Christian Reflection: Why Does Christianity Have So Many Denominations?
By Zhou Tao
Editor’s Note: Dear brothers and sisters, peace be with you all! From when the Lord Jesus was resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven two thousand years ago up until the present, God’s believers have already split up into over two thousand different denominations. Many people find this confusing—God’s believers all read the same Bible, all admire God’s salvation at the cross, and all walk the way of the cross which God has trailblazed for His believers, so why are there so many different denominations? Read on to find the answer.
- Why Are There So Many Different Denominations?
- The Genesis and Development of Christianity
- The Reason That Christianity Has Ruptured Into Different Denominations Is That It Is Ruled by Mere People
- Why Each Denomination Has So Many Followers
- In the End, All Denominations Will Return Under the Dominion of God
Why Are There So Many Different Denominations?
A few years ago, when I was out of town on business and couldn’t attend church meetings, I’d attended local church gatherings, because no matter where I go it is always my practice to attend church, pray and read the word of God with my brothers and sisters on the day of worship. However, when church got out in these places, I was often approached by the leaders (or missionaries) of these respective churches asking me: “Brother, what denomination are you? What doctrines does your church hold?” Hearing this, I would often be a bit taken aback and would reply saying, “I believe in the Lord Jesus, I’m a Christian, and don’t belong to any particular denomination. Under God are we not all part of one big family?” However, they would often reply, “Lots of churches are in disarray these days. Our church is the one true church, it is the united church.” Even more baffling to me was how, when I went back to my original church and, just as always, the pastor quizzed me about what kind of doctrines I had heard at other churches, we ended up getting in a big argument, couldn’t come to a mutual understanding and left on bad terms because the understanding I had gained at other churches was different from what he preached. Just like that, over a number of years, I drifted through the myriad denominations of Christianity in my varied travels and witnessed how they judged and criticized each other, thereby turning a “home” into a “battlefield.” Seeing all this, I often thought to myself, “The Bible says, ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all’ (Ephesians 4:5–6). We all believe in the same God, read the same Bible and the words of God, so why is Christianity split up into so many different denominations? What is at the root of this issue? Which of the denominations really accords with God’s intentions?” Wracked by all this confusion and perplexity, I hurriedly sought an answer.
The Genesis and Development of Christianity
Later on, I met a missionary named Brother Yuan at the house of a relative and had a discussion with him in which I related all of the confusion that had plagued me in the past many years. When I asked what was at the root of Christianity’s split into so many different denominations, Brother Yuan explained the genesis and development of Christianity to me. He said, “Christianity came into being in the first century AD and became widespread in the Roman Empire during the fourth century AD, at which point it developed into Catholicism. Later, because some religious revolutionaries were unhappy with the lack of separation between church and state in Catholicism, and they opposed the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrines, rituals, leadership, and hierarchy, they started the Reformation and then Protestantism arose. As time went on, many different denominations began to emerge. People’s varying conceptions promoted a spirit of dissent within the church. Taken along with the influence of geography, history and culture, which caused each denomination to develop different interpretations of scripture, and the ruptures which occurred in the various schools of thought among believers, this led to the establishment of different doctrines among different denominations. This is the root cause of the emergence of so many varied denominations. Actually, in most cases, the emergence of so many new denominations was mostly due to people trying to split up existing churches in the pursuit of their own personal ambitions and desires. In some cases, new denominations also emerged when people developed new interpretations of scripture and had new ideas, leading them to split off from existing churches and start their own separate branch. This is the reason why Christianity as a whole is in such disarray and there is so much ceaseless infighting between various denominations.”
Brother Yuan’s fellowship seemed to make a lot of sense, so I continued listening.
