Why Denominations? (Part 2) +How Dangerous Are Denominations? + Answering Catholic Charges of Schism. #247
Happy Lord’s Day, dear friends. This may have been a rough week for you – one that has been filled with trial upon trial or heartache added to frustration…or it may have been a good week. Regardless, this is the day that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and His defeat of death and the glorious good news like no other. This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it. This is probably the worst it gets – don’t despair, look to the Heavens and await the return of the King. His return is as sure as the dawn. Celebrate the wonders of the victory of Jesus today! As usual on Sundays, please allow me to invite you to join us at 11AM Pacific on Facebook at VBC Salinas. We are talking about Being the Church At the End of the World. Are we at the end of the world? I doubt it, but we are at least to LIVE and ACT and MINISTER and WATCH ALERTLY like the end-times church, because we just might be.
Today we are reading 1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 2, Psalms 38 and 1 Corinthians 4. No focus passage today, because we are continuing our discussion from yesterday: Why Do We Have So Many Denominations?
On yesterday’s pod, we interacted with a great article on denominations by a Catholic writer that ended by charging (in a very nice way) Protestant churches with causing disunity in the Body of Christ by breaking off from the one true church, which was, in the writer’s mind, the Roman Catholic church. It’s not only Catholics that wonder about this issue – many skeptics and true believers alike wonder why there is so much disunity in Christianity and so many denominations! After all, as we discussed yesterday, Jesus prayed that His followers would have the same unity/oneness that Jesus and the Father have, and further, Jesus noted that lost people would know that Jesus was sent by the Father to the degree that the church was in unity. Surely this lack of unity in individuals and groups is one thing that constrains the witness of the church in the world today.
My life has been interesting, let’s say, in terms of denominations. As a kid, having no say in what church we went to, my family started out Methodist, then went PC-USA, then PCA, then Southern Baptist. For much of that time, my dad was good friends with a Godly charismatic man, and we would attend charismatic churches and revival meetings sometimes also, and there was even a few times my dad took me to African American churches. Suffice to say, I was not raised in a very denominationally loyal household. My ministry career has been similar. My first ministry role was as a part time youth minister in a Baptist church. After that, though I was in a Southern Baptist church when first married, was licensed at that church, and graduated from and taught/worked at a Baptist seminary, my first full time ministry job was in a Methodist church. (My wife was teaching in our city, and we didn’t feel called to move, and the Methodist church in our area was the only church that felt led to call me.) After that I worked as a church planter with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Served in two non-denominational churches (one for 7 years!) and then served for over ten years as the senior pastor of a Southern Baptist church. I am now serving a Southern Baptist church in California in that role as well, and have been here for two years. I meet weekly with a group of Baptist pastors in our association, which stretches for about 100 miles around, and also with a very varied group of Salinas pastors from all sorts of denominational backgrounds. We have tremendous unity and love for each other that seems to be growing. Because of my life and backgrounds, I do not hate denominations, and do not see them as separating of Christians as others do…but I also recognize and lament that denominations are far from the oneness that Jesus prayed for in John 17.
Many Catholics, like our friend Scott from yesterday, believe they are part of the one true church and that all other churches have schismed or separated from the one true church. Some still view Protestants as genuine followers of Jesus, others don’t, just as some Protestants believe that Catholics can be Christians and others don’t. I am not going to write a full-throated defense of Protestant churches and the Protestant Reformation today, nor am I going to fire off a polemic against Catholicism. That’s not my job, but I will say a few sentences. According to church history, it does not appear that the church became Roman Catholic in the first 2 centuries after Jesus. I see nothing of distinctive Roman Catholic theology or ecclesiology or practice in the book of Acts, for instance, and no fully developed Roman Catholic church until the late 200s-300s. This means that the Roman Catholic church was NOT the original church. The church at Jerusalem was. The Jerusalem church (and the Antioch church and all of the Bible churches related to those) didn’t have popes, or a strict dividing line between priests and laypeople. They didn’t pray to Mary. They didn’t have confession to priests. There were no Cardinals, nor a strict hierarchy of leadership. There were no Cathedrals, or fancy dress by the leaders of gatherings or other things associated with today’s Catholic church. In this I see that the Catholic church is NOT the one and only true church, but an offshoot of the original churches that were founded in the book of Acts. In many ways radically different, and in many ways striving to be the same. I find the same thing for the Protestant church, for the record. I note our Catholic friend from yesterday states that he is a Third Degree Knight of Columbus and Benedictine Oblate of St. Meinrad Archabbey. I consider memberships in those orders to be akin in many ways to membership in a denominational or non-denominational church. I might be a Baptist, but that doesn’t save me, nor does it define my ultimate allegiance, nor does it separate me from the universal Church. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone to save me from my sins – in the same way that Paul and Apollos were nothing (see 1 Corinthians 3 from yesterday) Baptists, Presbyterians etc are nothing. I hope our friend Scott can say the same thing. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus, the Roman Catholic church and the Benedictine Oblate of St. Meinrad Archabbey – those three things seem no different than a denomination to me – and those three things won’t save Scott…only faith in Jesus and His death in our place on the cross and His glorious resurrection. In my mind denominations are of nominal importance, and I get that from our reading from yesterday, which I will quote again:
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So, then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:5-7
What then are Baptists? What are Presbyterians? What are Calvary Chapels? we might say. They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given, but neither are anything, but only God who gives the growth.
So, why are there so many denominations? Let’s ask some friends:
But we must never allow traditionalism to govern us. That does not mean that we despise the past—of course not! Let us learn from it, but let us not become slaves to it. Thank God for every good custom and tradition, but the moment I worship tradition I am in a dangerous state. We must be guided by the truth of the New Testament, and not governed by tradition, however old and venerable it may be. This tendency is obvious in the life of the Church today amid all the talk about union and ecumenicity. Why are there so many denominations? The answer is that they are held by tradition, and nothing else. They are agreed about doctrine, or the irrelevance of doctrine! And the same temptation can befall those of us who are evangelicals. We must beware of traditions that do not really belong to the vitals and essentials of the Christian life, but are the mere accidents of history or of circumstances.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10–13 (Edinburgh; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 186.
Churches are very different from other churches because the gift mix in one church can be very, very different than the gift mix in the church right across the street. It’s one of the reasons you have this amazing diversity in the Christian church. It’s really one of the reasons people are saying, “Why is the Christian church so different? Why are there so many denominations, so many churches? Why, why, why?” This is one of the reasons. Another reason is sin. But this is one of the reasons.
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
It is the want of this resolve that makes so many denominations in the world to-day. Most professors never look in the Bible to see what is right and what is wrong. Their father and mother went to a certain place of worship, so they go to it. They saw things in a certain light, and their children do the same; but they never search the Scriptures to see whether these things be so or not. I am afraid there are many Christians, and some ministers too, who would be afraid to search the Scriptures, lest they should learn too much from them. We should soon end all the divisions in the Church of Christ if we took this blessed Book only,—no book of prayer, no book of sermons, no book of devotions, and no catechism as our rule of life; nothing but this Book, and opened it, saying, “Lord, speak, for thy servant heareth; whatever thou hast to say to me, here am I, waiting to know and to do thy will.” I ask every Christian here whether he can honestly say that he has given up his mind to be moulded by the Holy Spirit; whether, upon questions that are in dispute among men, he has really searched the Scriptures, and whether he is prepared at all costs to follow the truth wherever it leads him; for this is both the duty and the honour of the Christian
C. H. Spurgeon, “‘Here Am I,’” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 54 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1908), 113.