Blog Archive

Friday, April 9, 2010

Question of the Week:
Why So Many Denominations?

(Note: “Question of the Week” now moves to Fridays on both “Bullets and Butterflies” and “Building His Body.”)

“I take as my guide the hope of a saint:
in crucial things, unity;
in important things, diversity;
in all things, generosity.”
~ George Bush

Why are there so many Protestant denominations?
From Jerry Ruffino (Roman Catholic), Rochester, NY

Last month addressed general Infighting among Christians. Today’s post will address official separations within the Church of Jesus Christ.

Why the mind-boggling number of church denominations? The short answer is that followers of Jesus forget that there is only one catholic Church.

A better answer begins with a definition of “catholic” (no capitalization). The word originates with the Greek katholikos, meaning “universal.” The Roman Catholic Church (often called the Roman church) has adopted the designation for itself. There is nonetheless only one universal Church of Jesus Christ, which the Bible calls His “body.”

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
~ Romans 12:4-8 (NKJV)

The early Christians developed two seats of authority, in Rome and Constantinople. A power struggle for primacy in 1054 AD brought The Great Scism into Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. The 16th Century Reformation resulted in more groups splitting from the Roman church, who were called “Protestants” because they protested Roman authority, doctrine and practices. (A variety of designations also exist within the Roman church.)

The innumerable denominations within Christ’s one Church still exist because of doctrinal differences, over conflicts in practice, and when leaders jockey for authority and control. For what it’s worth, I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and have studied it at length. I presently attend an independent Bible church. My perspective is that while denominational designations might be helpful in defining generalities about congregations, followers of Jesus should be characterized by unity rather than divisions.

God composed the body ... that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
~ 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 (NKJV)

Unity requires agreement on core beliefs—but not on everything else. The United States of America is defined by a foundational constitution and heritage, while states have individual laws and practices. Likewise, Christ’s Church can be defined by foundational beliefs, while individual congregations freely live out faith differently.

The heritage of Christians is grace and love. It should define us, characterize us, and unify us.

Next Monday and Wednesday, "Building His Body" will feature articles on foundational and unifying beliefs. Next Friday’s Question of the Week will then address a question about the emergent church.

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
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This post originally appeared at Bullets & Butterflies on April 8. To see additional comments, click here.


  1. It's true that some denominations are due to infighting and division.But, many are simply born out of history and need.

    A number of denominations were started in countries that had revivals. The churches that came out of those revivals gathered for encouragement and to share resources.

    As time went on, those honorable principles faded and for the most part, denominations are simply organizational bodies.

  2. David ~

    (Since you repeat your comment here, I'll repeat my reply here.)

    I'm grateful for your remark. I hope it brings balance, since I definitely appreciate the reasons for distinction and diversity and definitions. I can even accept the labels that help identify those. For example, I appreciate Roman Catholic reverence and social activism, Charismatic exhuberance in praise, and Baptist fundamentalism which embraces truth.

    But my experience has been that people have a tendency to identify with the label more than with the Lord. They tend to exalt practice above the Person. They sacrifice mercy for method.

    I still hear remarks such as a Baptist preacher who rebukes his congregation with the words, "You're singing like a bunch of Methodists." People are still told they're not saved unless they speak in tongues / are baptized (or are baptized a certain way) / belong to a certain denomination.

    Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    Denominational divisions tend to make me bristle. I earnestly pray that I allow it only enough to make me work all the harder toward unified diversity. And I hope I've brought that balance here.


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