Are Denominational Divisions a Good Thing?

IMG_3724“If Christianity is true, why are there so many denominations? Shouldn’t there just be one church?”

It’s common to hear skeptics both inside and outside of the church ask questions like these. If we’re honest, in our own moments of doubt we’ve wondered the same things. In our hearts we want to see a united church, a church characterized by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).” Though we may firmly hold to our own theological convictions, many of us may wonder, “Are denominational divisions ultimately a good thing?”

Charles Spurgeon felt the same tension. A Baptist preacher surrounded by churches of various traditions, he wanted to make sense of all that variety. Spurgeon concluded that the church was diverse, in part, because it is still in the process of formation.  Spurgeon exclaimed, “Beloved, the true church is now in the forming, and is therefore not visible. There are many churches; but as to the one church of Christ, we see it neither here nor there.” In other words, the true, universal church is invisible—it is made up of believers only, and is known to God alone according to his sovereign will. Like Spurgeon, some Christian groups have used the language of visible and invisible to clarify what they mean when they talk about the church.

Distinctive convictions, shared beliefs

Charles Spurgeon on denominationsSpurgeon was a man characterized by Baptist principles. He rejected infant baptism, denied that creeds were foundational in any sense to Christian doctrine, and pastored an historic Baptist church in London. Even though he held to distinctly Baptist convictions, he understood that God had worked in various and mighty ways through different Christian groups throughout history. With celebration he exclaimed “I believe that, after all, there is more truth in this world now with all the apparent divisions of Christians by ten times than there would have been if we had been united in a nominal union into some one great church”.

Spurgeon believed that divisions in the church spring up because different Christian groups have developed firm convictions. At our best, we separate not because we hate or despise other groups, but because we want to honor Paul’s commandment in 1 Corinthians 14:40, that “all things should be done decently and in order.” When various convictions arise on the meaning and practice of the Lord’s Supper, for instance, Spurgeon and others like him would argue that it is better to divide into orderly churches than to destroy one another on account of conscience.

One of the ways that Christians can hold together the tension of desiring a united church while worshipping and serving within a particular tradition is by listening to voices in other Christian communities. Believers like Spurgeon sought to understand other traditions and find commonalities amidst the diversity: “He who lifted up Christ would have offended me had he preached some other part of his creed. Had he talked over some doctrine which I hold to be erroneous, he and I had differed, but when it comes to this, ‘He loved me and gave himself for me—he is the chiefest among ten thousand, the altogether lovely—his blood is precious’—I feel inclined to cry, ‘Brother, keep to that; praise him louder, give him all the honour.’”

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Comments

  1. The quick and Biblical answer is ‘Yes’, there should be a testimony of one church. The fact is there is really only one church and I don’t mean a particular denomination. The church in reality is one. If we are interested in what is on the Lord’s heart, we will ask Him. Actually, He has revealed His heart through His Word and that is our one accord (John 17:22). He prayed for it! We should pray for it. We don’t have to wait for the next age to be one. There was no timeframe on His prayer. That’s why we feel bad when we see so many divisions (denominations). We know whenever our focus is on other things rather than Christ only, then nothing else lines up correctly. That’s why we have what we have today and for centuries it has been that way because we take something other than Christ as our focus (God is only satisfied with Christ). When we hold to the Head (Christ), the Body of Christ is in good order. When we stop holding the Head and hold to secret, hidden motives, self-seeking, self-ambition then division is expressed and Satan has done his job to replace Christ and cut up the Body into many pieces. If my body was cut into many pieces, the blood leaks out and I die. The Lord certainly doesn’t want His Body cut up into pieces… the life is gone and there is no testimony. There is no testimony that we love one another as He has loved us. To have the oneness of the church we must deny ourselves taking His cross as the pattern. After praying much, we should ask the Lord for a companion that sees the same thing, taking a stand for the oneness of the Body of Christ. The Lord may lead you to begin meeting with your companion in the place where you live on the ground of that oneness prayed for so earnestly by our dear Lord Jesus. The enjoyment of the divine life will be restored and the testimony of the oneness will be restored. This is not big thing in man’s eyes, but to God it is precious.

