Persecuted groups of protestant Christians came to America in search of religious freedom. Being from different regions they each had differing beliefs and practices. These separate groups of protestants grew and changed into various church denominations. Over time, the separation between Christian churches continued to balloon as offshoots of each denomination separated because of differing opinions on church issues.
America has become the land of denominationalism with protestant churches diverging into several hundred denominations. Currently, each denomonation contain several different subgroups: there are numerous subgrouping of prominent denominations24 different Baptist subgroups, 11 different Methodist, 14 branches of Pentecostals, and 12 branches of Presbyterians just to name a few. This doesn’t include Non-Denominational, Independent, Interdenominational, or Mormon churches. This great variability can impact the message received by Christians and non-Christians alike.
The beliefs between denominations can widely differ, with some diverging from scripture. Despite these differences, they all claim to be Christians. This can be confusing for new Christians, or non-Christians, who assume that all Christians believe the same things. They don’t realize that experiences vary within different denominations or even different churches of the same denomination. For these people, one experience often defines their perception of the entire Christian faith. This variability between denominations almost makes the name “Christian” lose its meaning. But most still share a common thread- a shared faith in Christ. This should unite all believers under a common banner. Unfortunately, we often let denominational differences separate us from each other. This happens when strict boundaries result in irreconcilable conflict. This division can be further exacerbated by false leaders who profess to lead the one true faith.
Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.1 Timothy 6:20-21
The practices of false Christian churches are meant to isolate their members from other followers of Christ. Some “churches”, like the Westboro Baptist Church, preach unbiblical messages and repackage hate by disguising it as Christianity. People unfamiliar with the Bible are easy to deceive, which is why reading the Bible is so essential. There is no excuse for any Christian to follow unbiblical teaching, especially when it contradicts the teaching of Jesus. Jesus made it clear that our greatest priorities are to love God and to love other people, without exception. This means responding in love, even when others speak with hate or disrespect to us. They will know we are Christians by our love.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.Romans 16:17
Religious imposters can do significant damage to Christianity. Their unbiblical teaching causes people to make sweeping generalizations about the Christian faith as a whole. Mislabeling is just another strategy the devil uses to separate people from God and from each other. To honor Christ, true Christians must clearly separate from all false versions of Christianity, but become more united with other true followers of Christ. No church that is built on the foundation of Christ and his teaching can be wrong. Likewise, any church in disagreement with the words of Jesus can’t be right.
TRUTH: The Church is the Body of Jesus
The New Testament repeatedly speaks about unity within the church. The church is to be one body with Christ as the head. The belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection redeems us from our sin and offers salvation is the only truth that matters. This belief that we all share should unite us.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.1 Corinthians 1:10
Church is not a place we go to worship. We are the church. The Holy Spirit lives within us so we can act a Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Instead of walling ourselves based on our differences we should be celebrating them. Just as each member of the body performs a different function, each denomination is an expression of different spiritual gifts used to reach the lost. Christians don’t need to be exactly the same to share one faith or to unite in one purpose. Our salvation doesn’t come from the doctrine we follow, it comes from the savior we follow.
Handling Disagreements Within the Faith
The apostle Paul provided guidance on how to handle minor disagreements in the faith:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.Romans 14:1-3
It is okay that Christians disagree over beliefs that are not clearly defined within scripture. Only God knows His true intentions. What truly matters is whether our words and our deeds are done for the glory and honor of our Lord. We are all brothers and sisters in the faith. We need to be encouraging and supporting one another instead of siting in judgement. When we act out of love Christian unity will follow. This unity will strengthen the faith, and will show the world that, despite our differences, we are one in our savior, Christ Jesus.