WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES?
1 Corintians 11:19 “But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized!” (NLT)
When someone ask the question WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES they usually are not interested in seeking an honest answer to the question. But rather they ask the question to go on to say (1) Christianity is divided. (2) God wants unity in His church not division (3) and their group is the Only True Christian Church. This is the case with the video above and the website WhyAreThereSoManyChurches.com that is produced by the hardline Church of Christ (CoC) organization World Video Bible School. This site seeks to examine that video and it’s exclusive claims and inferences in detail. (Please note: Not all congregations in the CoC denomination believe they are the One True Church. The ones that do are called “hardliners” among the CoC’s who do not say the CoC is the One True Church)
SO WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DENOMINATIONS?
In case you have not viewed the 26 minute video above that we are about to examine, the video starts off with 5 interviews where people ask certain loaded questions about denominations and churches. The narrator, Don Blackwell, then starts off by asking a series of more loaded questions. Those questions follow and we will look at and answer a couple of them first before we look into some of the false claims made in the video.
“Have you ever wondered why there are so many different churches and practices and beliefs? Is it possible that every denomination is right? Does God approve of this kind of division and confusion? And does it even really matter? Why are there so many different churches? Does it matter to God? Is He pleased with the current situation in the religious world?“
“Is it possible that every denomination is right?”
REAL DENOMINATIONS ARE NOT DIVIDED IN THE ESSENTIALS
If your watching the video up until this point you already get a feel that the answer to this question is supposed to be no. The looks on the peoples faces who are interviewed, the tone of Mr. Blackwell’s voice and his body language are already telegraphing the message that this video is leading up to, that “there are approximately 38,000 different churches” and “you have one church over here that is teaching this practice and another church that is teaching the opposite. One church says that item A is sinful and another church says that item A is mandatory. Who is right? Can they both be right?“. The answer is YES THEY CAN if a clear distinction is made and kept between essential doctrines of the faith and non-essential doctrines of the faith, and orthodoxy and heterodoxy.
“Have you ever wondered why there are so many different churches and practices and beliefs?”
TRUE BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY IS UNITED WITHIN DIVERSITY
There are many groups that teach and think they are the One and Only True Christian Church. And the main point of this hardline CoC video is to say “we are advocating that men leave all denominations and simply be a part of the one church of Christ“. In other words they are claiming to be the One True Church, “the one that we read about in the Bible” and “the one wherein is salvation“. But real Christian churches do not say they are “the” “one True Church” or “the” “body of Christ”. Rather they are united with other churches and denominations around the essential and cardinal doctrines of the historical Christian faith. Real Christian churches and denominations have the freedom of diversity in non-essential doctrines. They know they are only a part of the Church of God and only a part of the body of Christ. As an old adage says, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-essentials Liberty and in All Things Love”. Some Churches of Christ and their members see the church and body of Christ is not a “blood bought institution” but rather it’s an incorporeal, invisible and spiritual group of blood bought individuals. The CoC’s who see themselves as THE One True Church and do not follow orthodox Christian doctrine are not really Christian. Like other groups who do not follow orthodoxy and claim to be the One True Church, the Hardline CoC is really a Cult.
Cult Apologetics pioneer Walter Martin defined a cult as follows, in his 1955 book “The Rise of the Cults: An Introductory Guide to the Non-Christian Cults”, Martin gave the following definition of a cult – “By cultism we mean the adherence to doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity and which yet claim the distinction of either tracing their origin to orthodox sources or of being in essential harmony with those sources. Cultism, in short, is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith.”
These “essential Christian doctrines” are almost universally agreed among cult apologetics ministries to be 1. The Trinity 2. The full deity and humanity of Christ 3. The spiritual lostness (need for salvation) of the human race 4. The substitution atonement and bodily resurrection of Christ 5. Salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone.
