WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES?
(This is a lesson I was asked to preach as part of series by multiple preachers at the Mclish Church of Christ)
This morning I will be answering the question, Why are there so many churches? Or we could say, Why are there so many denominations? Before I† begin answering this question, letís find out what a denomination is:
a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices (Webster)
a group having a distinctive interpretation of a religious faith and usually its own organization (World English Dictionary).
A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name, usually organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy (The American Heritage Dictionary)
In other words, a denomination is a group of people who call themselves by a certain name to distinguish themselves from other denominations. That name will tell people what their particular belief system is. While one denomination may say that one act is sinful, another denomination may state that same act should be done by all Christians. What is amazing is the number of denominations we have in the world. According to some sources I looked at, there are between thirty to forty thousand denominations in the world today.†
No wonder there is so much confusion in the religious world. Though we have all these churches we could choose from, God never intended for it to be this way. In fact, Godís word tells us that there is just one church. When Jesus asked His disciples who He was, Peter proclaimed, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living GodĒ (Mt. 16:16). Then Jesus said:
Matthew 16:18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
On the Day of Pentecost when the Great Commission was first being carried out in Acts 2, around 3000 people obeyed the gospel that day and we learn that God added them to the church.
Acts 2:47 And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Paul said this to the Ephesian elders:
Acts 20:28 †"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
You can continue to see this idea throughout Scripture that there is only one church that Jesus purchased with His blood.
Ephesians 1:22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body,
The church and His body are the same thing. Obviously, since there† is only one head, there is only one body/church. If there is any doubt about how many churches there are supposed to be, Paul tells us that there is only one body/church in:
Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;
Paul also teaches that Jesus is the Savior of that one body:
Ephesians 5:23 †Öand He is the Savior of the body.
God is not the author of confusion, and He intended for there to only be one church and that we are all to be united with a like-minded faith based on Godís Word. Though Godís Word makes it plain that there is only one church, it should not surprise us that there are thousands of denominations in the world today. The reason it should not surprise us is because Godís Word told us it what happen and tells why it would happen, which answers our question of why there are so many churches or denominations today.
Paul told Timothy:
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.† 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;† 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,† 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,† 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
The answer to our question of why there are so many churches today is because of manís desire to be different and have things his way, or to be like everyone else. Paul is teaching Timothy and us today that some will depart from the faith, which means they will adopt their own belief system and will abandon sound doctrine. They will keep the parts of Godís Word they like and add their own traditions they desire and they will teach those things that please them.
Paul gives two specific examples of what some of these people would do. They would forbid to marry and command their people to abstain from certain foods. There are denominations today that do this very thing.
We also learn that those who would do their best to create their own brand of Christianity would not just come from outsiders, but would also come from within. Paul warned the Ephesian elders about this in:
Acts 20:29 "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.† 30 "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.† 31 "Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
Paul understood how destructive it would be when man would try and divide the Lordís body by getting people to follow after them and their version of Christianity. Please notice that Paul did not rejoice or think it was funny that these people were wrong. No, his heart was breaking and he was shedding tears because of what man is willing to do to the Lordís church.
This basic idea of man following his desires, which caused all the denominations we have today, had its start at the beginning of time. We can go all the way back to Adam and Eve and see how destructive our desires can be when they go against the way of God.
Adam and Eve had one restriction that we know of and that was not to eat of the forbidden fruit. All it took for Eve to do what God said not to was a little push from Satan.
Genesis 3:4 Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die.† 5 "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."† 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
Many times all it takes is a little push in the wrong direction to cause people to fulfil their desires instead of listening to God and His Word. When we are pushed by the influence of Satan through worldly ways and give into our desires, sin is born. Whether we have good intentions or not, if our desires are not Godís desires then we are not going to be pleasing to Him. The same desire that caused Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit is the same desire that has given birth to thousands of denominations because man wants to do things his way.
There are many other examples and Scriptures I could use from the O.T. that shows how manís desires to do his own thing caused the many denominations we have today, but I am just going to show you one more.
