Why So Many Denominations and Why People Leave Them

By Ron Halbrook

The following question came in the mail, “Why are there so many denominations?” Diverse religions, churches, and doctrines did not come from Jesus Christ. He promised, “I will build my church,” referring to God’s plan to save sinners. This salvation comes through Jesus of Nazareth, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16-18), When Jesus died in order that men might have “the remission of sins,” he “purchased with his own blood” the church (Matt. 26:28; Acts 20:28). Those who are saved in the church are like a body with Jesus the Savior as the head. “There is one body,” and Christ is “head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4).

The Apostles of Christ preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as the only hope of mankind for salvation. Sinners were told, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” and, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:38; 22:16). “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,” and the body of the saved “continued steadfastly” in the teaching of the Apostles and in the pattern God gave for the true church of Christ (Acts 2:42,47).

Christ prayed that his people would continue to be united upon the basis of the teaching he gave through the Apostles. He severely rebuked some who were drifting toward division and commanded them to “all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you” (Jn. 17:17-21; 1 Cor. 1:10-13). Paul warned that the problem of division would grow. False teachers would bring new doctrines and start different churches. Some elders, preachers, and other Christians would want to revise the original teaching of the Lord and would change the church to suit themselves (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim. 3:1-5; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).

A series of revisions and changes resulted in Boniface III assuming the title “universal bishop” in 606 A.D. in the gradual formation of the Roman Catholic Church with its many new doctrines and practices. In 1054 a formal division occurred between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. Dissatisfaction with the monolithic power, political corruption, and superstitious doctrines of medieval Catholicism led to the creation of several new churches with different creeds and separate organizations. These bodies included the Lutheran Church, which began in Germany (1520); the Anglican Church in Great Britain (1534); and the Reformed and Presbyterian movements in Switzerland (1536). The Congregational Church began in England (1550), the Baptist in Holland (1607), and the Methodist also in England (1739).

All the above churches were to be planted in America and many new groups have appeared here throughout American history, including the Mormons (1830), the Adventists (1830), Christian Scientists (1866), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (1872). In addition a wide range of holiness, pentecostal, and charismatic sects and denominations have appeared.

In short, there are so many denominations because people have left the original teaching of Jesus Christ and formed so many new, different, and diverse doctrines. In the early 1800s many people who were identified with various denominations began to realize that they needed to get back to the Bible pattern of teaching on the plan of salvation, on the church, and on all things. In one community after another, such people met together with a willingness to give up denominational names and doctrines in order to wear only the name of Christ and to follow only the original teaching of Christ. The result has been the restoration of true churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16).

Jesus established his church for the salvation of the world, but he did not build the many diverse denominations which exist today. Are you a member of the church that Jesus built and about which you can read in the Bible, or are you a member of a church which some man built and about which you cannot read in the Bible? Some people have never thought about such a question as that, but multitudes have thought about it. If you are disappointed and disgusted with modern denominational bodies, you might be interested in knowing that you are not alone. If you are thinking about “dropping out,” you are not alone.

Why So Many Leave Denominationalism

Many people continue to leave man-made churches, doctrines, and religions. Some of those people have despaired of ever finding the truth of God and have become agnostics or atheists. Others have floated from one denomination to another in a vain search for truth, or else have given up on all churches and stayed at home reading the Bible in search of God’s will. Some who have left denominationalism have left because they have found the truth of the Son of God, of his gospel, and of his church. Most of these souls never look back to the darkness, confusion, uncertainty, and error they left behind. The precepts and practices of various denominations which have driven people out in search of the truth include the following:

1. Physical and emotional displays not found in the Bible. Gospel preaching and worship assemblies in the New Testament never involved jumping, running, shouting, jibber-jabber, spinning around, and fainting. In the days of Christ and the Apostles, intelligent words of truth were spoken in love (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 4:15). Christians assembled to sing, pray, and study God’s Word. All things were “done unto edifying,” “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:26,40). Honest souls are seeking orderly and scriptural worship today.

2. Constant appeals for money. Early Christians were taught to give as they prospered each “first day of the week” for the work of the church (1 Cor. 16:1-2). They met on other days to study and pray at times but did not take up a collection on such occasions. The tithing of the Old Testament was not required in the New, but the rule was this, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give” (2 Cor. 9:7). A tithe means ten percent. Some gave more, some less, according to their ability, but all gave on the Lord’s day. There were no special “clubs” for big givers, no “purpose cards,” and no extra appeals by mail. These carnal devices along with sales and raffles drive many an humble soul out of false religions in search of the truth.

