In Defense of Denominations and Denominational Churches

There are many who have trouble with the idea of being part of a local church and do not want anything to do with them, and many people point to denominations as a major culprit, as if they are inherently sinful. The arguments usually start by decrying the “man made” organization that today’s local churches follow. After all, the church is not a building, it is a group of people in a locality, in other words it is an organism not an organization. On top of that you shouldn’t refer to it as “your” church because churches are not something to be possessed, it is something in which we partake.

After these usual semantics are expressed, many times the conversation will turn toward denominations. They will usually be argued against by saying something like, the practice of a denomination is to separate yourself from brothers and sisters through our thoughts and opinions, and Ephesians chapter 4 clearly tells us we are to seek unity.  So this separations is a serious problem. On top of that, denominations are regularly contentious with each other over members because they want them all to come to be followers of their particular distinctives. Finally, if you want real clarity on this issue all you need to do is look at 1 Cor. 1 which says…

1Co 1:11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

1Co 1:12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

1Co 1:13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Doesn’t this passage clearly condemn the very nature of denominations? You can be a follower of the Baptists or the Presbyterians if you want, but not me; I’m a Christ-follower.

Now the first thing we must see, beside a usual miss-characterization of denominational churches, is the self-refuting nature of these accusations. What they are arguing, is that the way churches and denominations are functioning today is wrong and they all need to correct themselves by aligning themselves under the arguers understanding of a local church, because according to them, they follow Christ’s example not man’s. So what they are doing in arguing against someone like myself is trying to convert me to their particular distinctives, along with everyone else with whom they come in contact. But as we all know not everyone will buy into this understanding of the local church which is really and anti-understanding. But some people will, and as they begin to align themselves under this theology they will begin to study under teachers who teach it and listen to preachers who preach it and gather together to take the Lord’s supper and etc. And before you know it, what they have become is the very nature of a denomination. Whether they want to call themselves by a certain name (nomination) or not, or even claim to be not-a-denomination (non-denominational) that is exactly what they have become.

Not only are they organized under their theology of a local church, they are actually trying to get others out of their denominations and come to their not-a-denomination. But if they can do it, why can’t other denominations? But here is the real issue, they are actually more divisive than most regular denominations because most regular denominations are not so concerned with getting everyone to their particular distinctives. They realize that as long as we agree on the essentials we can differ on the secondary doctrine and do not need to get someone to switch churches to be part of a healthy local church. Which happens to be something the person who argues against denominations cannot do. For them, in order for someone to be in a healthy local church, they must get out of a denominational church and become like the anti-denominational people, because denominations are sinful.

So what about Ephesians chapter 4 and First Corinthians chapter one? In Eph 4 it says we should be striving for unity and I believe many denominations agree with this. They (like the arguer) believe they understand what the will of God is and desire that all Christian be united under that truth. And if the arguer can do this why can’t a particular denomination.

To understand the passage in 1 Corinthians 1, we must realize that Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ, all taught the same doctrine. So when the people said I am of Paul or Apollos they were not disagreeing over the doctrine. The contention was one of mere personal pride. Some wanted everyone to know that it was Paul who led them to Christ as if that gave them some special clout to hold over other people. Others thought that being of Apollos was something to be proud of because historically and Biblically Apollos was a great orator, so some people thought that made them better than other Christians. Now it is true that some denominations and even some specific churches have these sins associated with them. They have divided because of these sinful contentions, but my point is that the divisions that Paul was addressing are not what typically brought many denominations to fruition. The contentions are usually doctrinal, and Paul took doctrine very seriously. Even to the point of dividing with people he thought were teaching incorrect doctrine.

Now if we read this passage the way I assume the arguer usually attempts to use it (to justify an argument against denominations), we would have to assume that Paul is talking about doctrinal issues. But if this is the case then we would have to assume that Paul and Apollos etc. where all teaching different doctrine and that Paul was telling them to not worry about doctrine, just be united anyway, which is something Paul never said.

What is really interesting about this passage is that Paul mentions that some were saying they were “of Christ” too.  As if this gave them some special prestige. After all they didn’t follow the traditions of some teacher. They learned directly from Christ Himself. But if we are reading this as if this applies to denouncing denominations, shouldn’t saying we are of Christ be a good thing? Isn’t it true that we really aren’t of Paul or Apollos but of Christ after all. He is the true head of the Church. But Paul is arguing that even claiming to be of Christ and not of any other teacher etc. can be divisive and sinful. This statement makes it clear that Paul was not saying it is always wrong to gather under certain associations or nominal affiliations, because we should gather under the affiliation of Christ. What we have to keep clear here is that Paul is not speaking of doctrinal differences since they all taught the same thing, but of proud sinful divisions when they all believed the same doctrine. My argument is that denominations by definition do not fit into what Paul was addressing here, even though some denominations and local churches may act this way.

