It never ceases to amaze me how many churches there are in my hometown of Brooklyn, NY. Often referred to as the “Borough of Churches,” in certain areas, especially in the African-American community, one can find up to three or four churches on the same block. The sad reality is, in many cases, these churches hardly interact with one another. There seems to be a spirit of competition in the body of Christ that is absolutely ridiculous to me. For example, I can never understand for, the life of me, some of these gospel award shows with categories of nominations for “Best Gospel Song,” “Best Christian Artist,” “Spiritual Performance of the Year.” How do you rate and judge the anointing? Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s great to honor the men and women of God who labor for Him. However, when you start putting them up against each other to say whose anointing is better than whose, something appears a little off.
It appears we are merely products of our environment. We learn this division from what we see on a larger scale in the body of Christ. It’s about my church versus your church. But what ever happened to God’s church, the bride of Christ? How did we get to where we are now in comparison to the church that Jesus built as seen in the book of Acts? How has the church moved from a gathering of fellow believers through which the manifested power and presence of the Holy Spirit was evident, to what is too often seen today as a sociological phenomenon rooted in racism, classism and sexism? I believe it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said “Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in America.” Research suggests that only a small percentage of churches in America have more than 30% of another ethnic group within their congregation. In some church services preferred seating are given to those who can afford to be a part of a certain “club;” and women today are still being limited in their ability to spread the gospel.
The Word of God in Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Yet today we see the very opposite of God’s word being displayed. It is God’s intent that we come into the “unity of faith” (Eph. 4:13). We have all been called into one Body and one faith in the knowledge of the Son of God, to become mature representatives of Christ. So where did all these divisions and denominations come from that keep us divided, and is it of God? The answer to this question is not that simple. However, if I had to give a simple answer, I would say yes and no.
First and foremost, nowhere is scripture is there a call for denominationalism. We were called to be in unity and harmony with one another. Denominationalism primarily developed during the Reformation and Great Awakening eras. However, denominationalism is not necessarily a bad thing if used correctly. We have been called to the unity of the faith. Unfortunately, many have taken the word “faith” to mean their denomination and/or its beliefs. But the only thing we’ve been called to put our faith in is Christ. This was the belief of the early church which understood that the church was to be a reflection of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth. While God’s Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), it is His desire to reflect His work and ministry in through us.
In essence, the church serves as an embassy that has ambassadors and ministers of foreign affairs that help issue visas so people can become citizens and enter into the Kingdom of God. If a denomination serves as an embassy whose sole purpose is to represent the interest of their kingdom in a particular geographical area, and not as an entity by itself, then I would say that denomination is in order with the Kingdom of God. Denominationalism should never reflect separatism. But today, all too often we see denominationalism as a vehicle to promote a belief system that is based upon a particular group’s interpretation of scripture.
Now let me make myself clear; when I use the term denomination, I am speaking of denominations within the body of Christ. I am not speaking of non-Christian cults and false religions like the Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses who claim to be the only true remnant church, but yet deny the Trinity and that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. These religions often disguise themselves as Christian denominations but lack one or more of the essential core beliefs of the Christian faith. They often create their own distorted version of the bible and hold dear to a particular prophet whose literary works have been given authority over, or made equivalent, to the Word of God. Many have claimed to receive visitations or visions from God - or a heavenly being - that gave them new revelation as to what God expects His remnant church to be. However, I must stress that there is no new revelation that has been given to the church other than what has been revealed at its inception. Jesus Christ is the revelation (Heb. 1:1-3; Col. 2:9; Eph. 3:19).
Everything in the Law and the Prophets were progressive revelation of Christ (John 5:39). Every bit of truth that will ever be revealed was taught and fully understood by the early church that Jesus built. There was no purer reflection of His Kingdom than those directly taught by His original Apostles including Paul. In fact, it wasn’t until Roman Catholicism from the 4th Century onwards that the truths of the Christian faith were severely distorted as religious syncretism occurred and many pagan practices were adopted and blended into Christianity. The church suddenly became a poor reflection of Christ’s Kingdom and more reflected society and its culture. To be a citizen of Rome was to be considered a Christian, and a child who did not have the ability to cognitively accept Jesus Christ as its personal Lord and Savior was made a Christian through infant baptism. I’m not trying to hate on Catholics. I have some very dear friends who are Catholics and love Jesus dearly. However, I am stating historical facts that if one took the time to investigate he/she would be shocked to find out exactly what has been allowed to come in and out of the Roman Catholic church in the name Christian tradition. Nevertheless, since the time of the Reformation Movement in the 1500’s, God has been restoring truths that have been lost throughout Roman Catholicism.