Why are There so Many Denominations?

Recently I was asked this very important question. It is a question about which many people have pondered. It is a question that largely goes unanswered by many that choose rather to uphold the status quo of mainline religious bodies today. It is a question, however, that is begging to be answered by millions and answer it we must! Christ prayed for his disciples in John 17:20-23. He said,

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Jesus prayed for the unity and oneness of those who believe on Him. If this was His great concern and plea, then why do we have so many “churches?”

The first reason we have so many “churches” is because of something that John wrote. He said in 1 John 4:1 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Indeed there are many false prophets that have gone out into the world and some of these false prophets have created “churches” of their own. And this is part of Satan’s plan to divide the followers of Christ. The Bible teaches that if it is to his benefit that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). We go on to read in the next verse, “Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness.” In other words, there are people in the world today who appear to be ministers of righteousness but who are actually working for Satan. How do you know the difference between the two? John has the answer. “Try (test) the spirits whether they are of God.” Therein lies the only available avenue to know whether one is teaching truth or falsehood–to test the teaching of the false teacher. How does one do this? Compare what they are saying to what the Bible says and then ONLY believe what the Bible ACTUALLY teaches. If the Bible does not actually teach it, then reject it. Many false prophets mean many false “churches.” Herein is a reason why there are so many churches.

The second reason we have so many “churches” is because there are many who are not content to be just Christians. Many want to be “Christians” of a particular sort. This was the problem that those at the church at Corinth were having. Paul had to rebuke them because they were calling themselves after something other than Christ. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:11, 12 “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. 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.” Just like today many want to say that they are Baptist-Chrisitans, Methodist-Christians, Presbyterian-Christians, Pentecostal-Christians, Lutheran-Christians, etc. What was Paul’s response to this type of thinking? He said, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” Instead of being content to be followers of the one who was crucified for them, instead of being content to be followers of the one in whose name they were baptized, they wanted to be known as Paul-Christians or Peter-Christians, or Apollos-Christians. They were not content with just being mere Christians. They wanted their own personalized, monogrammed “Christian club.” This lack of wanting to be merely Christians causes many “churches” to come into existence today.

The third reason we have so many “churches” is because there are many who simply want their own way. And they want it enough that they are willing to allow a church to be divided over their own opinions. They confuse their opinion with what the scriptures teach. To avoid this requires that we study and know what the Bible teaches so that we do not pawn off our own opinions as Biblical teaching and so that we do not pawn off Biblical teaching as our own opinions. Either mistake is disastrous when it comes to the unity of the church. The Christians at Borea practiced this. We read in Acts 17:11 “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” They did not merely accept the preacher’s opinion regarding what the Bible taught. They checked things out; they made absolute sure that what Paul was saying was the truth. They were not content to accept Paul’s opinion. Accepting the opinions of men as “gospel truth” causes division and is a large part of the reason there are so many “churches” today.

What is your desire my friend? Do you long for the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed? Do you desire to test the things that you believe against what the scriptures say? Do you want more than anything to be “just a Christian?” Then I offer you this challenge this very day. Find a “church.” Question them regarding what they believe and practice. If the scriptures do not teach it, then reject it. If they are doing what the scriptures teach and ONLY what the scriptures teach, then accept it and become part of that church today. It is my personal conviction that the church of which I am a member, the church that belongs to Christ–the church of Christ–is doing exactly this, no more and no less. The church of Christ is not a denomination as many are lead to believe. It is merely a body of Christians who meet every week to worship together and who have banded together in God’s church to further the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We invite you to learn more about us and lead the simple life that is called “Christian.”

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Why is the Religious World Divided?

One of the great questions that faces our day is the question of why there are so many denominations around us. It is clear from the scriptures that the followers of Christ were to be united in doctrine and practice. Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers in John 17. Paul condemned the factious spirit of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:10ff. Yet factions and divisions arose. After the time of apostolic guidance, the early church sought to maintain unity within the church not by appealing to scripture but by the unscriptural practice of changing the organization of the church. As opposed to having a plurality of bishops, as was the practice in the New Testament (Acts 20:28), they reasoned that if one bishop could rule the church, then the church would have unity. Eventually, this lead to one man ruling, not merely over individual churches, but over the universal church as a whole in the person of the Pope. Such was the result of man’s efforts to try to maintain unity within the body.

During the time of the reformation, many men recognized the unscriptural nature of the practices within the Catholic Church and sought reform. These men bravely faced the only known religion in Europe in that day and stood up in opposition to its corruptions. Through the efforts of men such as John Calvin and Martin Luther a challenge arose to the dusty religion of the Pope. The result of this challenge, however, was far from what Jesus originally intended His church to be. The reforms that were sought resulted in the creation of independent state religions, which we know today as mainline denominations. During the reformation, the denominations were largely relegated to various different states, but when the New World offered new opportunities, immigrants from these various states brought their religions with them all to settle in the same area. It is under the influence of the great melting pot of American and the promise of freedom of religion that the various denominations were folded together into a relatively small geopolitical area such as a county or town. The result was that a multitude of denominations now existed within a relatively small area. This brought attention to the obvious division that now existed among professed followers of Christ. Today the situation is much the same. Not much effort has been made in denominationalism to bring back the unity for which Christ prayed so earnestly and for which the apostles so stringently fought. This sad state of affairs is not the result of the plan of God, but of the refusal of men to submit to God’s will in matters of religion. Division is sinful and God hates it. But many will continue to allow division to continue because the truth is that they simply do not care about the unity of the body of Christ.

