What is the church? When we say church today, we often think of a triangular shaped building with a cross on top of it, but that doesn’t appear to be what the church is according to Scripture. Let’s observe the following scriptures. Colossians 1:18 “He (Jesus) is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” Ephesians 1:22-23 “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His (Jesus) body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 4:4 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;” So what can be the conclusions that seem apparent in these verses on the church? The church is the body of Christ, and there is one body of Christ which people become a part of upon salvation. So in the middle of us being a part of one Body of Christ, where did all these denominations come from?
I’m no expert on all of the history because there’s a lot of depth behind the history of denominations, but to give you the main highlight from what I’ve dug up from different sources, there was no distinction of denominations until 110 a.d. in a letter written by St. Ignatieus to the Smyrnaens acknowledging the Catholic Church. Skip ahead to the 11th century, there was a great schism that occurred, and there became a distinction between the western Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. From there, I guess to make a very long story short, eventually dozens of denominations began splitting and forming to everything that we have today. The Protestant Reformation occurred in the 16th century, and this began the majority of the denominations many of us are most familiar with today such as Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and all the other ones you might be familiar with.
So why did these denominations come about? Well, in large part due to disagreements in doctrine and also hierarchical differences. As we all may or may not know, Catholics believe that the pope is an intermediary between God and man, and they believe that Peter was the first pope that began the list of popes up to the present-day one, Pope Francis. During the Protestant Reformation, you had people standing up and saying that all the authority granted to the Pope and the Catholic Church was wrong, and that ultimately authority should not be granted to man, but to God through the scripture. So you had your people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all these other people deciding to start their own thing, but at the same time, seemingly introducing their own spin on things, essentially following their own man-made traditions over scriptural doctrine.
So arguably, all denominations are man-made traditions. Consider this, you may have grown up with a religious upbringing that taught you fasting was necessary for salvation, or that you had to speak in tongues in order to be a Christian, but none of these things appear to be true according to Scripture. To identify with a denomination more strongly than identifying with the original Church that Christ said he would build in Matthew 16:18, is to perhaps be idolizing man-made traditions over God-inspired scriptural truth. Essentially what the Pharisees seemed to be doing in Matthew 15:8-9 as Jesus stated, “8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 9 “But in vain do they worship Me,Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
It’s arguably accurate to state, that all denominations are not acceptable to God, and all denominations are not Christian. While that statement might sound extreme, consider how often those who’ve self-identified as Christians, perhaps yourself included, have viewed other denominations to be not Christian and therefore not acceptable to God according to scripture. For example, a majority of self-identified Christians tend to view Mormonism as not Christian, and many also conclude that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians. One believes that Jesus is related to the devil, and the other believes Jesus isn’t the son of God. Those who’ve read Scripture know that those two things are inconsistent with what Scripture states. So mainstream Christianity says the fringe groups of men who’ve created their own set of traditions are not Christian, but yet the history of all denominations were groups of men who created their own set of traditions. I imagine one question that might be arising right now is what are you suggesting? Don’t go to any church?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’m concluding that it’s essential to ask ourselves questions about what we’ve always been taught to believe and do, and whether we can find what we’ve been taught in scripture, or if what we’ve been taught has been taken out of context to support a tradition concocted by man. And if we can’t or if it has been, then perhaps we might need to make a change, because God appears to desire authentic worshipers in Him and not ones that worship Him in vain and follow the precepts of Men as scriptural doctrine. It used to surprise me how much people make up their own ideas of the Christian faith and people believed those ideas because they sounded “wise”, or because the words stirred up an emotional response inside. It surprised me how often many people just run wild with one verse and make up a whole doctrine off of it. Though when you study history, it’s not really that surprising given how many times it’s been done before with all the denominations created on the basis of man-made ideas that were proclaimed to be Christian. It would seem unless whatever anyone speaks of the faith comes from a contextual understanding of the things stated in Scripture, it’s all false teaching, false doctrine, and not Christian. I’d like to leave these two verses for us to ponder over in conclusion, and as always, thoughts, comments, and questions are welcome for increased understanding between one another.
1 Timothy 4:1-3 “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.”
1 Corinthians 1:10-14 “10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized [e]in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.”