Why are there so many denominations?

July 20, 2023

Christianity has thousands of various denominations which hold to completely opposite beliefs. Often skeptics say that if you look at the scientific world, there are not as many opinions as there are in Christianity. But the Bible says the following: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:33). In the New International Version of the Bible, the word “confusion” is translated as “disorder”. The Greek original uses the word “akatastasia” (last syllable stressed), which means not only “confusion” and “disorder”, but also “instability” and “disturbance” first in the political, and thence in the moral sphere. In other words, if Christianity is the only true way, then it should not be characterized by confusion and instability in views and opinions.

According to some estimates, there are about 40 thousand Christian denominations in the world. The logical question then arises: “How can Christianity be the only true faith when there are so many disagreements about the same truth?” This is an important question that requires a thorough answer. If our children think that any church labeled “Christian” is true, they will not be able to discern which one is false and thus may easily be misled. And this confusion and disagreement, perhaps, will generally cause in them a negative reaction, up to the abandonment of the faith.

First, the question must be asked, “What is a Christian?” After all, not every person, calling himself a Christian, is one, just as not every organization. Now we are talking about such denominations as Protestantism (consisting of thousands of variations), Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientologists, Unitarians, and many, many others. And in this group, some believe that Christ is God, while others believe that He was merely a man; some believe that there is One God and others that there are many gods; some believe that a person needs redemption from sins, while others do not see this as an obligatory necessity. Much can be said about the convictions and beliefs of various groups and sects.

If we define any group as Christian, then this really gives the impression of completely opposite views on the doctrines. Imagine that an enterprising person decides to open a charitable organization in order to obtain tax-exempt or low-interest tax status. Although he positions his enterprise as a non-profit organization, and in fact runs a business for the purpose of making a profit, this does not mean at all that he is engaged in charitable activities. This is a scammer who, on paper, pretends to have noble intentions under the guise of charity. It does not matter what his enterprise is identified with by him, but his activities contradict the legal name of the organization. Therefore, we need to turn to the teachings of Christ on the basis of the Scriptures in order to test any convictions and beliefs.

Although there are differences in minor, insignificant to salvation, opinions in some confessions and denominations, this does not disqualify them as false doctrines. The Lord, knowing our human nature, did not want to give us the smallest details about everything, otherwise we would adhere to the rules of the liturgy more than a personal living relationship with Him. Therefore, the Bible tells us about the most necessary things for our redemption and salvation.

The word “Christian” occurs three times in the New Testament: “… And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26); “Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28); “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or even as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God because of it.” (1 Peter 4:15-16). According to the teachings of the Bible, the followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians because their conduct, behavior, actions, works, thoughts, and words testified to this. Based on historical evidence, Early Church Christians held to five fundamental doctrines:

  1. One God: “To you it was shown so that you might know that the Lord, He is God. There is no one else besides Him.” (Deuteronomy 4:35); “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut. 6:4); “… Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me.” (Isaiah 43:10); “Thus says the Lord the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts: I am the first, and I am the last; besides Me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).
  2. The divinity of Jesus Christ: “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.” (John 8:58). Thus, Jesus explicitly refers to Exodus 3:14 “And God said to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM””. Some argue that Jesus Christ never directly called Himself God. Certainly not, because it is not in God’s nature to brag about and demand worship. He showed this by actions and teachings – when He forgave sins, set Himself above the Sabbath, i.e. Law, and also indirectly spoke about it in some of his statements, such as: “My Father and I are one.” (John 10:30); “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. So how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (John 14:9), as well as in the epistles of the Apostle Paul: “who (i.e. Christ), being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; but He humbled Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men and being found in the form of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death on the cross” (Philippians 2:6-7); “For in Him (i.e. Jesus Christ) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
  3. Resurrection: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain.” (1 Cor. 15:14); “And if Christ is not raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:17).
  4. Salvation by grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9); “…by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20); “I do not nullify the grace of God. For if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Gal. 2:21); “You have been cut off from Christ, whoever of you are justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
  5. Gospel: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: how Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4); “Although if we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than the one we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8-9).

Based on these five postulates of the Christian faith, we can say that not all denominations adhere to each of them, which, in essence, defines Christianity. Moreover, there must be evidence of a life that bears witness to the presence of the Spirit of God in the believer’s heart. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the divinity of Christ, His physical resurrection from the dead, and salvation by grace. Mormons deny that there is One God, and that we are saved by grace, and that Jesus is not a created God, but eternal – without beginning or end. Both of these denominations hold to belief systems that are clearly contrary to the gospel.

If we’re looking at disagreements, it’s mostly with other religions, not denominations within Christianity. Now let’s look at some of those disagreements.

