The Establishment of Denominations

Mike Willis
Dayton, Ohio

In our previous article, I wrote regarding the establishment of the Lord's church. In that article, I presented evidence to demonstrate that the Lord's church was established on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of the Lord. Those who have any knowledge whatsoever of the New Testament know that the Lord only established one church (Eph. 4:4); any other religious body stands condemned of God. Reconciliation of man to God occurs in this one body (Eph. 2:16).

Where did all of the denominations of the world come from? The answer to this question lies in the annals of human history. The religious reference books relate the establishment of the various denominations. I propose in this article to mention the date and circumstances of the establishment of several of the major denominations in America today. The historical circumstances in which they were born will demonstrate that they cannot be the Lord's church because of the differences in time in their establishment and that of the Lord's church.

A word needs to be said here regarding this method of argumentation. Some of today's denominations are departures from God's revealed truth at a time that can be historically marked. (For example, the Christian Church departed from God's word regarding the instruments of music and church support of missionary societies. They were at one time, however, faithful to the Lord.) Others were never a part of Christ's blood-bought body because they have never taught the truth regarding salvation. Hence, whereas some of these denominations must trace their history from their departure from some specific truth to the acceptance and practice of false doctrines, others can be mentioned from their very beginning as religious bodies separate and apart from Christ's church.

Denominational Origins

1. The Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church came into existence through a gradual apostasy from the New Testament in areas too numerous to mention. The Bible itself foretold the falling away which occurred, leading to the establishment of the Catholic Church (Acts 20:29-21; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). The apostasy took centuries to develop into the Catholic Church as we know it under the leadership of a pope. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that "pope" is "an ecclesiastical title now used in the West exclusively to designate the head of the Roman Catholic Church. In the 4th and 5th centuries it was frequently used by any bishop (Du Cange, s.v.); but it gradually came to be reserved to the bishop of Rome, becoming official" (Vol. 18, p. 222). Williston Walker wrote, "In 502 Bishop Ennodius of Pavia urged that the Pope can be judged by God alone. The later claims of the medieval papacy were, therefore, sketched by the beginning of the sixth century . . . . The full realization of the papal ideal, thus early established, was to be a task of centuries, and was to encounter many vicissitudes" (A History of the Christian Church, p. 124).

During the course of their digression, the Catholics have accepted numberless false doctrines including the following: (1) salvation by works; (2) unauthorized acts of worship such as (a) mechanical instruments of music, (b) choirs, (c) candle, (d) rosaries, (e) veneration of saints, (f) use of holy water, and other items; (3) development of a separate priesthood; (4) purgatory; (5) penance; (6) perverted the Lord's Supper. The list could be extended indefinitely.

The Catholic Church is, therefore, an apostate religion which came into existence as early Christians forsook the Lord's commandments and established their own kind of worship. This Catholic Church has evolved through many centuries to become what it is today. It is not the Lord's church; its deviations from revealed religion make this abundantly apparent.

2. The Baptist Church. The Baptist Church came out of the Reformation period of history. They were a group which rejected infant baptism and the administration of "baptism" by sprinkling and pouring. They are usually dated to have begun in 1608 under the leadership of John Smyth. They began in Holland, not in Jerusalem. Though the Baptists have departed from this to a wide extent in recent years, most early Baptists were strongly Calvinistic (most accepted all five points of Calvinism whereas today most Baptist groups only hold to two points of Calvinism).

3. The Presbyterian Church. This Protestant denomination traces its history back to John Calvin (1509-1564). They were founded in Geneva. The main tenets of Calvinist theology are (a) Inherited total depravity, (b) Unconditional election, (c) Limited atonement, (d) Irresistible grace, and (e) perseverance of the saints. The group was generally a reaction to the apostate Catholic Church of the 14-15th centuries.

4. The Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Church can be dated from the time when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five objections to the Roman Catholic Church on the door of the church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. The doctrines held by Martin Luther and John Calvin were, in many respects, similar inasmuch as both movements were reactions to the work-righteousness of Roman Catholicism.


5. The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church is a direct descendant from the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church is usually dated from the time when Henry VIII threw off the supremacy of the Pope in England during the Protestant Reformation. The Church of England came to America with our English forefathers but it nearly died during the revolution. In 1789, the Church of England in America officially became a separate denomination from its mother in England and took the name of Protestant Episcopal Church. There is very little difference in belief in the two groups inasmuch as the Episcopal Church was formed in America to offset the general animosity that Americans had toward the English.

6. The Methodist Church. Another American religious movement which has come from the Church of England is the Methodist Church. Under the leadership of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, this church was borne in 1739. This group originally became involved in a good bit of emphasis on emotional religion (especially as it was associated with conversion). Though the Wesleys' sought to work within the Church of England to bring about their reforms, they were forced to officially separate from them, which they did in 1779.

7. The Christian Church. As many of our readers know, the Christian Church was formerly a group of people committed to the restoration of New Testament Christianity. However, in 180 the American Christian Missionary Society was started; church support of this society led to a division in the ranks of brethren. The Christian Church people opted to support these societies-from their church treasury. Soon the mechanical instruments of music were brought into the worship services. These innovations were but the beginning of a number of other departures from the word of God by this group. In 1906, the breach between the disciples who were faithfully clinging to God's word and those who decided to accept these innovations was officially recognized by the U.S. census. The exact date when these people actually became a denomination is difficult to give; perhaps only God knows for sure. However, the Disciples of Christ, the most liberal wing of the Christian Church, officially reorganized to become a full-fledged denomination in 1968.

8. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). This movement was founded in Fayette, New York in 1830. Joseph Smith is supposed to have received a special revelation from God which was written in the Book of Mormon. Other revelations which Smith is thought to have received include the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. The Mormon group believes in present day miracles and continuous revelation, as seen in their recent "revelation" that the priesthood could finally be given to the Blacks.

9. Jehovah's Witnesses. Though the Jehovah's Witnesses acknowledge no human founder, they were started in 1884 under the leadership of "Pastor" Charles Taze Russell. His work was started in Pittsburgh in 1872 but was moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1909. Their peculiar doctrines include the belief that Jesus is a created being, the denial of the immortality of the soul, the denial of the existence of a place of eternal punishment, and other doctrines.

10. Seventh-Day Adventists. Adventism in general can be traced back to the work of William Miller who predicted the end of the world to occur on March 21, 1843 and on March 21, 1844. As each successive prophesy of the end of the world failed, he predicted anew the end of the world. Finally, the movement began to deteriorate to such a degree that collapse seem inevitable. At this point the work of Ellen G. White became important as she moved to salvage the collapsing movement. The result was the birth of the Seventh-Day Adventists. In addition to observing the seventh day in worship to God, these people also cling to dietary regulations of the Old Testament, tithing, foot washing, etc.

11. Christian Scientists. The Christian Scientists came into existence because of the work of Mary Baker Eddy. The first Christian Science church was established in Boston in 1879. It is the Mother Church of all other Christian Science churches. This movement is based on accepting the idea that the writings of Mrs. Eddy in Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures are inspired Scriptures.


One could proceed through the lists of denominations in America citing the pertinent information. relative to the establishment of each. I hope that you will excuse my brevity in this list; for more detailed information on this subject, you can write to Truth Magazine Bookstore (Box 403, Marion, IN 46952) and order a copy of Frank S. Mead's Handbook of Denominations. It details the origin, history, and basic tenets of each of America's denominations.

Why give such a history as this? I have recorded this to demonstrate that these various religious groups cannot be the church of our Lord Jesus Christ because they were not established at the time and in the place which the Lord's church was established. The Lord's church began in Jerusalem, not in Boston, Wittenberg, Geneva, England, Holland, New York, or some other place. It began on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not during the Protestant Reformation, 1830, or some other date. Any church which began this side of the events which occurred on the day of Pentecost cannot be considered the Lord's church.

Is the Church of Christ any different from these denominations? Some would answer, "No" and point to the work of Alexander Campbell to mark the beginning of the Church of Christ. If an individual went into Podunk to start a Baptist church and took a copy of one of the Baptist Confessions of Faith, would the establishment of that church be the first time that a Baptist Church had ever been established? If not, why is it considered true that when Alexander Campbell (and others both before and after him) went into West Virginia and took the Bible to establish the church of the Bible, that this is the first time that the church which you can read about in the Bible existed? Hence, Alexander Campbell is not the founder of the churches of Christ; indeed, we can read of them existing in Rom. 16:16, nearly 1800 years before Alexander Campbell was born. Therefore, he cannot be considered the founder of the Churches of Christ.

What is happening in the churches of Christ at the present, however, is leading to the formation of a Church of Christ denomination. The apostasies of the liberals among us is following in exactly the same footsteps as that of the Christian Church which preceded them by one hundred years. These liberals are in the process of establishing a Church of Christ denomination. Only God knows when the process will be complete.

Those committed to the establishment of New Testament church have no interest in being a part of modern, twentieth-century denominationalism. They are determined to be a part of the church which you can read about in the Bible. What they believe, teach, and practice is found authorized in the Scriptures; they are committed to ceasing to practice anything for which they cannot find Bible authority.

If any of my brethren who think that the Church of Christ is a denomination would be so kind as to tell me what I would have to do to become a part of the church which is mentioned in the New Testament, I would be glad to forsake the church of which I am a member and become a part of the church which one can read about in the Bible. Let these brethren kindly tell us what we should call ourselves, what kind of organization we should have, what kind of worship we should offer, what works we should be involved in, and other such important information necessary to being just like the church you can read about in the Bible. When we have a list of such things which we must forsake to be like the New Testament church, we can busy ourselves with becoming like the New Testament church.

I predict that such a list will never be compiled by those who claim that the Church of Christ is a denomination. It will not be compiled because when the list is completed, it would include things which are already being practiced in the Churches of Christ across this nation and on foreign soils. If I am incorrect in this statement, let them point out in what respects we have departed from the Scriptures in order that full correction might be made. The truth is that these brethren who claim that the Church of Christ is a denomination have no appreciation for a plea to be like the church which you can read about in the Bible. They have no interest in becoming like it. They have no interest in getting together to discuss the points of difference between us with a view of change being made where each one departs from the word of God. Rather, they are interested in becoming a part of twentieth-century Protestant denominationalism and the statements that someone is only the New Testament church irritate them. Hence, they charge that the Church of Christ is a denomination. I repeat, maybe the church of which they are a member is a denomination but the church of which I am a member is simply the church you can read about in the Bible. If they know something about the church of which I am a member which shows that it is not the church which you can read about in the Bible, let them enumerate the points in which we have apostatized in order that we can correct them. Otherwise, let all recognize that this charge is unfounded and that it is a smokescreen created to remove attention from their abandonment of New Testament practices.

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Author: jfm

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