I’ve written before in the ‘finding a church group’ article HERE about how the various ‘Christian’ denominations shouldn’t have much relevance in who you choose to fellowship with, but I believe that in the past several months God has really laid on my heart the truth of the matter regarding denominations and divisions, and as such I’m going to try to get all my thoughts down on proverbial paper as it were for this subject…
So there are of course other ‘denominational’ organizations that I wouldn’t even consider to be Christian, such as Catholicism which I’ve also already written about HERE, and others I haven’t touched on like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. At best I could describe these religions as ‘pseudo-Christian’, that is to say, they have various elements of Christianity in them but also various elements of pagan and man-made religion mixed in, to the point that I wouldn’t consider them followers of the God of the Bible.
There are certainly many other denominations that have non-Biblical, man-made rules and regulations and doctrine and traditions in what I’d consider to be the ‘Christian’ realm, and I strongly believe those things hinder their members from their relationship with God (based on verses like Matthew 15:9), but I’m not going to get into that in this article as that’s a whole different can of worms. What I am going to write about is the actual problem with denomination and division itself, regardless of the particular type or group.
So to start off with, why do I believe denominations and division is bad/wrong… Well, like so many other things I’ve written about, the answer is simple: because the Bible says so!
Lets take a look at what the Bible says about these things first off.
Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, Titus 3:9-11, Jude 1:16-19, Ephesians 4:3-6, Proverbs 6:16-19, Colossians 3:12-15, 1 Corinthians 11:18-19, 1 Corinthians 3:1-23, Galatians 5:19-21, Romans 15:3-15, Jude 1:19, 1 Corinthians 11:16 and more all speak quite strongly about divisions in God’s church.
The general gist is that God strongly opposes division in His church. It’s not very difficult to see/understand the reasons why that would be in my opinion as well…
For example, lets take a look at virtually any other organization in existence on earth to date. A Christian brother of mine and mentor tried to ‘explain’ denominations to me by using an analogy along the lines of:
“…the denominations in the Church are like the various divisions in a military; you have Army, Air Force, Navy, etc. They all work towards the same goals, and are all part of the same group, so it’s okay to be a part of a particular division within the group.”
Now, that sounds fine and good, and the person who said this to me I have complete belief they are trying to serve God as best they can and I respect them and their wisdom/knowledge, etc, etc. HOWEVER, there is still a problem with that line of thinking at least from what I can see… Let me explain further.
To continue with the military analogy, you have the various ‘divisions’ (Army, Air Force, Navy, etc.) within the military. All work for the same overall purpose/goals, etc, which is fine. The problem though comes in with the evil human nature, specifically with pride, selfishness, greed and envy.
I’ll use a simple example, if two military members meet off-duty, lets say one is an army grunt and the other an air force pilot, when they introduce themselves, the conversation invariably leads to the ‘what do you do for a living’ question. So of course they first one says they are in the Military, the second one instantly (at least this is how I see this type of interaction proceeding in most cases I’ve experienced/witnessed) gains a level of respect and comradery with the first one, and when he replies something along the lines of, “I am also in the military.” the first person reciprocates that bond.
So here’s now where the problems come in. The next question that will be asked is something like: “What division are you in?” to which the one replies, “I’m in the army.” or something similar. Now the air force pilot’s view on that individual has likely lessened, potentially even turning from a positive view to a negative one or perhaps neutral/indifferent, because in their mind, while the other person is indeed part of the ‘military’ they are just a ‘simple army bumpkin’, and hardly worthy of conversing with the likes of an air force pilot as they have practically nothing in common…
Likewise, the army grunt, when he discovers the other person is a pilot, has a similar reaction. Their view of one another, the way they would interact going forward, how they treat one another, etc. has all been skewed based on the divisional preconceptions and prejudices they each possess, and those things all start with pride.
So, I’m certainly not saying that the above example applies to everyone, as I don’t believe that’s true, however it IS very common from what I’ve seen both in non-religious and religious organizations.
Another example I could use is the organization I currently work in. Even within the different departments of the organization, there is divisional arrogance and pride… “Oh, you work for such-and-such company? Me too.” “Nice, what department are you in?” “Ooohhhh, your one of ‘those’ people…”
And I’ve seen that type of interaction in virtually every other organization and group I’ve ever been in contact with, including, sadly, the ‘Church’.
I have a friend who is a pastor for example, in a particular denomination of course. He’s a great guy, I love him as a brother and respect him and what he does and again I believe he is trying to serve God genuinely. One of our first conversations went like this:
Pastor: “What church do you guys go to?” Me: “We fellowship with a lot of various Christians throughout the week but we often attend a Pentacostal church on Sunday’s…” Pastor: “Ah, let me guess, ‘you guys’ have people that wave flags there, right?” Me: “There are a few people that do that yea…” Pastor: (laughs) “Ah, so classic.”
