Are Christian denominations good or bad?

luther-95theses-humor-memeI’m currently in a Church History class going through the Reformation period of Christianity. During the Reformation, Martin Luther’s partner in crime (literally) was Philipp Melanchthon. After Luther’s death, Melanchthon carried the torch as a leader of the movement spreading throughout the Medieval world. In the years following the start of the Reformation, there were several different strains of non-Catholic Christianity that popped up.

To withstand the Catholic majorities at the time, these non-Catholic groups started talking about what it would look like to unify under one banner. Believe it or not, even though all these movements were really young and were reacting to the same problems they saw in Catholicism, these groups had really big differences between them that were hard to overcome.

In these conversations, an aging Melanchthon used an old Greek philosophical phrase to suggest a way forward: Adiaphora. Greek for “indifferent things”, he used it to describe how he felt that some beliefs and practices could be considered adiaphora (non-essentials), and could be compromised on for the same of unity. He argued with his fellow Lutherans that some beliefs were more essential to Christianity than others and didn’t require so much division. The others around him, of course, disagreed.

This got me thinking about the trajectory this set for us today. We now feel perfectly free to think a whole host of different things and still call others Christians. And yet still, much of Christianity’s most bitter judgmentalism and cries of heresy, unfaithfulness, sin, and arrogance are directed towards other who are also trying to follow the God of Jesus best they can. This has caused rifts, schisms, splits, and divisions into a huge number of Church denominations. Is this healthy for us? What does Christian “unity” look like? Do we all need to look the same?

I’m a huge believer in adiaphora. I actually think that denominationalism can be healthy, allowing each Christian to worship in a way in which their conscience is free. ut remember, this is when it’s healthy: when worship is a matter of conscience, not simply preference (or, to our shame: when we divide based on race, ethnicity, economic status, etc.).

I look at all the things that have been super-contentious among Christian groups over the years and, give it some time to cool off, they often eventually have a chance to move forward. Reformed groups and Lutherans have agreements on the sacraments now (heck, Catholics have baptismal transfer agreements with many mainline denominations). Luther would surely not have split from a post-Vatican II Catholicism. And in more and more places Baptist and Presbyterian groups are building coalitions in spite of the same sacramental and church-government differences for which they used to kill each other.

In fact, I know this is disagreed upon by different scholars, but I would say you see a huge diversity of doctrinal thought even within the Bible! You can’t read through the Scriptures without seeing how people’s views changed over time and even writings from the same time period represent different doctrinal camps within God’s people.

But in that case, is it a free-for-all as to what defines a Christian? No. There are certainly “essentials”. Historically, I think this same idea if shown in the Apostle’s Creed. But even within the Bible, you can find things like 1 Corinthians 15:

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death….For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”

(Scholars argue if the rest of that chapter is also part of what Paul calls “of first importance”. I think so. Others don’t.)

For the most part, even amidst all the diversity of thought, opinion, expression, and practice in the Church, you would be hard-pressed to find a large group that believes outside the boundaries set in those articulations. Think about this. Among the biggest and most variegated religion in the world, that is a shocking degree of unity on cosmically-big things, even amidst the yawning chasms among us on other issues.

I find a lot of comfort in the fact that the Scriptures are diverse, God’s people are diverse, and so God gives us the freedom to hold to only a few small essentials, and then be fully human on the rest–feeling free to be bothered by some things, wrestle with others, doubt, hold dear, and even speculate, all while holding what is “essential” as essential, and the with others? Not so much. It’s a comfort to know that God is building the church–not us–and so we have only a small doctrinal responsibility in this whole enterprise.

With this heart, I can walk into anything from an Assemblies of God church to a Catholic one, from a non-denom megachurch to a small town fundamentalist one, and still be able to worship freely under our common identity. As long as we hold dear to that, I think we’re in good hands.

And lastly, I’d say that because God is building the Church by the work of Christ and the moving of the Spirit, I trust that whatever the “right” doctrinal ideas are, they are still being worked out by the Spirit through her church. Prophecy, healing, and words of knowledge still happen in cessationist churches; women still end up being powerful forces to reckon with even in complementarian churches; and the Real Presence of Christ is still in the sacrament, even if you’re more Baptistic in your sacramental theology. These things are still true and happening in Christ’s Church.

Well, that is, if you hold the same doctrinal convictions as I do, haha.


7 thoughts on “Are Christian denominations good or bad?

  1. Reblogged this on multicolouredsmartypants and commented:
    I’ve been in loads of different denominations. Never quite felt at home in any of them, but that I think is a spiritual yearning for my ‘forever home’ rather than anything else. I like to think of denominations (and their particular rules or theological stance) being made by people, not God. To remind myself of this, I recall when Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in Mark 2:23-28.
    “Have you never read what David did, when he and his companions were hungry? Haven’t you read how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was High Priest, and ate the presentation loaves, which nobody is allowed to eat, except the priests—and gave some of the bread to his companions? The Sabbath,” he continued, “was made for man’s sake; man was not made for the sake of the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath.”


  2. Pingback: Are Christian denominations good or bad? - the MethoBlog


    Did the apostle Paul acknowledge the concept of Christian denominations? No, he did not. Denomination are created so Bible doctrine can be altered to meet the opinions of men.

    Romans 16:16 ……All the churches of Christ greet you.(NASB)

    The apostles Paul did not say all the churches of Judaizers greet you.— Galatians 2:4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who has sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. (NASB)

    The apostle Paul did not say all the churches of The No Resurrection of The Dead greet you.—1 Corinthians 15:12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (NASB)

    The apostle Paul did not say all the churches of Rebellious Men and Empty Talkers greet you. —Titus 1:10-11 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. (NASB)

    The apostle Paul did not say all the churches of Hymenaeus and Philetus greet you.—2 Timothy 2:17-18 …..Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (NASB)

    The apostle Paul did not say the churches of Shipwrecked Faith greet you.—1 Timothy 19-20 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme. (NASB)

    The apostle Paul did not say the churches of Worldly and Empty Chatter greet you. —1 Timothy 6:20-21 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—21 which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith….(NASB)

    The apostles Paul did not say the churches of Savage Wolves greet you.—Acts 20:29-30 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things , to draw away the disciples after them. (NASB)

    The apostle Paul did not say the Angels of Light churches greet you.— 2 Corinthians 11:13-14 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.(NASB).

    The apostle Paul did not say the churches of Catholics greet you.

    The apostle Paul did not say the churches of Methodists greet you.

    The apostles Paul did not say the churches of the Communities greet you.

    The apostle Paul did not say the churches of The Salvation Army greet you.

    The apostle Paul did not say the churches of Calvinists greet you.

    The apostle Paul did not say the churches of Baptists greet you.

    The apostles Paul did not say the churches of Pentecostal greet you.

    The apostle Paul did not the churches of The Latter Day Saints greet you.

    There is only one body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:1-16)



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