3. Lack of Bible preaching. The content of New Testament preaching was the inspired Word of God. Paul stayed at Corinth “a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them,” and then Apollos preached there with great power, “showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:11,28). Faithful preachers urged people to search “the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Most modern preaching is theatrical and entertaining, with little food for the soul. A brief text of Scripture may be used as a pretext to ramble in all directions, to offer social and political commentary, and to offer all sorts of human philosophies and human doctrines. Men and women starved for Bible preaching have left denominationalism.

4. Sprinkling and pouring. Many people who had water sprinkled or poured on them have learned that Bible baptism was immersion. Bible baptism required “much water” because the baptizer and the one to be baptized walked “down both into the water” for the purpose of immersion (Jn. 3:23; Acts 8:38). Baptism was a burial in water and a rising from water (Rom. 6:34; Col. 2:12). Many people have renounced denominationalism in order to be scripturally baptized.

5. Lord’s supper not served every Sunday. The Apostles of Christ taught his people to gather “upon the first day of the week” to commemorate his death by sharing the Lord’s Supper, and also to give financially for the work of his church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Most denominations take the collection every Sunday without fail but omit the Lord’s Supper except on a few special occasions. Anyone who sees blatant inconsistencies in churches started by men may begin searching for the church started by Christ.

6. Faith only. Denominationalism generally teaches that our sins are washed away the moment we believe in Jesus. Many people are surprised to read, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only . . . so faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:24,26). We are not saved by faith only or by obedience only, but Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). “Baptism doth also now save us” (1 Pet. 3:21). Hundreds and thousands leave man-made religions in order to obey God’s plan of salvation in its fulness.

7. Human creeds, doctrines, catechisms, manuals, disciplines, and pretended new revelations. Denominationalism is plagued, cursed, and confused by numerous and conflicting standards of authority for their preaching and practice. The Bible, and the Bible only, is “the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” The Bible alone contains “all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” and thoroughly equips “the man of God . . . unto all good works” (Jude 3; 2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The words of our Lord are truly spiritual and lead to eternal life, but the doctrines and commandments of men are carnal, divisive, empty, and destructive to the soul (Jn. 6:63; Matt. 15:8-9). No wonder so many honest hearts despair of finding salvation in human systems and begin to seek for the true teaching of Christ.

8. Denominational names. People who once were proud to wear denominational names – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostal, Mormon, Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, etc. – are learning that Christ never taught his followers to wear such names. Rather, he taught them to wear his own name as their only mark of identity. “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). They were not ashamed of this name and were strictly forbidden to wear names created by men (1 Pet. 4:14,16; 1 Cor. 1:10-13). Multitudes have repudiated man-made names in order to be Christians only, nothing more and nothing less.

9. Church social and recreational activities. Christ gave his church the work of spreading the gospel to the lost, edifying saints as they assemble to worship God, and meeting the needs of destitute saints (1 Thess. 1:8; Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 5:16). From ancient times, false religions appealed to man’s carnal appetites by enticing people with meals, parties, sports, dancing, and all sorts of festivities (Exod. 32:6,18; 1 Cor. 10:7). The denominations of our day try to outdo each other in offering suppers, banquets, parties, celebrations, carnivals, contests, awards, prizes, sports activities, gymnasiums, and social services. After all the food, fun, and frolic, souls are still starving for the truth of the gospel of Christ. God blesses people who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” by delivering them from the spiritual famine which plagues denominationalism (Matt. 5:6; Col. 1:13).

10. Human organizations tied to the church. Denominationalism is staggering and sinking into a quagmire under the weight of human headquarters, societies, bureaus, conventions, boards, colleges, summer camps, publishing houses, child care agencies, retirement centers, convalescence homes, hospitals, and other human institutions tied to the church. God made the local church with its elders and deacons allsufficient to do its own work without building and maintaining man-made organizations (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-5). Many precious souls have learned to serve Christ in his church without entangling alliances with sectarian institutions

The decay of denominationalism is helping more and more people to see that the church of Christ is not just another denomination. It is no denomination at all but is an alternative to denominationalism. It is the original church revealed in the Bible.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV 9, pp. 272-273, 280
May 3, 1990