Now, again this individual is a good person and I’m not trying to depict them as insensitive or anything of the sort. His comments were lighthearted and not intended to offend me or ‘Pentacostal’ people, however there IS an underlying issue that ‘My denomination is better than yours or that one’ that emerges constantly which is what I’m trying to point out here and which is the problem with denomination/division.
I’ll also highlight that as soon as you take a ‘side’ or denomination, it becomes invariably a ‘us and them’ situation even to other ‘Christian’ people just because they are part of a different denomination. This clearly isn’t right, and not what God intends His Church to be like.
Take a look at Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:10-11. Here we see the author addressing this exact problem that existed in the church except in place of denomination it was race and whether the person was a slave or free. The message is quite clear, if you are in Christ, there is no division to be recognized among you. I think this applies to ‘positions’ within the Church as well which is another huge problem as I can see. You have extreme positional pride within any organization I can think of including religious organizations/denominations. This compounds the problems even further, creating deeper and wider rifts between people that should be brother’s and sisters in Christ.
Someone meets someone else who is a ‘Lutheran’ and they are a ‘Baptist’, this in itself creates a negative response that overshadows everything, but how much worse is it if they both further discover they are each ‘pastors’ in their groups… It’s like they both think, well, not only are you subscribing to the ‘wrong’ doctrine, you are teaching/preaching it as well, even worse!
It is an awful way to try to live as a ‘Christian’, and not what we are called to do. Positional pride and man-made hierarchy within God’s Church is a related, but separate topic altogether, so I won’t go much more into that at this point…
Getting back on track, lets take 3 John 1:9-10 as another example. Here you have John (the apostle/evangelist, not John the Baptist) talking to a brother called Gaius and highlighting an issue with one of the members (a elder/leader of some sort apparently) of the church. John doesn’t call for a break-away from this man or to form a different ‘church’ in the area or for anything like that which would be what our first response in this day and age would be if this happened… Rather he says he will being up this mans actions to the church when he arrives. His goal is unity in the group of believers there, not being ‘better’ or more ‘right’ than the others… This I think is how we are also called to live.
Differences in doctrine should by no means create a division, yet we see this constantly even within existing ‘denominations’ that further split apart because of doctrine and pride, despite the Bible explicitly (at least from everything I can see) warning against this.
I guess the bottom line is this: being a member of a particular ‘Christian’ religious group or denomination does by no means make you a ‘Christian’, much less a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ Christian, and as far as I can see has zero benefits and many downsides. Following Christ is what makes you a Christian, and that is determined by how you act and think, how you spend your time and other resources, and your heart before God, not by any service you attend on Sunday morning, or which building or group you attend that service with, etc.
Perhaps I am biased, or missing some very obvious points or have overlooked some areas, but if there are any positive aspects of denominationalizing (not a word, I know) yourself please feel free to let me know as I’d love to hear them and am genuinely curious as to what they could be.
I’ve heard various reasons and excuses, most along the lines of “God can accomplish more with a larger organization, so it’s better just to ‘join’ one and put your resources into it rather than remaining ‘independent’…” or “It’s just part of the culture/society we live in so there’s nothing we can do about it, sure it’s not ‘ideal’ but it is what it is…”
I think both those types of arguments are quite weak personally. Firstly, God doesn’t ‘need’ any man-made organization to ‘accomplish’ anything. In fact, if we take Biblical examples we find that typically God uses the exact opposite, the small, weak, humble, poor, etc. people to accomplish His will. Secondly, change is never going to come about if people aren’t willing to stand up for what is right, this includes being against divisions.
The next question of course is, well how do we get out of this divisional rut we’ve dug ourselves into as a culture/society? That’s the real challenge and I think as with anything else it has to start with God and prayer for direction and wisdom and discernment for the members of His Church.
Personally, I refuse to become a ‘member’ of any denomination, I don’t limit my ‘exposure’ to other Christian brothers and sisters to a particular group or denomination (in fact I make an effort to fellowship with different groups), I try to limit my financial support or other resource support of denominational organizations (unless I feel called by God to do otherwise of course), and I pray for God to help me not be prejudice and judgmental in regards to other believers who subscribe to various denominations that I believe have a lot of false/useless/man-made doctrines and teachings and traditions, and recognize that I am no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than they.
Other than that, I try to follow wherever God leads, and I hope if we all do the same we’ll end up in a place where there is no need nor desire for different denominations or division.