Monday, January 19, 2015

Why Denominations Matter



I recently asked my Facebook friends to weigh in on denominations. I'd been discussing the topic with family over Christmas, and I wanted to know what my Christian friends of different denominations thought. My brother, Dyami (pronounced Dee-om-ee) Pike, was among those to reply--and the only one commenting from the anti-denominational perspective. (I use the term "anti-denominational" as opposed to "non-denominational" because he believes that term has come to refer to a specific type of churches that are almost a denomination in and of themselves.) I'd like to respond here to what he said.

Here is what he said:

If denominations are a result of sin then we shouldn't settle into a certain one, we should strive to find what is wrong with them, I am all for going to a church and having a group of people to worship with cause it says in Matt.18:20 "where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name, I'm there in their midst" but I also believe that there are common factors in all religions* that we should be more focused on than becoming a member of a church. I'm not a baptist, even though that's where I go to church, I'm not a Lutheran even though that's how I was raise. I'm a Christian, who believes in God and all the fundamentals of Christianity. Denominations are just a way to separate us from other Christians. Instead of seeing how are beliefs are different I think we should see how we are alike and get to a point where we can come together as one church. I used to think that the bible could have different meanings for different people, but that can't be true, you can't have the same question and get different results. The only way that's possible is if someone is doing it wrong.
Let's take this piece by piece.
"If denominations are a result of sin then we shouldn't settle into a certain one."
This statement was in response to my comment that "Denominations are certainly a result of sin--if there were no false teachings in the Church, there would be no need for denominations." I certainly agree that we should avoid sin and temptation wherever possible. James 4:7 says "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." However, were we to entirely avoid sin, we would have to leave this life. "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins," says Ecclesiastes 7:20, and Isaiah 64:6 says "All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment."

Denominations being the result of sin does not make them necessary to avoid. They are a response to sin, not a sin in and of themselves. For example, the Lutheran Church broke off from the Roman Catholic Church because the Catholics were teaching false doctrine, that is, sinning. This means that the Lutheran Church is a result of sin; not that the Lutheran Church is a result of Lutheran sin, but the result of Catholic sin that Lutherans responded to. So denominations, in theory, are a result of running from sin (James 4:7), which is how they can be a "result of sin" and yet not something to avoid.
"I'm a Christian, who believes in God and all the fundamentals of Christianity." 
Unfortunately, denominations disagree on what those fundamentals are. As a Lutheran, I believe the Sacraments--Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--are fundamental to salvation. (Not that it is impossible to be saved without the Sacraments, but that these are the means through which salvation has been provided for us.) Many Protestant denominations would disagree. Most Christian denominations believe that you have to believe in the Trinity to be a Christian; Mormons do not believe in the Trinity but claim to be Christians. Denominations help us clarify what the "fundamentals of Christianity" are.
"Denominations are just a way to separate us from other Christians."
I absolutely agree with this point. Denominations separate Christians. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:19, "there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized." While I would never claim that members of another denomination are damned, I would say that certain teachings of other denominations are dangerous. (If another "denomination" was confessing non-Christian doctrine, this would make them another religion, not another denomination, in which case I would claim, in accordance with Scripture, that this places them outside of salvation.) 

"Instead of seeing how are beliefs are different I think we should see how we are alike and get to a point where we can come together as one church."

It is right to want to come together as one Church, the Bride of Christ. While some within the Body teach false doctrine, however, it is also right to separate with them until they correct their errors.

In a marriage, when one person is causing harm to the marriage, such as being addicted to pornography, the couple will sometimes split until the problems are resolved. They are still married, but they are not in full unity. In the same sense, Christians sometimes have to separate themselves from other Christians until those that are in the wrong correct their errors. When these separations have to occur, denominations come into existence.

In an ideal world, all Christians would be entirely unified in belief, with no differences in our understanding of Scripture or how we practice our faith. One day, when we stand before the throne of God, we will be unified. Until that day, we remain in the sinful reality that is this earth, and so we cope with this reality the best ways we know how--one way being denominational separation.

As I remain in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, I will continue to study Scripture and grow in my Christian walk, encouraging those around me to do the same. I pray that everyone, regardless of denomination, will study and continue to reform their beliefs to be most in line with God's Word. We all need to grow in our understanding of Scripture until Christ returns and we are unified entirely in Him.

Dyami requests that if you have any questions regarding his beliefs or would like to discuss this post you would email him at dyami.pike@gmail.com.

*Knowing my brother, I am certain that the word "religion" used here was not intended to refer to different religions (Hindu, Mormonism, Islam, etc.) but rather to different denominations (Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, etc.).

*All Scriptures quoted by me are from the ESV Bible.

2 comments:

  1. Very good points. Now what isn't often covered, and a notion that gets overlooked when some people try to say there is some 6,000+ denominations is that different denominations don't necessarily arise out of opposition to other ones. Some separations occur naturally as they may emerge from different culture groups that haven't interacted with each other, or remain in fellowship but as separate denominations for administration purposes (the LCMS and Lutheran Church Canada is an example of this).

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Michael Rogowski! Definitely good to keep in mind.

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