Ever since the world was created and throughout all generations, arose men who, seeking renown and fame, worked extensively hard to mark history and make a name for themselves. The Bible, being the only true and most accurate historical and archaeological source relating how the world began, portrays Nimrod (meaning rebel) as the first ever world leader. In Genesis 10, he is described as a mighty one, whose kingdom began at Babel, in the land of Schinar. There, in Genesis 11, men disobeyed God and started to build the Tower of Babel, symbol of their rebellion, as illustrated by their words in Genesis 11:4 : “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Nowadays and since the time of the Early Church, many church leaders followed suit and embraced Nimrod’s quest for greatness. As a result, the Church of Jesus Christ, filled with holiness and love in the time of the apostles, changed over time and became more and more influenced by man-made doctrines which, later led to many disagreements and divisions within Christianity.
Nowadays, the number of churches has grown exponentially, and there are just too many denominations – i.e. Catholicism; Protestantism; Baptism; Pentecostalism; Mormonism; Evangelicalism; Methodism – all using the Bible and claiming to be Christian but yet holding on to different doctrines and interpretations. Consequently, people sincerely looking for God do not know where to go and face the challenge of finding the right Church amidst all this confusion.
History talks of spiritual awakenings that started many genuine and scriptural movements, often used by God as a tool to deliver his people. However, it is clear that the proliferation of Christian denominations remains utterly unbiblical.
What would have hardly crossed the mind of the first century Christians finally occurred. But, was Jesus divided in Himself? Or did He speak of different doors all leading up to heaven? No.So, what is it, then, that we are witnessing? Are all denominations the same? What is the story behind them? Is there one that can be trusted? What do Scriptures teach about divisions among the Church? Let us analyse this phenomenon in the light of History and Scriptures.
FROM THE EARLY CHURCH TO THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
The teachings of the apostles have almost always been misused and twisted by people, wanting to spread their own understanding of the Scriptures.
For example, the Judaizers – a group of Jewish Christians who upheld the law- taught that Gentile believers should observe Moses law. They refuted the essential principle of salvation by grace alone, and we see Paul, the apostle, while in Galatia, Corinth and Colossae confronting their doctrine.
In the late first century, Gnosticism infused Christian belief with Hellenistic philosophy rejecting the God of the Old Testament. And as he did with the Judaizers, Paul warned against such trickery (Colossians 2:8). However, this did not stop its spreading. Around the year 140-144, Marcion of Sinope (85-160) followed the same trend and also rejected the God of the Old Testament describing Him as contradictory and inhumane. This is how Marcionism was born.
Later down the years, several other groups and denominations were created such as the Manichaeism, the Nestorianism or the Pelagianism but were not as influential and quickly disappeared.
In the IVth century, the emperor Constantine (272-337) had a vision and “converted” to Christianity, and this was a historical turning point which ended the persecution of the Church. He was a high priest of paganism and legislated a mixture of the Christian faith with pagan principles. He supported the Church financially, built the first church buildings and reinforced his dominion by transforming the Church into a religious and political system.
On February 27, 380 AD, Catholicism was made the official state church of the Roman Empire. A decree issued by Theodosius I (347-395), one of Constantine’s successors, declared that any group of people who does not share the Catholic faith should be branded as heretics and should not presume to give the name of “church” to their gatherings.
The term “catholic” is derived from the Greek word “catholikismos” meaning “universal” and was first used in the 2nd century by some early believers who, claiming to possess the whole truth, wanted to distinguish themselves from other Christians.
The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. Its bishops are considered as taking over from the apostles and the Pope (its leader) is said to be “the only legitimate successor of Saint Peter.”
Its doctrine is mainly characterized by:
- the Holy Trinity (the belief that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three divine persons who are one divine being)
- the use of sacred images and candles during worship
- the veneration of the saints and Mary – considered to be the “Mother of God”
- the praying for the dead ritual
- the purgatory
- the seven sacraments i.e. Baptism; Confirmation; Eucharist; Penance (or Confession); Extreme Unction (or Anointing of the Sick); Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony (or Marriage).
Until the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the only legally recognised church. Anyone not belonging to its institutions was not considered to be a Christian and leaving the local church was seen as losing its salvation. However, the monopoly of the Universal Church did not last forever.
WHEN THE ILLUSION OF A UNIFIED CHURCH ENDED
The first great division witnessed in Christendom took place in 1054 with the “Great Schism” between the Western Church and the Eastern Church. Ecclesiastical differences and theological disputes between both parties were frequent and later resulted in a historical division. From that point forward, two large branches of Christianity, known as the Roman Catholic Church (in the West) and the Orthodox Catholic Church (in the East), emerged.
The Eastern Orthodox Church did not go through major changes after the 11th century, but the Roman Catholic Church faced continuous divisions and schisms.
In fact, around 1175, Peter Waldo (1140-1218), a wealthy French merchant – seeing that the Catholic Church did not intend to make the Bible accessible to the people of his time – commissioned a priest to translate the New Testament from Latin to French. He sold all of his properties to help the needy and preached “voluntary poverty” as well as strict adherence to the Bible while highly criticising the Catholic Church doctrines. As a result, he and his followers – called the poor men of Lyon and later the Waldensians- became subject to a severe persecution that lasted until the 14th century.
During the same period, Catharism – a dualist Christian movement developed in Southern Europe – arose against Rome. The idea of two Gods, one being good and the other evil, was central to them. The Cathars denounced the unbiblical practices of the Catholic Church which they considered to be “the Church of Satan”. They refused the Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist saying that it could not possibly be the body of Christ.
