Why is the church divided by denominations?

Posted by Omegaman 2.0 on the September 4th, 2007

Why are there so many denominations? Why is the church divided?

I see these questions occasionally in chat. They are good questions. It is a question Christians have, especially new believers trying to choose their first church. It is a question non-believers have too. For them, it is evidence that Christians cannot even agree on what the Bible says. Truthfully, they are right. In the chatroom, we see this frequently. We have debates over doctrines and understandings, thankfully most of it is good natured, though often passionate. It is also stimulating intellectually, it drives people to the pages of scripture to see what the bible does indeed say about things, so, these differences can have a positive effect. Imagine if we all agreed! Would that necessarily guarantee we were correct, or could we all agree on the same misunderstandings?

Jude 17-1917 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

Notice that in the passage above, divisions are not a good thing. Notice though, that Jude says that these people who cause divisions, are mockers who follow their unGodly lusts, and do not have the Spirit. These people, if we were to follow after them, would lead us away from the things of God. If you separate from your brethren to hang instead with your buddies at a bar, that is real division, not to be compared with denominations at all.

1 Cor 11:18-20
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.

In the above passage, Paul speaks of another kind of division. This one is also not a denominational division, he is addressing division among those gathered together at one place. The passage has a negative feel to it, as though Paul is disapproving of it. You see that in his statement “and in part, I believe it”. Then he goes on to say that these factions have to exist! The reason: So you can distinguish between those who are sound in the faith, and those who do not have approval. Again, in this case, division is a good thing, not a bad thing.

So, what is a denomination anyway? Look at the following definitions from Mirriam-Webster Dictionary:

3.   NAME, DESIGNATION; especially : a general name for a category

4. A religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices.

Didn’t see that one coming did you? Notice that a denomination is a uniting factor, not a dividing factor! There is a running joke between on of the other chat administrators and I, about Calvary Chapels. Calvary Chapels are a group of churches, who are self described as non-denominational. In the definitions above, denomination has to do with the name of something. Calvary Chapels have the name Calvary Chapel - obviously.  As far as I know, they are united in their beliefs and practices. Do some CCs sprinkle while others dunk? No. Are there any CCs that teach the Jesus will not return for His church until after the great tribulation? I haven’t heard of one. Are their CC’s that do not believe in the perpetuity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? I don’t think so. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, chances are it is a duck.

So what is going one here? Why would a group of churches, who are united in belief, practice, and name, claim to be non-denominational? I have a theory. I believe that it is about marketing. Denominationalism, has a bad reputation. It smacks of stodgy old ways, inflexibility, to some, it is judgmental, rigid, organized religion. To be non-denominational, is hip. It sounds like you stand apart. It is similar to what we have in the states politically, when you register as a non partisan. It sounds like you are independent - have your own thoughts and views. It makes you different. Of course, in the real world, you are unique, just like everybody else. We have a church near were I live. It used to be called the First Baptist Church, or something like that (I always wondered where the second Baptist church is, but that is another story). Lately, they took done the familiar name plaque, and put up a very colorful one, now it is called Sonlight Christian Center, or some such thing. Marketing again, I suspect, who want to hang out with Baptists? Of course, they still are Baptists, but they ‘needed’ a hipper name.

So, am I against denominations? Am I against independent churches? Am I against churches that say they are but are not? I am not against any of those things. Let’s look at another passage:

1 Cor 1:10-1310 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

That is a type of denominationalism that is not good. We do what these people are doing when we start gathering around a personality, like an author of a series of books, a famous preacher, or even the teachings of a great theologian from church history. Paul is pointing out, that there is only one church. All those who have been forgiven their sins through Jesus’ sacrifice, are the one church. It matter not what you call the church, who pastors it, who founded it, where it is, what language they speak, which bible version they prefer, what worship style they employ, or whether they meet in a beautiful building with hardwoods and stained glass, or an old factory, storefront, or even a home. If Christ is preached and they believe the bible, I am united with them, not divided from them. How can there not be denominations? When their are different countries and languages, customs and tastes, there will be denominations. When everybody belongs to one denomination, all agreeing, you can be sure that something evil or something wonderful has happened. If Jesus has returned for us, then it is something wonderful, until that day, their will be divisions based on preferences, understandings, languages customs, and sadly, even skin color.

When you are a mature Christian, you will recognize the oneness of the church and stop focusing on petty differences. Do you give offerings only at your church? If so, why? Are there not other churches that have needs greater than yours? When Paul traveled in the first century, the offering he gathered where for other churches, those who were able, helped those who were needy. That  is unity. Giving of your substance to other brothers and sisters, because you recognize that they are family.

I am honored to be a part of Worthychat. Here, we come together from around the world. We are of different denominations, yet here, we are united. Do we squabble? Of course we do, what family doesn’t? Most husbands and wives squabble at times, yet, they remain one flesh, a unity. Differences do not mean you are divided, they just mean there are differences. We are human, God made us as individuals, not clones, celebrate the differences.

1 Cor 12:12-2712 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

I would like to end with one final thought (I could go on and on, but I am feeling merciful tonight). People like to gather with others who are like them, the feel comfortable and part of something. Try to be accommodating in that way toward others, make them feel welcomed. But when you go out to look for a church to be part of, you will be tempted to find one, that suits your tastes and your beliefs. I am all for that, but I would like to caution you to keep things in perspective. Sound doctrine is more important that the style of worship or how nice the facilities are. If you try a new church, give it a chance, attend it three times at least, unless in is plainly scripturally unsound. If you have a personal belief about something, and you want to be around others who share that belief, don’t make it the central thing if it is a peripheral issue or not even a scriptural one, find a church that teaches the Bible, as it is, not with massaged meanings to make it fit what you wish it said. It is O.K. to be uncomfortable too, it can stretch and grow you. O.K., so that was two final thoughts, sue me.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to read this, now go into the chatroom and join the one body, your brothers and sisters in Christ. Omegaman