Why are there denominations in Christianity?

22 02 2007

As you know, there are denominations within Christianity, and they are based on division.  Obviously, this is a bad thing.  We all start with the same book, the Bible, so why are there so many divisions?  I realize some people may leave one group because of personal preferences, like musical styles or the color of the carpet or the style of preaching, but it’s probably okay to have multiple churches based on that.  The danger is having different denominations because of doctrinal differences.  But why is there so much variance in how we interpret the theology of Christianity?  Consider this :

Beware of draining the mystery out of the Scripture in a misplaced desire for rational consistency.  In [James] Packer’s words, we can frequently trace theological confusion and error to “the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and … a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic.”  Hence, I have learned to live with incompleteness, paradox, incomprehensibility, and deep mystery in my relationship with God and as I think theologically. ~ Chris Hall

That makes a lot of sense to me.  We as humans want to understand everything; we want an explanation for every potential issue.  But God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.  It stands to reason that there will be things about God that we cannot understand.  Right?  Think about it — we have trouble explaining gravity or wind or black holes, yet expect to understand the Creator of the universe.  There are going to be things we can’t explain.  Another example is when someone is miraculously healed — the doctors have no explanation, yet all of a sudden a tumor has disappeared or cancer is gone without treatment or a broken arm is no longer broken.

When we try to rationalize all of God’s work into our limited understanding, we have to make assumptions, because we don’t know all the details.  And assumptions are not good for basing theories on.  The probability of our conclusions being incorrect increases greatly when using assumptions.

So how does this apply to denominations?  There are parts of the Bible that we cannot explain or understand fully, like healings, miraculous events, praying in tongues, the end-times, etc.  Some groups of people try to explain away these things, saying they don’t apply to today or that we aren’t interpreting them correctly.  So there are people who disagree with what the Bible says, yet they still want to be Christians.  And so they leave the group that they think is preaching heresy, and they start a new group (denomination).

It is very important that we search the Bible for the Truth about God, because many of us were raised in a particular denomination and thus were indoctrinated with a certain set of beliefs.  It is possible that even the people we love and trust have told us incorrectly in ignorance.  I know, it’s tough to consider that your pastor or parents or close friends might be wrong about something so important, but it happens.  It’s also tough to even consider the idea that we might be wrong in some of our beliefs.  But we should consider it, because our place in God’s will and eternity is too important to rely solely upon what our elders have told us.

The Truth is out there, and you can find it.  God wants you to know Him personally, and He will help you discover the Truth about life.  But you have to make a sincere effort to seek the Truth.  Many people are content with knowing what they know, even if it’s based on assumptions and what other people have told them without evidence.  But I wouldn’t want to stand before God on the judgment day and say it’s someone else’s fault that I was misled, even though I have a Bible and have access to all sorts of resources to help me learn.  We are each responsible for our own life, and we will be judged accordingly.

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3 responses

23 02 2007
Fab

I think your last paragraph nailed it: “I have a Bible and have access to all sorts of resources to help me learn.”

We can’t depend on what man says as infallible. Only the Word of God reveals His true nature. 2 Timothy 2:15 (King James Version)

15Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

God wants to be found and even though we can’t understand everything about Him, the Bible is the place to find out all we can about Him.

25 02 2007
Jason Rapert

Beppo,

You write about something that bothers me as well. I am disappointed with the acceptance of divisions in the body of Christ. How can anyone read John chapter 17 where the Lord says “that they may be made perfect in one” and then go on to support the concept of denominations in the body of Christ? Divisions in the body are acceptable? To who? Jesus did not preach that we should separate ourselves and become so accustomed to the traditions of men within our own group that we are hardly recognizable to each other as Christians of the same faith.

Many times I hear people bemoan the fact that there is no sustained “revival” in our country. Should we be surprised that God is not blessing division? I preach unity in the body of Christ across all denominational lines and seek to see those lines pass away. I preach John 17 as Jesus laid it out for us – that we may be made perfect in ONE. The most awesome moves of God I have ever experienced occurred where people came together in one accord and pursposely sought to tear down walls of denominational separation.

The masses of people in churches long for the unity – it is the leaders of the denominations, the preachers who covet position in their denomination that ultimately maintain the divisions. Yeah, you are right – that kind of pure honesty doesn’t get me invitations to some churches. Thank God I am seeking Jesus and not man’s acceptance.

I have been disappointed more than once by those that I thought wanted real revival only to come to understand that they want power more than the moving of the Holy Ghost. If someone wants “revival” they will go wherever God is moving. Some only want it if it happens inside the four walls of “their domain”.

Man has really made a mess of what Jesus intended. We are way off the mark in many things. I am encouraged when I see people like you acknowledge that denominationalism is not a benign threat to the kingdom of God. Old time religion is that of unity in the body of Christ. May God help us to wake up and began to let the arms communicate with the legs once again.

Keep up your good work. God bless,

Jason Rapert
http://www.holyghostministries.org

2 03 2007
Beppo

I’d like to add something to this discussion that I didn’t put in the original article (because it was getting long).

You may think that your pastor or parents can’t be wrong about their beliefs because they love God and are good people. It doesn’t mean that your pastor or your parents are bad people because they might be wrong on a certain doctrinal issue. They might’ve “inherited” the beliefs the same way you did. It’s important that we do our own study, along with consulting those who know what they are talking about, and of course to pray for understanding. God doesn’t want us to be confused or to believe incorrect things, but we have to be open-minded to hear from Him. God won’t force us to change our beliefs — that would be violating free will.

I’ve met someone who wouldn’t even consider any idea that didn’t line up with his current doctrine, yet he wouldn’t even back up his current position when I asked him why he believed what he did. He just believed what his parents believed because it was what he learned in his home church. While we should be able to trust our pastor and parents, it’s still possible they are wrong sometimes. And in the case of my friend, it’s very sad, because he was wrong on a couple of issues. He’s a good guy, but he’s missing out on some major parts of how Christians should live. And God will hold him accountable for what he believes and tells others.

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