I actually believe that if Paul, Apollos, and Peter had all been teaching different doctrine and only Peter was correct, In that sense it would actually have been commendable to say I am of Peter and not of Paul. Likewise, if the Baptists are right and the Methodists are wrong or vise versa, it would actually good to say I am of one and not the other. Ultimately, it turns out the arguer is being more divisive than most denominations by rejecting them all based on an improper understanding of this passage. If this passage is to be read to fit denominations, the arguer is the one claiming to be of Christ. They are the ones claiming not to follow any teacher or group except Christ and refuse to have any other nominal associations. But remember Paul was condemning the people who where saying they were of Christ too. This is why this passage does not mean what they are using it to say. It is good to be of Christ and also good to be nominally associated with Paul and Apollos in that sense. Because they are right and speak the truth of God, but it is wrong if we use it as a prideful sinful division among these men when Paul, Peter, and Christ are united. It is also true that when a local church uses a denominational status in that way, they are acting sinfully, but most denominational differences deal with secondary doctrinal issues rather than mere prestige and pride.

Different denominations can have the unity and the love that Paul talks about even though they do not agree on all secondary doctrines. They can have this unity and love because they agree on the essentials. The argument that is usually made by those against denominations is that they cannot have true unity unless they agree on everything. But if that is true, it logically follows that the arguer cannot have unity with them either because they do not believe exactly the same thing. Now if they argue that they can have unity with someone who does not believe exactly like them, then all we have to ask is, then why can’t denominations?

Finally, what the arguer in these discussions usually neglects is the nature of truth, because many times the arguer will have some idea that unity is more important than truth, which is itself is a “truth” which they are using to separate themselves from others believers. Instead of arguing that all denominations are wrong, simply because they have nominal affiliations or distinctives that set them apart, the real discussion should be about which one lines up closest with the Word of God.

In conclusion, the idea of denominations is not inherently sinful. If it is always wrong to have associations or some kind of particular doctrinal distinctives, then everyone is wrong because even refusing to hold to a particular doctrinal distinctive is itself a particular doctrinal distinctive.





Should Christians be Part of a Local Church?

Faith and Feelings

“But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say you are my God.” Psalms 31:14

In this passage we hear King David make a statement that we’ve heard him say many times, but what is significant are the words that precede this statement. Many people base their relationship with the Lord on their feelings. If we feel close to the Lord then He is close. If we feel far from Him then He is far. If we feel joy, peace, and love then we are in His favor, but if we feel grief, pain, guilt and distress then we are not. If we look at the words of David that precede this verse, we will find statements like “My eye wastes away with grief”, “My bones wastes away”, and “My strength fails me because of my iniquity.” Other words that accompany his plight are “broken,” “trouble,” “reproach,” and “forgotten.”

When we enter times like this we tend to believe that God has forgotten us, or that we’ve been cut off from before His eyes, but if we are his children through faith then this is completely contrary to the truth. God’s faithfulness and truth are not conditioned by our feelings. We enjoy it when good feelings accompany our faith, but we must remember that the faithfulness of God is not based on our feelings.

How does David conclude the Psalm? By calling on all of God’s children to love the Lord and to place their trust in Him. Even though he is struggling with his own doubts and fears He puts the call forward, and speaks the truth of God’s sovereignty and his faithfulness.

You may be in a time in your life where the truth of God’s word is accompanied with times of peace, and comfort. Your worship springs from a fountain of overwhelming joy. Or you may be in a time of your life where you feel dry, broken, and full of reproach. Regardless of how you feel move forward in the Lord. Speak His truth, and work to forward the kingdom of God, because if we are not doing this, it doesn’t really matter what feelings we have. We are commanded by God’s Word to proclaim His truth; we are equipped by His grace, and spurred on by faith, not feelings, to fulfill the works ordained beforehand because we are his workmanship.

