Why are there so many denominations of Christianity?
Why are there so many denominations in Christianity? The word denomination is clearly understood when used in reference to various values of currency. It is the name or title that we give to a group or class of units. Yet when denomination is used in reference to Christianity, the meaning is not as apparent.
Why are there so many denominations in Christianity? The word denomination is not found in the Bible. Jesus Christ never taught there should be divisions in the church with significant doctrinal differences. The original church was a single congregation of Christ's followers, distinct from the world. "So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26). It is God's plan to encompass all believers into one body (Jesus Christ), connected through local churches, denominations, and affiliations which have their own particular name, doctrine, form of worship, and distinctive organization.
Religious division is certainly not a new concept. When the kingdom of Israel split into the northern and southern segments, each chose a different system of worship. Jeroboam and his advisors wanted Bethel to be Israel's chief religious center, intending to compete with Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:25-33). Though Jeroboam was a charismatic leader and organizer who had popular support, Bethel's religion became idolatry leading to Israel's eventual downfall.
Jesus realized that division creates a fertile ground for unbelief. "I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23). The basis for this unity was the belief that Jesus was sent from the Father. Paul felt it imperative that there be no divisiveness in the church. He consistently urged unity. "Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose" (Philippians 2:2).
So, if God desires unity why are there so many denominations of Christianity? Tradition in the Bible suggests "the concept of instruction that had been handed down from generation to generation." These instructions were often divinely given, as with many of the prophets. Paul praises the Corinthians for 'holding to' the teachings he passed on to fellow believers in Christ (1 Corinthians 11:2). Yet tradition can also originate from longstanding human practices that displace spiritual revelation. A denomination might hold fast to a man-made tradition that was handed down over centuries and ratified by the clergy. If the authorities believe that tradition is equal to the Scriptures, then the practice often becomes infallible. Divisions flourish when individuals are unable to differentiate between God's ordinances and man-made practices.
When the church at Corinth was faced with many elements of division, Paul encouraged cooperation among members, both Jew and Gentile (1 Corinthians 12:12). Despite their differences, each believer had one thing in common -- faith in Christ. This truth is where the church found its unity. Paul wanted to reinforce the relationship between the Jew and Gentile in the early church while discouraging competition among the churches belonging to Christ. "May God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5-6).
Why are there so many denominations of Christianity? Some denominations may have a slightly different emphasis on the Scriptures. Other denominations may have adopted the name of their founder (Lutheran for Martin Luther) or a "method" for spiritual growth (Methodists). Baptists emphasize the importance of baptism. As believers, we all must share the same essentials of our Christian faith. God gives us unique personalities and abilities to worship, serve, and follow Jesus Christ, the head of the church. "There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).
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