TWFW: There’s Nothing Wrong With Denominations

June 24, 2009


I often hear Christians and unbelievers alike, decrying denominations. “Every church thinks it is the right church!” “If God is real, why are there so many different churches and denominations?” “The Christians have too many factions and varying groups, so something must be wrong!”

I don’t have any problem with denominations. I don’t think there is anything wrong with them. Let me explain.

When I refer to “denomination,” I am referring to the general, accepted definition of the word:

1. a religious group, usually including many local churches, often larger than a sect: the Lutheran denomination.
2. one of the grades or degrees in a series of designations of quantity, value, measure, weight, etc.: He paid $500 in bills of small denomination.
3. a name or designation, esp. one for a class of things.
4. a class or kind of persons or things distinguished by a specific name.
5. the act of naming or designating a person or thing.

The Christian faith abides by some very simple tenets, summed up well in the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;
the holy church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

Any group of believers that does not believe and abide by these very basic tenets is not of the true Christian faith, not the faith that Christ and His apostles established. Thus, such a group is disqualified to the faith and is more aptly described as a “cult” and not a “denomination.” So when I refer to “denominations,” I am referring to groups that truly belong to the traditional, Biblical Christian faith as characterized by the Apostles’ Creed that summarizes the tenets of the Holy Scriptures. You can’t reproach the truth and purity of the Christian faith on the presence of goofy cults– there are cults everywhere and in everything! The presence of cults means nothing and in no way discredits the truth, because the cults are the actual deviants, not the other way around.

I also do not mean to defend schisms. Schisms are defined as:

1. division or disunion, esp. into mutually opposed parties.
2. the parties so formed.
3. Ecclesiastical. a. a formal division within, or separation from, a church or religious body over some doctrinal difference.; b. the state of a sect or body formed by such division; c. the offense of causing or seeking to cause such a division.

Schisms are factions within a body that should actually be united in purpose. So where cults are groups completely separate from a particular group practicing truth but have some similarities (for example, with names or terms), schisms are divisions within a group and are opposed to each other and are always harmful and lead to the destruction of the group. The first letter to the church at Corinth is especially filled with relevancy on this issue, because certain members had been dividing into little schisms; in the letter, Paul squelches the idea of schisms within the church and defines and deals with customs and differences with churches abroad. It is expected that churches in different locations will differ from one another in certain, what I call “minor” issues (that is, issues not related to the basic tenets of the Christian faith), but it is made clear that the unity of the faith, and intent and inclinations of the believers should be the same amongst each other, everywhere.

So what do we mean when we say “denomination”? Isn’t a Christian denomination truly a “class or kind of persons” set apart by a particular name? Wasn’t the church in Corinth a denomination? How about the church of Galatia, and the church at Rome, and the church at Jerusalem? They all had their differences, didn’t they? Some groups prayed with head coverings; some kept the Mosaic law; some had women deacons; some ate only vegetables, some only meat; some were rich; some were poor. Do you think they fretted about the various denominations on one side of the continent or another? I doubt it.

But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 1 Corinthians 7:17

For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels… Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11:10, 14-16

Unfortunately, it is “natural” for men to create and exploit differences among themselves, and then deride the other group for being different! Have you ever noticed that it isn’t just in serious stuff like warfare and territory disputes that mankind contends? Think about the contending between Microsoft and Apple, between Giants and Bills, between Mets and Yankees. It seems that man goes out of his way to create schisms, for the purpose of being “greater” than the other.

Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be the greatest. And Jesus, perceieving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.”

Then John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is for us.” Luke 9:46-50.

And it can be assumed that the disciples of Jesus initially thought the gospel was for the Jews alone (or for the Jews at first, alone). This is intimated by Peter’s strong reaction to the conversion of a Gentile soldier, Cornelius:

“In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” …While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision (the Jewish Christians) were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. Acts 10:34, 44-45

So perhaps you could say that perhaps Peter thought “his” denomination was “it.” But he was very open to hearing from God about the matter. And that’s the main point, isn’t it?

