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Denominationalism, John 15:5

Victor M. Eskew


            Christianity has been on the earth since the early part of the first century.  The church that Jesus promise to build was started on Pentecost Day following the Lord’s resurrection (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:47).  Several years later, the disciples of Jesus Christ were called Christians in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:26).  After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Christianity was clearly seen as a religion of its own.

            The concept of denominationalism did not arise until hundreds of years after the establishment of the church in the first century.  The true church apostatized as was prophesied by the New Testament writers (Acts 20:29-30; II Thess. 2:3-5; I Tim. 4:1-3).  The apostasy resulted in the formation of the Catholic Church.  Over the course of time, some men saw the corruption of Catholic doctrine.  In their studies of the Bible, they saw that God’ Word conflicted with the teachings of Catholicism.  In the 1500’s a Reformation Movement began.  Slowly, men came out of Catholicism and toward the truth of the gospel.  Sadly, their efforts often fell short.  Many started writing creed books that set forth their beliefs.  Groups crystallized around these creeds and ultimately became denominations. 

            Most people in the U.S. do not question the validity of denominationalism.  They believe that diversity in religion is good.  It affords the masses the ability to attend the church of their choice.  In the minds of most, one church is as good as another.  When one questions the concept of denominationalism, others are put on the defensive.  They viciously attack those who oppose denominationalism as being judgmental, mean-spirited, and unloving.

            However, the question must still be asked:  “Does the Bible teach the concept of denominationalism?”  In other words, has God authorized the existence of hundreds of churches, calling themselves by different names, and teaching conflicting doctrines?  Some will say, “Yes.”  One of the texts to which they turn is John 15:5.  It states:  “I am the vine, ye are the branches:  he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit:  for without me ye can do nothing.”  The argument is that the different branches represent the different denominational bodies that are in the world today.

There are two reasons why this interpretation cannot be true.  First, an honest exegesis of John 15:1-8 reveals that the branches are individuals, not denominations.  In John 15:6, Jesus says:  “If a man abide not in me…”  Jesus is talking about individual people, “a man.”  He is not talking about denominations.  Second, common sense will not allow the denominational approach to this text.  If each branch is a different denomination, then one vine is bearing many different kinds of fruit.  Such is not possible.  Grape vines have branches that produce only grapes.  In like manner, the true vine, Jesus Christ, will only bear one manner of fruit, Christians.  Jesus does not bring forth different branches of hyphenated Christians (i.e., Baptist-Christians, Methodist-Christians, Presbyterian-Christians, etc.).

What has happened is that individuals have gone to the Bible trying to prove a doctrine to be true.  In so doing, they have wrested the scripture to their own destruction (II Pet. 3:16).  What individuals need to do is to turn to the Bible and see what it has to say about denominationalism.  They will find that denominationalism is not taught in God’s Word.  There is only one body (Eph. 4:4), the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).  God wants His followers to be united in this one body (Eph. 2:13-22).  God’s people are to speak the same things and have no divisions among them (I Cor. 1:10).  When God’s people do this, they will have a marvelous impact upon an unbelieving world (John 17:20-21).