Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations?
Why are there so many Christian denominations? In John 17:11,21,23 Jesus prayed that Christians would be united as one and not be divided.
Jesus prayed: “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me” (John 17:23 NLT).
However, we only need to do a quick survey to realize that within Christianity there are huge divisions and so many denominations to the extent both unbelievers and Christians have questioned why the Christian faith is filled with so many denominations and church divisions.
From Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, Pentecostals, and many others, it is believed that there are over 40000 denominations and more than 36 million individual churches around the world.
So if there is one God and one Bible, why are Christians so divided? If there is one God and one Bible, why are there so many rivalries and church splits? If there is one God and one Bible, why does one church have certain beliefs and practices that are very different from another church?
Furthermore – how do you know which is the right denomination?
Why Are There So Many Denominations & Church Divisions?
1. Divisions Based on Doctrine
Many denominations and church divisions exist because of doctrinal divisions or disagreements about the Bible. Therefore differences in the understanding and interpretation of the Bible has been one of the major causes for why there are many denominations and churches in the world. However, it’s important to note that some divisions are legitimate especially where there are disagreements which pertain to the essentials of the Christian faith. There are various denominations and many churches which do not hold to the Biblical essentials of the Christian faith such as the deity of Christ, salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, the existence of the Trinity or the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
Therefore doctrinal differences (of which many have been legitimate reasons) has been a major cause of why there are so many denominations.
2. Cultural Differences, Different Styles of Worship & Group Dynamics
People from different cultures will express their faith and worship God in their own distinctive ways. For example there are some groups which are extroverted or expressive in a church setting while there are other groups which prefer to be more quiet, subdued and conservative. None of these differences of expression are bad at all, as long as it is all done to the glory of God and within the confines of His word.
3. Leadership Wrangles, Church Politics & Scandals
Every church or denomination consists of humans who are sinners by nature. So because of sin, there are relationship problems that will inevitably occur no matter how big or petty those issues might be.
Therefore human pettiness, power plays, backbiting and relationship differences are bound to appear.
For many people, leadership is attractive and enticing. The desire for power, recognition and even control over such things as church funds and resources can create leadership wrangles.
There can also be competitiveness and self-ambitious desires among individuals / members who compete or lobby for the same leadership posts within the church system.
There are also churches that rival against each other as their leadership compete for followers.
Furthermore spiritual abuse or issues related to sexual misconduct especially from church leaders have been known to cause divisions.
Therefore church politics, spiritual abuse and self-ambitious agendas can ultimately lead to internal divisions, church splits and the creation of more denominations.
4. Church as a Business
In our modern world, starting a church has become an easy way to make money provided the founder of the group exhibits the necessary charisma and eloquence required to gain a following who will blindly give weekly donations.
Jesus warned of the increase of false prophets in the last days (Matthew 24:11). An increase in charlatans and false prophets will inevitably lead to an increase in many churches or denominations.
In many churches that exist in our modern era, the default gospel has become false teachings such as the prosperity gospel, word of faith theology and NAR theology. These false gospels mainly focus on money, materialism, the pride of life and such false teachings have made many prosperity preachers wealthy in the process.
The Bible speaks of those who perceive godliness as a means of personal gain (1 Timothy 6:5).
The desire for money has attracted people who do not have a genuine calling from God to start their own churches and denominations (Matthew 6:24).
2 Peter 2:3 NLT warns of false teachers who “In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money…”
How Do I Know Which Is The Right Denomination?
Since there are over 40000 denominations and millions of churches it is important to prayerfully do your research and seek God’s guidance to avoid joining any cultic, counterfeit or abusive groups.
There is no church or denomination that has any monopoly on God because ultimately God is bigger than any particular church, denomination or religious organization.
For every denomination or church that one joins it’s important to understand their beliefs pertaining to the essentials of the Christian faith.
Therefore despite various denominational differences, there are a few central tenets that bind all true Christians together regardless of their particular church, denomination, culture, or geographical location.
Therefore the following personal and prayerful research must be done in order to find out the denomination or church that you intend to join.
1) Does the denomination or church believe in the deity of Jesus Christ or that Jesus is God (John 1:1-2,14).
2) Does the denomination or church believe and preach the true Gospel; that Christ died on the cross to save mankind from sin and resurrected on the 3rd day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Do they also preach any false gospels apart from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ? (Galatians 1:6-9).
3) Does the denomination or church believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God; that the Bible is infallible and the final authority for life? (2 Timothy 3:16).
4) Does the denomination or church believe in the Trinity; that God is one existing in 3 distinct Persons being the Father, Son & Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19-20)
5) Does the denomination or church believe that Jesus Christ is the one and only way for salvation for mankind; that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:8-9)
6) Does the denomination or church believe in promoting the doctrine of the priesthood of believers, where every Christian is a priest or minister of God to whom the Holy Spirit has individually assigned specific gifts to be used in a local church or the universal Church, or as the Holy Spirit chooses for the glory of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Peter 2:5-9).
7) Does the denomination or church believe that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man – or do they promote another human leader whether living or dead as having god-like equal status and authority to Christ? (1 Timothy 2:5).
Salvation is Through Jesus Christ & Not Through A Church or Denomination
In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 & 1 Corinthians 3:1-23 Paul spoke against the spirit of divisions and factions in the church where people were focused on following specific personalities instead of Jesus Christ.
Paul therefore discouraged the Corinthians from being divided and instead urged them to follow Jesus Christ and to boast and trust in Christ alone.
1 Corinthians 3:4-21 NLT says: 4 When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos, “aren’t you acting just like people of the world?… 21 So don’t boast about following a particular human leader…”
Colossians 1:18 says: And He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.
When Jesus Christ returns He will not return for a particular denomination or for an individual local church or religious group. Ultimately Christ will return for the universal Church.
It is the universal Church that will be raptured and not a particular denomination. The universal Church consists of all genuine born again believers or Christians from all over the world irrespective of their denominational affiliation (Ephesians 4:4-6).
This universal Church is the body without walls; it is not made with human hands but this Church is built by Jesus Christ Himself; it consists of the people as living stones with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-5).
So all individuals who are born again or have personally received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are part of the universal Church of Christ. They are part of the Body of Christ with Jesus Christ as the Head. They are part of the Bride of Christ with Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom.
On judgment day Jesus will not separate us based on our denominations or church affiliation. He will simply separate two kinds of people:
The sheep from the goats; the wheat from the tares; the believers from the unbelievers; the saved from the unsaved.
So despite the existence of many denominations and churches, the goal of every individual should be to seek a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ and to be a follower of His word. It is through having a relationship with Christ that we become children of God who ultimately consist of the one united universal Church / Body of Christ, with Jesus as the Head.