The Christian faith has experienced a lot of divisions over the centuries, resulting in the formation of the hundreds of denominations we see in Christendom today. For both essential and non-essential issues of the faith, Christians have left groups they started out with, to establish new ones, sometimes under contentious and acrimonious circumstances. Some of these divisions have left deep, festering wounds in the body of Christ, which have frustrated efforts at unifying the body. Should belonging to different denominations make Christians enemies to one other? Is it possible to achieve unity of the Spirit in the body of Christ despite denominational differences? We shall examine the Scriptures to answer these questions.
Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
Ephesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
Ephesians 4:3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—
Ephesians 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
Ephesians 4:6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (ESV).
There is only one Church of Jesus Christ, and it’s not any of the denominations on earth! The Church is the mystical body of Christ, made up of all born again Christians of all ages, irrespective of their denominational affiliations. Some members of the Church are currently in heaven with the Lord (the Church triumphant), while the rest are still here on earth, toiling, labouring, living and witnessing for the Lord (the Church militant). One day, all will be physically united with the Lord to ever remain together with him, throughout the eternal ages to come. That’s the promise of the Lord.
Ephesians 1:9 Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself:
Ephesians 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
Ephesians 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will: (AKJV)
John 14:1 Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me.
John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also (AKJV).
So, Christ’s body (the true believers of all ages and from all denominations) is one and not divided. There may be hundreds of Christian denominations, but there’s only one body of Christ (both corporal and mystical). The sooner we realise and understand that the body of Christ is not any particular denomination or group (by whatever name it’s called), the better for us and the body of Christ! Let this truth sink in!
Romans 12:4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
Romans 12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another (AKJV).
Anyone who believes Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour, repents of his sins and lives for Christ, is a child of God. By placing personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, we become born again. That’s how we become members of the mystical body of Jesus Christ. That’s the most essential tenet of the Christian faith! Whatever denominations we come from, whatever group we belong to, as long as we personally place faith in Christ’s finished works on Calvary as the only basis of our salvation and redemption from the curse of sin and death, we are saved! And every other saved and sanctified child of God everywhere else is a brother/sister! We may be separated by denominations, but we’re united by the blood of Christ! We have one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one hope, one baptism and one Father!
1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit (AKJV).
Galatians 3:26 For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:29 And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (AKJV).
Despite the oneness of the body of Christ and the common blood and Spirit running through every genuine believer, most Christians strenuously strive to undermine the unity of the body of Christ. Most prefer to emphasise their denominational allegiance, rather than their Christianity. Most take pride in belonging to a particular denomination, rather than in belonging to Christ. Most of us glory in men of God and the organisations they’ve founded, rather than in the Lord and his Church, which is his body! What a shame! How disappointed must the Lord be with us! How grieved must the Spirit be, to see us doing all we can to help Satan in his ministry of opposing and dividing the Church of Jesus Christ!
1 Corinthians 3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,
1 Corinthians 3:3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
1 Corinthians 3:4 For when one says, I follow Paul, and another, I follow Apollos, are you not being merely human?
1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.
1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (ESV).
1 Corinthians 3:21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are your’s;
1 Corinthians 3:22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are your’s;
1 Corinthians 3:23 And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s (AKJV).
I appreciate the fact that there are real differences in certain beliefs among the various denominations, for which disagreement is absolutely necessary. I acknowledge that there are differences in administration, in attitudes towards certain grey areas, in how we praise and worship God, etc, that may never be reconciled. Also, there are socio-cultural differences that may make us gravitate more readily towards certain groups of people. I agree also that certain breakaways were (and still are) essential, in order to preserve certain truths of the gospel. These are all legitimate reasons to form groups and associations that allow us to express ourselves more freely in the worship of God. Just like we have people with different cultures and backgrounds aggregating to form social units and ethnic groups, it’s alright to have various focal groups in the Church. Diversity in the body of Christ can be a wonderful spice of the spiritual life!
However, what is not acceptable is to judge and condemn all those not in our cliques and denominations as not Christian enough or not Christians at all. It’s the same as looking at other human beings not belonging to our race and tribe as being less human or non-humans! That’s the spirit of heresy in the Church! It’s akin to racism in the world! You have no right to judge another believer in Christ as not being Christian enough! You have no right to judge another man’s servant as not being good enough for service. Only the Master of us all has the right to do so! Rather than judge and condemn one another for not being Christian enough because we have differences of opinion on lesser or non-essential matters of the faith, let’s strive to encourage one another to serve the Lord better! Let’s support one another as we fight the common enemy–Satan! Rather than turn on each other, let’s concentrate and focus our fire on the adversary, who is Satan the devil!
Romans 14:1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Romans 14:2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.
Romans 14:3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
Romans 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Romans 14:5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Romans 14:6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Romans 14:7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.
Romans 14:8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Romans 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Romans 14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;
Romans 14:11 for it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
Romans 14:12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Romans 14:14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.
