Wednesday, May 05, 2010

About All Those Christian Denominations...

About the Denominations...

Another Q & A with John of AllFaith -- 5.5.10

Questioner: Melanie
Private: No
Subject: Denominations
Question: Was the idea of denominations something that Jesus ever talked about or instructed us on in the Bible? I conducted a search on Bible Gateway and that particular word is not found in the Bible. Denominations seem to have divided Christ church and people. Some people seem to worship their denominational beliefs more so than the teachings of Our Lord and Savior. So where did the idea of breaking up Christ church into separate denominations come from and what did Jesus say about it in the Bible. For that matter did Paul even discuss the need for it in the Bible? I've heard it said that one thing satan fears most is church unity and that denominations divide the church. With those two thoughts in mind,,could it be said that maybe denominations were one of Satans best ideas? If all the different denominations vocus on fighting over the way they interpret the Bible they then loose their main focus which should be on reaching a lost and dying world. What then did Christ say about this subject?

My reply:

Hi Melanie,

Q: Was the idea of denominations something that Jesus ever talked about or instructed us on in the Bible?

A: This is an important question with far reaching ramifications. I'm not sure how much information you want so this will be cursory. You are more than welcome to write back.

Not only did Jesus and his disciples not start denominations they didn't even start a religion.

Jesus and his disciples were all Jews. Jesus specifically says that he did not come for non-Jews:

Matthew 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
And again
John 4:22 Ye [Samaritans] worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
Jesus came to teach his people (the Jews) how the Written Torah was intended to be observed (and that the Oral Torah -- Mishna etc) should not be viewed as inspired as they did (and still do -- with a few minor exceptions like the Karaite Jews). After his resurrection he instructed his Jewish disciples to grant access to what is best described as reformed or messianic Judaism to the Gentiles (no relation to the modern Jewish sect bearing that name nor to those Christian groups than call themselves Messianic today):
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
What he taught was "reformed Judaism" with himself as pascal (passover) lamb and sacrifice and as eternal Cohen Gadol or High Priest of all humanity.

Paul describes this in some depth in Romans chapter 11.

Then about 35 years or so after his resurrection, as Jesus foretold at the end of Matthew 23 and the beginning of chapter 24, in the year 70 the Romans sacked Jerusalem and all Jews -- including the followers of the Way Movement of the Apostles -- were forced to flee Judea.

This critical event opened the Way to ever more Gentiles as potential converts. Unfortunately it also made scriptural authority and doctrinal purity difficult to maintain as the leadership of the movement had to live in hiding and most converts lacked formal training in the teachings.

The dispersed Believers as well as Pagans of various types began getting together, sharing beliefs and cultures and the teachings of Jesus and his followers began to transform and lose their Jewish basis. Sometimes deliberately sometimes due to lack of teaching and sometimes to avoid persecution changes crept in and were embraced.

One of the two biggest threats to the Gospel Message at the time was Gnosticism (various teachings that denied Jesus had come to the earth as a real person but was instead sort of a manifestation of Eternal/Ethereal Light/Truth. This was presented in various ways but essentially sought to divide everything between matter -- false and spirit -- truth).

The other major threat to the original Way was that posed by people who wanted to merge the Way with Roman Paganism in various ways. Although this next point is debated and debatable, this was in my understanding the Nicolaitan heresy warned about in chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation.

In 312 CE the Nicolaitan views triumphed when the Roman Constantine the Great claimed to have had a vision of Christ authorizing him to lead the Way and rule Rome. Constantine established the Vatican and called for various counsels and invited the leaders of all the religions of the Empire to discuss their beliefs. In time his efforts established what came to be known as the Universal Church ("catholic" means universal). While establishing this new global religion the Jewish foundations of Jesus' Way were largely removed and doctrines were adopted that sought to unify many of the more influential religious beliefs of the day. Hence Catholics (and most subsequent Christian denominations) honor the four major Pagan holidays, use various Pagan symbols, worship on Sunday (day of Constantine's god Sol Invictus Mithra) rather than on the biblical Sabbath and so on.

