Why so many Denominations?

denominations 8

Q. Where do all the denominations come from? The Roman Catholic Church is just one around the world, how come Protestants are so divided?

A. Some non-Christians assume that denominations speak of Protestants’ fragmentation and lack of unity. While this is true in some cases, let’s use an analogy to suggest another perspective. Suppose a couple has many grown children, must they all live under the same roof? Not necessarily; most likely each will start their own family, as each has his/her own personality, talents, skills, likes and dislikes. In the same way many denominations were started because the founders, while holding to the same fundamentals (their parentage), have different interpretations and emphasis on secondary issues (their distinctives, likes and dislikes). Let me cite a few examples from the time of the Reformation:

• Martin Luther discovered justification by faith, not works, in his study of Romans, and posted his 95 thesis at Wittenberg in 1517 to challenge the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) back to the Bible. This resulted in the founding of the Lutheran Church.
• Ulrich Zwingli led out in reform in Zurich in 1523, continued by John Calvin in Geneva in 1536. This led to the establishment of the Reformed Church.
• Conrad Grebel led the Anabaptist movement in Zurich in 1525. Simons Menno took it further and founded the Mennonite Church in 1537.
• Henry VIII broke away from Rome in 1534, which started the Anglican Church.
• John Knox began reformation in Scotland in 1541, which resulted in the Presbyterian Church in 1560.

Reformation had fermented for a long time within the RCC, but finally broke out at the beginning of the 16th century with different leaders rising up in different places. Bear in mind that nearly 500 years ago travel and communication were very difficult compared to today, so each leader operated with their own theological emphasis without much discussion with each other.

Some had differences over doctrine or practice. For example:
• Lutherans believe the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper; Reformed see the communion as a remembrance.
• Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans and Presbyterians practice infant baptism; Mennonites practice believers’ baptism only;
Some groups were separated from each other by geography (e.g. England, Scotland). Others differ over different forms of church government. But all saw the need to break away from Rome to get back to the Bible as their basis of authority (except Henry VIII for personal and political reasons). So within the space of one generation several major denominations were started, which speaks to the diversity and liberty within the Body of Christ.

While the early denominations have legitimate differences over secondary theological issues, many recent denominations and churches were started because of ethnicity, culture and traditions. Others arise because of the egos and self-interests of the leaders, leading to conflicts, confrontations, and church splits. Some argue over worship styles. While diversity is good, disunity is not. So there is both good and bad in denominations. Ultimately they will be done away with, since in heaven we are all united because of our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. That would be glory.

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