Romans 14:15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.
Romans 14:16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Romans 14:18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Romans 14:19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Romans 14:20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.
Romans 14:21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
Romans 14:22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.
Romans 14:23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (ESV).
Even during his earthly ministry, some of the Apostles of Jesus harbored this divisive denominational spirit of “us” versus “them”, in relation to other believers not in their group.They saw someone else preaching the gospel and casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and tried to stop him, simply because he was not part of their group or caucus! They even had the effrontery to tell Jesus about their selfish interest in trying to stop someone from doing the work of the Lord, simply because he didn’t belong to their denomination! How so much like many of us today! Trust Jesus to straighten them right there! He blasted that denominational spirit away with a scathing rebuke! We all need to hear and receive that rebuke of the Lord today more than ever!
St. Mark 9:38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t one of our group.”
St. Mark 9:39 ” Don’t stop him! ” Jesus said. ” No one who performs miracles in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me.
St. Mark 9:40 Anyone who is not against us is for us (NLT).
Because of different cultural inclinations and the calling to focus on particular groups of unbelievers in the preaching of the gospel, the non-essential contents of the gospel message may be adapted to fit the cultural milieu of the target audience. It may lead to the formation of assemblies of Christians with different attitudes and opinions on the non-essential matters of the faith. This flexibility and adaptability of the non-essentials of the faith can only help to foster the spread of the gospel. Thus, some denominations may be better suited than others in reaching particular audiences or populations for the Lord. We should therefore not despise any denominational group, as long as they hold onto the central message of the cross and preach Jesus Christ and him crucified as the only means of salvation. We should rather give them the right hand of fellowship as they focus on their target population, while we focus on ours! We may not belong to the same Division, but we all belong to the same Army, the Army of the Lord! Let’s support each other to achieve the Lord’s mission, rather than engaging in counterproductive civil wars!
1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.
1 Corinthians 9:20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
1 Corinthians 9:21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (ESV).
Galatians 2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
Galatians 2:2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
Galatians 2:3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
Galatians 2:4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—
Galatians 2:5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Galatians 2:6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.
Galatians 2:7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised
Galatians 2:8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),
Galatians 2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Galatians 2:10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do (ESV).
Paul and Barnabas, initially partners in ministry, separated because of differences in opinion on administrative matters. They parted ways, but continued to preach the same gospel with different partners in new groups. Despite the separation, I’m sure Paul and Barnabas never saw themselves as enemies or rivals. I’m sure they continued to relate as partners and fellow-labourers in God’s vineyard. Each may have decided it was better to be on his own, but there was no reason why they wouldn’t have continued to see eye to eye. After all, they were still preaching the same Christ as Lord and Saviour. Splitting into two units from one, Paul and Barnabas ended up covering more ground in the preaching of the gospel. Even John Mark, who was the cause of the initial dispute that led to the parting of ways between the Apostles, was later found useful by Paul in the ministry. The cause and cross of Christ should override every individual and group differences. We must all hold high the Lord’s royal banner, irrespective of our denominational inclinations!
The Acts 15:36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.
The Acts 15:37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.
The Acts 15:38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.
The Acts 15:39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,
The Acts 15:40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
The Acts 15:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (ESV).
2 Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry (ESV).
Finally, when we refuse to accept other Christians who have met the basic requirements of salvation as brothers and sisters, simply because they belong to different denominations, we’re not discerning the Lord’s body. When we refuse to fellowship with other Christians because they do not belong to our denominations, we’re dividing and dishonouring the body of Christ. When we oppose and resist others who are doing the work of the Lord simply because they are not from our group, we’re resisting and opposing the Lord and the gospel. Whatever other people’s motives may be in preaching the gospel, as long as they preach Christ crucified as the only Saviour of mankind, we should rejoice and give them the right hand of fellowship!
Philippians 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.
Philippians 1:16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.
Philippians 1:17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
Philippians 1:18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, (ESV).
In conclusion, denominational divisions have come to stay in Christianity, and we must learn to live with them, as imperfect as they are. Rather than love and hate one another along denominational lines, Christians should rise above denominational divides to embrace, love and fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Denominations may actually work to foster the spread of the gospel, if we stop seeing ourselves as competitors and begin to consider ourselves instead as partners in the Gospel. Each denomination is uniquely adapted and equipped to reach a particular population. Let’s recognise and discern the oneness of the body of Christ, and extend the right hand of fellowship to each other, as we unite forces to execute the Lord’s mission. We may be in different Divisions of the Church, but we’re in the same Army. We cannot afford to turn on each other in civil wars, for that would be handing Satan victory without his firing a shot! Remember, in heaven, there will be no Catholics, no Lutherans, no Baptists, no Presbyterians, no Methodists, and no Pentecostals! There will be no denominations there! Heaven will be populated by only one group of people–Children of God!
Matthew 12:25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand (ESV).