In time the Roman Empire came under heavy attacks from various sources (including Islam) and the Catholic Church eventually split East (Eastern Orthodoxy) and West (Roman Catholicism).

There were reportedly underground churches seeking to maintain the biblical Way taught by the Apostles but this can't be proved to any conclusive degree. From what is provable whatever form of the Way existed prior to Constantine died out.

In 597 the Church of England was officially formed and eventually the Elizabethan Church in England (Anglican) declared its independence from Rome on several grounds circa 15/16th century (its a long story). By this point many people in the Church of Roma felt Papal tradition, hierarchy and power had robbed the Church of its spiritual power and many different forms of protests were being seen throughout the Catholic lands.

In 1517 Martin Luther issued his 95 objections to Catholic practice and what is now known as the Protestant Reformation began. Luther, John Calvin and others eventually left voluntarily or were excommunicated.

The Baptist church's origins are debated but most likely the original "Baptists" (who were not directly related to the Anabaptists as some believe) splintered away from the Anglican Church (hence they are not technically Protestants as many people assume) [-- Note that this question was asked in the Baptist section so i included this point.]

One reason the Papacy was so successful in uniting the Believers was the absence of any accepted authority. The Believers knew the Church needed clear direction to re-unify it and Rome seemed to offer so much (plus they eventually began killing all who refused to accept their authority).

Most of the Reformers and Protestants that came later not only refused to accept Papal authority but maintained the doctrine of "Sola Scriptura" which is to say that only the Bible is the authority of the Believers, not a pope, not a church body. With this belief individuals began studying the Bible for themselves and disagreements began to arise about its "true" meaning. The more skilled and knowledgeable Bible teachers inevitably drew followings and the various denominations began, each believing they were restoring the "true Church." This is why there are now so many denominations.

Denominations therefore are not biblical however seeking doctrinal accuracy and purity is. The denominations for the most part stem from honorable and sincere desires to better serve God and their very existence reflects human weakness and highlights our need for the Savior and his Coming Kingdom.

Q: I've heard it said that one thing satan fears most is church unity and that denominations divide the church.

A: Surely Lucifer uses the fragmentation among the believers for his own purposes, however those who are sincere want true understanding. As sincere like minded Believers come together the diversity sometimes increases however doctrine is vitally important according to the Bible. To the best of ones ability and knowledge we are supposed to seek and to believe and to put into practice the Truth according to the Light granted us by the Holy Spirit as individuals as well as in groups.

What must be understood is that despite the negatives involved in there being so many denominations, according to the biblical prophets the coming Antichrist is going to unite all the religions, including most of the Christians, into a global religious system known as Babylon the Great. This coming world religion is condemned in no uncertain terms and is described by Paul and in more depth by John in the Book of the Revelation.

Satan uses anything and everything he can to defeat the Church. If all Christians agreed he would claim we are brainwashed and incapable of thinking for ourselves (that accusation is already prevalent even with the great diversity of beliefs). He is a liar and a deceiver.

The secret to reaching the lost and dying world is what "I" am doing. What "you" are doing. I need to be reaching out to the lost according to the gifts God has granted me. You need to be reaching out to them according to the gifts He has granted you. This can be done within denominational structures or outside them (personally I don't belong to any denomination). Don't be deceived by the growing ecumenical movement. God is One. Serve Him as He leads whether from within or without the denominational structures. Share Jesus' free gift not ones denomination: Jesus and him crucified.

Hope this helps,

    ~ John of AllFaith

Of Noah
The Noahide Nazarene Way
Nicene Christianity
Thus Say the Prophets
My Main blog
My Noahide Nazarene blog

Ask John of AllFaith any question at
The oldest & largest free Q&A service on the Internet.
Comparative Religious Questions
Misc. Religious Questions
General Christian Topics
Bible Studies
Baptist Christianity
Ask John of AllFaith

No comments: