By Roland W. Keith
According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America (1990) there are about 20,800 denominations worldwide. Other estimates vary from 217 in the U.S. alone to over 41,000 around the globe, mostly existing within three major groups (Evangelical Protestantism, Mainline Protestantism, and Catholicism) and two minor ones (Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental orthodoxy). Regardless of the actual numbers or whether a particular denomination affiliates with any of these groups, most view themselves as separate from other denominations, groups, and traditions. In addition to these (actually, even among them) there are also a growing number of churches who view themselves as “non-denominational.” With these numbers continuing to grow year-by-year the question is “how many of these churches are scripturally authorized; how many are Biblically founded?”
In Philippians 2:1-2, Paul wrote, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Twice in his admonition the apostle exhorts the disciples to be of the same mind or of one mind. Likewise, to the Corinthians he wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).
It is clear from these verses that the church is to actively remove division from its midst, by resolving issues before they become irreconcilable. We are to seek and achieve unity of understanding and exercise the same singleness of thought in our judgments. How do we accomplish such things? First, and foremost by heeding the words of Paul from his prison cell: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6). We must consciously compare our actions to the word of God. Are we motivated by our own desires, biases, or will? Or, do we seek to act in a manner worthy of Christ’s sacrifice?
Secondly, we must understand that there is no place in the church for such willful motives. It is our responsibility to bear with one another as we work through disagreements, always prayerfully using the Bible as our arbiter in all matters, remembering that we are all members of the same kingdom. It was Jesus prayer that His followers be one with one another in the Father and Son (John 17:20-21). If we have a sincere love for each other (I Peter 1:22; John 13:35), how can we bear to separate over a dispute concerning God’s word and His church? Yet that is the heart and soul of denominationalism. According to denominational standards we do not have to see eye-to-eye on a matter. You do it your way, we’ll do it our way and we an all agree to disagree and we’ll call that unity because we all worship the same God, that’s all that’s really important after all. That may be the denominational standard, but it is not the Biblical one.
Christians are a fellowship of the same Spirit. We are not kindred spirits, birds-of-a-feather, or bosom buddies. We are one body. Concerning that body Paul wrote, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12: 24-27). We are one. Not two. Not three. Not a member of this denomination or that one. This church or that one. We are one or we are nothing. Concerning our fellowship Paul told the Colossians, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25; see 5:22-25). We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can walk apart from each other and all still be in step with the Spirit.
Jesus Christ came to save the spiritually lost (Luke 19:10). His mission was to unite us into the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), telling His listeners: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). One of His greatest lamentations was when He overlooked the city of Jerusalem, the city of God’s temple and His people, and condemned it for rejecting His word. For claiming their religion and denying or twisting God’s laws, for killing His prophets, and rejecting their Messiah (Matthew 23:37). How many today are claiming Christianity while denying God’s word? It’s happening. If it weren’t there wouldn’t be so many church buildings out there with so many different names on them. How many claim Christ as their head but are not all a part of the same body? Paul wrote, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Are we building each other up by being divided? If so, how?
Jesus warned us about false prophets who would come to us in sheep’s clothing who would seek to lead even the elect astray (Matthew 7:15; 24:25; 7:15; II Peter 2:1). No one, nor thing can snatch us out of the hand of God (John 10:28). But Satan can tempt us to turn away of our own free will, as Paul warned the Corinthians: “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (II Corinthians 11: 12-15). Just as there were false apostles in the first century there are false teachers today. John warned us to test the spirits to see who is of God (I John 4:1). Ultimately, our salvation is our own responsibility (Philippians 2:12). We are warned that trials will come (I Peter 4:12; James 1:12). We are also told to pray not to enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41). In addition, God gives us everything we need to overcome every trial and temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, the Christian who turns away from God and loses his own soul does so of his own accord.
Sadly, there are many who believe in God and seek Him out, but only if they can do so their way. Paul warned Timothy the day was coming in his second letter to him: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5).
The day of false religion in the name of God has long since arrived and has never gone away. What can we do about it? In many ways it is harder to reach those lost in their religion with the truth than it is the one who has never heard of God. Many such people are so entrenched in their beliefs that they are unmoved by the truth even when it is presented in a reasoned, biblical study. Often, they cannot bear the consequences of the truth. If they are wrong then their parents or grandparents who have passed on were wrong as well, meaning that they are not where they thought they would be in eternity. If they are wrong then they have misguided their own children, friends, or strangers. If they are wrong… They just cannot bear the thought. So, they jeopardize their own salvation clinging to the false hope that somehow, they have been right all along despite the evidence. What can we do about it?
The only thing we can do is pray and evangelize and put it in God’s hands. Leave no effort unmade. And, be prepared, as Peter exhorted: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15). Be prepared, be patient, and kind, and hopeful— always realizing what is at stake for every person you speak to. And pray for the harvest. And work to ensure that all those brought into the kingdom will come in the strength and unity of the one Spirit.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.