After King Solomon died, it was prophesied that God would take 10 tribes of Israel from his son and give them to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:31-35). This prophecy was fulfilled and Jeroboam and these 10 tribes of Israel became the Northern kingdom, but notice the instructions that were given to Jeroboam:
1 Kings 11:38 †'Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.
This basic principle has never changed across the covenants. If you want to be pleasing to God and be blessed by Him and want to be able to call heaven your home, then you must do what is right by keeping His commandments. For Christians, this means we are to follow the pattern in the N.T. in everything we do including worshiping God in Spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24). Well, Jeroboam decided to do things his way by fulfilling his desires instead of Godís.
1 Kings 12:25 Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt there. Also he went out from there and built Penuel.† 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom may return to the house of David:† 27 "If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah."† 28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!"† 29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.† 30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.† 31 He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi.† 32 Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made.† 33 So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.
What we see happening here is how denominations began. Notice, Jeroboam looked to himself and what he desired. He was concerned that the tribes given to him by God might depart from him and go back to be with King Rehoboam. He also feared for his life. This is exactly how many denominations began. It came from a man who looked into his own heart and what he desired instead of trusting in God and obeying His Word.
Next, we see Jeroboam asking advice from other men. This is the backbone of denominations because every denomination is man-made in that it came together because a group of men and women decided they like to do things a certain way. So, in order to make sure their traditions and their way of thinking continue, they create their own denomination.
We can see that Jeroboam made the decision to protect himself by making substitutes to Godís Word. So, he created a denomination (if you will) and began teaching a message of convenience. Basically, he said, ď donít worry about going all the way back to Jerusalem to worship God, I will set you up two golden calves, in two convenient places, and they can be your gods.Ē To make things feel right, he also created a feast for them them to keep like they did in Judah, and he made priest from every tribe instead of just from the tribe of Levi as God commanded. He also made burnt offerings to these new gods.
This really is not any different than what denominations have done because they offer substitutes for what Godís word says so that people still feel like they are doing something right, but as our text said, this was a sin. God will never accept a cheap imitations of His church. He is not interested in us modifying or adding to His way of doing things. If we do either, we sin and this is exactly what denominations do whether their intentions are pure or not.
Though we only read about the one church that Jesus built in the N.T., we can see that denominations or we could say division were starting to form in the N.T. times, but Paul did his best to teach the people that dividing the church is wrong.
1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.† 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you.† 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ."† 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Every denomination got started this way because every denomination is man-made. Whether it starts with one man or one woman or a group of people, it begins with them having a certain teaching that others do not hold. If they get enough people to follow their teaching, then a denomination is born.
This was happening in the first century because people were wanting to call themselves after men. Now we are not told what Apollos or Cephas thought about these Christians who were trying follow after them, but I am going to assume that they thought the same way Paul did. However, many men and women will let this kind of following go to their heads and will embrace it and become the new founder of a denomination. However, Paul asked an important question.
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul was not willing to elevate himself to the same level as Christ because he knew that only Jesus has the power to save. No man, no matter how good he is or how many deeds he does can save you. So, the argument is, do not divide yourselves and call yourselves after other men because Christ is the one that died for you and only He can give you salvation. Yet, sadly this basic message has been ignored and man has elevated others to being equal with Christ by calling themselves after men or practices instead of simply being known as Christians.
Though a denomination may be unified in its teachings, it is not unified with the whole counsel of God or with the church that Jesus built. Just because a group of people create a denomination and all practice and believe the same thing does not make it true. For example, the people that were building the tower of babble were unified with each other, but their way did not match up with Godís way, so God confused their language and stopped them from what they were doing. The only way a teaching or a practice can be true is if it is found within the pattern of Godís Word.†
So far, I have shown from Scripture that Jesus only built one church, andt we are warned that some will depart from it. I have shown you from the O.T. and from the N.T. the reason we have so many churches/denominations today is because of manís desire to do things his way instead of Godís way. With this thought in mind, I want to show how this pattern of departing from the faith continued throughout history until today. Hopefully, most of you got the 2 sided chart I handed out. There are several charts on one side about denominations and the unity that Christ wants His church to have, but I want to focus on the side that has a timeline.
