The term "Non-denominationalism" or "Non-denominational" is quite misunderstood and is wrongly used by many.
One may find numerous independent religious groups, sometimes consisting of only one congregation, who claim to be Non-denominational.
Yet, by the very meaning of the word, they do form a "denomination" of themselves. So then, what is a "denomination" and what is "non-denominational"? The church of our Lord was established (by Him through His inspired Apostles) in A.D. 32, in Jerusalem...Acts the 2nd chapter. The Catholic Church started in Rome AD 606, by Boniface III.
Any good dictionary will define the term 'denomination' somewhat like this: 1. The act of naming. 2. A name. 3. A class or kind having a specific name or value: as coins of different denominations. 4. A religious sect. (Webster's New World Dictionary)
The online Encarta Dictionary defines it thusly:
(1) religion religious grouping: a religious grouping within a faith, for example, a section of the Christian church that has specific beliefs and practices that differ from those of other groupings and its own system of organization.
(2) unit of monetary value: a unit in the scale of value (especially monetary value), weight, measure, or size.
(3) name or designation: a name or designation given to a class, group, or type.
A more detailed description might be as follows: One of a group of things similar in nature, yet, differing in some detail(s). In the realm of religion, it simply means a formal organization which teaches and practices doctrine of a religious nature. There are literally several thousands of such organizations (of the Christian religion) in the United States. I doubt that there is any accurate number available. At one point in the 1950's, it was reported that there were 362 different ones recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau. But this figure has exploded since that time.
To classify as a religious denomination, there will be such things as a charter, some type of leader or head man with a title of President, Pope, or some such thing and there will be a type of governing body which differs among the various denominations. There will be rules and regulations, creeds or catechisms, by-laws, etc. These documents are compiled and written by a man or group of men who comprise the governing body. The rules for membership differ from one to the other but many require a ritual of baptism, sprinkling or pouring as the final step into their organization. If you understand what has just been said, you will see that this forms some sort of organization, registered with the local governments as such. This is the same type of organization as many which do not profess to be religious in nature, such as civic clubs, Lions Club, Moose Club, or any of the many more such organizations.
The governing bodies of these organizations meet periodically to discuss the operation of their particular denomination and will issue edicts or statements on many occasions as to what stand they take concerning many of the Biblical writings. They will determine if they will allow sprinkling or pouring in place of baptism. They will determine if they will allow homosexuals to become members of their organization. Some even decide whether or not they will accept the birth of Jesus as miraculous, of a virgin. The differences among the organizations are many and extensive. Some reject certain Biblical teachings while others insist upon their acceptance.
One thing they all have in common is that they do differ. No two are alike; otherwise they would be the same organization. These disagreements must be considered since Jesus prayed that the apostles, and those who would follow them, might be one as He and the Father were one. There are those who will say that we cannot all understand the Bible alike! If we understand it, it will be alike. If we misunderstand it, we will differ. There is no way that the Bible tells one person to join one denomination and a different person to join another. These enormous differences (divisions) cause mass confusion in the religious world. Mass confusion in the religious world causes many to cease being religious at all and to become critical of all religions and people who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.
So some may ask, "What is your point?" My point is simply this, of the many thousands of religious denominations and resultant names and doctrines, not one of them existed during the first and second centuries following Christ's death on the cross, nor are they authorized anywhere in the Holy Scripture. No man was ever given the authority to form any organization or to teach any doctrine other than that taught by Jesus and the inspired apostles. I hope no one is offended by that, but if so, show me from the Bible, where any point of that statement is incorrect. Now, assuming that some might admit that the statement is true, there arises questions such as: (1)What, then is the answer to this dilemma? (2) How do you know none of these denominations existed back then? (3) Do you include your own denomination in that statement?
Alright, let's take one question at a time. (1)What, then, is the answer to this dilemma? The answer to this dilemma is simply to go by what is found in the Bible, nothing more, nothing less. It will work. Paul told the Galatians 1:8 "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed". That included every person living then or at any time in the future. Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Pope, Billy Graham, your preacher, my preacher, me, you, anyone! Consider those first 4 named there. No two of them taught/teaches the same thing. Which one is correct? The Bible has the same message for each one of them, for me, for you.
This is a very serious point. It is not acceptable to pass it by with an "It makes no difference" attitude. Whether something is right or wrong, biblically sound or just someone's idea, is extremely important. Vitally important. Read Matthew 7: 21-27 and pay attention to the fact that these people were religious, obviously honest or they would not have said what they did. There are numerous examples of people who thought they were serving God properly but were not. Paul himself, thought he was doing the will of God while persecuting the Lord's church. Again, read Matthew the 9th chapter, carefully. Now, if you have read the previously specified scriptures, let's move on a bit. Answer, to yourself, if the denomination that you now belong to did not exist, could you still live a Christian life? You will probably say yes....you should say yes. Very well, if your next choice in denominations did not exist, could you still live a Christian life? If NONE of the present day denominations existed, could you still live a Christian life? Everyone knows that these denominational organizations are not necessary for saving one's soul. Then the question arises, why belong to one? You will have to answer that one. I don't have the answer.
