Have you ever stepped back and thought about just how many different types of Protestant Christian church denominations there are? Most all of them stem off of the 6 major denominational heads: Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, (Reformed) Presbyterian, and Pentecostal. Then if you break these denominational heads down into sub-groups, you will find some 30,000 different types of Protestant churches. For example, take the Baptist denomination. Within that denominational head you have Southern Baptist, Reformed Baptist, General Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Free Will Baptist . . . need I go on? If we are all supposed to be one, it does not seem like having all of this diversity can be a good thing. There is no doubt that there are some serious doctrinal differences between these groups. Some denominational groups would say that other entire denominational groups are apostate due to certain views that they hold. I am not here to argue about doctrinal differences (although they matter greatly), but rather, I want to show that for true believers this diversity can actually be a good thing for the Kingdom of God.
We Are All Actually One:
It is important to realize that all who have called on the named of the Lord by faith are all part of the same “denomination.” This denomination is “The Church” (since we are separated from the rest of the world). Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Contrary to what our Catholic neighbors say, Peter is not the centerpiece to this story . . . Jesus is. The Lord has promised that He will build His church, and no one will stop that. This means that all who have been redeemed are a part of one family . . . the family of God. We do not all live under the same roof, but we do all have the same Father and Spiritual head. He is the same Shepherd for all true believers whether you are convicted to pitch your tent within the Church of God camp or the Reformed Baptist. This does not make us all right on those things we disagree on, but if the foundation is correct (salvation being by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone) we are all one.
Strength in Division:
Looking at and working with different denominations over the years, I have seen an interesting trend within the groups. Each church seems to polarize themselves to one of the different parts of the God-head. When you think of the Presbyterians, for instance, you might think of a group that is very knowledge based. They desire to KNOW the scriptures and to search the scriptures above all things. They are a very educated people in general (again, please note that these are general observations). They love books. They tend to polarize themselves toward God the Father. God the Father was the “master mind” behind all of creation in the God-head. He is the One who speaks forth. On the other hand, when you think of most Pentecostal groups you think about their tendency to be more in tune with the Holy Spirit. They often lean toward the more spiritual things and desire the experience of the Holy Spirit. When you think of Baptists, at least more modern day ones, you think of their desire for evangelism and trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus. As you would guess, they tend to focus mostly on Jesus. If we are to be well balanced in our walk, we need to have an equal balance of all three parts of the God-head and not always attach ourselves to just one person of the God-head. When we do that, I think we miss out on the fullness of walking with God.
When you look at the Old Testament and the 12 tribes of Israel, I think we can find a good picture of what different denominations should look like. The tribes were given specific portions of land. In general, they always lived within that allotted land plot. However, when they were getting ready for battle, they would all gather in their groups and march out together (1 Chronicles 27). I see this as a great picture of what denominations should be today. There is place for genuine debate within the fellowship of believers. There are even times when it is wise to disfellowship (although only over matters of clear sin) from each other. However, for those who are truly unified under the banner of the Kingdom’s cause, we need to be strong and band together when we go out to battle. The cost is too high not to be joined together for the gospel. There is strength in diversity (since working that way allows us to reach different types of people), but let us not become too divided that we lose that unified strength.
A Word of Warning:
We must not let our guard down so much that we allow sin into the camp. When we do this, it weakens the whole camp. There is forgiveness for those who are willing to repent, but one who is in open sin must not be allowed to stay there without correction (I Corinthians 5). As stated before, there is a place for genuine disagreement and debate within the church; however, we as a church can never compromise on issues of clear sin. We can agree to disagree on secondary issues, but we can never compromise on primary issues of the gospel. Yes, let’s work together in every area that we can for the sake of the Kingdom. We do not have to lay aside the things that make us distinctive, but let’s never lose focus on our commission: Go, make disciples, and do it for the glory and honor of God. Denominations are not a bad thing if understood in the broader context of the Kingdom. We can celebrate our diversity. Let’s just make sure when we celebrate, that we are celebrating the Lord first, and not our particular flavor (denomination) of the Church.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B Burrell