Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray (Luke 9:28). There Jesus was transfigured before them and Moses, the giver of the law, and Elijah, the great prophet, appeared with Him in glory (Luke 9:30-31). Peter, realizing the blessedness of the occasion, suggested that three booths be made, one for each of the three figures before him (Luke 9:33). But God’s cloud of glory overshadowed them and the Father said, “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Luke 9:34-35).
Men come and go. Lawgivers and prophets depart. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh…” (Ecc. 1:4). But Jesus Christ is “immortal” (1 Tim. 1:17). The word “immortal” is the same Greek word found in 1 Peter 1:23 that describes the “incorruptible” word of God. Just as Jesus lives forever, the words of Christ will never pass away (Matt. 24:35). His words not only are eternal, but also provide eternal life. Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Jesus’ words are spirit-filled, life-giving words. By following His eternal words to godliness we will have a better life here and in the hereafter (1 Tim. 4:8). Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
What the Father indicated on the mount of transfiguration is Jesus’ words have superiority even over the words of Moses and Elijah. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds (Heb. 1:1-2).
The words of Jesus are recorded for us in the Scriptures. Peter, who witnessed this great declaration of God upon that mountain, attested to the veracity of the writers of the Scriptures, saying:
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. – 2 Peter 1:16-18
How do you regard Jesus Christ’s message? Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). The gospel of Jesus Christ makes us free from the law of sin and death if we will believe and obey it (Rom. 8:2). However, if we reject Christ’s message, only judgment awaits us. Jesus said, “He that rejecteth me, and receveith not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). Will you listen to Christ, the eternal one, whose eternal words can give you eternal life?
The word “denomination” means “designation” or “to give a name to;” it is a formal classification of something. When it comes to the religious realm, “denominations” denote different named sects of “Christendom.” I put that in parentheses because the New Testament does not speak of different named sects that cumulatively make up the worldwide body of Christ. There are different local congregations named in the New Testament, such as Philippi, Ephesus, Corinth and others. These were “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), but they were separated only geographically, and perhaps by the cultural background of their members (cf. “churches of the Gentiles” Romans 16:4). But “denominations” such as Baptist, Lutheran, and Methodist are nowhere found in the Scriptures; these are separated by doctrine and practice, divisions not tolerated among first-century churches (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:1; Col. 4:16; 1 Tim. 1:3).
The New Testament uses the word “church” in three senses:
1) The Universal Sense indicating the entire body of Christ worldwide (e.g. Colossians 1:18).
2) The Local Sense indicating a group of Christians in a given locale comprising one congregation under one autonomous leadership (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:2).
3) The Assembly Sense used to denote the gathering of a local congregation for the purpose of worship (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:34).
A group smaller than the universal church, but larger than the local church which claims to be is a division of Christ’s body is nowhere found in the New Testament. Moreover, when people denominate themselves by the names of men, such as “Lutheran” or “Wesleyan” it smacks of the factious attitude of exalting men that the inspired apostle was quick to censure when he saw it crop up among his converts (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Thus, when I am asked what “denomination” I am a member of, I cannot easily let it pass by. I am aware of the frame of mind the questioner has. I am not trying to be difficult. I know that the trend in modern America is to regard oneself as part of a “denominational family,” that is one of many such families that are on different paths but supposedly all destined for heaven. But the New Testament does not teach that I am to be a member of Christ’s universal church and also a fragment group that has a particular name, particular beliefs, and particular practices. I am simply a member of Christ’s universal church (Acts 2:47); I am part of the local flock in my area that submits to the local shepherds (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Pet. 5:1), and I come together with other Christians in the assembly of the saints (Heb. 10:25; James 2:2). Hence, I feel obligated to say, “I do not belong to a denomination.”
When I tell them I am a member of Christ’s church, or more euphoniously, the “church of Christ” (Romans 16:16), I know that they will likely assign this as the name of the denomination. This is because similarity has been confused with identity. Though I am by this name trying to indicate the identifiable features of the church which may distinguish it from many other practices extant in the present religious world, I do not mean to indicate that it is a denomination. In the first century, Christ’s church was identified by the uninformed as another sect of Judaism, “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5; cf. 28:22) because of some similarities it shared with groups like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes; however, it was absolutely not a sect of Judaism, just as Christ’s church today is not a denomination. Paul was sure to point out that it was his accusers, no he, who called the way he followed a sect (Acts 24:14); we endeavor to show the same.
“And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 1 Peter 4:18.
Many Christians appeal to 1 Peter 4:18 to say that if we do our best as Christians, we will barely be saved. Consequently, many Christians do not have confidence about their salvation. God wants us to know that we have eternal life that our joy many be full (1 John 1:4; 5:13). God does not want us to live in continual anxiety about our eternal destinies, but rather to have confidence at Christ’s coming (1 John 2:28). Does 1 Peter 4:18 tell us that we, as Christians, will barely be saved?
First Peter is a book about suffering. In 1 Peter 4:12, Peter begins talking about the trials that will soon come upon the Christians that were the original recipients of this letter. The time leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was fraught with wars and persecutions from various groups (Matt. 24:6-12). Nero set fire to Rome and blamed Christians; thus, Roman persecution of Christians was a danger. The Jewish arm of persecution on Christians reached beyond Jerusalem to other cities that were strongholds for Judaism (Acts 9:2; 14:19; 17:5-9; 26:11). These Christians were about to suffer because they owned Christ as their Lord. They were encouraged by Peter to rejoice for the reason they were persecuted was “for the name of Christ” (1 Peter 4:14).
In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter talks about an imminent judgment. We know that he cannot be referring to the final judgment because as we stand here today it has yet to come. Nearly 2,000 years away would not be described as “the time has come” (1 Peter 4:17). The judgment is a period of severe trial upon the church, the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15); this would take place in the years leading up to the Roman-Jewish War. Thus, in 1 Peter 4:18, Peter is not talking about the salvation of their souls from sin, but rather the salvation of their lives from the bloodshed in this upcoming war. When Peter talked about their souls being saved, he painted a very different picture. In 2 Peter 1:11, he writes, “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” These then must be different salvations, for one is said to be scarce while they other is abundant. The Christians who obeyed Jesus’ warnings of Matthew 24:4-35 would barely be saved from the bloodshed of the severe trial that was soon to come upon the church, but Christians who walk in the light of God’s commands are given an abundant entrance into the heavenly kingdom.
Take heart, Christian brothers and sisters. Jesus is the captain of your salvation (Heb. 2:10), and because of who He is, those who are saved do not barely squeak by, but dwell in the love of God and are made whole, that boldness may be theirs in the day of judgment (1 John 4:14-18).