On the other side of the coin, many people feel good about their souls condition, but their life does not line up with scripture. The New Age spiritualist may claim to have found peace, but is still under condemnation of the law. Their feelings have deceived them. Only when feelings line up with the Truth can they be trusted. Other than that, they deceive. In our attempt to seek and know God, let us make the Truth of Christ the treasure we seek, and this can only be found in the Word of God.  If we don’t know the Word of God we will not be able to tell whether or not our feelings are lying to us or telling us the truth? This is why the Psalmist says “Thy word I have hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

When times of trouble and distress come, may we say with David “My times are in your hands”. I will not worry about how things make me feel, but I will trust that all that comes my way is ordained by Him and He is faithful, and His word does not waiver with my feelings. Therefore, I will march on proclaiming your truth.

-Doug Eaton-

On Being Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. Matt. 5:3

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? In Matt. 13:44 Jesus tells this parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.” To be poor in spirit is to realize that nothing we have is worth more than the kingdom of God. Knowing this, we become willing to part with anything we have if it hinders us from receiving the kingdom. This is why Jesus said, “No one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” (Luke 14:33)

When we think of possessions, our minds automatically go to things like our homes, cars, big screen televisions, and the luxuries with which we live, and this is certainly part of it. But Jesus goes much further when He says, “If anyone loves even his mother and father more than me, he cannot be my disciple”. Jesus is also including our families in this equation. Do you love your children more than Him? What about your health? If he decided to test your faith with disease, would you still trust Him? When Jesus speaks of possessions, He means everything; our careers, our reputations, even if our aspirations are to be leaders in the Christian community, all of these are to be handed over if He asks. The idea of “possessions” is so complete that it includes everything we hold valuable. Nothing is to be more valuable to us than Christ.

Being poor in spirit is directly related to our faith. We know that, “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him.”(Heb 11:6). Without faith you could never come to Him, because believing that He is and that He will reward those who seek Him is an aspect of faith. If you don’t believe this, than you will not come to Him and thus you do not have faith. We also must realize that it is not the “coming” by which we are justified; it is the “faith”, but the “faith” produces the “coming.”

The same applies to being poor in spirit. The only way we can be “poor in spirit” is to truly believe that He is more valuable than anything we have, and believing that He is more valuable than our possesions is an aspect of our faith also. The entire chapter of Hebrews 11 is about faith, and it lists what some of God people we’re willing to sacrifice because of their faith in God. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (Heb. 11:17) Moses “chose rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches, than the treasures of Egypt (Heb 11:25,26).

“Still others had trials of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:36-38).”

Why would these people be willing to give up so much? It was because, by faith, they became poor in spirit. Nothing in this life was worth sparing if it meant not inheriting the kingdom of God.

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and said, “What must I do to be saved” Jesus told him to sell all he had and to give it to the poor. Jesus was not telling him, do these works and you will be saved, because works cannot save us. Instead, Jesus knew that His heart lacked faith, and was therefore not poor in spirit. He did not believe that following Jesus was more valuable than the things of this world.

Being poor in spirit is not taking vows of poverty, which can be acts of pretense, or despising the blessings God has given us. Instead it is a condition of the heart. As Matthew Henry said,

this poverty of spirit is a gracious disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to our being filled with Jesus Christ.” He also said it was, “To be contentedly poor, willing to be emptied of worldly wealth, if God orders that to be our lot; to bring our mind to our condition, when it is a low condition. Many are poor in the world, but high in spirit, poor and proud, murmuring and complaining, and blaming their lot, but we must accommodate ourselves to our poverty, we must know how to be abased, Phil. 4:12”.

Today as we consider whether we are poor in spirit, may the Lord use this meditation to show us the true state of our hearts before Him? May He work in us a “spirit of poverty” regardless of our outward state. May we be humbly willing to serve our Lord wherever He may lead. May nothing be more valuable to us than our precious Savior. May we understand that we have nothing of value apart from Christ. Let us realize that we are the “unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10), as we remember that the thief on the cross speaks of our condition when he said, “We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Yet Christ responded to him “Today you will be with me in paradise”.

Hold nothing more valuable than this pearl of great price. Be willing to sell all you have to purchase it, if it is required of you. Such actions will not merit you anything toward salvation, but they prove that your faith is a living faith, by which you are justified, thus showing that you are poor in spirit and blessed because yours is the kingdom of God.

-Doug Eaton-

Law and Theology Lectures (Video and MP3)

Trinity Law School has begun to post a few lectures and is planning on adding more soon. Most of them are on youtube but they are starting to add the MP3 downloads for these lectures also.

You can find the first few at the Trinity Lectures page.

God Bless,


Systematic Theology: What is it and Why is it Important?

 Here is a short video I did on the importance of systematic theology.  It starts with an analogy as to why it is important and then briefly covers the eight main categories usually associated with systematic theology.