08 April 2010

Question of the Week:
Why So Many Denominations?

by Anne Lang Bundy

(Note: “Question of the Week” now moves to Fridays on both “Bullets and Butterflies” and “Building His Body.”)

“I take as my guide the hope of a saint:
in crucial things, unity;
in important things, diversity;
in all things, generosity.”
~ George Bush

Why are there so many Protestant denominations?
From Jerry Ruffino (Roman Catholic), Rochester, NY

Last month addressed general Infighting among Christians. Today’s post will address official separations within the Church of Jesus Christ.

Why the mind-boggling number of church denominations? The short answer is that followers of Jesus forget that there is only one catholic Church.

A better answer begins with a definition of “catholic” (no capitalization). The word originates with the Greek katholikos, meaning “universal.” The Roman Catholic Church (often called the Roman church) has adopted the designation for itself. There is nonetheless only one universal Church of Jesus Christ, which the Bible calls His “body.”

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
~ Romans 12:4-8 (NKJV)

The early Christians developed two seats of authority, in Rome and Constantinople. A power struggle for primacy in 1054 AD brought The Great Scism into Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. The 16th Century Reformation resulted in more groups splitting from the Roman church, who were called “Protestants” because they protested Roman authority, doctrine and practices. (A variety of designations also exist within the Roman church.)

The innumerable denominations within Christ’s one Church still exist because of doctrinal differences, over conflicts in practice, and when leaders jockey for authority and control. For what it’s worth, I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and have studied it at length. I presently attend an independent Bible church. My perspective is that while denominational designations might be helpful in defining generalities about congregations, followers of Jesus should be characterized by unity rather than divisions.

God composed the body ... that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
~ 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 (NKJV)

Unity requires agreement on core beliefs—but not on everything else. The United States of America is defined by a foundational constitution and heritage, while states have individual laws and practices. Likewise, Christ’s Church can be defined by foundational beliefs, while individual congregations freely live out faith differently.

The heritage of Christians is grace and love. It should define us, characterize us, and unify us.

Next Monday and Wednesday, "Building His Body" will feature articles on foundational and unifying beliefs. Next Friday’s Question of the Week will then address a question about the emergent church.

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
Image source: Image source: watchinggravity.blogspot.com


  1. Very imformative, thank you sis.

  2. Thank goodness that Christians, like Ice-cream and all other good things, come in many flavours.

  3. We'd be very glad if you would let your readers know about an Irish catholic blog:


    It would also be very kind if you could link to/follow/blogroll it.

    Happy Eastertide!

  4. It's true that some denominations are due to infighting and division.But, many are simply born out of history and need.

    A number of denominations were started in countries that had revivals. The churches that came out of those revivals gathered for encouragement and to share resources.

    As time went on, those honorable principles faded and for the most part, denominations aren't competing, but are simply banners over a door.

  5. Favorite Fish ~ I thank the Lord for diversity. How bland, unpleasant, and even MORE infighting we'd have if everyone had all the same gifts. How wise of Him to widely distribute them. I pray that in diversity we discover our need for one another.

  6. Convenor ~ I'm pretty good with this link stuff, but I'll confess ignorance on how to do that. And, since this is Russell's blog, I'll allow him to address your request. He's out of town, but I'm sure he'll be checking in.

  7. David ~

    I'm grateful for your remark. I hope it brings balance, since I definitely appreciate the reasons for distinction and diversity and definitions. I can even accept the labels that help identify those. For example, I appreciate Roman Catholic reverence and social activism, Charismatic exhuberance in praise, and Baptist fundamentalism which embraces truth.

    But my experience has been that people have a tendency to identify with the label more than with the Lord. They tend to exalt practice above the Person. They sacrifice mercy for method.

    I still hear remarks such as a Baptist preacher who rebukes his congregation with the words, "You're singing like a bunch of Methodists." People are still told they're not saved unless they speak in tongues / are baptized (or are baptized a certain way) / belong to a certain denomination.

    Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    Denominational divisions tend to make me bristle. I earnestly pray that I allow it only enough to make me work all the harder toward unified diversity. And I hope I've brought that balance here.

  8. Hey anne. Enjoyed your post. I always enjoy reading about the history of the church. There are always good lessons learned. Even though we do have different denominations I think there are still ways we can be Christ's hands and feet together.

  9. Yes, that's the biggest problem with the protestant reformation. Martin Luther and other were trying to keep it together, but in the end it became a division. That event largely set the precedent for the rest of the divisions. Now whenever we don't agree, we start a new denomination.

    It's amazing how much Paul warned again this kind of thing if Romans and First Corinthians. Unity is huge, but we often put "rightness" above it. I don't think that's how it's supposed to work.

    We're called to righteousness, not rightness.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  10. Matt ~ I agree that we can work together. I believe we do that best when we focus not on our differences as conflicts, but on what unites us: the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Marshall ~ You astutely make the important distinction between rightness and righteousness. There is a time for division, over non-negotiable principles of righteousness. I hope you'll visit my blog next Wednesday when I elaborate.

  11. I love shark bait's reply. =) I, like you Anne, was raised in the RCC. I'm happily protestant now, and have been a born again believer now for over 23 years. As far as the variety, I would say there are many different ways to say thank you to Jesus. Find one that suits you.

  12. Thanks Anne ... I like what you said about focusing on essentials as well as what we have in common ... Jesus. It was through the Roman church that I found my way back to Jesus, and even though I would not "convert" to Roman Catholicism, I have a deep love and appreciation for that church.

  13. T ~ Re: saying 'thank you' to Jesus, it is the essence of our walk. If we'd remember that, we'd be united.

    Russell ~ I too have developed greater appreciation for the Roman church. But my God is the Word made flesh. I'll worship no other.

  14. Well said Annie. As I've matured (ha ha) as a Christian, I've realized that it beneficial to everyone to appreciate Christians of other faiths and their contributions rather than concentrate on differences. If I can't agree with my husband about everything what would make us think that the church could agree on everything. On a personal note.....I love you big sister!

    P.S. Can't for the life of me figure out how to post this with my name but it's me, Clare :)