Why so many church denominations?
There are some who estimate that there are over 30,000 church denominations in the United States. This figure is a distorted exaggeration. The number of denominations that have significant differences are far fewer in number. Most denominational churches can be categorized as Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian or Lutheran.
Few of these denominations would declare themselves to be the only true church of God but all protestant denominations should agree that the one true church of God is not the Roman Catholic Church. They all protest the papacy, the deification of Mary, praying to saints and confessing sins to a priest. Most denominations were caused by a division in the church but if they retain their protestant identity they will oppose the Roman Catholic Church. Most would contend that the majority of protestant church denominations were formed as a result of a disagreement over non-essentials elements rather than essential doctrines.
Multiple denominations formed to satisfy certain cultural differences should be considered a good thing. For instance, in my area of the country there are multiple Methodist churches populated mostly by Caucasians. There are also numerous African Methodist Churches (AME) populated mostly by African-Americans. These denominations are very similar when considering the essential doctrines of God’s word but their styles of worship vary greatly to satisfy differing cultures.
Should we have much concern when churches divide over the method of baptism or the timing of the rapture? Should we entertain negative feelings toward churches that believe in the trinity, the person of Christ, the resurrection and the power of the atonement for the forgiveness of sins? A split is never a good thing but if it is a split over a particular style of worship rather than a split over essential doctrines then it is much easier to accept.
The churches that seem to be growing are those that are conservative in their theology and evangelical in their outreach. For the first time in history there are more Christians south of the equator than north of it. Denominational survival may depend on our willingness to resist the watering down of scriptural truth. Young people are looking for a strong people who are certain of what they believe rather than a weak people who have concocted a type of theological stew in an attempt not to offend others.
Is a multitude of diverse denominations such a bad thing? Isn’t “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17) a good thing? Diversity over style might be a good thing if it enables us to reach multiple cultures. But disunity over truth is detrimental and will lead to the destruction of the church to the delight of Satan.
There is no approval in scripture for breaking up into denominations. Though Paul and Barnabas seemed to have had a falling out, Paul states clearly what he thinks of denominationalism. “What I am saying is this: each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas”. (1 Cor. 1:12) Paul declared in no uncertain terms that we are to be “with Christ”. He promoted unity and resisted anything that caused separation or a lack of unity among the body of believers.
It seems Paul was much worried that some of these human leaders might be using the church for personal gain. He was enraged at the thought that men would use the body of Christ for self-promotion. He would certainly be spinning in his grave if he saw what was going on in the 21st century.
In spite of the opposition of Paul we now have thousands of denominations. So, what should we do? Should we worship at home? Should we worship through television? We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We should find a church that is committed to the essential doctrines of the Bible. We should find a church where the pastor is willing to preach truth in spite of what the consequences might be.