Why Are There Different Denominations?

Universal Church vs. Local church?

Before answering the origin of denominations, we must know what we mean by the words “universal church.” As coined in the Apostle’s Creed that we believe in the “catholic church”. Catholic means universal, and this is everyone who believes in Jesus as the saviour of his life from the beginning of time and everywhere in the world. In Ephesians 5:23, Paul calls it the church, and 2 Corinthians 11:2 renders it as the betrothed of Christ. These are men and women who have received adoption as sons and daughters into the kingdom of God, and as such, we all wait for their revelation (Romans 8:19). These are people who share in one Spirit; they were called to one hope they have one Lord (Jesus Christ), one faith, one baptism, one God and the father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6). The universal church is the body of believers of Christ from all times in all places of all tribes and tongues.

Cults and Other Religions 

Secondly, cults and/or sects are breakaway groupings from Christianity. These are groups of people that have deviated from the fundamental Christian teachings and practices. They are heretical, meaning church fathers and scripture disapprove of their teachings. So they cannot be Christians even if they use the bible, have a church, and claim to worship God. Examples of cults or sects are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Branamites, the Repentance and Holiness Ministries, and the House of Yahweh, among others. Most cults differ from Biblical Christianity on salvation and the person of Christ. Other religions are those beliefs that have nothing to do with Christianity. They have their sacred books and their god(s). These include Mohammedans, Buddhists, Judaism, and African Tradition Religion, among many others. 

What is a Denomination?

The word denomination is a word coined from the noun denominator. Here you are looking for commonality in fundamental Christian doctrine on who God is, what sin is and how much it has affected man, the plan of salvation and how God saves man. But, there are matters of opinion that do not in any way determine your salvation yet are essential for your practising of faith. For example, Baptists do not baptise children. Both Presbyterians and Baptists share fundamental beliefs but differ on who to baptise. Denominationalism, in origin, was related to religious toleration and religious freedom because Christians recognised their differences were only on secondary issues of their practising of faith. Such issues include baptism and administration of the Lord’s table, church leadership, and how to worship during services, among others. 

Denominations share a common faith but are divided by church government and worship issues. John Wesley said,” I … refuse to be distinguished from other men by any but the common principles of Christianity.… I renounce and detest all other marks of distinction. But from real Christians, of whatever denomination, I earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all.… Dost thou love and fear God? It is enough! I give thee the right hand of fellowship.” For John Wesley, it was clear that as long are you Love and fear God. He was willing to overlook all the other differences and extend a hand of fellowship. 

Examples of denominations are the evangelicals: Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and many others. The early church fathers believed that as long as you agree and believe in foundational truths, you are a believer even if you have a difference on secondary issues, “Through our knowing but in part, it is come to pass that professors of Christianity have been of diverse opinions in many things and their difference hath occasioned several denominations, but while they agree in the foundation, they may be saved.” Said the puritans pastor  Samuel Willard (1659-1770).

When did Denominations Begin?

Since the first church in Acts 2, Christian churches were named after the town they were in, not their beliefs, as in most of today’s churches. For instance, there was a church in Rome, Corinth, and Galatia hence the letter to the Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. Though there were many differences and divisions in doctrine, the church remained one and had councils that met in case of severe theological disputes. It wasn’t until the 16th century that Martin Luther was bothered by some of the harmful beliefs and practices of the church. God allowed the reformation to bring about biblical teaching of God’s word through Martin Luther. The diet of worms (1521) was the counsel that called Martin Luther to speak his case. However, they disagreed and rendered Luther cursed. Luther had a huge following, and people followed him and began to protest against the Catholic Church hence Protestantism. 

From that point, the church was divided into the Roman Catholic and the Catholic Church (protestants). Further, among the protestant-catholic church in Germany, some people met, and since they loved Martin Luther’s teachings, they formed the Lutheran church (1517). Then, when a church leadership discussion happened, a denomination was built from it in Scotland called the Presbyterian Church, which was formed during the English Civil War (1642-1651). The Baptists came about when people in Zurich started to depart from their infant baptism and were baptised again as adults; they were called people of another baptism (anabaptists). Though, at the time to be baptised a second time was a crime punishable by death, they considered that one should be baptised only as an adult after believing in Jesus Christ and knowing the commitment it entails. To them, baptism confirmed what God had done in their hearts. On the other hand, Ulrich Zwingli championed paedobaptists, who taught that children receive the grace for salvation and should be baptised. 

Examples of other denominations include the Church of England (Anglican), Assemblies of God, Calvary Chapel, Southern Baptist Convention, the Apostolic Church (Pentecostal), Vineyard Movement, African Inland Church, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, the Reformed Church of east Africa among others. 

Why would God allow denominations to exist among Christians? 

Evil in the World 

Living in this evil world and with the deceitfulness of sin lurking in our hearts, it is inevitable to have differences among Christians. For example, the church in Corinth was divided into four; some preferred Apollos, others Peter, some followed Paul, and others Jesus (1 Cor. 1:12). The disunity was undoubtedly occasioned by the evil of the heart since, at this point, they were thinking of mere men instead of Christ as the one who saves and keeps them (1 Corinthians 3:4-6). 

Conviction of Scripture

Whenever a difference in convictions occurs, even if such differences do not involve the fundamentals of the Christian faith, we should not dismiss such differences. But instead, consider the one who has such a conviction according to scripture and let him or others be convinced by the scripture and their conscience on what they believe in. Such convictions should be honouring to the Lord, for we do not live for ourselves (Romans 14:6-7). 

The differences should be approached with humility, grace and a degree of tentativeness. (Willingness to learn from others and ready to hold on to the correct view if yours is wrong). Thomas Hooker “The sum is, we doubt not what we practice, but it’s beyond all doubt that all men are liars and we are in the number of those poor feeble men; either we do or may err, though we do not know it; what we have learned we do profess and yet profess still to live that we may learn.” Paul rebuked Peter for reintroducing some Jewish traditions in the church of Galatia, and Peter was humble enough to receive correction (Galatians 2:11-21). Such is the mind Christ is asking us to have (Philippians 2:5). 

Though our difference is sad, God has a hand in them. Through such differences, we get to read the scripture, pray, meditate and seek God’s guidance on what is true and wrong. If handled with care, these differences encourage praying for those opposing us; if we love them and think they are wrong, we reach out to them in love. Such are positives that can only come from God.


1 thought on “Why Are There Different Denominations?”

  1. Good ! this is doctorine but not Jesus idea human being there have many culture and language its also different idea and Bible brief style is different so i will pray unity!

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