Here is the Watchman Fellowship’s 2001 Index of Cults and Religions listing for the Churches of Christ. “Churches of Christ: The independent Churches of Christ movement was one of several associations and denominations that developed from Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott and Barton W. Stone’s restoration movement of the early 19th century, which was designed to promote unity among Protestants. Many (but not all) Churches of Christ today, however, differ from traditional Protestant doctrine in two key areas. Many maintain that water baptism and/or other commandments (rather than salvation by grace through faith alone) are a requirement for salvation (see Baptismal regeneration, Salvation by works). Some also believe that today’s Churches of Christ are the only true churches on earth and that they can literally trace their history to the first century church in Jerusalem”. This is why some CoC congregations belong to the Kingdom of The Cults.
THE 38,000 DENOMINATION DECEPTION IS COMMON
After the opening testimonies and the questions posed by the presenter the video then goes on to say “If I were to ask you exactly how many different churches exist in the world today… what would you say? You would probably say, “I don’t know…A lot I guess.” And that would be right. There are a lot! In fact I looked this up recently. I found that there are approximately 38,000 different churches. 38,000! Friends, that is amazing“. But this IS NOT true!!!
That there are that many denominations is a lie created and propagated by Roman Catholic Apologist claiming there are 38,000 differing “Protestant denominations”. They make this claim to say that the Sola Scriptura of the Protestant Reformation is divisive in nature, protestants are divided so therefore they must be the One True Church. This lie is then repeated by other groups and while the specific number of denominations that may be claimed can be higher or lower than the 38,000 number, this false claim is made often by many groups who claim to be the One True Church.
Roman Catholic apologist get their numbers from the “World Christian Encyclopedia” (WCE) by David B. Barrett. Because the 2,400 page, 2-volume WCE is $320 new, we will have to rely on secondary sources to see why the 38,000 denomination claim is nowhere near true. The two sources we will look at are a book written by a Protestant called “Upon This Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Catholic Claims to Authority” by Eric Svendsen (see an applicable excerpt here), and a “Facts and Stats Sheet” provided by a RCC Apologist where much of the info in the WCE is detailed for us to see. To grasp what I am about to say might require you to spend sometime looking at those last two links. I will refer to these resources as the “Protestant resource” and the “RCC Resource”.
It is readily apparent after studying the RCC resource that the WCE is not really a good resource to determine how many Christian denominations there actually are. Denominations are not defined correctly and are categorized by country, race and other non-helpful sub-categories to show a way over-bloated result.
The RCC resource says the statistics are subdivided into “6 major ecclesiastico-cultural mega-blocs”. Those mega-blocs are Independents (about 22000), Protestants (about 9000), “Marginals” (about 1600), Orthodox (781), Roman Catholics (242) and Anglicans (168). When looking at the first “mega-bloc” we see there are not really 22,000 “independent denominations” there. To come to the 22, 000 number they include “single autonomous congregations”, “isolated radio churches”, “house-church networks” and they use race as a sub-category. In other words there are African, Black American, Filipino, and Indian Apostolics and there are African, Black American and Chinese Charismatics etc. The categories are inappropriate to determine how many denominations there are because they even include “hidden Buddhist believers in Christ” and “hidden Hindu believers in Christ”. All of these 6 major mega-blocs of information have the same problems. And the “marginal” category with “about 1600 denominations” are not really Christian denominations, but Christian pseudo Cults.
To get a better understanding of how many denominations there really are let’s refer to the Protestant resource by Eric Svendsen. Svendsen says in his book Upon This Slippery Rock, “Barrett identifies seven major ecclesiastical “blocs” under which these 22,190 distinct denominations fall (Barrett, 14-15): (1) Roman Catholicism, which accounts for 223 denominations; (2) Protestant, which accounts for 8,196 denominations; (3) Orthodox, which accounts for 580 denominations; (4) Non-White Indigenous, which accounts for 10,956 denominations; (5) Anglican, which accounts for 240 denominations; (6) Marginal Protestant, which includes Jehovah s Witnesses, Mormons, New Age groups, and all cults (Barrett, 14), and which accounts for 1,490 denominations; and (7) Catholic (Non-Roman), which accounts for 504 denominations”.