What is one to do with the amount of division that exists today among the religious world? First we must accept that the Bible and only the Bible provides the answer for religious unity today. The Bible is God’s word and it is the standard by which we will all be judged (John 12:48). We must seek to live our lives in harmony with the will of God as revealed to us in the Bible first and foremost. It is when man decides that he knows better than God that religious division occurs within the body. The tradition of men will not be able to justify one before God in that final day (Matthew 15:9). So we must decide that we are going to let the Bible settle all questions of religious difference. That is the first step toward unity.

Second, we must leave behind us all things that cause division. We must leave behind the divisive creeds and confessions of faith. We must leave behind the divisive names that we use to designate our buildings. We must leave behind the attitudes of selfishness and envy that cause division within the body of Christ (Philippians 2:3). We must leave behind any human traditions that we hold dear that would cause division. Any and everything that causes division we must let go.

Finally, we must unite together within the church that was established by Jesus. This means that we must understand the pattern that the Holy Spirit used to build the first century church. We must understand God’s pattern for worship and church organization. We must understand God’s plan for man’s salvation both for the alien sinner and for the saved. We must build upon that pattern and not allow any deviations to the right or the left (2 Timothy 1:13). When we follow the pattern that the Holy Spirit set forth in the Bible, we will get exactly the same thing that those within the first century got–the church that Jesus built.

God is not going to save a church that was not after His design. God is not going to save a body that does not respect the pattern that the Holy Spirit laid down. Jesus did not die to save men who follow after their own traditions and not after the word of God. Those who cause and continue to divide the body are guilty of mutilating the body of Christ and will receive no less punishment than those who crucified the Christ. Do we really value the words of Christ when he prayed for unity within the body (John 17:21)? Do we really value the words that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth commanding them not to have division (1 Corinthians 1:10)? If we do, then we will make every effort possible to unite based upon the teaching of the scriptures in one body. Until then, the religious world will remain divided (1 Corinthians 11:18, 19).

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

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Why Be Rational in Religion?

I was talking with someone the other day regarding coming to the services. The person explained that he was going to a denomination right now because his child liked going to this place. That is when this thought crossed my mind. Would I leave any other major decision in my life up to a child? If I were to go buy a car for the family, would I let the child decide which dealership to go to? Which model to drive? If I were buying a house or looking for a job, would I put that decision solely in the hands of my child? Granted they might get some input, but children are just not equipped to make those kinds of important decisions. Now take the fact that the soul is the most valuable commodity that man owns today and then ask yourself, “Would you put the decision for what to do with your soul in the hands of your child, merely based upon your child’s likes and dislikes?” This seemed to me to be a very irrational thought. However, I then immediately realized that people are often very irrational when it comes to matters of religion.

Take for example the popularly used sentiment, “I just feel it in my heart.” This is one of the all time great irrationalities of religion. This is used to justify just about every sort of practice known to man on the planet. However, take this same sentiment into the corporate boardroom and put it in front of a CEO and a board of directors for how to spend money and you will get laughed out of the business. Take a few salesmen and set them before potential clients and tell them to say, “You need to buy my product because I feel in my heart that it is right for you” and they will leave empty handed. The soul is much more valuable than any amount of money to be spent by a business or any product to be sold, yet people often sell their own souls short in matters of religion by expressing this inadequate measurement of truth.

Another great irrationality is this, “If it was good enough for my mother and father, it is good enough for me” or “That is where my family goes, so I just go with them.” This is one that I know people use in religion but seldom use in every day life. For example, when someone is asked why they believe a certain doctrine, they might give this sentiment. However, when it comes to the type of job one has, or the type of car one drives, or the house one lives in, it just isn’t good enough. How many would abandon their new cars for the old broken down jalopy that their parents drove years and years ago. How many would abandon their new houses for the old kindling row houses of yesteryear? If anything, Americans live by the principle that parents should create a better life for their children, yet, when it comes to religion that evidently doesn’t apply. Again, the soul is so much more valuable than houses, cars, and jobs. Why should we not hold religion to the highest standard of rationality?

How many times have you heard this one, “It doesn’t matter what you believe.” Whoa! Now there’s one that you better not take with you to driving school. That sentiment is just not going to pass there. “I know that sign says ‘STOP’ but it just doesn’t matter what you believe.” When is the last time you told a police officer that after he stopped you for speeding. “Officer, I know I was doing 80 in a 35, but you know, after all, it doesn’t matter what you believe.” I think that you will find a deaf ear when that ticket is written. And don’t even try this one in a court of law. “I know I wrote a hot check, judge, but after all, it doesn’t matter what you believe.” I am sure you will hear the judge reply, “30 days, and if you don’t believe that it is wrong after that amount of time, you can have another 60.” However, when it comes to religion, this ranks in the top five excuses for not doing what is right. How much more valuable is the soul! Yet we don’t hold those who claim to care for it to the high standards that we hold our driving instructors, law officers and judges.

Each of these sentiments represents a different flavor of irrationality. It is obvious to all that regarding matters of practicality that these sentiments would never by able to pass. However, when it comes to religion, people expect the irrational. So they excuse themselves in irrational ways. However, the religion of Jesus Christ is NOT irrational. In fact, when Paul went to preach the gospel to others, the scriptures say that he “reasoned” with them (Acts 17:2; 18:4; 18:19; 24:25). We are admonished by Paul to “prove all things” 1 Thess.5:19. John tells us to “try the spirits” (John 4:1). In dealing with matters of religion, we are to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). None of these things involves the types of excuses that are given above. And when it all boils down to it, that is the bottom line, these are just excuses. The religion of Jesus Christ is not irrational as popular culture would have you to believe. God desires us to think and act correctly in regard to His word. There is nothing more valuable or important than one’s own soul (Matthew 16:26). We should apply the same exacting standards of rationality toward it as we would toward any other matter of importance in this life. “Come let us reason together, saith the Lord�” (Isaiah 1:8a).

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