If you have ever used Mapquest for directions, you know that when you identify your starting point and your destination, this man developed program app will give you one way to get from point A to point B with explicit instructions on where to turn, how many miles for each new direction and the approximate travel time to complete your trip. Navigational systems in newer cars are similarly programmed and even give you cute little sound bytes when you correctly follow directions. So how is it that man can so easily identify and navigate the best routes for geographic destinations when there are always multiple ways to reach them, but offer up so many routes in religion when there is only one absolute truth and path?
A wise woman recently asked me a serious and deep question, one that has been submitted to much more deeply rooted theologians than I could ever hope to be, with no consensus. If there exists One Christ and One Inspired Holy Bible, how is it that there are so many denominations since the inception of Christianity? It is truly a question that is not foreign to me as I have traveled my own faith journey for these forty-six year now. Perhaps for me it is because I have been exposed to all levels of the Christian Faith. There exists three primary faiths in Christianity-Eastern or European Orthodox, Catholicism and Protestantism. I have all three in my blood. I was raised and introduced to Christ in a Pentecostal church and have remained in the Protestant faith through my adult years. However, I attended a Catholic High School and learned the practices and traditions of their faith through education and required attendance in Mass. My younger brother went a different direction as a young adult and is now a Greek Orthodox Priest in AZ. I have attended his church and sat through many liturgies and he and I engage in discussions about the Orthodox faith and practice virtually every time we converse-it is a beautiful and historical faith and remains as the oldest purest tradition most closely related to the early church.
So the question remains-why so many roads to one place and do they all eventually lead to Christ? Are all denominations so different? A denomination defined is a sub group or sect of people who share a common belief, interpretation, name and organization. A denomination is easily formed when a group of people have a different view of scripture or practice than the wholly shared main group, resulting in a split from the larger group and the beginning of a new identity. How many times over history has this happened? To date 43,000 times and counting. At it’s core belief system, there may in fact be only about forty main traditional denominations, but cultural upbringing, geographic locations, worship style preferences and historic vs. contemporary practice has caused people to venture out in ways that would put Mapquest out of business if they navigated under the same rules. It should come as no surprise that the un-churched world around us scratches their heads when viewing our mass confusion. We have the message of hope and can accommodate any preference you may have in receiving it, like your local TCBY-just pick the toppings you want-thousands of possible combinations.
But here’s the real scoop (pun intended). Denominations are largely man made, not God intended. how do we know? Just examine the words recorded in the New Testament;
1 Cor. 1:10; I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Eph. 4:6; There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
Phil. 2:1: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Romans 15:5; May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eph. 2:19; So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together…
I am fully aware of the over simplification I am suggesting in Christian unity, however, these verses are absolute truths and inspired recordings. Any deviation from and absolute renders it as not an absolute, correct? This was clearly addressed by Paul in the church of Corinth when he heard reports of some claiming “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Paul was disturbed at how the focus was shifted from Christ to men and made clear that this was not acceptable.
The follow up question from those of you mature in the faith with an understanding of how the Holy Spirit works to reveal God’s Word to us, is how can the Holy Spirit of Christ yield so many differing interpretations of the same Holy Scripture and the same Gospel? The obvious answer is it can’t. Christ is not divided-He is not inconsistent, He does not author confusion or make exemptions for bad exegesis or uncomfortable truth. Man alone does that, through pride, arrogance, stubbornness and even disobedience. God is all about unity-a man and a woman shall become one-I and the Father are one-there is one body, and so on and so on.
So what is the truth? For believers it is black and white. There is one God, the Father of us all, One Son and One Holy spirit. Man is sinful and should receive the death penalty for sin but our salvation was paid for by the Blood of Christ, who rose from the grave after three days to sit at God’s right hand and allow us access to His Father and to eternal life when we confess Him as Lord. Everything else is just fluff and confusion. Jesus said “I am THE way” Everything about that statement is singular and exclusive! It is man who has turned One Way into 43,00 ways. Are they all 100% Biblically accurate or properly interpreted? Most likely not. Will they all lead to the same place? Most likely so. So why the confusion?