The Reason That Christianity Has Ruptured Into Different Denominations Is That It Is Ruled by Mere People
Brother Yuan continued, saying, “Today, anyone with discernment and real understanding of the truth will have observed that most of the power and authority in the Christian church is in the hands of mere people. The leaders of the church claim that they are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, but behind the scenes they have their own plans. They teach believers according to their own flawed and erroneous understanding of scripture, as if what they were teaching was God’s word itself. They even spread all kinds of ridiculous theories to deceive believers with the ultimate goal of controlling ever more people and ensnaring them in the dominion of their authority. Concerning this aspect, the record of God’s work contains more than enough proof. In the Age of Law, when God used Moses directly to guide the Israelis, Moses established the order of priests. The priests were personally guided by God, and the Israelis obeyed and submitted to them. Whoever went against God’s will would have to face punishment or the fires of heaven. For instance, when 250 leaders resisted Moses and tried to go their own way, God caused them to be swallowed up by the earth. When Moses’ work had finished and there was no longer anyone on earth whom God used to guide the Israelis directly, the priests began being appointed by election. The Jewish religious world was often in upheaval due to wrongly selected priests and gradually became corrupt and degenerate. During the last stage of the Age of Law, none of the priests had God’s guidance, they committed atrocities with no retribution and so people formed groups and sects and the temple became a hotbed of crime and illegality. In this way, many different denominations were formed. Again, in the Age of Grace, when the Lord Jesus incarnated in the flesh to reveal Himself and do work, He personally selected twelve apostles and the Holy Spirit worked profoundly within them. The apostles could enforce God’s authority and all those that followed God were shepherded and guided by those that God had personally appointed. No one dared act on selfish motives or personal considerations and all worshiped God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such, the true church was formed and there were no denominations to speak of. Over thirty years after the Lord Jesus’ resurrection and ascent into heaven, most of the apostles had already died in service and so the church on earth was bereft of the shepherding and guidance of God’s personally appointed apostles. Because people had many different interpretations of the Bible and because people were arrogant and conceited, always holding to their own views, all kinds of different denominations were formed and have continued developing all the way down to the present day. As such, there are already over two thousand denominations within Christianity. Thus, when we don’t have God’s personal guidance, and we don’t have God in our hearts, we arrogantly lay claim to authority, and work and act according to our own thoughts and biases. Unwittingly, we slowly diverge upon a deviant path, doing all kinds of things that don’t accord with Christ and yet thinking nothing of it. This is the reason why those who serve God while acting according to their own misconceptions end up going down the wrong path and are incapable of taking Christ’s word as the ultimate authority in all things. They don’t seek and submit to the Holy Spirit’s work and may at any time become those who resist God. This is the source of man’s resisting God as he serves Him and is the reason why Christianity has ruptured into so many different denominations.”
This was the first time I’d heard someone fellowship in the way that Brother Yuan had. As it turned out, the creation of new denominations had been initiated by mere people. What the leaders of the denominations said and did did not derive from the Holy Spirit’s guidance. What’s more, man’s nature is deeply arrogant and conceited, each clings to his own understanding, practices in his own way and, as such, denominations have flourished and multiplied. It’s no wonder, then, that different denominations attack and repel each other and wherever I went I could see the defensive looks of the church pastors. This is because they had long ago already come to see God’s house as their own personal property. They had become the wicked farmers. Yet, in two thousand years, who had come to see all this clearly? This led me to recall something that God said: “For as much as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men” (Isaiah 29:13). How these few words shocked me into consciousness! As it turned out, I had been deceived by the outward appearance of piety that the various leaders of the denominations projected. It was as if I had been imprisoned without even knowing. When I had realized all this, I suddenly had the thought: Given that these various denominations lack the authority of Christ and the Holy Spirit, why do so many people still support and follow them?
Why Each Denomination Has So Many Followers
After I had voiced my confusion, Brother Yuan continued to fellowship, saying: “The leaders of every denomination are gifted and cultivated people. Most of them have been to divinity school, are adept at intellectual analysis, have knowledge of Bible research, can expound upon various profound and arcane theories and often excel at taking the scripture out of context to prove their points. When taken together with the fact that they are all master deceivers, you can see how people have been hoodwinked by their external good deeds and lofty orations. Unwittingly, these leaders take the place in believers’ hearts where God once resided. Whatever situations believers face in their lives, they always go to these leaders seeking resolution. These followers don’t have the truth and so they are incapable of discerning if these leaders have the work of the Holy Spirit, whether or not their sermons contain the enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit and whether their works are corroborated by the Holy Spirit. They just blindly follow, worshiping the powerful and gifted and taking these leaders as their idols. As such they become people that claim to believe in God while following mere men. The Lord Jesus said, ‘They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch’ (Matthew 15:14). And God’s words say, ‘Look at the leaders of each denomination—they are all arrogant and self-righteous, and their interpretations of the Bible lack context and are guided by their own imaginings. They all rely on gifts and erudition to do their work. If they could not preach at all, would people follow them? They do, after all, possess some knowledge and can preach on some doctrine, or they know how to win others over and make use of some artifice. They use these to bring people before themselves and deceive them. Nominally, those people believe in God, but in reality, they follow their leaders. … People are arrogant and conceited, and they do not hold God in their hearts. With a little doctrinal understanding, they strike out on their own, which leads to the formation of many denominations’ (“Only the Pursuit of the Truth Is the True Belief in God”). Thinking back to the Pharisees, they had a great command of legal knowledge, were well-versed in the Bible and had served God in the temple for generation upon generation. What’s more, the clothes they wore were inscribed with scripture, they intentionally stood in the corners of the streets performing long prayers, gave alms and charity in the teeming street markets so that all could see, and made themselves look particularly sad when they fasted so that all would know they were fasting—this is how they made themselves known to all. In this way, they led the Judean people to believe that they were the most pious servants of Jehovah. However, when the Lord Jesus came to do His work, these Pharisees could not distinguish that His work was the work of the Holy Spirit, didn’t accept the incarnate Christ, and didn’t believe that the truth came from Christ. Rather, in order to protect their authority and livelihoods, and to achieve their goal of perpetual rule, they madly resisted and condemned the Lord Jesus, spreading false rumors to frame and blaspheme the Lord Jesus and finally conspiring with the Roman government to crucify the Lord, which offended God’s disposition and earned them God’s curses and punishment. As the Judean people that followed the Pharisees lacked truth and worshiped power and status, they didn’t seek or investigate the Lord Jesus’ work and words, but rather blindly followed the Pharisees in resisting and condemning the Lord Jesus. For this, they lost God’s salvation, were cursed by God, slaughtered by the Romans and their descendants were left to wander the world for nearly two thousand years. This was the grave consequence of their worshiping and following mere men!” Having heard this, I finally understood why so many people followed each different denomination. If we don’t have the truth, can’t discern, and can’t see through to the reality of things, we are likely to follow others down the wrong road!
