Ask the Pastor: What About Denominations?
Don’t forget to submit your Bible questions to us – firstname.lastname@example.org or in the “Question Box” outside the sanctuary.)
One question submitted this week from a church member:
If we are Christians, then why does Tower View wear the name ‘Baptist’? I think there were only Christian churches in the Bible (churches of Christ)?
Great question! Thank you for asking. This refers, in part, to why there are many denominations in the world. I will try to answer it the best I can.
WHAT IS ESSENTIAL AND NOT ESSENTIAL?
First, it is important to know why we consider some churches false and others not. Rev. Kevin DeYoung gives a simple overview of what we would consider essential beliefs to be considered a Christian, and, by extension, a biblical church. This list isn’t all you could say—but it is a good start. Click the link below:
WHY DENOMINATION EXIST, ANYWAY?
The reasons are as varied as the buffet at Golden Corral. Some are due to location, linguistic concerns, etc. Some have different forms of church government. Some don’t want to any affiliation with anyone but themselves. Some only unite because it bring them accountability. Others, perhaps most of all, divide over doctrinal (biblical belief) differences.
Being in a denomination is not a bad thing. In fact, it should provide a type of check-and-balance system whereby church leaders and churches can’t teach anything not in line with the Bible. The fight of faith in every pastor, every church, and every denomination: do we trust the word of God to do the work of God?
In our denomination, for instance, Southern Baptists unite across nearly 50,000 churches from small to large to make one fund (The Cooperative Program) by which we fund the largest sending of international missionaries and provide many more opportunities you can read about here (http://www.sbc.net/cp/). Not all denominations have this and some choose to use their funds in other ways.
SO, ARE THEY ARE A GOOD THING?
Honestly, if there was one, biblically sound denomination, it would be of great benefit. That is, provided it remained biblically sound in all that it should be biblically sound in. On the flip side, to have no denominations, I believe, would be calamitous. There would be little to unite us intentionally.
For instance, in the Old Testament, God setup one temple in Jerusalem to unite one people—His people. After Christ was dead and resurrected, He entrusted the early church to early apostles (the authors of the New Testament). The various house churches all came under the leadership and authority of the apostles (Acts 15). All matters of belief, doctrine, and practice were settled there by the apostles. Since then, we look forward to the return of our Sovereign King—when all unity will be final.
In short, though, the Scripture gives us clear examples that each local church should be united with and under for the glory of God and advancement of His kingdom with other biblical local churches.
WHAT IF THE DIFFERENCES ARE TOO BIG & VAST?
True unity is achieved not by eliminating boundaries, but by eliminating error and deceit (John 17:19-23). Unity built upon an undefined God, an undefined Christ, & an undefined salvation is not unity, but compromise of the worst sort before God and under the authority of the Bible.
Let’s give a modern-day example through the hot-button issue of Jesus being the only way to heaven. We believe there are many roads to hell, but only one way to heaven. This one way street is Jesus Christ. Other churches over the years have begun to question this. This isn’t a reconcilable issue. The Bible is very clear there is only one way of salvation, no matter who you are or where you are, Jew or Gentile, man or woman–it is the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:1-10, etc.). Clearly, these aren’t issues that can be reconciled and be faithful to God and His Word.
SEVERAL PRACTICAL “FAITH LESSONS”
Just some pastoral thoughts as we apply this in no particular order
1. There may be no greater danger to the health of a church and the advance of God’s Kingdom than spiritual pride in the life of her members (and denominations).
Until Jesus returns, none of us, no church, no denomination, will outgrow the wisdom of honesty and modesty. We just aren’t that great. The glorious Gospel of our Lord didn’t come from any pastor, church, or denomination—but from the infinite genius and eternal love of God (1 Cor. 15:1-8; 1 Peter 1:10-12, etc.).
“Give me neither poverty nor riches” (from Prov. 30:8). A good prayer about finances, but, for me personally, also about church growth and answering this question.
2. Our unity is most evident through our diversity.
When we are centered around the Gospel, our diversity displays the glory of God. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. Our different perspectives and preferences are what manifest the strength of our united confession in Christ. Those united to Christ are all one race, and because we’re covered by his blood, our skin is ultimately all the same color.
3. The Gospel will survive falling out among friends.
In Acts 15:36-41 we see such an example in a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas.
As a non-Christian, please note that we are not perfect. As Christians, consider being slow to anger.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8.
Let’s pray we are like this and don’t let disagreements hinder our work. Paul and Barnabas continued on and didn’t gossip. In fact, their disagreement expanded their ministry because God is sovereign.
4. Lots of us are all for unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ until we have to sacrifice something to experience it (not talking doctrine, either).
I have never seen a church with too much love, too much forgiveness, too much sacrifice — too much Jesus. Oh, for more!
“Accept one another, as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7). Our unity displays Christ. Withdrawal denies Christ. Complacency about unity breeds division. We’re to be “eager” to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-6).
5. It is no schism to leave a church or denomination that has already left you by transgressing its own confessional, biblical standards.
Our faith is much more than getting our doctrine right—but it is not less. You can have good doctrine and still be lost, but there are some doctrines without which you will not be found. And leaving a church or denomination over false doctrine is biblical.
6. Be careful not add requirements for being in Christ’s church.
Religion tends to reinforce our self-righteousness. When we add to the Gospel, we destroy it. Repent, trust and you will be forgiven and have new life. Nothing else saves, but Christ’s death alone. Faith saves, not works.
7. Wise choices bring peace and unity.
Do you live in such a way to bring unity? Our faith must be the message preached and not the preacher. In the New Testament, the role for the whole congregation was in making clarity of the Gospel for unity of the church.
Due to the above, I believe it is safe to say that some denominations are defensible—but there are some that simply aren’t, to be sure. Some are trying to unify true Christians around true Christians doctrine as we worship the one true God. Others have long since been moving from heresy (false teaching) to the next. And, yes, there are some churches that have parted ways over reconcilable / trivial issues and are more alike than they know.
Overall, denominations—love or hate them—are short-term networks that will one day go away when our Savior returns in power. Yes, any denomination is not the original plan, but, given the brief discussion above, serve to, at times, be the best solution.
And in Revelation 22 we are reminded that we will reign with Him forever. This is the good news. Christ’s Gospel will continue to survive and even thrive. God will fulfill His promises.