The Four Pillars

January 13, 2013
 

Christian Denominations Pt. 1: Divisions Among Us

Pie Chart of Christian Denominations provided by Credo House Ministries

Now I beseech you brethren, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. – 1st Cor. 1:10

Paul’s statement on Christian denominations is plain. Yet, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations in the world today. So why so many?

From teachings in 1st Corinthians, and Revelation, we know this is no new thing. But why the expansion? And why so much open conflict about it? This article is not about how one denomination is more right than another, but rather how they are all wrong, and all right, in part.

A Pastor friend of mine went out to the community of churches last Passover and invited them to join him in a local park so the family of Christ could celebrate the sacrifice and resurrection of their mutual Savior. The churches rejected his idea, and he was scolded internally by other church leaders of his own denomination.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. Frankly, neither do I. But I did tell him to rejoice in persecution. Because at times like these, it’s a good sign. He gave up the fight rather quickly. I think the blow to his spirit simply had too much weight behind it upon initial strike. It saddened me that one who held a zeal for unity was beaten down by those that were supposed to be of his same spiritual family. We, as Christians, have enough opposition at present, do we not?

Is there some kind of threat between one denomination and another? And if there is, what exactly is that threat? Christ said, “for he that is not against us is on our part.” Does this hold no weight in the modern church? Are we so committed to proving how right we are, that we need to attack others on how we believe they’re wrong in the process? What’s the point exactly?

In a way, I can understand divisions in America (because it’s the government system I partially understand) from a taxation, and organizational perspective. If one church body, who holds a tax exempt status and needs an identifiable organizational number on file with the government, they must have a formal name. Therefore, every organization that follows after, must have a different name so as to have a different tax id number.

So from a formal, legal perspective I understand it. But we are currently along the body of that process. Where was the head? Where did it start? And why? Christ identifies seven separate churches (by geography, not formal title), in Revelation chapters two and three. He expounds and identifies the specific struggles and deficiencies of each body in turn, and clearly they are different from each other. Well, all of them are, except two. There are two churches which Christ finds no fault and no deficiency, though their commission varies one from another. What can we learn from these two faultless churches?

The churches of Smyrna (addressed in Rev. 2:8-11) and Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) are perfect in the eyes of the Lord, yet have different commissions. Which means ultimately, there are actually separate bodies appointed to separate duties. This is not denominationalism. This is what Paul speaks of when he says, If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? Of course it is, but not the same part. And because it is not the same part, it will have slightly different convictions and duties, yet all from the same Head.

There isn’t much said of these churches, other than what they will accomplish and what they possess that pleases the Lord. What can we be certain of then regarding them? For one thing, we can be absolutely sure they possessed none of the deficiencies of the other five churches. So we know they had not:

  • left their first Love (Ephesus)
  • held the doctrine of Balaam (Pergamos)
  • held the doctrine of the Nicolatanes (Pergamos)
  • suffer (tolerate) that woman Jezebel which calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols (Thyatira)
  • stopped watching (Sardis)
  • defiled their garments (Sardis)
  • become luke warm (Laodicea)
  • become boastful of worldly gain (Laodicea)
  • become wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked (Laodicea)

That’s quite of bit of “not doing” as far as Smyrna and Philadelphia go. We can also safely assume that these two churches were doing all of the things that Christ declared the other churches to be doing correctly. Else would He not have listed them as being done incorrectly among these two?

In short, contrasting the sins listed of the other churches, we know of a certainty that Smyrna and Philadelphia had:

  1. held firmly to the One and True Christ
  2. accepted no other doctrine but His
  3. refused the seduction of Jezebel (study her reign if you want to know the depth of that statement; also Ezekiel 13:17-23)
  4. continued to be faithful watchmen
  5. kept their works clean through obedience and repentance
  6. maintained their zeal
  7. maintained servile humility
  8. Had (as in righteous opposition to Laodicea’s list) endured, suffered and overcome trials, maintained their joy in the face of them, become wealthy in spirit, possessed eyes to see, and obtained garments of righteousness (denoting righteous acts and works)

Can any of us truly say we have all that in order? And if we cannot, what time have we to openly, or secretly, condemn other Christians, of our denomination or of another? When we have the opportunity to come together with a fellow believer and worship the One True God, what does it matter what label is on the lapel? Does iron not sharpen iron? Is it not an opportunity to perhaps learn and teach someone else who lives their life to better know the Savior of all mankind?

I contend that aggressive denominationalism is contrary to the Christ concept of family. And that those among the denominations who seek to expand and dwell on divisions need to be marked and noted. Not because they are necessarily wicked, but because regardless of why they do it, it is still contrary to Christ.

Another question might be, when Christ said, “for he that is not against us is on our part,” and in another place, “He that is not with me is against me,” did He specify within these two statements as to whether the individuals of either category claimed His Name or did not claim His Name? In other words, can one call themselves “Christian” and still be “against us (i.e. against the body)?” Of course they can, else our Lord would not address the “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” as something for us to carefully watch for. Again, don’t get caught in labels. Identify the actions and behaviors of the spirits beyond what is said or promoted, and you’ll be well on your way to taking part in the daily spiritual conflict Christians are to be actively involved in at all times.

But then, I guess you’ve got to actually be watching, in order to see those kinds of things. The fact is, God is not pleased with Christian denominations. So how do we defend against them?

To be continued…

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About the Author

Joe Christian
Joe Christian is a student of God's Word. He has no formal education, but has spent the better part of 20 years studying The Bible by following subject and object, and studying the original languages of the Scriptures. You can too.



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