Blankman, Drew & Todd Augustine. Pocket Dictionary of North American Denominations. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
The preface of this introductory booklet of denominations in North America (which includes such nonChristian groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) states, “There are thousands of denominations in North America” (7). This is not difficult to imagine, as within most of the mainline denominations, a number of subgroups exist. Apart from Roman Catholicism, it would appear, the various church bodies subsist under various names and designations. However, even Roman Catholicism, for its claim to unity, is vastly divided and far from united.
One might wonder why all these categorizations (denominations) exist. The reality of Christendom today seems to be that of fragmentation, not unity in the confession of the same faith. The “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” and “one body” of Ephesians 4:4,5 appears nonexistent.
The ecumenical movement strives for the visual demonstration of a united Christendom, albeit in a quite deficient way. Agreeing to disagree does not work in the realm of God’s revelation in Christ. Nor does emphasizing only the areas of agreement among Christians offer the solution for uniting the differing church bodies under one umbrella.
The answer to bring about true unity in Christendom is not to minimize the differences and to maximize the agreements. Neither is the answer to focus only on what might be determined to be the essentials and then allow considerable freedom on “other” teachings deemed by some to be nonessential, even though God has spoken about these very things, too (i.e. the ordination of women, the acceptance of homosexuality, redefining sin, etc.).
The answer for today’s fragmented Christendom is to turn from its departure of Holy Scripture and the doctrine of Jesus Christ to it, and to continually pray and strive for genuine unity—not the sham unity of a false and deceiving ecumenicalism, but the true unity of faith which demonstrates itself in same-saying—that is—confessing together as one—the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture.
Here, however, is right where the problem lies…Not all do or will confess the same thing concerning Christ and concerning the doctrine revealed in the Holy Bible. This is really the reason why so many different denominations exist today—because not all say (teach) the same thing.
What is the Bible? Who is Jesus? Who has the hope of eternal life? What are the Sacraments? These are questions that call for answers, and for which various answers will be given. The fault, however, is not to be found in the Holy Bible. The fault is to be found in those who disbelieve it and use it contrary to God’s will, which we only know from Holy Scripture itself.
As God says through the prophet Jeremiah, “He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28).
And also, as Jesus Himself says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word (John 14:23).
So why do all the various denominations exist? Because they do not all teach the same doctrine. And because they do not all believe, teach, and confess the same doctrine, they do not consistently all believe, teach, and confess the same Christ.
St. Paul writes, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9). Even a little departure from the Word of God can (and has) led to apostasy from the true and saving faith.
Though one may continue to believe in Jesus for salvation from sin and death, such faith is quite weakened (and weakening) should one also continue to believe in even theistic evolution or deny the miraculous accounts of Jonah, Jesus feeding the 5000, etc. Really, it is inconsistent to say that one believes in Jesus and His Word and yet to deny the very Word given by our Lord.
Believing in Jesus Christ and denying Holy Scripture is inconsistent for the Christian and for Christianity, for one who truly does believe in Jesus Christ will also hold His Word to be true.
How can one rightly believe in Jesus Christ if that one continues to deny that very Word which testifies of Christ? Here we are not only talking about the Words themselves, but also about the meaning of the Words—not the meaning which we place on them—but the meaning which God attaches to them, Scripture interpreting Scripture.
By God’s grace, and only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, does anyone have the hope of eternal life. This means that eternal life is the gift of God and not the work of man (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It is faith in Christ alone that saves. This is true (John 3:16-18). And one is saved only as one remains in this true faith. For this reason is it necessary to continue in the Word of God—that one remain in such faith and thus be made more sure of God’s grace in Christ.
Any other doctrine than God’s will only lead away from and not to, Christ and eternal life.
For this reason, St. Paul writes, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
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