Today you can see many churches representing such denominations as Baptism, Pentecostalism, Methodism, Lutheranism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and many others, which, in turn, are still divided into other movements and variations. Among the many such churches, it is quite difficult for a young person starting his Christian journey to make the right choice if he or she is not familiar enough with the teachings of Christ. Therefore, it is important not only to testify to a person about Christ and share the Gospel with him, but also to send him to a church where sound biblical teaching is taught. By examining the teachings of some denominations, we can conclude that they accept the basic tenets of faith presented above.

There are several features that do not affect the salvation of a person, yet may cause various deviations from the truth. For example, in the main of the above-mentioned denominations, there is diversity in the methods of water baptism, the regulations of receiving communion (or the Lord’s Supper, which is also called the Eucharist), church management, worship styles, as well as the spiritual experiences. Have you noticed that even the terms for the same sacrament differ in various denominations? It is for this reason that I have given several terms that practically mean the same thing. It would be unfair to call certain denominations heretical sects, if we take into account their differences in the form of worship. I am deeply convinced that there are sincere, God-fearing people in all denominations who accept the basic tenets of the faith. They also believe in one God, the divinity of Christ, His suffering on the cross, death and resurrection from the dead for the atonement of our sins, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In other words, different denominations have more agreements in Christian doctrine than disagreements. As we can see, there is still unity among Christians, but there is no uniformity.

First, it is very important to mention that a huge number of Christians belong to just a few major and commonly accepted denominations. Consequently, talking about more than 40 thousand denominations, most likely, the majority of them probably represent small movements and sects that cannot even be called denominations. We cannot speak of the existence of more than 40 thousand versions of Christianity.

Secondly, differences are often human inventions or approaches that do not reflect the teachings of Christ Himself. Take any field, including scientific, and you will find that even though facts are presented, people will still interpret them differently. It is unfair to say that there is unity and absolute agreement in views in the scientific world. The only thing is that the differences are not as openly visible as in Christianity. Just as in any field, differences in the views of Christians do not make Christianity a false or wrong faith.

It is also worth noting an important detail. While we should not have dissentions over unimportant views, as Scripture tells us, yet doctrine has an important role to play in the matter of salvation. When serious divisions arise, it can only be caused by sin. The Apostle John warns us about this, saying: “… if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7). In other words, if we don’t walk in the light like Christ, then we lose unity in fellowship. The apostle Paul calls people who cause divisions carnal: “… Since there is envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For while one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos”, are you not carnal?” (1 Cor. 3:3-4). Moreover, Paul is not saying that there is no place for disagreements. Addressing in his epistle to the Corinthian Church, he writes: “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are genuine may be recognized among you.” (1 Corinthians 11:19). Paul himself “vehemently refuted the Jews publicly, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:28) and “… on three Sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I preach to you, is the Christ.”” (Acts 17:2-3). However, Paul did this out of the pure desire of his heart, not fighting for position or pursuing any other selfish goals, as other false prophets, false teachers, and false apostles did. If a person’s heart is stained with sin, and he pursues his ambitions, then this exposes the cause of divisions. James also speaks of this: “Where do wars and fights among you come from? Do they not come from your lusts that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have, so you murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask, and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your passions (pleasures). 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’? 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 7 Therefore submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:1-7). Based on this passage, it can be said that as soon as the desire to gain money, influence, and power arises, then such a person acts like this world. We see this clearly in the example of the Roman Catholic Church. After the official adoption of Christianity by Rome, the religion becomes a political and economic tool of power and influence. Later on, the concepts of patriarchy and then papacy come up, leading to false teachings such as the forgiveness of sins through various manipulations and the sale of special grants by the pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins. Those grants were known as indulgences.

Unfortunately, the Church knows many such negative outcomes when a hierarchical power was established. The culprit of division, in this case, is not always a parishioner or a lay member of the church, but most often those who occupy a prominent position. In pursuit of their goals, they introduce false teachings and abuse their ecclesiastical (church) position. The history of Christianity knows many heroes of faith who oppose the false teachings of the so-called “Official Church”, such as Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, Martin Luther, John Wesley and many others. The “Official Church” considered them rebels and rioters, but they stood up for God’s truth. It is sad to see how movements that once started well are now tainted with various vices, compromising with sin and worldly culture. Therefore, it is necessary to give solid food our children and the congregation of believers in order for them to be grounded in faith and gain the discernment of spirits. It is important for us to have in the local church not just motivational speeches from eloquent speakers and skillful psychologists, but sincerely believing and decent ministers who teach the word of truth soundly, without fear of people – those who are able to convey the basic tenets of faith according to the Word of God. We live in a world that cunningly blurs the boundaries between walking with God and the image of this world, which may lead the soul into error and destruction.

In conclusion, answering the question, let’s say that disagreements exist in any sphere of activity as a person with his fallen sinful nature is concerned. However, the truth of Christ remains unchanged and nothing can suppress it. The Bible and the Church as a whole has experienced a lot of enmity and hatred, but has survived throughout the ages and is waiting for its Savior, Who is coming into this world as the Judge of the living and the dead. Are you ready to meet Christ?

Your servant in Christ,

Max Volkov