The first thing I want you to notice is the green line on top of the timeline. It represents the church that Jesus bought and paid for with His blood around A.D. 30. As you can see, the green line continues all the way to till today because the church that Christ built has never ceased to exist. Any person or group that has continued to live and abide by the doctrine found in the New Testament without adding or taken away from it is a member of the one body of Christ.
However, throughout time, there have been many groups of people that have splintered off from the church that Jesus built because they adopted their own way of doing things, which means they added or took away from the pure message of the New Testament teachings. Some of the first splinter groups that broke off from the N.T. teachings that are not listed on your chart include:
The Gnostics (A.D. 125) were those who believed that salvation came by special knowledge through Gnostic teachers. They had many strange beliefs and were far from being anything close to the N.T. church.†
The Montanists (A.D. 156) were a group that was started by a man named Montanus who claimed to be a prophet of God and claimed that the Holy Spirit was revealing revelations to him. He† taught others that they could receive revelations as well if they would fast and pray. From these supposed revelations came new teachings and twists on Scripture.
The Manicheans (A.D. 244) were a group started by a man named Mani. His teachings focused on the struggles between good and evil, but he denied that God was omnipotent.
One of the and biggest groups that split off from the church happened around A.D. 325. God set the church up so that each congregation has deacons and elders, and the elders are over the congregation they reside because each church is to be autonomous. You can read about elders and deacons in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. However, as time progressed, elders from different congregations began to meet and discuss various problems that were going on. In the early 300ís, Constantine took an interest in the church and he ended the persecution of Christians in A.D. 313. This of course was well received by the Christians of that day, but it would lead to to a split off from the church Jesus built.
These elders from different congregations begin meeting with Roman officials. The most famous meeting is known† as the The Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. This began a new denomination known as the Catholic church. They would take on a new hierarchy that was similar to the Roman government. The Roman Empire had a emperor, advisors, and governors. This new Roman church, had a pope, cardinals, and bishops. Instead of elders being over one congregation, under this new hierarchy, men would be over multiply churches, which is a clear departure from N.T. teaching.
The Christians who refused to accept this new Catholic denomination had to go in hiding because they persecuted them. You can see this new denomination on your timeline, which is orange in color. As time went on, the Catholic church became more powerful and they created new doctrines that are not found in the N.T. You can see some of them listed on your paper. The added the:
∑ Latin Mass A.D. 394
∑ Purgatory Doctrine A.D. 593
∑ The First Official Pope who was called ďGod on earthĒ A.D. 606
∑ Transubstantiation Doctrine A.D. 1000
∑ Celibacy of Priest mandated A.D. 1015
For the first 1000 years there were two churches. There was the one that Jesus built and there was this manmade church, the Catholic church. In 1054 the Catholic church divided. There was the Roman Catholic church and the Greek Orthodox Catholic church. During this time in history the dark ages began where the common man did not have much access to Godís word, and the Catholic church continued to add more manmade traditions to their teachings. Again, these are on your chart:
∑ Indulgences A.D. 1192
∑ Taking Confessions A.D. 1215
∑ Sprinkling replaced immersion for baptism A.D. 1311
∑ The Pope is declared infallible A.D. 1870
It is not until we get to the 1500ís that we begin to see some divisions from the Catholic church by those who did not agree with their teachings. One of the first groups to split off from them was the Anabaptist who did not believe the Catholic teaching of baptizing babies, so they started rebaptizing people that were capable of making their confession of faith. This was the start of the protestant reformation movement. If you follow your timeline, you will see that many other denominations were formed from the Anabaptist denomination like the Baptist church, the 7th Day Adventist, Mennonites, and the Amish.
