What Does It Mean to Be A Non-Denominational Church?
What is a Denomination?
A church denomination is defined as: a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices. It is said that there are over 40,000 different Christian denominations, however, there are really three main branches: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. Catholics make up the majority of Christian believers at roughly 50%; Protestants are second at 39%; and Orthodox believers make up about 11%. There are a large number of different Protestant denominations with varying beliefs, most of them falling under the sub-category of Pentecostal, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist and Seventh Day Adventist.
C3 Church Naples is a Bible Believing Non-Denominational Church. This means that we have no affiliation or ties to any denomination or man-made organization – instead, we adhere to the instructions found in the full council of God’s Word (The Bible) and believe that Christ is the Head the Church. We are a registered non-profit 501c3 and have an advisory board for accountability over financial matters, but for all things spiritual, we are a Christ Centered Church – He is the head and we are His body.
We were not always a true Non-Denominational church, though. If you read our Church History, you will see that we were originally Community Congregational Church, which declined due to unbiblical leadership structure and divisions caused by factions developed by worldly ideas and the desires of people. The decision was made to turn to God and create a biblical structure for our church, which ultimately meant doing away with the denominational affiliation. This meant changing our name to “Christ Centered Church”, which accurately reflects what we are today.
The problem today is that most churches claiming to be Non-Denominational have only changed the name of their church but have not done away with their denominational affiliation or beliefs. Most churches presenting themselves as non-denominational are Pentecostal, Baptist, or Seventh Day Adventist. As a result, many people who are looking for a non-denominational church find themselves victims of a worldly bait and switch tactic and have developed resentments against church. What naturally follows in a church that lacks transparency is impropriety in other areas as well.
The Idea of Denominations Is Not Biblical
Although there were some heresies (false teachings) in the early church, they were rejected as such and the Church was fairly unified. It wasn’t until 1054 A.D. that the church had its first major denominational split between (what are known today as) the Orthodox and Catholic Church (Orthodox, simply meaning the correct belief and Catholic meaning universal). For the first thousand years of Christianity, there were councils and debates about things, but the Church was largely unified (although tensions increased between the eastern and western churches leading up the split). These fractures continued through history from the first big split, leaving us today with over 40,000 Christian Denominations.
Not only is the concept of a Christian Denomination foreign to the Bible, it was one of the Apostle Paul’s worst nightmares. A major theme in some of Paul’s letters (which make up 13 of our New Testament books) is unity in the church – in fact, it could be said that it is the very theme of Ephesians and the reason for writing Romans. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses this topic at great length, scolding the Corinthian Church for creating factions that follow either Peter, Apollos or himself. In chapters 8 – 10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the subject of dividing over certain rules (in that case, eating meat sacrificed to idols) – this is the topic in Romans 14 as well. Ultimately, the conclusion that Paul draws is that these rules should not divide us as we can operate under the direction of our conscience regarding what we would call “secondary doctrine” today.
At C3, we keep The Main Thing The Main Thing. There are absolutes we adhere to which are not up for discussion – this is The Gospel as outlined in 1 Corinthians 15 and the foundational beliefs of Christianity (for those see our Beliefs and Doctrinal Statement). Outside of those main things, other doctrine is secondary in nature and may be discussed and debated, but not argued about to the point of division.
When writing to his protégés, Titus and Timothy, Paul gives instructions about how the church is to be run and he gives warnings about false teachers and those who cause division, saying, “Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.” (Titus 3:9-11) and “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:23-25)
As we can see, the early church had its issues, which were the issues of the day, as we too have ours, but there was no call to divide over them – and certainly no call to start new denominations. The only legitimate causes for divide were major heresies, such as denying the Deity of Christ (Arianism), which was denounced. The split in 1054 A.D. was (in part) over issues regarding the authority of the Pope and the role Holy Spirit. Many Protestants don’t realize that it was not Martin Luther’s intention to start a new denomination (in fact, he never stopped being a Catholic), nor do they understand that they are many degrees off from the Orthodoxy before the original split in the Church. When something in the Bible is not clear regarding the Church, it is a good practice to look at early Church history to find an example of how it was understood. The farther away from the source we get, the farther away from the right teaching we are – which is why the Bible itself is always best.
What Does This Mean to You?
If you are just reading this article for informational purposes and looking for a church, you should look beyond the church sign and ask if they are affiliated in any way with a certain denomination. If the answer is no, it is also very important to ask if they came from a denomination and what that background is. What beliefs have they changed and are members allowed to have differing opinions about those beliefs? If so, how are those beliefs expressed? It should always be in a gentle and loving manner according to the Word of God.
If you live in Naples and decide to join us at C3 Church, you will be treated with love and respect no matter what your beliefs are.