Svendsen then says “Barrett indicates that what he means by “denomination” is any ecclesial body that retains a “jurisdiction” (i.e., semi-autonomy). As an example, Baptist denominations comprise approximately 321 of the total Protestant figure. In other words, if there are ten Independent Baptist churches in a given city, even though all of them are identical in belief and practice, each one is counted as a separate denomination due to its autonomy in jurisdiction. This same principle applies to all independent or semi-independent denominations. And even beyond this, all Independent Baptist denominations are counted separately from all other Baptist denominations, even though there might not be a dime’s worth of difference among them. The same principle is operative in Barrett’s count of Roman Catholic denominations. He cites 194 Latin-rite denominations in 1970, by which Barrett means separate jurisdictions (or diocese). Again, a distinction is made on the basis of jurisdiction, rather than differing beliefs and practices”.
“However Barrett has defined “denomination,” it is clear that he does not think of these as major distinctions; for that is something he reserves for another category. In addition to the seven major ecclesiastical “blocs” (mentioned above), Barrett breaks down each of these traditions into smaller units that might have significant differences (what he calls “major ecclesiastical traditions,” and what we might normally call a true denomination) (Barrett, 14). Referring again to our seven major ecclesiastical “blocs” (mentioned above, but this time in reverse order): For (1) Catholic (Non-Roman), there are four traditions, including Catholic Apostolic, Reformed Catholic, Old Catholic, and Conservative Catholic; for (2) Marginal Protestants, there are six traditions; for (3) Anglican, there are six traditions; for (4) Non-White Indigenous, which encompasses third-world peoples (among whom can be found traces of Christianity mixed with the major tenets of their indigenous pagan religions), there are twenty traditions, including a branch of Reformed Catholic and a branch of Conservative Catholic; for (5) Orthodox, there are nineteen traditions; for (6) Protestant, there are twenty-one traditions; and for (7) Roman Catholic, there are sixteen traditions, including Latin-rite local, Latin-rite catholic, Latin/Eastern-rite local, Latin/Eastern-rite catholic, Syro-Malabarese, Ukrainian, Romanian, Maronite, Melkite, Chaldean, Ruthenian, Hungarian, plural Oriental rites, Syro-Malankarese, Slovak, and Coptic. It is important to note here that Barrett places these sixteen Roman Catholic traditions (i.e., true denominations) on the very same level as the twenty-one Protestant traditions (i.e., true denominations). In other words, the true count of real denominations within Protestantism is twenty-one, whereas the true count of real denominations within Roman Catholic is sixteen. Combined with the other major ecclesiastical blocs, that puts the total number of actual denominations in the world at ninety-two obviously nowhere near the 23,000 or 25,000 figure that Roman Catholic apologists constantly assert and that figure of ninety-two denominations includes the sixteen denominations of Roman Catholicism (Barrett, 15)!”
To put this into perspective the Protestant resource goes on to say “Roman Catholic apologists have hurriedly, carelessly – and, as a result, irresponsibly – glanced at Barrett’s work, found a large number (22,189), and arrived at all sorts of absurdities that Barrett never concluded”. The hardline Church of Christ is guilty of perpetuating these ill-conceived and false numbers about denominations so they can go onto say they are the One True Church, like many other groups do.
To sum up this section, it is obvious that we cannot determine if the WCE is a good resource to refer to when trying to determine the number of Christian denominations there are actually in the world without buying the massive encyclopedia and studying it in full detail. Without looking at the WCE for ourselves and having to rely the these two best resources I found we cannot know for sure that he is correct when Svendsen’s Protestant resource says that Barret and the WCE went on to further define the number of denominations by defining traditions and “major ecclesiastical traditions” separately to come up with his number of “ninety-two actual denominations”. But that number seems allot more possible and plausible than the obviously over-inflated numbers that RCC apologist and other exclusive authoritarian groups irresponsibly throw around. After all how did you answer Blackburn’s question of “If I were to ask you exactly how many different churches exist in the world today… what would you say?“. You probably guessed allot but not 38,000 denominations “all teaching opposite things”. I thought of less than a dozen differing denominations off the top of my head. How about you?
