Fracturing the Church

There are over 40,000 Denominations in Christianity; let's talk about where they came from and what the major differences are.

Introduction

Denomination is defined as "a religious group, usually including many local churches, often larger than a sect" or "a group having a distinctive interpretation of a religious faith and usually its own organization."[2] There are an estimated 41,000 denominations of Christianity, though in the number would include splits in a major denomination like Baptist, such as Freewill, Missionary, and Southern Baptist.[1] As a child I wondered why there were so many denominations, and when a Freewill Baptist church was built across the street from a Southern Baptist church I was confused as can be.

Growing up I noticed that as soon as there was a disagreement in a church, the congregation would split and these splitter churches would appear. These disagreements can be from differences in opinion on doctrine or just personality clashes. I've seen discussions surrounding the large number of denominations in which people assert that it "proves" God doesn't exist. They argue that God should have made His Word simple and plain to understand.[3] However, they fail to account for several key factors that have a hand in the development of separate denominations:
  • Not everyone who has an opinion on the Word studies the Word
  • Some people see the Word as opportunity for personal power, so they purposely twist the Word to suit their purpose—this method works because a large number of Christians don't actually read the Word, let alone study the Word, and will easily accept anything they are told by Church hierarchy
  • Similarly, not every church/denomination is of God—just because they claim to represent Jesus, doesn't mean they actually follow the Word of God
  • The devil's aim is to destroy;[4] by causing confusion he not only deters believers from the true word of God, he fuels the doubt in a disbelievers heart and keeps them from seeking truth
The Bible clearly states that you have to study to be worthy, but many non-believers are quick to assert that they deserve an easier path to God (though I'm not sure they would have an answer as to why they deserve an easy path to God). They also refuse to acknowledge the spiritual warfare occurring—the devil can quote scripture too.[5]
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.2 Timothy 2:15 KJV

It is not a trivial task to identify false doctrine or study the Word of God in general. The devil is committed to keeping us confused, and we will naturally lean towards doctrines and interpretations that suit our own wants. This post will identify and discuss some of the larger denominations within Christianity, highlighting points of contention between denominations, as well as some history on major splits within the Church.
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The Formation of Denominations

There have been 3 easily definable periods with regards to the church and denominations. Each of these periods had an effect on the denominations we have today and how we interpret scripture.

The Early Church

Christianity could be seen as having started the moment the first person believed Jesus was the Son of God—this would date its origin at His birth as Mary, Joseph, and all those who traveled to meet Him, acknowledged He was the Son of God. Of course, Christianity is expressed in John 3:16, thus the true point of origin for the Christian Church is the moment the disciples believed He would die and rise from the grave. The disciple were the first pastors of the church and the Bible clearly shows us their misgivings: Judas betrays Jesus, and Peter denies knowing Him. Remember at this point in time there was no physical church, just people gathering to sharing their faith and Jesus' message. In the early days of Christianity there was a group known as the Gnostics. Gnostics deny the divinity of Jesus and identify Him as a teacher instead. Surviving writings of this group exist as the Codices and the Nag Hammadi library. The true Christian church (I say true, because only those who believe the words John 3:16 are Christians, eliminating the Gnostics) consisted of Christ's disciples, Paul, and all those who came to hear their testimonies of Jesus.
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The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is probably the most "popular" branch of Christianity and has come to wear the face of Christianity. Catholics claim their version of Christianity was proclaimed by Jesus in Matthew 16:18-19 and that Peter was the first pope.
18And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.Matthew 16:18-19 KJV

Of course in Acts 9, after Jesus appears to Saul on the road to Damascus, Jesus Himself says that Saul is to be the voice for the Gentiles, kings, and Israel. Why did God need Saul to become Paul if Peter was to spread the Word?
15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:Acts 9:15 KJV

Regardless, a some point someone got the idea to start the Catholic Church. Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity, but it was Emperor Theodosius who made Christianity the official religion of Rome in 380ad.[6] Presumably the Catholic Church we know today began to form and rise to power during this time (after all it is the Roman Catholic Church).

With the rise of Catholicism, Christianity spread across Europe like wildfire. Eventually the kingdoms of Europe and their kings answered to the pope. In addition to introducing millions to the gospel, Rome co-mingled much of its pagan religions with the their version of Christianity (such as praying to statues, repeating the rosary, sun worship—all to be discussed in due time). The Catholic Church commission several crusades "in the name of God" in which they claimed it was ok to massacre non-Christians (no where in the Bible does it say that, by the way—God command the Israelites to kill the pagans when they took the promised land, but He didn't tell them to massacre the rest of the world, and Jesus specifically says to go out and preach the gospel, not go out and kill).[7][9] In addition to the Crusades, the Catholic Church also employed the Inquisition who policed "heretics" (i.e. people who opposed the teachings of the Catholic Church).[8][9][11] Top

The Reformation

In those days, reading was a luxury and a privilege; the average person did not read—especially not the Bible which was only available in Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Latin. Most could not read the Bible for themselves and were forced to rely on a priest's interpretation of the Word for guidance. This began to change as the Bible was translated into the common tongue (the English translation was written by John Wycliffe in 1380ad). With the invention of the printing press and the Gutenberg Bible, the Word, as written became more available to the common man. This would eventually lead to Martin Luther's 95 Theses and the Reformation. The reformation brought about Protestantism, which lead to the formation of most of the denominations we have today.
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References

  1. "Appendix B: Methodology for Estimating Christian Movements". Pew forum on religion & public life. pg 95. 2011
  2. "Denomination". Dictionary.com. 2015
  3. Hatfield, Eric. "How Many Christian Denominations Worldwide?". The Way?. November 23, 2012
  4. John 10:10
  5. Matthew 4:5-7
  6. "Conversion of Constantine". Religion Facts. 2015
  7. "Crusades". History.com. 2015
  8. Flamehorse. "10 Shameful Moments in Catholic History". List Verse. June 2011
  9. Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The crusades: A history. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014
  10. Bethencourt, Francisco. The Inquisition: a global history, 1478-1834. CUP, 2009.
  11. McFarnon, Emma. "Your 60 Second Guide to Heresy". BBC History Magazine. January 2014
  12. Martin Luther's 95 Theses

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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