    • I think we look at the division from our present day understanding of church. We need to see what church meant to the first century Christians as they were closer to the events of the gospel and the teachings of the apostles. The church began with the Jews (Jesus said salvation is from the Jews). It spread because of the Jews. The temple was the church. We lost that in the 4th century and the one new man in Christ became two and over the centuries a few thousands. We pay for our own foolishness and we make do with silly statements to prove our own falsehood when we say there is no division! Until we return to the roots of Christianity the church will continue to be splintered. Until we return to the temple theology of the early church our churches will look more and more like a rock-concert stage with strobe lighting and smoke screens – we are blinded to the reality of who we are in Christ, why we are here and where we are going to. The house of God as Jesus said in his days is so true to day, made into a den of robbers – of the truth who worship doctrine and not the living God.

      • Nathan Garrison says:

        The ‘Church of God’ is not splintered. The Synagogue of Satan may be splintered. But, only superficially. Truly, You are chosen by Eternal Father to be HIS Begotten son, or You are not chosen. You may aspire to be of The Church of God. You may join the Synagogue of Satan. The choice is Ours in that We choose Life or choose Death. We choose Life in the Hope We are considered worthy.

        • Nathan Garrison says:

          I am of the opinion, there are two (2) separate and distinct rivers. There is no mingle, one with the other.
          First, is the River of Life. It flows out of the belly of my Lord, Christ Jesus and goes into eternity. It has neither tributary nor diverse tradition. “ And it shall come to pass, (that) every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the river(s) shall come,, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.” .
          “ And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.” .
          The other, I call the River of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Its headwater is of Lucifer, “the morning star”, now dark, ‘King of Babylon’. The Prince of this earth, Today. The waters are clogged with death, destruction and abomination of heart; and has diverse tributary and tradition as the imagination of men.

  2. I have blogged on this here: http://bibleshockers.blogspot.com/search?q=denominating

    The short story is that Paul decried the practice of denominating as “carnal” but I provided the “better approach” (KJV: “more excellent way”) to deal with differences of opinion.

  3. If this was posted on the forums, we would direct it to the Faithlife discussion groups. This is a controversial question and although I recognize that the purpose of the blog really is to promote product purchases, it would be better if Faithlife kept out of it unless it is prepared as a company to start taking position on a number of different issues.

    In the present case, an alternative would have been to acknowledge that there are those who will say yea and others nay rather than use Spurgeon to advocate a specific view (however balanced some may consider it to be). In my opinion, the ability to use and profit from resources that come from other confessional quarters does not really hinge on this question anyway.

  4. 1 Corinthians 12:13 (KJV)
    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.
    Acts 11:22 (KJV)
    22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as f
    If we use enough methods of interpretation from the many versions of Bibles, any church will do.
    Men often go beyond what is written and "form chruches" which suit their consciences. What ever happen to "Let there be no divisions among you" ? Does no mean yes?

  5. Are we not, in reality, one body in Christ, as He is our head? Do we not all agree on the most basic and essential doctrines of Scripture regarding the salvific work of Christ on the cross for all? Do we not also agree on the resurrection, that Christ Jesus, who was actually dead in the tomb, was bodily raised, and witnessed by many people for a period of time before HIs ascension? I believe we do. I tend to agree with Spurgeon on this matter, that it is better to divide into the many body parts who are all attached to the one Head, and allow theological and exegetical tensions to remain, as we all work together for the common goal of the great commission, Making disciples of all nations through baptism and teaching all that the Lord has taught us.

    May we all continue to keep the door of dialogue open for exegetical, isogogical and theological discussions on the very foundation of our faith, the Word of God which is and should always remain our only rule and norm for faith and life!

    • Why would a person belong to a body that takes on the name of a person and not Christ. Matthew 16 Jesus said He would build His church. His church demands that it be called by His name not man’s name. I do not believe that all believe in the basic essential doctrines or else we would not have denominationalism. The one seed produces on fruit and not a 31-falvored-pick-the-church-of-your-choice denomination.