ARE THERE DIVISIONS WITHIN THE “CHURCH OF CHRIST”?
The underlying insinuation in the 38,000 denomination claim is that the CoC is united while others are not. But this is very far from the truth. While the American Restoration Movement of the early 19th century started off with the good intention of bringing Unity, the whole movement quickly became detrimental and antithetical to Christian Unity. In fact many of the major Christian pseudo Cults of today that claim to be the one true “restored” church and “gospel” can be traced to originate in the Restoration Movement. We have already shown that real Christian denominations are United Within Diversity, later we will look further into why the restoration was not needed, why Restorationism itself is heresy, and how there was no alleged “Great Apostasy” of the true Christian church. But first let’s look at the inference that there is unity within the CoC.
The presenter Blackburn will eventually get around to stating the commonly heard CoC 5 step plan of salvation which is “Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and Baptism“. But this is by no means the standard CoC plan of salvation. Many CoCers include living a faithful christian life, growing in the faith or continuing in the way of Jesus as a 6th step. And Walter Stone originally had 6 steps in his plan of salvation which he said was “Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Remission of Sins, Gift of the Holy Spirit and Eternal Life”. But before he had 6 steps Scott only had 3 steps in his plan and they were “Believe, Repent and Be Baptized”. Scott later made his steps of salvation into a “five finger exercise” that was easy enough for kids to remember and use, which was “faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit.” And today many CoC’s argue over if there should be a sixth step and what that sixth step should be if so. This causes much division within the CoC with many saying other CoC’s are not the real church.
Even if you do the the plan of salvation, which ever one it is, then according to many hardline CoCers your still not saved unless you adhere to their “5 acts of worship” which are “singing, giving, preaching, praying and taking the Lords supper”. And this is where division really comes to bear in the CoC. Many CoC’s think that if other CoC’s do not worship just as they do then they are not really a part of the One True Church or saved.
One CoC writer named Cecil Hook list 100 issues that have caused splits and divisions within the CoC in his book Free In Christ. Hook then goes on to say there are 11 “big” issues “over which we have created open divisions, aligning brethren in different sectarian, exclusive groups“. Those issues are “1. use of Sunday School classes. 2. use of women teachers. 3. use of multiple communion cups. 4. premillennialism. 5. congregations cooperating in evangelism through a sponsoring church. 6. supporting Christian orphanages from the local treasury. 7. speaking in tongues. 8. cooking and eating in the church building. 9. the “located minister” system. 10. the use of instrumental music in worship. 11. the use of missionary, benevolent, and other types of societies or organizations to carry out Christian activities“. You can see the CoC becomes legalistic and divides over many non-essential issues.
Another CoC writer named Jay Guin says in his book Do We Teach Another Gospel “You see, in teaching that certain doctrines other than the gospel are essential to salvation, we’re effectively saying that to be saved, you not only must hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized, you must also join a congregation with a scriptural name, with a scriptural organization, and with a scriptural pattern of worship. Thus, if your home church has an elder who might not be properly qualified, or your church does something in worship that might lack authorization, you must change congregations or else lose your soul! I know Christians who have left their local congregation and take communion weekly at home rather than risk damnation by joining an unscriptural Church of Christ” (pg 57). Guin then concludes that the harline CoC does indeed teach another Gospel saying “I fail to see how insisting on these rules as conditions to salvation is any different from insisting on circumcision as a condition to salvation. Either way, you’re insisting on obedience to a law in addition to the gospel. The gospel is meant to take us away from legalism, and the imposition of any rule as a requirement for salvation—even a single morally neutral rule—beyond the gospel is a return to legalism and damnation” (pg 57). All these different CoC “Gospels” can be wrong but they cannot all be right. Also see this Wikipedia article to learn more about the 3 big splits in the CoC.
