Does the Bible Justify Denominations?

The short, quick, simple, and straightforward answer to the question in the title of this subject is that the Bible nowhere authorizes different denominational groups within the church. The reason is that they were never meant to exist in the first place for unity and spiritual growth within Christ’s body (attained only through having a common zeal and hunger for the truth).

Denominations did not come into existence until around the time of the protestant reformation begun by Luther and others. But different groups and denominations have continuously arisen up to the present day, including ones that have little or nothing to do with the true God of the Bible. Sadly, despite growing numbers and locations, the church (consisting of all born-again believers saved by grace through faith) has become less zealous for seeking out, understanding, believing, and applying the truth.

I want to discuss the history of different church groups before going into more detail on why the church needs to unify in its general thoughts, beliefs, and practices. We will begin with the church era of Philadelphia, a period of the current church age long past.

Revelation 3:7-13 (NIV)

7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The church era of Philadelphia (still in the far future when John penned Revelation) included many of the great believers part of and alive during the reformation who took a stand against the Catholic church (the church era of Sardis contained almost no believers because the church was all but entirely Catholic during that period). They had “little strength” (as our passage in Revelation says) in that they had far less time, resources, and access to the truths of the Bible than we believers do today. They also had to cope with persecution from many within the Catholic church, which reacted with hostility to those who began to put the truth before tradition and man-made teachings, practices, and abuses. These brave men and women of God (many of whom are not known and mentioned in our written church history books) would stand up against the majority beliefs of their day and use what little time and resources they did have to put the focus back on Scripture. Many began to reorientate themselves to the true gospel through faith through grace alone (those represented as the “Few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy Revelation 3:4).”

Because of this zealous pursuit of the truth against all odds, our Lord promised the believers of this church era that He would spare them from the great tribulation to come, also known as “that great hour of trial.”

Revelation 3:10 (NIV)

10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

Despite their valiant efforts, the era of Philadelphia still fell far short of much biblical truth because the believers of this period still got many theological and doctrinal teachings wrong. They still had a long way to go in biblical study and proper application within the body. But they accomplished so much in proportion to what time, freedom, and resources they had (I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name). And not only that, they had more excuses for what they produced than we do today. Philadelphia’s efforts had only marked the beginning of something great that should have continued. These courageous believers “started the relay race” and have handed off the baton to those of our present church era of Laodicea. There was and still is so much work to do (we should by now know the problems within Laodicea based on our evaluation of it in other studies on this ministry). But because we did not continue the “revival” (true spiritual revival requires repentance, which is a change of mind that results in a change of action) but have since stagnated, we, the current church era, have fallen into lukewarmness and complacency toward God and His Word. Although the persecuted church and a small remnant of believers scattered throughout the world are more reminiscent of how believers are to orientate themselves in this world (they are more akin to the church eras of Philadelphia and Smyrna that both put God first despite unfavorable circumstances), the majority of Christians today are indifferent toward how God wants them to be (in both attitude and behavior). For this reason, Laodicea (our present church age/era) will have to endure the tribulation as a form of discipline and testing ( see passage below).

Revelation 3:15-16 (NIV)

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

With all that said (and to get back to where I was going with all this), denominations are a man-made invention that began sometime toward the beginning of the protestant reformation. However, their origins are irrelevant compared to the biblical truth on how the church should orient itself. The Bible does not condone denominations because the church was meant to be united as a body. Philippians 2:1-3 says, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Laodicea consists of various groups of believers (most of whom are way off on their approach) marching to the beat of their own drum. And because most don’t love the truth as they should, disunity results. Physical fellowship by itself is not unity in the biblical sense! Just as zeal without knowledge is dangerous (Proverbs 19:2), so physically gathering without the inward change of repentance that Revelation 3:19 prescribes will result in very little. The church can only be of one mind possessing the same love if it repents and shares the same mindset/attitude toward the truth, which is synonymous with loving God and others as we should. None of this means there won’t be disagreements and slight differences here and there, but fewer would result in the end. The beliefs of many would change, resulting in the spiritual growth of most believers (the Christian life is all about faith which needs the truth rightly understood, believed, and applied to grow and advance). Ultimately, the church would (hypothetically speaking, if this were to happen) progress instead of staying in a stagnated state with little improvement.

There are no passages in Scripture that justify denominations. Today’s scenario in our modern church is similar to the silliness the Corinthians fell into, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapter one. What do we presently see? A few examples quickly come to mind: “ I follow Luther, “ I follow Wesley,” “I follow Calvin,” etc. Not only should so many disagreements not exist, but the major ones would mostly disappear if most Christians were to put the truth first by following Christ. We follow the Lord and His Word, not unbiblical traditions and practices invented by men. The truth always comes before tradition because we are to please God, not men. Had Laodicea picked up on this, they would have taken the past work of their predecessors and corrected the mistakes. Philadelphia started the revival, and we (Laodicea) should have continued it. If the reformers and all other unspoken heroes of the faith were alive today, they could very well ask why we never kept going. They did a lot with what little they had, but so much still needed fixing up (and still does today).

1 Corinthians 1:10-12 (NIV)

10 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. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”