Many people wonder why there are so many different (and we do mean different!) denominations scattered across the world today. They each have their own names and doctrines. They worship differently and have differing goals. Most also have many things in common, but the question is why are there such differences that they are compelled to divide into distinct groupings of congregations? More importantly, is this what Jesus desires?
One denominational preacher, in seeking to justify this condition, illustrated the "wisdom" of having so many denominations. He said that it was a lot like a lady buying a hat. What suits one lady fine may not suit another, so stores provide plenty of different types of hats from which to choose. That way, the lady who prefers a hat bedecked with imitation fruit can buy it; and the lady who prefers flowers can buy that one instead.
Now then, I can see the wisdom of having a choice in hats. And I can see the wisdom of nobody being forced to wear a certain kind of hat that they would not otherwise wear. And there is also wisdom in a system of government that allows people a choice of religion or even to choose no religion at all. You cannot force a change of heart and the Lord has never been pleased with worshipers just going through the motions. There must be a true conversion of heart. It will not serve the Lord's purpose to try and force others to become what they do not want to be.
The title of this article is the question "Is it so bad to have a thousand denominations?" From a social or political standpoint, it is good to have the civil freedom to have as many denominations as our hearts' desire. But we are going to answer the question from another perspective: "Is this what Jesus desires?" and "Is this what Jesus approves of?"
THE DESIRE OF JESUS FOR UNITY
"I do not ask for these (apostles - J.Q.) alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us, that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me" (JOHN 17:20,21). Jesus desired for unity to exist between disciples just as it does between the Father and the Son.
The Father and the Son have the same intent and purpose. They are in absolute agreement about what constitutes holiness, morality and righteousness. There are no contradictions between them. There is no conflict. None. That is exactly what Jesus desires in His disciples. The fact that there are a thousand denominations simply shows that something which Jesus wanted never to happen has happened at least a thousand times. And people claiming to be disciples caused it to happen every one of those times!
THE NEW TESTAMENT ON DENOMINATIONALISM
"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I CORINTHIANS 1:10). The Corinthians were having many problems with overcoming their carnality. They had begun to split and divide into smaller groups. Each group had begun to have differing attitudes and judgments and to designate itself by a different name (see I CORINTHIANS 1:10-13). That is exactly what has happened in history to bring us to the point of a thousand denominations! In fact, the word "denomination" means "division". Paul did not commend their divisions by suggesting that it was much like buying a hat. Instead, he reminded them of the authority of the Lord Jesus. He has already told us what kind of "hat" to wear; that is, what the church ought to be like.
THE NEW TESTAMENT ON UNITY
"...being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism...gave Him head over all things to the church which is His body..." (EPHESIANS 4:3,4; 1:22,23). The New Testament stresses the unity of the church. It is "one body". Jesus had promised, "I will build My church" and never suggested that He would build more than that. The Bible says, "Now may God ...grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (ROMANS 15:5,6). This verse not only urges unity of mind and voice among disciples of Jesus, it gives instruction on how that can be accomplished. It does not appeal to our opinions or likes or dislikes. That is o.k. to do if you are looking to buy a hat, but it is not the way to please the Lord. Instead, it appeals to the mind of Christ. When all will honestly say, "I will put away my opinions forever and accept fully the will of Christ" then we shall have unity.
CAUSES OF DENOMINATIONALISM
"...that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other" (I CORINTHIANS 4:6).The cause of there being so many denominations has always been the improper pride of men and women who are willing to change God's written law. A group will form a denomination by selecting a particular name by which to identify themselves and at the same time distinguish themselves from others. The name may be found in the Bible or not. Or it may simply glorify some man or practice or method instead of Christ. Is that what Jesus wants? (I CORINTHIANS 1:12).
Then the group will vote on various rules and regulations that the group will hold in common. These will then be put into a creedbook. These rules of men are subject to change (what is immoral this year may not be after next year's vote!). Is that what Jesus wants? (MATTHEW 15:9).
You can try on different denominations the way a woman might try on different hats, never asking the question, "Is this church doing what the Bible teaches?" Is that what Jesus wants? Maybe instead of looking for the church of "our" choice, we ought to consider what Jesus' choice would be.
By Jon W. Quinn Reprinted From the Bradley Banner June 23, 1991
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