A brother suggests that the mainstream of congregations calling themselves Churches of Christ are either a “sect” or “denomination,” but that his associates (whose sign says “church of Christ”) escape both those categories and any identification with founding fathers Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone.
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Whether we spell “church(es)” with a capital or lower-case letter isn’t nearly so indicative of a sectarian or denominational attitude, I would suggest, as how we think about God’s entire people in the world and “our” relationship to that larger whole. Any group of professing Christians which can identify itself in distinction from other professing Christians is probably either a sect or a denomination (as I would use the terms). If such a group thinks that it is synonymous with the entire body of Christ, so that all Christians are found within its borders, it is a SECT — no matter how it spells its “name.” If such a group supposes that it contains some but not all Christians in the world, it is a DENOMINATION — no matter what its “name.”
When I was growing up 40-50 years ago, most of us in the C/churches of Christ probably were a sect by that definition, although we strenuously denied it. Today, a great many of us have learned that we are not God’s only people after all, and, by these definitions, we are likely a denomination. I don’t like either choice, but I cannot realistically see how we have any other in a fallen world if we have any identity larger than a local church yet smaller than the church universal.
Is it even possible to be a nondenominational and non-sectarian Christian? Yes, if one either avoids any association with other Christians (which is a very unscriptural notion and an oxymoron by New Testament standards), or if one associates with other believers in a local congregation but eschews any larger religious “identity” common to some but not all God’s people throughout the world. Expressions such as “our brotherhood,” “our fellowship,” “the Lord’s church,” or “the New Testament church” are usually code-words for what is actually either a sect (if one thinks that all God’s people are found under his/her own entry in the Yellow Pages) or a denomination (if one thinks of one’s Yellow Pages designation as including some but not all God’s people).
As for Stone and Campbell, the historical heirs are no less their descendants by ignoring that fact than you or I might change our genealogy by pretending that our grandparents never existed. Better to acknowledge our historical roots, confess our dependence on God, and take our place among his larger band of pilgrims who, at this particular moment, happen to be passing through the world. “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible” (Eph. 6:24).