Christian Denominational differences are frequent topics of discussion and debate. Wikipedia states that there are as many as 38,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. These various denominations have developed and grown or faded away for a wide variety of reasons.
Although not known by the description “denomination,” various views and interpretations of following Jesus have existed since the very earliest days of the Church. Over the centuries, these differences have ranged from relatively minor to the very dramatic. Sometimes they have resulted from strong differences in interpretation of scripture (i.e.: the Protestant Reformation) to personal or political motivation (i.e.; King Henry VIII’s establishment of the Anglican Church.)
Such differences over the centuries have led to really dramatic things like wars or the Spanish Inquisition to great theological debates such as those between John Calvin and John Wesley. These differences often caused or are causing dissention within the universal church, the Body of Christ, that give non-believers strong ammunition to attach Christianity as a whole. They also divert us from fulfilling the Great Commission.
Let’s take a look at some of these differences from the earliest days:
The Apostle Paul had many differences with the other Apostles. Those Apostles had spent three years in the presence of Jesus, learning and growing. They had also witnessed the resurrected Jesus and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So, what was the credibility of this upstart Paul?
We know of Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus. Something that we overlook is that it was roughly three years before Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the disciples there. What was he doing during these three years?
The Bible does not say directly. However we know from many statements of Paul that he received instruction and illumination from Jesus Himself. Paul received the Holy Spirit in a manner at least as dramatic as the disciples did at Pentecost. Paul, a Pharisee, certainly did not need instruction in the scripture of the Old Testament. It is logical to assume that the three years Paul spent in Arabia and Damascus were akin to his seminary schooling, delivered directly by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That’s roughly the same amount of time the original Twelve spent with Jesus.
During their lives, the Apostles faced many differing beliefs and interpretations as to what The Way was supported to be, what the correct teachings should be. John devotes much of his Gospel dispelling the beliefs of the Gnostics.
In several Epistles, especially Galatians, Paul argues against the Judaizers and Hellenists (Greeks leaning toward Gnosticism.) The Book of James (probably written by the brother of Jesus) does much the same.
During the late first century and early second, many Christian sects (denominations) sprang up throughout the Classical World. An example is the Coptics in Egypt.
The early Christian writers of the late 1st and early 2nd Centuries presented many differing interpretations. Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and even Josephus (actually a Jewish historian), among others gave us interpretations that still strongly influence Christian thinking today.
From the earliest days, differences within what is today the Roman Catholic Church emerged. In part, these led to the emergence of various orders of Priesthood.
In Europe, the Roman Catholic Church dominated Christianity until the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is most widely recognized as the leader/instigator of the Reformation which led to Protestantism.
Very shortly after Luther, theologists such as Jacobus Arminius, John Calvin and John Wesley presented their views which in turn led to many of the Christian denominations we know today.
Within the Body of Christ, there are many ecumenical movements to either eliminate or at least reach working agreements about these differences. This is no easy task.
Here are some fundamental questions I think we each need to examine:
1. Do you belong to a particular Christian denomination? If so, do you identify yourself strongly as being a member of that denomination? (i.e.: Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.)
2. How did you arrive at your core beliefs? Do you belong to the denominations you were raised in? Have you studied the differences between your denomination and others to understand the basis of denominational differences?
3. What are the very fundamental beliefs we must have to be a Christian?
4. Are different denominations a good thing or a bad thing?
5. Given these denominational differences, how can we come together as a unified Body of Christ?
As you ponder these questions, I leave you with words of Paul who was faced with these very same issues:
|Divisions in the Church
10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas (Peter)”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor 1:10-13
Alive in The Word