In the End, All Denominations Will Return Under the Dominion of God
Next, Brother Yuan read a passage of God’s word for us: “There are several major religions in the world, and each has its own head, or leader, and the followers are spread across different countries and regions all over the world; every country, be it large or small, has different religions within it. However, regardless of how many religions there are across the world, all people within the universe ultimately exist under the guidance of one God, and their existence is not guided by religious heads or leaders. This is to say that mankind is not guided by a particular religious head or leader; rather, the whole of mankind is led by the Creator, who created the heavens and earth and all things, and who also created mankind—this is a fact. Although the world has several major religions, regardless of how great they are, they all exist under the dominion of the Creator, and none of them can exceed the scope of this dominion. The development of mankind, social progress, the development of natural sciences—each is inseparable from the arrangements of the Creator, and this work is not something that can be done by any given religious head. Religious heads are merely the leaders of a particular religion, and cannot represent God, nor can they represent the One who created the heavens and earth and all things. Religious heads can lead all those within the entire religion, but they cannot command all creatures beneath the heavens—this is a universally acknowledged fact. Religious heads are merely leaders, and cannot stand equal to God (the Creator). All things are in the hands of the Creator, and in the end they will all return to the hands of the Creator. Mankind was originally made by God, and regardless of the religion, every person will return under the dominion of God—this is inevitable. Only God is the Most High among all things, and the highest ruler among all creatures must also return under His dominion. No matter how high the status of a man, that man cannot take mankind to a suitable destination, and no one is able to class all things according to kind” (“Knowing the Three Stages of God’s Work Is the Path to Knowing God”).
Brother Yuan fellowshiped saying, “From God’s word we can see that no matter how many denominations there are in the world, how great the authority of any leader within these denominations is, or how many people they lead, they ultimately have no authority over the fates of men. Only God is the Creator and Ruler of mankind, and nothing in all the universe can escape the arrangements and orchestrations of the Creator. All men live under the dominion of the Creator. Ultimately, the believers of every denomination must follow the Creator, return under God’s dominion, and submit to and accept Christ’s guidance. This is the true Christian church. The denominations that man has created can only represent the thoughts of man and absolutely cannot lead man to his wonderful destination. They will all ultimately be suppressed and destroyed.”
Brother Yuan’s fellowship reminded me of the Lord Jesus’ words: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). From God’s words we can see, no matter how many denominations there are in the Christian church, they all must ultimately come before God. They all must be united in the words that Christ has issued and under the management and guidance of one Shepherd. This is absolutely the road upon which the Holy Spirit guides us. In the future, there will be no denominations to speak of. God will ultimately see to this. This fellowship really opened my eyes to a new world. Not only did I learn a lot, understanding the root causes of the emergence of all the different denominations in Christianity, realizing how the denominations had emerged because various leaders wanted to control and command believers and achieve their goal of gaining power and authority, I also learned that the real church is that which is guided by Christ and the Holy Spirit. Such church has the work of the Holy Spirit and is in accord with God’s intentions. I gained quite a lot from today’s fellowship and felt a great amount of spiritual enjoyment and emancipation. Thanks be to God for His guidance! I’ve finally awakened and realized the dangers inherent in following mere men. I’ve come to understand why Christianity has so many different denominations and have emerged from my ignorance and confusion. I am willing to abandon the denominations and find the real church, which has Christ’s guidance. Thanks be to God!