"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
The issue I speak of today when it comes to authority is the authority to decide doctrinal matters. This is an issue that plagues Protestantism today. It is an issue that I have personally had to deal with and I have seen the destruction that the lack of authority in Protestantism produces.
Protestant doctrine, lies on the presupposition that The Bible Alone is the sole source of authority for matters of defining doctrine. This idea is called Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone. The idea is a Reformation era idea promulgated by the reformers in defiance of Roman Catholic Authority. It seemed logical to the reformers at the time, that in matters of doctrinal dispute, we turn to the Bible and see what it says to settle the dispute. A problem quickly arose however even during Martin Luther's time, as other reformers and members of the sectarian sects, had very different ideas about what exactly Scripture says. Martin Luther himself is known to have said:
"There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams."- Martin Luther
My experience as an Evangelical, has led me to believe that not only was Martin Luther correct in his assessment at that time, but it is a problem that persists today; plaguing Christianity like an undying cancer. Today there are thousands upon thousands of Christian denominations, and stand alone "non-denominational" churches. These churches typically form around a pastor and his teaching or perhaps a common interpretation of doctrine. For example in the Baptist community, there are many different denominations that claim to be baptist.
Here is a non exhaustive list for the United States (A similar, larger list exists for the rest of the world):
- Alliance of Baptists
- American Baptist Association
- American Baptist Churches
- Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America
- Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
- Baptist Bible Fellowship International
- Baptist General Conference
- Baptist Missionary Association of America
- Central Baptist Association
- Christian Unity Baptist Association
- Conservative Baptist Association of America
- Continental Baptist Churches
- Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
- Enterprise Association of Regular Baptists
- Evangelical Free Baptist Church
- Free Will Baptist
- Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship
- Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association
- Fundamental Baptist Fellowship of America
- General Association of Baptists
- General Association of General Baptists
- General Association of Regular Baptist Churches
- General Conference of the Evangelical Baptist Church, Inc.
- General Six-Principle Baptists
- Independent Baptist Church of America
- Independent Baptist Fellowship International
- Independent Baptist Fellowship of North America
- Institutional Missionary Baptist Conference of America
- Interstate & Foreign Landmark Missionary Baptist Association
- Landmark Baptists
- Liberty Baptist Fellowship
- Macedonia Baptist World Missions
- Mainstream Baptist Network
- National Association of Free Will Baptists
- National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.
- National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
- National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly of the U.S.A.
- National Missionary Baptist Convention of America
- National Primitive Baptist Convention of the U.S.A.
- North American Baptist Conference
- Old Regular Baptist
- Indian Bottom Association of Old Regular Baptists
- Old Time Missionary Baptist
- Original Free Will Baptist Convention
- Primitive Baptists
- Progressive National Baptist Convention
- Reformed Baptist
- Regular Baptist
- Roger Williams Fellowship
- Separate Baptist
- Separate Baptists in Christ
- Seventh Day Baptist General Conference
- Southern Baptist Convention
- Southwide Baptist Fellowship
- Sovereign Grace Baptists
- Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists
- United American Free Will Baptist Church
- United American Free Will Baptist Conference
- United Baptists
- Unregistered Baptist Fellowship
- World Baptist Fellowship
- Worldwide Baptist New Testament Missions
All of these organizations maintain similar theology related to Baptist doctrine, but they dispute the details. Maybe they are ultra fundamentalist (Souther Baptist Convention), or maybe they are more charismatic. One may recognize free will of man, while another upholds a strict 5 point Calvinism. How did this list develop? It developed through schism. Two groups within the church had differing ideas about a theological thought or doctrine. The two groups turned to their authority, the Bible, to try to settle the dispute. Unfortunately despite consulting their authority, the Bible, two differing opinions on interpretation of scripture still remained. Unable to resolve the dispute, the two factions divided and formed two churches holding different ideals about the said matter. This process has continued throughout the years and is the reason that we have so many factions within protestantism today.
One must seriously question if they are truly following "their interpretation of scripture" or if they are following some human being interpretation of scripture. Protestants are often quick to denounce the authority of the Catholic Church, but in their own practices they inadvertently submit to the authority of the founders and leaders of their church and those people's interpretation of scripture. If they don't agree with someone's teachings, then they find a church in which they do agree. Anyone who begins to take the time to put this train of thought together should be immediately alarmed.
Faced with such a view of where denominations have come from, we must ask ourselves, which denomination is correct?
After centuries of splits, is any aspect of Christian Truth remaining in any one denomination?
The most serious question however is, What is truth? Is truth an individual's interpretation of scripture and thus relative to him.
Is truth not relative? Is there one truth deposited by Christ and The Apostles as the truth of the Christian Faith?
If there is one truth, one deposit of faith from Christ himself, then we must seek that out. We must find the Church that has been commissioned by Christ to uphold the truth, preach the good news, and stand unwaveringly against the encroachment of personal opinions and false doctrines.
To close this lengthy post, I would like to offer some scriptures that show that denominationalism is not what God had planned for the Church. I will continue to explore this topic and try to show where the fullness of Truth lies in my next post.
Scripture regarding denominationalism
Matthew 12:25 "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, andevery city or house divided against itself will not stand.
1Corinthians 1:10-13 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?
Phillipians 2:2 fulfill my joy by beinglike-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Psalms 133:1-3 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing— Life forevermore.
Amos 3:3 Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?1Corinthians 4:6-7 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another?…
Romans 16:17-18 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
Jude 1:19 These are sensual persons,who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.