      • One might be tempted to think that since Spurgeon was such a successful preacher that his views on the practice of denominating must be “spiritual” but consider that Paul was writing to a whole nest of Spurgeons when he decried them as “carnal” in this regard:

        1Co 1:4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
        1Co 1:5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
        1Co 1:6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
        1Co 1:7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

        1Co_3:3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
        1Co_3:4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

        When celebrities clearly adopt “worldly ways” is it improper to say “When Spurgeon does this he is carnal”?

        And this is part of Paul’s message to the Corinthians:

        1Co 3:5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
        1Co 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
        1Co 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
        1Co 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
        1Co 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
        1Co 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
        1Co 3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
        1Co 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
        1Co 3:13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
        1Co 3:14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
        1Co 3:15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

      • Amen.

  6. When Peter rebuked Jesus concerning the fulfillment of messianic prophecy, Jesus responded: "Get thee behind me, Satan". The real question is what does prophecy say about the ecumenical church?

    Fortunately; as always, God foretells these coming events for our knowledge. For further investigation, study: Daniel 2 and 7 and revelation 12, 13 and 17.

    Unfortunately, the ecumenical movement is gathering all religious systems under it's wings. There are only two beliefs in this world, many roads lead to God and Jesus is the only way, chose wisely.

  7. How about this little gem from Charles Spurgeon?:
    “I say of the Baptist name, let it perish, but let Christ's name last forever. I look forward with pleasure, to the day when there will not be a Baptist living. I hope they will soon be gone…I hope the Baptist name will soon perish; but let Christ's name endure forever.”— Spurgeon Memorial Library, Vol. I, p. 168.

    Or this one from Martin Luther?:
    “I pray you to leave my name alone, and call not yourselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine. I have not been crucified for anyone. St. Paul would not let any call themselves after Paul, nor of Peter, but of Christ. How then, does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to the children of God? Cease, my dear friends, to cling to these party names and distinctions: away with all; and let us call ourselves only Christians after Him from whom our doctrine comes.”—The Life of Luther, Stork, p. 289.

    Or this one from John Wesley?:
    “Would to God that all party names, and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world, were forgot…that the very name [Methodist] might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion.” — Universal Knowledge, Vol. 9, pg. 540.

    And better still, this one from the apostle Paul?:
    “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”— The Holy Bible, 1 Cor. 1:10-13, KJV

  8. Some common sense thoughts on the church.

  9. beautiful, Andy! Thank you.

  10. Ken, that's why I so appreciate Spurgeon's statement of individual Christians being part of the universal, invisible church. May systems, as systems, perish, if they in one iota distract us from our Lord and Savior, and our entrance into His Kingdom by repentance and faith in Him.

  11. Amen Mr. Byrd. I see that intent of the artilce being two-fold, one to show how Spurgeon felt about denominationalism and the other for Logos to sell the Denominational Base Package. There is no such thing as a hyphenated Christian in the Bible. No Baptist-Christian or Methodist-Christian. When Paul heard about divisions in Corinth he quickly rebuked them and asked if any man died for them or was it Christ. The body of Christ is not divided. Men have agreed to divide the body and formed denominations but the Body of Christ cannot be divided, not even by the gates of hades (Mt. 16:18ff)

  12. Glenn-and Kitty Hawkins ; don't leave out, obedience to The Law of God. After all, that is what We repent. Law-less-ness

  13. no one wants to believe They try to serve two Masters. Our shepherds have let the flock wander from 'The Way'. The Blind lead The Blind.

  14. Unfortunately, the church has always been divided, Paul warned against Gnostic's, justifying oneself thru the law and circumcising the gentiles; considering, these were probably adult males, OUCH.

    Today we have the word preserved, better in some bible translations than others. Fortunately; no matter what a person believes, there is a translation for personal justification.

    When the day of Pentecost came, there was criticism, times have not changed, there is a great divide between those who accept grace and those who justify themselves in their own eyes.