Following that, the Catholic Church was accused of corruption by members of the Lollardism, a political and religious movement that existed from the mid-14th century to the English Reformation. They were disciples of John Wycliffe (1320-1384) – who translated the Bible into vernacular English – and taught that the invisible Church was the community of the faithful and not the visible Catholic Church.
This succession of schismatic events created such a thirst for the truth that more and more people stood up against papal authority. In fact, in 1415, Jan Hus (1369-1415), a Czech priest and philosopher, was burned at the stake for heresy by the Catholic Church which felt directly challenged by his doctrines, which can be summarized as follows:
- Freedom to preach the Word of God,
- Right for all to partake of the Lord’s table (celebration of the Communion under both kinds),
- No secular power to clergy
- Equal punishment for sins without considering the social position of the criminal.
Hus’ teachings had a strong influence on the states of Europe, and he was a key predecessor to the Protestant movement of the sixteenth century.
THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION AND THE EXPLOSION OF CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS
The next major division observed in Christianity occurred in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformation was famously sparked in 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German Catholic priest, criticised the Roman Catholic Church and denounced its practices, posting 95 theses on the doors of “All Saints” Church in Wittenberg.
After a deep study of the Scriptures, he realized the power of justification by faith alone and began to teach that redemption is a gift of God’s grace. He disagreed with the practice of indulgences made by the Universal Church, then was excommunicated by the Pope in 1521.
This led to the creation of a new Christian branch known as Protestantism. The term refers to the “letter of protestation” written by Lutheran princes in 1529 and was often used to allude to Western Christianity that was not subject to papal authority. This is how Lutheran and Reformed churches were established in Europe by Luther’s followers and other reformers such as John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Knox.
Awareness of the astounding revelations brought out by these schisms grew more and more throughout the continent and encouraged many to break ties with the papacy in England. Thus, King Henry VIII – wanting the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon – jumped on the opportunity and created the Church of England in 1534 to distance himself from Rome.
The Protestant Reformation opened the door to a huge number of denominations and sects, all holding the Bible as the only authority and all believing in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. However, they do not share the same understanding of scripture regarding baptism, spiritual gifts, miracles, food, holy days celebrations, discipleship, priesthood, the divinity of Christ and many others.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, the existing denominations could still be numbered. However, in the last 100 years, a real “church boom” phenomenon has been noticed. Churches are starting almost every day around the globe with eye-catching names such as Living Stones Christian Church; The Redeemed Christian Assembly of God; Christ Holy Tabernacle; International House of Prosperity; Christian Fellowship Church, Mountain of fire and miracle ministry…
Today, it is very common for churches sharing the same doctrines to federate under the same label. That is why more and more groups are created such as the “Evangelical Pentecostal Church of the Redeemed “ or the “Evangelical Baptist Protestant Church of London” etc.
Although several leaders among them received genuine revelations from God, the proliferation of Christian denominations has never been the perfect will of God. The Bible does not teach about denominations and Jesus never established any. On the contrary, divisions in the Church are firmly rebuked by the Scriptures.
WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES ABOUT DIVISIONS IN THE BODY OF CHRIST?
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. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 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.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
Paul clearly explained that disciples of Christ should have one mind, one language, one Spirit and should not be divided. Indeed, Christ alone should be our reference as He died for us and provided for our salvation. Paul—an apostle mightily used by God — highlighted that he did not die on the cross for anyone and that his name was of no help. So exalting the name of a ministry or denomination rather than the name of Jesus Christ is like fighting the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Lord said through Paul: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). There should, therefore, be no division and rebellion among Christians although, some might say: “we have our own interpretation of the Scriptures”.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
The human body has several members with different parts all working in complementarity under the authority of a single head. The same applies to the Church. Though being composed of people from all nations, it is one and indivisible with Jesus Christ as chief.
God gives His Holy Spirit to all willing to turn to Him irrespective of origin or social class, for according to Acts 10:34, He shows no partiality. The same Spirit teaches everyone (John 14:26). And in spite of cultural differences and opinions that might influence the way the scriptures are handled, all should agree regarding sound doctrine. There is only one foundation: that laid by the apostles and prophets of which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Therefore, true Christians cannot be divided or confused by denominations. All are one in Jesus Christ, the only name given to the Church.
THE ONLY NAME GIVEN TO THE CHURCH
In the New Testament, the epistles were addressed to saints attending different local churches usually bearing the name of the city in which they were established – i.e. Rome; Corinth; Galatia; Ephesus, etc. In the Book of Revelation, the same can be observed. The seven churches were designated by the names of their respective cities (Ephesus; Pergamum; Thyatira; Sardis…). The early Christians knew that the Church was the assembly of the saints gathered together in the name of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who always dwelled in their midst (Matthew 18:20).
The name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew “Yehoshua” and literally means “YHWH is Saviour”; the word “Christ” comes from the Hebrew word “Mashiach” and is translated by “anointed one”. The combination of both words symbolizes His finished work of the cross fulfilling God’s plan of redemption, salvation and victory over sin and death.
This name is the only source of salvation as stated in Acts 4:12:“For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
“God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth.” (Philippians 2:9-10)
It is the name before which all creation shall bow; the most authoritative name at the sound of which many wonders, signs and miracles happen.
As the bride of the Lamb, the Church should delight in the wonderful name of her bridegroom for it is her banner and glory. The name of Jesus Christ is the only name given to the Church and in whom Christians should boast and trust.
END TIME WARNING
Jesus Christ is at the door, and rapture is imminent. He will neither take a denomination nor a church building but anyone who holds and honours His name. Therefore, let us come out of denominations to realize and experiment the power of the name of Jesus Christ.
“His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; All nations shall call Him blessed.” Psalm 72:17
Tatiana & Nirina