Why are there different denominations within Christianity?

In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul admonishes all believers to "agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." If this is a recommendation from one of the original Apostles, then why are there so many different denominations within the Christian religion? In 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul also says, "No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval." Could it be that only one denomination is actually approved by God and all others are heretical? That's what many Christian sects and cults believe of themselves, that they are the only true church of Christ. Romans 16:17-18 says, "I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people." Is it that many so-called Christians have been deceived by false teachers throughout the last two thousand years? True, there have been many cults whose leaders have mistakenly done just that, however, there are those whose intentions are impure: "But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, 'In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.' These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit" (Jude 1:17-19). Most Christian denominations have been the results of honest, God-fearing Christians who want to follow Jesus as closely as possible. Jesus said in Luke 12:51-53 that he did not come to bring peace on earth but division, even dividing families against themselves. Does this mean that he even brings divisions amongst his own church? Not according to Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:24-25, and Luke 11:17, where he also says, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." If denominations were simply divisions against one another, then Christianity would not have survived to become one of the most dominant world religions. It cannot be denied that these divisions have caused wars, crusades, inquisitions, persecution, repression, and the death of millions of believers and non-believers throughout history and that even today there is much quarrel and derisiveness between Christian believers of different denominations.


        "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)

Even the early Church had internal conflicts over doctrine, a primary one of which was over the divinity of Christ. Arius, a church deacon, argued that Jesus and God were separate and that Jesus was merely human, a belief known as Arianism which won many adherents, but was declared a heresy by the end of the fourth century in an attempt to maintain unity in doctrine and theology within the church. A similar belief later resurfaced in the fifth century as Nestorianism, again to be deemed a heresy in order to maintain peace and unity. The first official faction within the early church was after the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, which was convened to once again resolve a major debate about the divine nature of Jesus (this time in regards to the distinction between his human and divine natures). The decision of the council was that Jesus had two distinct natures, one human and the other divine. Those who upheld the belief that Jesus had but one spiritual nature, known as Monophysitism, were primarily the Oriental Orthodox Christian and East Syrian churches, which separated from the church over the decision. The main reason for denominations within Christianity, from its earliest history, would therefore be due to differences in theological interpretation of the teachings of the original disciples, particularly where there may have been an absence of clarity in doctrine. Once the church began to grow and spread to other countries and to be adopted by other schools of thought, it was destined for division. Even so, just as these denominations may all hold to various doctrines and interpretations of New Testament scripture, they can still be united in the body and mind of Christ. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 about participation in the blood and body of Christ, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."


        "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit --just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all... It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-16)

By the end of the first century A.D., the primary unified Christian body was a combination of predominantly Gentile churches established by the Apostle Paul and his followers. These churches were decentralized, held mainly in homes, and headed locally or regionally by overseers or bishops. The other classes of Christian churches included those of the Jewish believers established by Jesus' original disciples and apostles, which dispersed after the fall of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70, as well as the Gnostics, who were eventually persecuted as heretics and all but disappeared by the sixth century. In the fourth century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire after the conversion of Emperor Constantine. In A.D. 325, the first meeting of bishops, known as the Council of Nicea, was held in Asia Minor with approximately 318 out of 1,800 bishops in attendance. Authority of the Christian churches went to the bishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome. The first bishop to be named pope was Siricius, bishop of Rome, in A.D. 384. A lengthy power struggle within the Church between the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Byzantine Empire culminated in a schism of the Church in A.D. 1054, dividing it into the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Rite, also known as the Catholic and Apostolic Universal Church, or Roman Catholic Church. During the Middle Ages, various factions split from the Roman Catholic Church (such as the Cathars and the Knights Templar), which were eventually exterminated. Beginning in A.D. 1517, the Protestant Reformation produced the greatest denominational change to the Christian Church, which was based primarily on the two fundamental principles that the Bible was the ultimate authority in all matters (not the church) and that no intermediary was needed between Christ and the believer (including priests and saints). Since then, thousands of variations of Protestant churches have been formed due to differences between cultures, moral issues, theology, social views, religious persecution, opposing interpretations of Scripture, varying degrees of adherence to biblical commands, opposing views on the authority of the Bible, a variety of forms of worship, nuances with Jesus' intent for the church, and furthering subdivisions within various factions.


        "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:12-17)

The answer, then, would have to be simply to state the obvious: that it is because of imperfect human nature that there are so many denominations. With growth comes competition due to conflicts of convictions, passions, ideals, interpretations, standards, visions, goals, character, etc., etc., to a point where factions become inevitable. It could be said that these differences are healthy and even beneficial. If it were not for many of the controversial schisms from dominant Christian institutions, then Christianity would be a repressive, controlling, totalitarian state-controlled religion, which history has shown is not a good thing and of which many Christian denominations came about. In this day and age, most Christian denominations and churches are collectively and individually guided by one and the same Spirit. The last century has experienced the ecumenical movement, which is a worldwide effort between denominations to unite churches for the purpose of promoting cooperation and better understanding. This is in accordance with Ephesians 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." If it were not Christ who united all believers in unity of his Spirit, regardless of denominational affiliation, then Christianity would be doomed along with the rest of the world... thus heralding Christ's second coming, which (ironically) is what many mainstream, liberal, and conservative Christians are eagerly awaiting.


