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Christian Denominations: God Uses Them to Assemble His Covenant People

  • Gerald W. Tritle
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As Christianity has filled the earth, a variety of church denominations have blossomed throughout the world, reflecting multiple confessions of the same Christian faith. God uses these denominations within Christendom to assemble the diverse, multifaceted, and maturing body of Jesus Christ - His covenant people.

Christian denominations are the continuation of the ever-growing covenant community, the church of Jesus Christ, which originated - not in A.D. 33 - but with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. Abraham rejoiced to see Christ's day (John 8:56). All Christians are spiritual children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). Roman Catholicism (which began to formulate around the sixth century AD) and Greek Orthodoxy were the first Christian denominations. These Christian denominations formed as believers matured in their faith and realized that they could not agree on every point of interpretation of the Bible. Later, during the Protestant Reformation, the Anglican and Protestant denominations came about in protest against certain doctrinal points in and the control of Roman Catholicism.

Protestants assembled themselves under either the Reformed or the Lutheran confessions of the Christian faith. Every Christian Protestant denomination today is either a subtraction from or an addition to these two Christian confessions. From the Reformed camp came Presbyterianism (from which came the Disciples of Christ and the Church of Christ), Reformed Baptists, and Congregationalists (from which came the Methodists, American Baptists, Nazarenes, Charismatic/Pentecostals, and other denominations).

Denominations are not to be looked upon as evil or divisive, for they enable Christians to worship with those of like confession, while maintaining their brotherhood with those of other confessions in the church of Christ universal. This is how God assembles His maturing church to peacefully worship Him in spirit and in truth without violating the consciences of any one Christian people. Jesus said that if men are gathering disciples into His church, which is what denominations and "non-denominational" denominations of Christendom do, then we must "leave them alone" and let them gather (Mark 9:38-40). True divisiveness - or schism - is defined as being so sectarian that we cut ourselves off from brethren in other denominations. It is this which Christ forbade and which is worthy of judgment (c.f., 1 Corinthians 11:18-34). In addition, divisiveness and schism is not defined by diversity in Christ's church, but by that which divides brethren away from Christ Himself. Denominations are not sinful. Schismatic behavior is.

The Apostle Peter clearly proclaimed in Acts 10:35 that God accepts from every nation those who fear Him and work righteousness. Christians should enjoy flourishing in God's grace in whatever denomination the Lord Jesus (Who is building His church) has been pleased to sovereignly place them. Although Christendom today consists of many denominations, may our one Lord be praised for His one body, one faith, and one baptism. May God be praised for both His unity and His diversity.


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