WAS THERE A “GREAT APOSTASY” THAT REQUIRED A “RESTORATION” OF THE GOSPEL?
Like the hard-line Church of Christ groups such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventist all make the claim there was a “great apostasy” of the Christian church and they have brought about the “restoration” of the “ancient gospel”, in other words they are the One True Church – or the “Remnant Church” in SDA terminology. They all have their own scenarios as to how and when this alleged great apostasy happened. One thing that is most important in investigating their claim is to realize that they never start off by showing how their particular gospel was taught in early church history. They skip this crucial step of establishing historicity and go right into their spiel as to how and when this so-called great apostasy happened. But it is really all smoke and mirrors. The Christian church did not experience a total apostasy requiring a restoration of the faith.
Mr. Blackburn says “God knew that divisions would come. In fact, the Bible foretells of it and warns against it several times“. But several verses tell us that God’s church will not experience a total or great apostacy, at least until the later days. Even two of the very verses that the video uses tell us this. Matthew 16:18 says “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it“. But they leave out the last part of the verse that says the gates of hell will not prevail against the Lords church. But that is just what Blackburn is about to propose, that apostasy prevailed over Christ church until it was restored, although they do not mention that the CoC has it’s roots in the American Restoration Movement. Then Balckburn cites 1 Timothy 4:1-3 “Now the Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies and hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” But this passage is talking about “latter times”, not early church history. And the verse says that some would depart from the faith. The verse does not support the idea of a total apostasy of the Christian Church. Also when Blackburn gives his chronology of the alleged apostasy he does not tell us when marriage was forbidden and when commands where given to abstain from foods which God had blessed. Other verses to consider Matthew 28:20 – “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” and Ephesians 3:21 – “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” God forewarns of false teachers teaching false gospels but He says His church will prevail over the Gates of Hell.
The church did get to a point of needing to be reformed but did not need to be restored because the Gospel of Grace was not totally lost but rather distorted by the Roman Catholic Church. The central issue of the Protestant Reformation was Justification and whether it was by faith alone, or faith plus works. Reformer Martin Luther declared, “The doctrine of justification is the article by which the church stands or falls“. As Protestant Scholar Wayne Grudem says of the Protestant Reformation “When the good news of the gospel truly became the good news of totally free salvation in Jesus Christ, then it spread like wildfire throughout the civilized world. It was simply a recovery of the original gospel which declares, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23) and insist that “there is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)” Systematic Theology Pg. 729.
Mr. Blackburn goes on to say “history tells us that very early on there came along splinter groups who had ideas and doctrines contrary to that of the first century church and contrary to the doctrine that they had received and practiced. Some of these groups include: the Gnostics around A.D. 125, the Montanists around A.D. 156, the Manicheans around A.D. 244, and the Novations around A.D. 251“. After which he then says that a “meeting took place in A.D. 325 and history calls this event The Council of Nicea. This meeting gave rise to the first officially recognized departure from the original New Testament church“. When you look at both of these assertions the claims fall short. The Council of Nicea was not the first officially recognized departure from the NT Church. Rather the council met to confront and settle the Arian controversy concerning the divine nature of Jesus Christ. And the videos own timeline says the Roman Catholic Church had no official Pope until 606 A.D. so the councils ruling where not deemed official by anyone except the Christian Church (the Church of Christ) that was already existing, the papal authority structure of the RCC did not exist yet to officially recognize the ruling of the Nicean Council. And of the 4 early “splinter groups” that the video mentions are of no consequence because only the Montanist would be considered Christian as the other 3 groups where so far away from established Christian doctrine that they could not be deemed Christian groups even though they sprang from Christianity. In today terms the Gnostics, Manicheans and Novations would be considered non-Christian pseudo Cults. And the Monstanist where not heretical in their doctrine of salvation but rather have been deemed an early church forerunner of todays charismatics and they deal specifically with the issues of continuing revelation and prophecy.