        "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

The following links are listed as guides or starting points for finding a church, learning about different denominations, and discovering what each church has in common. Some are organizations or fellowships which transcend denominational barriers in order to unite the body of Christ worldwide.

Adherents.com

"Adherents.com is a growing collection of over 41,000 adherent statistics and religious geography citations -- references to published membership/adherent statistics and congregation statistics for over 4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, movements, ultimate concerns, etc. Basically, researchers can use this site to answer such questions as "How many Methodists live in Indiana?", "What are the major religions of India?", or "What percentage of the world is Hindu?" We present data from both primary research sources such as government census reports, statistical sampling surveys and organizational reporting, as well as citations from secondary literature which mention adherent statistics. Adherents.com is an Internet initiative and is not affiliated with any religious, political, educational, or commercial organization. Adherents.com is the 2nd most frequently visited general religion site on the Internet."

DMOZ Open Directory Project - Denominations

Top: Society: Religion and Spirituality: Christianity: Denominations

Ecunet

"Ecunet is the online world's oldest interactive Christian community! For over 15 years, Ecunet members have been able to login, join the Member Network of their denomination, and share resources and enter into discussions with thousands of other Christians from all over the globe! At Ecunet we strive to be a community of people who care... whether you are Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, or any of the many traditional Christian denominations, Ecunet has a Member Network for you! Ecunet has been about Christians coming together online to re-discover how powerful it is when "two or more are gathered together." We are a not-for-profit organization with electronic discussions that covers virtually every subject imaginable. As a member, you'll have the opportunity to meet new people and visit existing meetings (or even create your own) that explore current events, and covers hobbies, sports, entertainment, theology, sermon preparation, and much more! You can share conversation and resources with people from all over the globe, and probably some from your own back yard... Many meetings and resources exist at Ecunet that are "public," allowing you to visit outside of your denominational affiliation. As a member, you may also create your own meeting and then invite just a few of your online friends to join, or you can invite the entire Ecunet community! Meetings may be public or private, allowing some of your meetings to be held in a secure, confidential setting."

forMinistry.com - Find a Local Church

"Whether you're looking for a church or moving to a new area, ForMinistry can help you find a welcoming church family. Thousands of churches from every denomination are listed in our directory." (from the American Bible Society)

Google Directory - Christian Denominations

Society > Religion and Spirituality > Christianity > Denominations

National Council of Churches USA

"The National Council of Churches, founded in 1950, is the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 36 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox member denominations include more than 50 million persons in 140,000 local congregations in communities across the nation. Statement of Faith: "The National Council of Churches is a community of Christian communions, which, in response to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, as Savior and Lord. These communions covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the unity of the Church. Relying upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the communions come together as the Council in common mission, serving in all creation to the glory of God." --from the Preamble to the NCC Constitution. This general statement is accepted by all 36 of the NCC's Protestant and Orthodox communions (denominations), which as Christian bodies hold these and many other beliefs in common. Each of the member communions also has a unique heritage, including teachings and practices that differ from those of other members. As they gather in the Council, the member communions grow in understanding of each other's traditions. They work to identify and fully claim those areas of belief they hold in common; they celebrate the diverse and unique gifts that each church brings to ecumenical life; and together they study those issues that divide the churches. And they cooperate in many joint programs of education, advocacy and service that address critically important needs and that witness to our common faith in Jesus Christ. NCC member denominations reflect the diversity of Christianity in the United States. They also vary greatly in size and in the geographic distribution of their congregations. Each participating denomination brings distinctive faith traditions to the Council's common table. Protestant members include churches of British, German, Scandinavian and other European origin, historic African American churches, and immigrant churches from Korea and India. Orthodox member communions have roots in Greece, Syria, Russia, the Ukraine, Egypt, India and other places where Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy have long histories. Still others are members of the "free church" tradition, with substantial autonomy vested in local congregations. Reflecting the rich variety of its members, the NCC believes that genuine unity demands inclusivity and a respect for diversity, and strives to embody this belief in its programs, decision-making and staffing."

North American Academy of Ecumenists

"The goal of the North American Academy of Ecumenists is to inform, relate, and encourage men and women whose profession or ministry in the church involves them in ecumenical activities and studies. Its unique contribution is to provide ecumenists with an open structure for exploring issues too important to be left exclusively to official ecumenical agencies and projects. Founded in 1957, the Academy meets annually in September. Its conferences are professional and scholarly in substance and informal in style. The membership of the Academy includes ecumenically active clergy and laity as well as professors and students. It is an "Academy" by virtue of its members´┐Ż shared concern for the theological reflection and scholarship that must accompany the movement toward mutual religious understanding and the unity of the Christian churches."

World Council of Churches

"The World Council of Churches (WCC) is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity. The WCC brings together more than 340 churches, denominations and church fellowships in over 100 countries and territories throughout the world, representing some 400 million Christians and including most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of denominations from such historic traditions of the Protestant Reformation as Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed, as well as many united and independent churches. While the bulk of the WCC's founding churches were European and North American, today most are in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific. For its member churches, the WCC is a unique space: one in which they can reflect, speak, act, worship and work together, challenge and support each other, share and debate with each other. As members of this fellowship, WCC member churches: are called to the goal of visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship; promote their common witness in work for mission and evangelism; engage in Christian service by serving human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation; and foster renewal in unity, worship, mission and service."


        "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6)

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