The next protest came through Martin Luther who did not like the Catholic church teaching on Indulgences, which basically says the Pope has the power to forgive peopleís sin in purgatory so they can go to heaven. By the way, purgatory is not found in the Bible either. The Catholic church was taking advantage of this and saying if you pay us enough money we will make sure your deceased loved one will not have to stay in purgatory. As you continue looking at the timeline, you can see other groups that splintered off the Catholic church into other denominations, and you can also see where the disciples of Christ and the Christian church split off from the teachings of the N.T. in 1830 and in 1906.
While I am thankful for these groups that realized there was something wrong with Catholocism and how some of them claimed they were getting back to the Bible but, if you look at the various teachings of these denominations, you will find many manmade doctrines that have been added. Also, some of these denominations call themselves after men or acts, and they were all established by men, which means that cannot be the church Christ built.
While some of the people had good intentions for breaking off from the Catholic Church some did not and only wanted to serve their own needs. For example, the church of England got its start because the Catholic church would not give King Henery the 8th permission to annul† his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. From that division created the Methodist church, The holiness movement, and even the Salvation Army. This is how many denominations get started because they do not like what other are teaching, so they make their own group up, but this is not Godís will.
Now some might think that I am being very narrow minded because there are many loving and kind people who belong to denominations. They sincerely love God and do many things in His name. I am thankful for people who love God and follow some of the things the Bible teaches, but we cannot belong to a denomination and be saved because Jesus did not build denominations, and we must obey the will of God. Jesus makes this very clear in:
Matthew 7:21 " Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.† 22 "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'† 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
Jesus says there will be people who do great things in His name, but they will not make it into heaven because they were †not doing the will of the Father. Now this may be hard for some to accept, but if you are not part of the one church that Jesus built, then you will not be saved. Again, Paul said:
Ephesians 5:23 Ö †Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
As we have seen, all of these churches/denominations came from the mind of man, but Jesus will only save those who belong to His body or we could say His church. So, how can we make sure †we are part of the body of Christ and will be saved? How can we make sure that we represent that green line on our timeline? Well, it is quite simple. We must follow the N.T. pattern and obey it, which includes obeying the gospel. If we do not obey the gospel notice what Paul says:
2 Thessalonians 1:7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,† 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you do not obey the gospel, you will face the wrath of God and will be lost forever. How does one obey the gospel? They must hear the Word of God:
Romans 10:14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
We must hear what God wants from us before we can do anything. We must hear His Word and not mansí.
Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Once we hear about God and Jesus and what He did for us, we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for our sins and that we are lost without Him (Jn. 8:24). Many denominations will teach that all you have to do is believe and you will be saved, but the Bible never says faith only saves. In fact, it says just the opposite:
James 2:24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Please understand this is not talking about works of merit, but works of obediene because we can never earn our salvation, but we accept our salvation through an obedient faith, but faith alone will never save.
We must also repent:
Luke 13:3 "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
Repentance is not just saying you are sorry for something, it means you change your ways to Godís way and you keep that sin out of your life.
We must confess Jesus as our Lord:
Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
We must never be ashamed of being a follower of Christ, there is no reason we should not confess Jesus as our Lord.
We also must be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. Most denominations will say that baptism is not necessary for salvation, but is simply a symbolic act to show that we are already saved, but Godís †word teaches something different. Baptism is for the forgiveness of sin:
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins;
Jesus says that baptism saves:
Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Baptism is when we are buried with Christ and put into Christ:
Romans 6:3 ††Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Baptism is the point we are added to the one church/kingdom of God:
John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Most
assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he
cannot enter the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 12:13 †For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body
Those 3000 souls that obeyed the gospel on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 who were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins were added to the church by God:
Acts 2:47 Ö And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
We cannot belong to the church that Jesus built until we obey the gospel, which means we must hear, believe, repent, confess Jesus as our Lord, and be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins.
After we obey the gospel, we must continue to keep Godís Word and not move to the left or to the right. We have no right to add or take away from His Word. When we obey the gospel and live for God faithfully for the rest of our days, then we are promised this by Jesus:
Revelation 2:10 Ö Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
I am not asking people to leave their denomination for another one. I am asking people to leave all denominations and simply obey Godís plan of salvation so they can be added the the one church that Jesus built because unless you are in His church, you will not be saved.