This is the very long way of saying that I don’t think God is in Heaven fretting and worrying that His people are in various denominations. People live in nations and in groups, and we all have regional likes, dislikes, and cultural differences. What is wrong with this?? Besides, we would never even KNOW that there were so many denominations if it wasn’t for the information age, pumping information about all the different kinds of places and people to us. What’s the big deal? Denominations do not water down the gospel and they surely do not make God less of the God that He is. I say, let’s get over the humanistic fretting about denominations and let’s place more attention where it belongs– repenting from sins and serving God with good consciences. We need to pay more attention to the actual discord caused by lies, envy, backbiting, and evil deeds, rather than if so-and-so uses the New King James Bible and not the *original* and uber-holy King James Bible, or if one church takes communion every week and another doesn’t.

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this inclination; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same inclination.” Philippians 3:14-16

For more of The Word For Wednesday posts and participants, see Yeah, Right!

2 Responses to “TWFW: There’s Nothing Wrong With Denominations”

  1. akaGaGa Says:

    I agree that God isn’t fretting and worrying about his people in denominations. But then, I don’t think He’s into fretting and worrying about anything.

    This is a subject that my husband and I have discussed quite a bit in recent years, and I’ve concluded that, overall, denominations are not a good idea.

    The first problem, which you alluded to, is the identity-crisis they create. Instead of saying “I am of Apollos” or “I am of Paul” we now say “I am Baptist” or “I am Methodist.” I think Paul’s point and yours is that we should all be saying “I am of Christ.” Labels are not helpful.

    The other problem is one that God and I wrestled about last fall. The church we were attending was engaging in some practices and stating as truth some doctrines that were not biblical. As I struggled to deal with this, God lead me to the bottom line: As long as they were preaching Christ crucified, I was to keep my mouth shut. šŸ™‚

    Believe it or not, I managed to do this for several months. Then a new pastor came in, who not only didn’t preach Christ crucified, he preached secular psycho-babble dressed up in scriptures. After discussing this with him and then the elders to no avail, I left.

    Artificial divisions over the color of the rug and the choice of songs are self-motivated, and akin to straining gnats. Preaching worldly doctrines as biblical truth is closer to swallowing camels, and today’s seminaries seem to specialize in this.

    • Rebecca Says:

      Hi Jean. šŸ™‚

      Certainly I could be all wrong about this… but I have to say that maybe you missed what I said when I was defining the true meanings of denominations, cults, and schisms? Today’s mainstream churches really wouldn’t be classified as denominations, but as cults; they have left the basic tenets of the Scripture as so well summarized by the Apostle’s Creed. They may be keeping the “Christian” names and terms, but in practice they are so far from the faith that they can no longer be considered Christian.

      Cults are far from the truth, and for them to be redeemed there must be complete conversion over to the truth. Schisms are within denominations/churches and must be dealt with before they digress into cults. Denominations are customs/preferences within true churches. That’s how I have come to define these terms.

      Through the years– especially after the liberalism movement of the mainstream churches of the early 1900s (see J. Gresham Machen’s book “Christianity and Liberalism”), churches still believed they were considered “denominations” when they were really just schisms. Because there was no repentance from the schisms, these churches became cults, and have deviated so far from the original faith that they cannot be considered Christian (and therefore, no longer a denomination).

      So please don’t get me wrong when I say that I have no problem with different denominations; I don’t mean cults when I say this. I think there should be a more exacting line amongst Christians and non-Christians and cultists alike– it is wrong to classify and treat a cult as if it is a denomination, and it is wrong to classify and treat the presence of denominations as if there is something horribly disunified and wrong with Christianity. There is nothing wrong wth Christianity– there is everything wrong with treating cults as if they are denominations. That’s been the disunifying factor. I know you know exactly what I mean, because you yourself have spoken so many times.

      Maybe I am all mistaken by using the wrong terms overall. And maybe this is hitting people’s “hot buttons.” But I do know that any individual or group that does not accept and entrust in the facts of Biblical Christianity is not a part of Christianity, despite the steeple and “First Church Of” on the sign.