Thinking Out Loud - Ms. Green

Commentaries from a female, conservative Christian worldview. Intermittent observations on human behavior and current events. Occasional bursts of personal tirades,confessions, and discoveries. Frequent discussions about my "Narrow-Minded Faith".

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why So Many Denominations?

Many people, especially non-Christians, often ask why there are so many Christian denominations. This is a very valid question, although it must be pointed out up front that every major religion has sects/denominations/ within its system of beliefs, so Christians should not be singled out on this issue.

The number one reason is because Christianity is made up of human beings and we all think our opinions, beliefs, ideas, values etc. are superior to everyone else’s. I think there are basically four questions to ask ourselves when searching for a true Christian church.

What is the standard by which to judge which denomination is for me?
What are the basic differences in denominations?
How does one determine what “Christian” denomination to belong to?
Are all denominations truly Christian because they say they are?

1. What is the standard by which to judge which denomination is for me?

Christianity, by its very name, is based upon Jesus, the Christ (Savior). The overwhelming majority of information we have about Jesus is found in one book. That book is the Bible. There have been thousands of books written about Jesus and Christianity, but they almost all point back to what we learn of Him through Scripture. Therefore, the Bible should be our standard by which to judge which denomination is right for us. You wouldn’t determine that by reading the Quran or the Hindu Vedas. You wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) even determine that by reading books written ABOUT the Bible. That would be like listening to the television news anchors tell you what each candidate said in the debate after you just watched the debate for yourself. The Bible should be your ultimate reference for how you will live your Christian faith.

2. What are the basic differences in denominations?

There are really only two basic differences among denominations. That may be surprising, but these two differences are the basis for everything else that is taught in Christendom.

The two differences are these:
What does the church teach about the Bible?
What does the church teach about salvation?

A.What does the church teach about the Bible?

There are several trains of thought about the Bible, but they fall into basically two categories.

a. There are those that believe that every word of the Bible is directly inspired by God and written by men under His spiritual guidance. In other words, God wrote the Bible through men he chose specifically for that task, and you can trust every word of it.

b. There are others that believe parts of the Bible are strictly men’s opinions and only inspired in the way that Shakespeare was inspired. So they believe it’s not certain what you can and cannot trust about what it says. And there are those that believe that the Bible is just a book of myths, legends and fairy tales. Both of these systems are contrary to category #1.

B. What does the church teach about salvation?

There are several trains of thought about salvation, but they fall into basically two categories.

a. One belief says that salvation is by grace given to us by God through faith in Jesus Christ, and has nothing to do with our “goodness” or our “good works”

b. The other belief says that salvation is dependent on our “goodness” and “good works”.

Grace or works. That’s it. Every church fits into one of these two categories. Some try to mix the two and say that our salvation is based on grace AND works, but in order to believe that you have to throw out part of the Bible*. (Which means you would fall under category b of number A above). And if you mix works into the equation anywhere, then you are dependent on works at least to some degree.

Grace or works. That’s it.

After that, the rest of what a church teaches is based on its interpretation of those passages of Scripture that the particular church chooses to focus on. These things can include but are not limited to baptism, communion, church authority and discipline, speaking or not speaking in tongues, appropriate music, preaching styles, money handling, moral codes, dress codes, social responsibilities, politics, women’s roles in the church, pastoral requirements, etc. etc. etc.

3. How does one determine what “Christian” denomination to belong to?

There are two basic questions to ask.

A. What do they teach about the Bible?

This depends on what category you fall into under question #2. If you believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, then you must choose a church that is based on that belief. Otherwise you will be constantly torn between what the Bible says and what your church is teaching, and you will not find peace within that church body. If you believe the Bible is only partially from God, or if you believe it’s just a book of myths, legends and fairy tales, then choosing your denomination will be much easier, as long as you stay away from churches that fall under category a of question #2.

Most churches have what they call a “doctrinal statement”. If you are considering the possibility of joining a church, you should ask them for their doctrinal statement so you can determine where they stand on the Bible. If they don’t have a statement that you can read, then talk to the pastor and ask questions about his belief in the Bible. The pastor determines pretty much what is going to be taught in the church.

B. Do they teach salvation by grace or by works?

4. Are all denominations truly Christian because they say they are?

That’s an interesting question.

If you fall under category #1 of question #1, then the answer is no. If one doesn’t play by the rules, is one really playing the game? Or has he altered the handbook to fit his particular preferences? Is T-ball the same thing as major league baseball? Is flag football the same as NFL football? Of course not. They are similar, but not the same. The handbooks are different

If you fall under category #B of question #2, then all denominations are Christian.

Again – if you define Christianity as a belief system based on the Bible being the true Word of God, then you have to go with a church that falls under category #A of question #2. If you don’t fall under that category, then you are by definition similar to Christianity, but only a facsimile. When dealing with the salvation of one’s soul, I would say that is an extremely important point to ponder.

There is a fifth question that begs to be asked.

Is there one true denomination?

Although some churches believe theirs is the only true church (and there are some in mine that think we’re the only true church), they’re going to find out someday that they were wrong on some things and right on others. As long as there are human beings in the world, there will be imperfection. There is no perfect church because there are no perfect human beings. It’s a perfect God that we serve – and that should be our focus.

This has been by no means an exhaustive study, but I pray that it will help some at least to gather a set of priorities and guidelines for themselves if they are looking for a good church. Of course, if one doesn't know the God that is to be worshipped and served through one's membership in a church, it ultimately will not matter where or even if one attends. Church membership doesn't equal salvation.

*“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Romans 11:6

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At 12:18 AM, Blogger Marshall Art said...

The grace or works question is a tough one. Personally, I believe that faith is paramount, it is the prime directive, so to speak. Yet, the Bible also says that faith without works is dead. The Bible also says that we are to be Holy because God is Holy. That indicates that works has a place in our faith walk. I'm sure everyone has heard of people who believe that faith is all they need, but at the same time, do not act in a Christian manner most of the time.

Now, only God knows the heart. But for the seeker trying to decide where to worship, this question of faith vs works might drive them nuts. So, I say, faith comes first, and how we live our lives proves our faith.

At 5:56 AM, Blogger Ms.Green said...

"So, I say, faith comes first, and how we live our lives proves our faith.

Excellent point. We are saved by faith alone - not our works. But the Bible also says that faith without works is dead, and someone who says they are saved, but there is no outward indication - no change in their lives toward sin - no desire to serve God - then they've most likely been dealt a counterfeit. Scripture says we must be "born again" into a new nature. Once we've been truly saved, we're not the same person we were before.

Unfortunately, counterfeit Christianity abounds.

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous Herm said...

I not sure I'm in agreement on the benefits of denominationalism. An old preacher once told me that when the early church overcame Paganism, Satan just decided to join the church thus creating divisions in the church that we now proudly call denominations. Just think what power thru the Holy Spirit that the church today could minister to this hurting and troubled world. What a greater and fuller example the church could exhibit for the world as a loving, caring, and harmonious body of Christ. Instead, many denominations hide behind their doctrines and creeds allowing Satan to minimize their effectiveness and outreach. Many of these doctrines and creeds are from the libraries of Hell, having no roots in biblical truth. So much of the Modernist Churches embrace world views and the rot it represents. The true church should make efforts to come together and gather under the blood of Jesus and leave behind issues that have no clear answers until we are before the judgment seat of Christ. Then and only then, can the Church go forward with greater power and strength to fight the powers of darkness. Just my thots. God Bless, Herm


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