The existence of denominations is one of the “sore thumbs” of the Christian faith. The simple fact that denominations exist cause some nonbelievers to question the validity and the truth of the Christian faith. The fact that there are so many different denominations that claim to hold the truth lends itself to the idea that Christians really don’t know what is true at all, especially considering that most denominations are caused due to differences in beliefs, and that all Christians know how to do is bicker and argue.
Denominations, I will admit, are one of the unfortunate things about Christianity. In an ideal world, there would be no splits, there would be no need for splits, and Christianity would be a unified body of people who affirm Christ as the Lord.
But this is not the world we live in. We live in a world that is broken. We live in a world in which the tendency is to elevate ourselves and our need before the needs of another. We live in a world that has unfortunate blemishes, disunity in the Body of Christ being just one of them. And so the challenge is learning how to navigate the church in a world where denominations exist.
I propose that Christian unity is indeed possible, even with the existence of denominations.
The Case for the Denomination
It’s okay; no need to panic. I did just suggest that I will be defending the existence of denominations. I know that popular belief says that denominations are bad, but hear me out.
Denominations have their advantages. Some denominations were started as a way to call the original denomination that it split from back to the Gospel that we find in the Bible. Perhaps the most famous example would be Martin Luther’s split from the Catholic church because he disagreed with some of their theologies as well as disapproved of their sale of indulgences (purchased agreements freeing or lessening someone’s sentence in Purgatory). He attempted to call the church of the time back to the grace-filled Gospel.
Other times denominations have split over differences in theology. The “Great Schism” between the Catholic and Orthodox church, for example, was mostly due to a different understanding of the Trinity. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact this is okay, in my mind.
Think about this for a moment: God is infinite whereas humans are finite. We are but a speck in the grand scope of things. And although there are truths about God that we can know, through God’s self-revelation to us, it would be impossible for us to know everything about God. There is one true picture of who God is, but we cannot comprehend it wholly because we are not God ourselves. And so different theologies simply finite humans’ different attempts at trying to speak about who God is.
This is not a bad thing. It is okay to believe different things about God. Yes, there are some things that we need to make concrete (such as God’s identity as Father, Son, and Spirit or Christ’s divinity), but we don’t get to know everything (nor can we know everything). And so, differences in thinking are okay!
The Non-Denom Problem
In this blog writer’s humble opinion, denominations are not the enemy like many portray them to be, as I have stated above. However, it is a recent phenomenon that people are sick and tired of all of the denominations and so what they do is they leave denominational churches in search of the “alternative”: the non-denominational church.
The non-denominational church is a nice concept: in theory. It is a bunch of people seeking unity for the church. However, when non-denominational churches decide that they are sick of denominations and that they want unity, they flock to churches that don’t have a label on them. Ultimately this really just creates a new denomination: the non-denomination. For the sake of unity people leave their churches and start or attend another church rather than trying to work with the one they’ve got.
Thus they are starting another denomination, all for the sake of unity. Instead of there being 250,000 denominations (a made up number), there are now 250,001 denominations. Therefore, I don’t believe that leaving denominations and attending non-denominational churches is the answer.
A Proposed Solution
As I mentioned above, we live in a world where denominations are the reality. We do not get to live out this ideal of a one-hundred percent unified church (in the denominational sense). However, I believe that there is hope for the future going forward.
I think that in our fallen world, denominations will always exist. But this does not mean that we cannot live unified together under the name of Christ. In fact, I believe we can! This can only happen when we are willing to accept that we don’t have to be right all the time, that we cannot know all that there is to know about God, and that we are only human.
And so my proposal is that we live, work, and worship inter-denominationally rather than non-denominationally. Rather than denying our differences and pretending like we all are clones, programmed to look and act exactly alike, we should embrace our differences and strive to see how we can all work together for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.
I believe that Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 can become a reality if we are willing to look past ourselves to embrace each other, across denominational lines, for the selfless service of another.
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