You may ask, Why not belong to one? I can answer that one. They are not mentioned in the Holy Bible, our only authorized source of information for religious conduct. They are not authorized by the Holy Bible. Their rules and regulations are in addition to the word of God! Their doctrines are different than, and are additions to, the word of God. Their leaders (President, Chairman, Pope, whatever) are additions to, and unauthorized by, the word of God. They are DIVISIVE. Yes, perhaps the most grievous wrong is that they are divisive. Division, even minor aspects of it, in the Lord's church is condemned vigorously by the Holy scriptures. Read (and consider) 1 Cor. 1: 10-13 and also chapter 3: 3-6. These things Paul is rebuking them for, are exactly the same types of things as I am talking about right here. If someone asks you what your religion is, what do you say? Baptist? Methodist, Episcopal? Catholic? Presbyterian? Lutheran? Mormon? After reading those verses in 1 Corinthians, how can you possibly say that these denominational differences are not divisive? Yes, the answer to question # 1, is accept nothing in matters of religion except what you can find written in God's word!
(2)How do you know that none of these denominations existed back then? This is a question that can be answered easily. One reason we know they did not exist then is that they are not mentioned and, assuredly, they would have been if they were extant at that time. Secondly, we have secular history indicating when each one of them came into being. Some, very few, attempt to say that their denomination has existed since the apostolic era but they did not. Any honest historian will tell you the same thing. None of the present day "Christian" denominations existed at that time. The only group which can trace their existence to that point in time is the church of Rome (Catholic church) and history reveals that they DID NOT exist in their present form nor in any close semblance of their now structure. Unfortunately, this is a long and tedious recap of history that we do not have time or space to give details of at this time. The explanation is not necessary to bring the point that I am trying to make here. They are, with no question whatsoever, a full fledged earthly organization, created by men and headed by an unauthorized Pope. This places them in the same category with all organizations of that sort, which we have refuted in the previous paragraphs.
Thirdly, not only were none of the current day denominations mentioned in the Bible, but none of the current day denominations teach and practice the specific doctrines as dictated in the New Testament. They all have some differences than that which is taught in the Bible. Your first response may be "You don't even know of every one so how do you know that?" That too, has a simple answer, their very existence is an addition to God's word. I said earlier, NO MAN has ever been given the authority to create a religious organization, specifying what you must do to JOIN it, what you must do to be saved, or anything of that nature. What man is to do in order to be pleasing to God is laid out precisely in the New Testament and we have warnings in the Bible that we are not to add to, or diminish from those things written in this book. (Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:19)
(3)Do you include your denomination in what you are saying here? Well, I would be happy to do that if I had one, if I belonged to one. I have never joined any earthly religious organization. What I have been trying to get across is the fact that the Bible does not authorize any man-made organization for Christians to belong to. If I, or if you, or anyone else, obeys from the heart that form of doctrine presented in the scripture, He will be added to the Lord's church, the one He died for, the one He said He would build. (Matthew 16:13-19) His spiritual kingdom, His body, His church! No one has to be concerned about which church to join. You don't join the church of Christ. Render strict obedience to His word and He (Christ) will add you to it. And no man will be able to vote to see whether or not you are added to it. Friends, it doesn't matter how hard you try; you cannot find your denomination listed, mentioned or described in the Holy Bible. You can find the Lord's church, His called-out, mentioned, described, explained, throughout the Bible, even prophesied of in the Old Testament, origin described in detail in the second chapter of Acts and mentioned throughout the rest of the New Testament. The scriptures do not even tell you how to become a member of your denomination. You have to find that out from some man or men. But the scripture does tell you how to become a member of the Lord's body. If you hear nothing but the Bible, obey nothing but the Bible, you will be nothing but a Christian. May God bless you in the study of His word.
A list of the most known and recognized denominations and their date of beginning follows:
The Mennonite Church started in Switzerland in the 1520’s by Menno Simons.
The Lutheran Church started in Augsburg 1530 AD by Martin Luther.
The Presbyterian Church (Calvinism), started in Switzerland, 1535 AD by John Calvin.
The Episcopal Church started in England 1535 AD by Henry the VIII.
The Baptist Church, the first one started in London 1607 AD by John Smyth. The First in America was in Providence, Rhode Island, 1639 AD by Roger Williams.
The Congregational Church started in Salem, Massachusetts 1629 by a group of settlers with Francis Higginson as their First Preacher.
The Amish Church started around the turn of the 17th century by Jakob Amman.
The Brethren (Dunkards) in Schwarzenau, Germany 1708 by Hochmann & Mack.
The Methodist Church started in London 1729 AD by John Wesley.
The Catholic Apostoplic Church, started in England 1830, by Edward Irving.
The Adventism Church started in Massachusetts, 1831 AD by William Miller.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church started 1846 AD by Mr. and Mrs. James White.
The Christian Church formed in Midway, Kentucky 1859 by a group.
The Church of God started in Anderson Indiana 1880 by D. S. Warner
The Christian Science Church started in Boston 1879 AD by Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy.
The Holiness Church started in Chicago 1907 AD by Howard Heople.
The Assemblies of God started in 1914 AD Hot Springs Arkansas by group of “Holiness” people
The church of our Lord was established (by Him through His inspired Apostles) in A.D. 32, in Jerusalem...Acts the 2nd chapter.
The Catholic Church started in Rome AD 606, by Boniface III.