God’s grace is important in the role of salvation, the leader normally emphasizes the idea that salvation ultimately comes through one’s own efforts — as defined by ‘the church’.
This imparts power to the religion, since it changes salvation from a gift to wages, and gives the religious hierarchy the authority to act as paymaster.
The third sign is that of exclusive truth. Religions tend to universally identify themselves as the ‘one true church’ to the exclusion of all others. They will agree that some other denominations have some truth, but teach that full truth has somehow been lost and can now only be found in their ‘one true church’.
Fourth, religions prefer an authoritative leadership, some to the extent that they claim to speak directly for God. This is the ultimate result of the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes that Jesus twice said He ‘hated’.
The authoritative leadership of the Pharisees and Sadducees came under withering condemnation by the Lord during His earthly ministry. Religions tend to follow the letter of the law — as they interpret it, rather than observing the spirit in which it was intended.
We’ll explain the difference between the ‘letter of the law’ and the ‘spirit of the law’ using a secular example. The ‘spirit’ of the graduated income tax law was to ensure, (in theory, at least) that all citizens pay their fair share of the tax burden.
But by following the ‘letter’ of the tax law, many wealthy citizens get away with paying less taxes than those living just above the poverty line.
Fifth, religions also tend to impose their own form of taxation as a condition of salvation. Some religions equate tithing with salvation or staying in a right relationship with God.
The Bible imposes no such burden. The Pharisee tithed, loudly and with great pomp and circumstance. The widow, on the other hand, gave two ‘mites’ — the smallest coin values of Jesus’ day. Jesus condemned the Pharisee, and commended the widow.
Giving is prompted by the Holy Spirit, Whose ministry the true Church belongs to in the first place. ‘Giving til it hurts’ is a man-made doctrine with an obvious goal that has nothing to do with the things of the Spirit.
A sixth warning sign of a denomination going ‘religious’ is the threat of loss of salvation to those who leave. One group with such a belief is the Boston Church of Christ, also known as the International Churches of Christ.
The leaders of the ICC teach that there should only be one church in any particular city, which they say is the New Testament model. If you leave to attend another, you leave your salvation behind at the door.
Seventh, Religions also tend to heap to themselves extra-Biblical authority. The ex-cathedra teachings of the Roman Catholic Popes are given equal weight with Scriptures, and in the case of conflict, are considered superior.
The same principle applies to Catholic Church dogma. Catholics are taught that when dogma and the Scriptures conflict, Church teachings and tradition are to be given superior weight.
Finally, the eighth sign of Christianity being perverted into a religion is the offer of unique truths never before revealed. The idea that a hidden mystery or new truth is available through a particular church should be taken as a strong sign that this group is a counterfeit Christian religion.
God has very clearly shown His truth through the pages of the Bible. A new doctrine, new truth, or special word from God suggests that God left something out of Scripture.
But Scripture says that it is complete, so by its nature, if it is some ‘new’ doctrine or truth, it is contradictory with the revealed Word of God.
Salvation is not the product of religion — indeed, religion is an obstacle to salvation. Salvation comes by trusting in the Shed Blood of Christ as full payment for all sins.
Religion offers salvation in exchange for putting your trust into that particular religious system.
Salvation is part of an direct and individual relationship with Christ. Religion offers salvation as part of a corporate system of conditions and works.
That is not to say that Christians shouldn’t attend church — I don’t want to send the wrong message. It is important to meet regularly with like-minded believers and we are told in Scripture not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
But church is NOT religion. It is an expression of corporate worship by individual believers. The person who thinks membership with a church makes one a Christian is as deluded as a person who thinks standing in a parking lot makes one a car.
The Bible teaches that all men are sinners, and all men require salvation to enjoy fellowship with God. (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23)
There is only one way to be saved during the Church Age, and that is by accepting the free gift of pardon procured at the Cross and offered freely to all men through Jesus Christ. (John 3:36, 5:24, 14:6)
That the gift of salvation is offered freely to all men is the expressed Will of God, as recorded in 2nd Peter 3:9.
It doesn’t matter how bad a sinner one is, Jesus offers salvation to even the worst sinners.
Wrote the Apostle Paul, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (1st Timothy 1:15-16) Paraphrased into modern vernacular, Paul’s statement boils down to, “If Jesus saved me, He’ll save anybody!” All anyone need do is ask.
Finally, the Bible assures us that once we are right with God, no religion or system has any claim to our eternal salvation.
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)