But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His (Romans 8:9).
We at the Port Austin Bible Church want everyone to understand what we mean when we say we are "non-denominational Christian". Very briefly, we believe Christians are God's people who are scattered within and without many different church denominations and organizations. To understand in more detail, let us read what the Bible says about "the Church". The Church is the "Body of Christ" (Ephesians 5:23, 29; Colossians 1:18, 24). That body is composed of people who have the Spirit of God dwelling in them (see Romans 8:9, above). It is not the job of humans to decide who is in Christ's Body; the Father and Christ do this:
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me" (John 6:44-45).
"Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. "While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled (John 17:11-12).
A person cannot be one with God and Christ simply by joining a church group, reading the Bible or studying some doctrines. Those things can all be good, but they do not take the place of being chosen and taught by God. Furthermore, Christ does his work through spiritual gifts which "He Himself" gives—these are not given through human instruments, church groups or even theology schools:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).
So how do we know who is in the Body of Christ? We do not know for sure! The Bible gives verses showing how to know some people who are not in His Body (Acts 8:20-23; 1 Corinthians 5:1-7; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7; etc.). But, it is up to Christ to determine exactly who is in His body. The Bible has no mention of church lists, tests of faith, membership criteria, etc. Rather people are taught to repent of their sins, be baptized ,surrender their lives to God, and grow in Christ as much as they can—eventually living by every word of God (Acts 2:38; 2 Peter 3:18; Matthew 4:4; 5:48).
Christ dictated seven letters to His Church in seven cities (Revelation 2 & 3). Nearly all of them had some kind of flaw or false doctrine. In some cases, He said that some of the members were "dead". But Christ still called each of them His Church. He commands each person in them to repent and overcome—He does not command them to move to another city where the church group is better. Our Savior's parable of the wheat and tares explains that there will always be tares (weeds) among the good wheat (believers) and that the two will not be separated until our Lord's return (Matthew 13:25-30).
Sure, the apostle Paul wanted Christians to all believe and teach the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:10). But in the very same letter, he had to correct numerous erroneous beliefs and practices, one of which was forming denominations—church groups centered around a particular church leader and his teachings:
For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name (1 Corinthians 1:11-15).
For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. (1 Corinthians 3:3-7).
But does Paul call the Corinthians "unbelievers" because some had made the mistake of aligning themselves with a particular church leader? He does not. Elsewhere, he praises them for many of their good spiritual qualities (1 Corinthians 1:4-7; 14:12; 2 Corinthians 7:7; 8:7). He simply says that this practice of forming sub-groups within Christ's body is "carnal" or "worldly" as the NIV renders it. And so today, there are many Christian groups that make this mistake, but have many other good spiritual qualities and do much good work for Christ!
Therefore, the believers at PABC regard Christians in other denominations as brethren, just like the apostle Paul did. And where there are doctrinal differences, we encourage everyone—including ourselves—to seek the truth from the scripture and the Holy Spirit, so that our "hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:2-3).
Ideas We Do Not Support
Non-denominational believers are often mistakenly identified with other religious ideas that attempt to resolve the disparity between different religious groups. We do not believe that God is working through the religious ideas below:
We do not accept Pantheism, the idea that God is everywhere, in everything, so no matter what one does, one is worshipping the right God. The Bible clearly teaches a creator God that is to be worshiped in certain ways, and who does not want us, his creation, to worship false gods.
We do not accept Ecumenicism, the idea that peace will come among Christians—or among all world religions—by a merging of the leadership of the world's religions. Such bureaucratic efforts are generally aimed at economic and religious control of a large part of the world—teaching a tiny subset of doctrine that hopefully will not offend the members of the various religious groups.
We do not accept Relativism, the idea that there are no definite truths or that truth is different for each person. Certainly everyone has different life experiences, different strengths and weaknesses. But we do not believe that one religion is as good as another. As Revelation 2 & 3 teach, each Christian needs to repent of his/her sins and grow in truth.
We do not accept Cultism, the idea that there is one denomination that is true (usually the one you are in), that all of the others are false, and that church unity will be achieved when everyone joins that "right" denomination. This idea simply perpetuates denominationalism, as there are hundreds of denominations that each think they are the right one, and that someday, everyone will join them. We believe Christ himself will gather His Church this way:
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).
What Christians Do Now Does Matter
Simply because we believe there are true Christians within and without the many denominations does not mean that we think Christians can do whatever they want with their lives. To the contrary, we believe that individual decisions are therefore much more important! Nobody will rise to meet Christ in the air simply because they are a member of the right denomination. They will be judged by how they have let Christ work in them. Notice our Savior's teaching on the the four different kinds of Christians (in boldface type) and the four things that will happen to them at His return: (in underscore type)
And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 43 "Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 "Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. 45 But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 47 And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.(Luke 12:42-48)
There is nothing wrong with many believers getting together to organize and implement missions, ministries, and other work in service to God. Denominations frequently do these things and God certainly honors there good service. But there are non-denominational groups that do these things as well.
Indeed, history has shown many Christian "wise and faithful stewards" who both were and were not members of denominations. Some of these servants of God understood this Bible teaching and resolutely avoided creating a new denomination during their lifetimes. But after they passed away, their followers created a denomination in their name.
May God help all of us to serve God in everything we do, to be more concerned about what He thinks of our lives, and to be less concerned about religious denominations!