EXAMINING THE VIDEOS TIMELINE
The first thing to notice about the timeline is that the dominant and unbroken green line at the top is supposed to represent the hardline Church of Christ as the One True Church which allegedly has roots going all the way back to Acts 2. The reality is that the Church of Christ denomination came from American Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement of the late 19th century. Although hardline CoC’ers would deny being a denomination or being rooted in the Restoration Movement, it is clear that the CoC IS A DENOMINATION because to denominate is simply to name, and the first congregation in this movement to take the name “Church of Christ” was established in June of 1834 at Knob Creek, in southern Graves County, Kentucky. This church is still in active existence.
Of second important to notice is that their timeline shows that the Church of Christ has at least 3 major divisions with The Disciples of Christ splitting from the CoC in 1830 and The Christian Church splitting in 1906. Notice the timeline thus excludes these two branches of the CoC as being real churches of Christ. The hardline CoC’s do not recognize The Christian Church or The Disciples of Christ as true churches of Christ over such trivial matters as whether musical instruments should be used in worship or not, and the use of missionary societies.
Also of importance to notice is that the video timeline presents the Northern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention as different denominations that are supposed to teach different things. But the distinction between these two baptist conventions is not one of differing beliefs but one of geographical location. Both of these groups are a part of the Baptist tradition and are not distinct denominations. So they cannot be rightly be counted as two different churches. Also noted is that the United Methodist broke away from the mainline Methodist church in 1968, but a Methodist sub-denomination is still Methodist and part of the Methodist tradition and denomination, so again this does not constitute two different denominations or two different Methodist churches. Most important to note is that the timeline list the Holiness Movement and Calvinism as two different churches or denominations when these are movements, not denominations or churches. These factors show it’s clear that the creator of this timeline is more interested in presenting a slanted and hyper-inflated picture of denominationalism as totally schismatic than they are about correctly representing denominations as united in their core beliefs.
SO WHICH CHURCH SHOULD WE JOIN TO BE SAVED?
To answer this question we must first understand the nature of the Church, Body and Bride of Christ. The video we have been examining is based on a previous video by the same title of “Why Are There So Many Churches?” produced by hardline CoC author Micheal Shank. In the video that the video we have been examining is based on, Michael Shank says at 2:55 that the “Jesus built a physical church” and at 4:30 Shank says that the Church of Christ is a “blood bought Institution“. This is a woefully wrong understanding of the nature of the Lords church. Gods Church is not a physical structure with a sign on it. There is simply no Church buildings in the New Testament as believers met in each others houses. And the Church, Body and Bride of Christ is by no means an institution or even an organization. Rather it is an organically spiritual entity and as such believers do not even have to join a physical church or denomination to be saved. So please stay away from those Cults that say they are the One True Church and you must join them to be saved.
As mentioned above real Christianity is not about which group or denomination you join, rather is it about what the believer believes. If you believe orthodox Christian doctrine then your a Christian and you are saved by God’s grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. If you believe the following orthodox and biblical Christian doctrines then you are saved and will be with Christ in heaven for all eternity, no matter what denomination you belong to.
1. The Trinity 2. The full deity and humanity of Christ 3. The spiritual lostness (need for salvation) of the human race 4. The substitution atonement and bodily resurrection of Christ 5. Salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone.
If you do not believe even one of these essential doctrines then you still need to be saved because you are not in Christ, or His church, and you are still under condemnation. But if you believe these truths then you are saved and totally free to believe what you want in other doctrines and teachings that are not essential. If you know your a member of Christ church according to sound orthodox teaching then welcome to the Kingdom of God. If your not sure please click the picture below to see Gods Simple Plan of Salvation. Thank you for reading all of this and may God richly bless you for it – Damon Whitsell