Why are there so many Christian denominations?
The different Christian denominations has always intrigued me firstly as a non-christian and then as a Christian. Why are there Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic, Anglican etc churches? Who is correct and why? No Christian denomination seems to be able to agree, and forget the basics of Christianity which is to love one another.
When we see disagreement, the loving thing to do is to try and find out if someone’s right & someone else is wrong. The basis for deciding this is Jesus, as understood from the Bible. No denomination is perfect, but some have been historically more affected by the Bible than others. That said, sometimes there’ll be disagreements over issues that are not central, where we can respectfully agree to disagree.
It’s never pleasant when Christians disagree. Jesus prayed that we would be united (John 17:21). The Apostle Paul wanted the Christians in Ephesus to live as one (Ephesians 4:3-6).
But, the reality is, the people of God have always looked like they’re divided. That’s because one of Satan’s tricks is to bring false teachers, false prophets, that look like the real thing, talk like the real thing… But they’re not the real thing. They lead people away from God, and towards death & destruction.
From early times, God warned his people to watch out for false prophets. Have a look at Deuteronomy 18:18-22. The Old Testament has records of the true prophets having to go against false ones; see, for example, Jeremiah chapter 28, or Ezekiel chapter 13. Jesus himself gave us this warning, in Mark 13:5-6, 21-23:
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many… 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.”
Sure enough, the rest of the New Testament shows that even from those earliest days, the Apostles were battling false teachers. Have a look at Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Peter 2:1-3.
Because of this, when we see disagreements, we can’t just say ‘let’s love each other’, and leave it at that. It’s actually UN-loving to do that. What if the disagreement’s important? What if one side is a false teacher? The loving thing to do is to warn people against them! What if WE are the false teachers? Then not only will we wind up in hell, we could take lots of people with us!
We need to take these divisions seriously, try and be as open minded as possible, work out why people disagree with each other, and then decide who we think is right & who’s wrong.
Now, the standard for measuring who’s right & wrong has, of course, to be Jesus. I bet you expected me to say ‘the Bible’! Well, we can only know about Jesus from the Bible. But the Bible’s not an end in itself. It tells us about Jesus; it calls us to trust Jesus, to worship him. But the question is: are we worshiping the correct Jesus? Or a false one? The real Jesus is the one that the Bible tells us about.
“That doesn’t tell me anything”, I hear you say. “Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic, Anglican… don’t they all believe the Bible? Don’t they all follow Jesus?”
Not necessarily. John Spong and Peter Carnley are Anglican church leaders who have said, very publicly, that they don’t believe the Bible. The Catholic church doesn’t follow the Bible on its own terms, they interpret the Bible through their church traditions.
If you don’t follow the Bible, you end up with a false Jesus. A false Jesus is a false god. The Bible has a special word for worshiping a false God: idolatry. God really hates it. The second of the Ten Commandments is “you shall not make for yourselves an idol” (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8).
So, I think we should worry about Jesus and the Bible, not denominations.
No denomination is perfect. But some denominations have historically been more strongly affected by the Bible than others. The Anglican and Baptist churches are like this. The Catholic church, as I said previously, follows church tradition more than the Bible.
There’s one final step. When people read the Bible, sometimes there’s genuine disagreement on issues that are not central, but still important.
Take, for example, baptism. The Baptist church insists that if you get baptised, it should be as an adult, not a child. This is because as an adult, you know what you’re doing, and you can stand up in front of people and make a declaration that you trust in Jesus. The Anglican church disagrees. They say that if Christian people have a child, then God counts the child as belonging to him, because of the parent’s faith. Therefore, unless the child grows up and, as an adult, explicitly rejects Jesus, we can assume they’re right with God. The Anglican church says that because of this, the right thing to do is baptise the child.
Both sides believe they’re right. But no Baptist thinks that if you’ve been baptised as a child, you’re going to hell. And no Anglican says that if you get baptised as an adult, you’re going to hell. With issues like this, we can respect each other’s differences, and still have a fundamental unity.
Answers are kindly provided by our friends at Christianity.net.au