    Where is the remnant? Is it in every congregation, where the wheat grows with the tares? Is it even possible to have a tare free denomination? Is this the essence of Spurgeon's invisible congregation?

    God bless you and keep you,
    Ken

  15. I must say i celebrate diversity in the Body of Christ because it allows Christianity to provide diverse environments where people with differents likes can connect.

  16. It is because of these very issues I have written to this subject in order to help non and new believers come to a better understanding to what the Christian faith is all about and how it all works, providing a starting point, no matter what denomination the Spirit of God leads them to. The Christian Faith: A Quick Guide to Understanding Its Inter-Workings by Reid A. Ashbaucher (ISBN: 978-1-4908-7342-8)

  17. It is because of these very issues I have written to this subject in order to help non and new believers come to a better understanding to what the Christian faith is all about and how it all works, providing a starting point, no matter what denomination the Spirit of God leads them to. The Christian Faith: A Quick Guide to Understanding Its Inter-Workings by Reid A. Ashbaucher (ISBN: 978-1-4908-7342-8)

  18. It's interesting that the author chose to quote Charles Spurgeon's definition of the Church which is His Body! The word "church" [ekklesia] in the plural refers to all believers dead or alive. That is not where the division exists. All Christians are part of this Church! The divisions occur in the local expression of the church… When the word "church" [ekklesia] is used in the singular, it refers to a local assembly of baptized believers at a particular location.. (i.e. the Church of God which is at Corinth) In local assemblies, which BTW, are said to be baptized believers continuing stedfastly in the Apostle's Doctrine (teachings) and in prayer and in breaking of bread.. {Acts 2} Both the two definitions of church were born in Acts 2…. The divisions occur on earth and definitely marked by different names, although the NT makes it clear that Christian is the only name we should refer to ourselves by adding Matthew 18:20. Therefore, Christians Gathered Unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 4:12, we read "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.".

    Makes sense since Christ- ian refers to Who's we are as our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who gave His life for us. By referring ourselves as Christians, we associate ourselves with the man of Calvary. What confuses this world is all these names: Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Calvinism, Catholicism, Episcopal's, Church of Latter Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hutterites, etc,… I won't go into who's right or wrong, but definitely, the name begins with Christian and should…. I am sure that some of these places do have believers amongst them, but they are part of the Church which is His Body.. Not the local church…… As Andy mentioned below, let it be the name of Christ who is above all, let everything we do, call ourselves be according to that name…. Let us follow the NT pattern for a local church, and be a testimony to the locality where it was planted… Then, let us go about our first mandate, to go into the world and preach the Gospel….

  19. I have attended services in many different denominational churches. In each, I have observed the presence of the true believers, the "invisible church," as well as the presence of searchers, spectators and hypocrites. As I have visited these churches, and observed the many variations in worship style and doctrinal differences in what I consider to be the "lesser issues," I have recognized that different personality types and people from different backgrounds will be drawn to the gospel by way of these different worship styles. The major issue to me, is that the gospel message be conveyed completely and accurately according to God's Word. The true church will come out of all of these various denominations that preach the true gospel message. So, whether it was God's intention for these denominations to exist, or whether He is just making lemonade out of the lemons we have organized, I believe He is using those divisions to reach people through one denomination who might not be reached by any of the other ones. Of course, there are those "denominations" that either started out on a different track than the true gospel, and those which apparently started out on the right track, but have strayed way off course. We must test the teaching by the Word, but not get hung up on minor issues that have nothing to do with salvation. However, I do believe that we should study the Word, and let the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts, and find a church that believes according to our convictions to worship in as our church home, Some folks I've known have planted themselves in a church that has some different beliefs and then set out to change the church. This just results in dissension and sometimes splitting up a church, rather than harmonious worship with like-minded Christians.

    In reading some of the other comments, I noticed the use of the words "ecumenical movement." I don't believe that the invisible church is going to result from an organized ecumenical movement. But, rather, out of each "Bible teaching" church, God is going to glean the true believers. And, though we may feel certain about which category our neighbor is, God looks upon the heart, and He alone really knows His own.