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The subject of denominations is somewhat controversial among Christians. Those that do adhere to a specific denomination believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. Those that do not adhere to a denomination believe they are divisive. Is it more about religion or relationship? What is the truth?
What if I told you that denominations were expressly forbidden by the Bible? What if I told you that belonging to a denomination placed you in a position against the will of God? What if I told you that Paul put a stop to denominations when they first started to surface during his ministry? These are just a few of the questions that we are going to look at in this study on denominations. Let’s start by defining what a denomination is:
- Definitions #1: A religious group, usually including many local churches, often larger than a sect. – Dictionary.com
- Definitions #2: A recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church. – Google.com
- Definition #3: A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy. – Answers.com
- Definition #4: A Religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices. – Merriam Webster
- Definition #5: A group having a distinctive interpretation of a religious faith and usually its own organization. – The Free Dictionary
If you look at the map below, you’ll notice that Christianity started out with absolutely no denominations or official divisions. However, it didn’t take long for that to change.
The Way Becomes Christianity
The Catholic Church teaches that they were the first official Christian church ordained by Christ. Not only is this not true, but the word Catholic is nowhere to be found in any part of the Bible. In fact, Christians weren’t even called Christians at first. Christianity was originally known as “The Way”.
“And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” – Acts 11:26
Here we see that the term “Christians” was first used in Antioch. The following verse shows what Christians were referred to before the change in Antioch.
“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” – Acts 9:1-2
The KJV translates the words ho into “this” but the word ho is a definite article. In other words, it should be translated as “the” and not “this”. Acts 9:1-2 refers to a specific way, The Way, later known as Christianity. This may shed some light on some of the things that Jesus said.
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” – John 14:6
There are more verses, but this is just one example in which Christ himself is referred to as The Way.
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Paul Addresses Denominations
During Paul’s ministry, denominations started to pop up. Followers began going by the names of the men that baptized them, similar to how Lutherans and Calvanists go by the names of the men that founded those denominations. Paul was 100% against this:
“For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.” – 1 Corinthians 1:11-15
Instead of identifying themselves as believers of Christ, some Christians were claiming the teacher they follow, thus creating the first denominations. They had begun to make Christianity more about religion than relationship. Paul knew this would cause division in the church and take the true focus off of Christ. Let’s look at Paul’s question: Is Christ divided?
What Does Christ Have To Say?
For some reason, many Christians fail to see that denominations are divisive. We are all the body of Christ and to unite under denominations that only follow portions of the Bible while ignoring others seems a little foolish. Jesus had the following to say about being divided.
The Church has been divided against itself and has caused confusion for many people. When I talk to Athiests, many of them are already confused, and when they bring up Christianity, they ask about denominations and why the church is so divided. I’ve talked to Christians that think you have to be part of a denomination or you’re outside of the will of God. That is false and nothing but man made pride to deal with doctrinal disagreements. There is a reason that the Church is losing the war for morals and family values. Denominations do nothing but cause confusion both inside and outside of the body of Christ.
“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” – 1 Corinthians 14:33
If God is not the author of confusion, and denominations confuse both Christians and non Christians, then who is the author of denominations?