National Association of Christian Ministers

Answering His Call Is Our Purpose

Condition of Ministry

How Many Christian Denominations Are in the World?
Michael Mooney, Ministry Practitioner
Reporting for the National Association of Christian Ministers

The Present Condition of Christianity

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (2001), there are approximately 33,820 denominations of Christianity in the world.  

How should we resolve this conflict?

Frankly this large number of division should not come as any surprise; before Christianity was officially born it already had subgroups:

"Master, we saw someone forcing demons out of a person by using the power and authority of your name. We tried to stop him because he was not one of us." Jesus said to him, "Don't stop him! Whoever isn't against you is for you." (Luk 9:48-50 GW).

Even in the early years of the church, theological differences began to surface, resulting in divisions among fellowships:

When you are jealous and quarrel among yourselves, aren't you influenced by your corrupt nature and living by human standards? When some of you say, "I follow Paul" and others say, "I follow Apollos," aren't you acting like sinful humans? (1Co 3:3-4 GW).

Paul and his men took a ship from Paphos and arrived in Perga, a city in Pamphylia. John Mark deserted them there and went back to Jerusalem. (Act 13:13 GW).

However, Paul didn't think it was right to take a person like him along. John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to work. Paul and Barnabas disagreed so sharply that they parted ways. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed to the island of Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and left after the believers entrusted him to the Lord's care. (Act 15:38-40 GW).

Nevertheless, as time passed and Christianity was legalized (by Constantine in 312 AD), differences of opinions, interpretations of scripture, and separations only began to multiply.  Ironically, one of the last prayers that Jesus is recorded for praying says this:

I have sent them into the world the same way you sent me into the world. I'm dedicating myself to this holy work I'm doing for them so that they, too, will use the truth to be holy. "I'm not praying only for them. I'm also praying for those who will believe in me through their message. I pray that all of these people continue to have unity in the way that you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they may be united with us so that the world will believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me. I did this so that they are united in the same way we are. I am in them, and you are in me. So they are completely united. In this way the world knows that you have sent me and that you have loved them in the same way you have loved me. (Joh 17:18-23 GW).

Apparently, Jesus saw the church’s unity as the greatest testimony to the world that God has sent him.  Yet, our unity is represented by 33,820 denominations.  We are not likely to all begin agreeing over all of the same interpretations of scripture today, especially considering the truth that we have 2,000 years of church history that has contributed to as much confusion as it has truth.  Besides, as seen above, the disciples were divided and Jesus himself was with them in person.  

How can we strive toward unity, without compromising the convictions we hold regarding the teachings of scripture?


We should begin by identifying the unquestionably black and white doctrines of scripture.  Examples include:  Jesus is God, the only way to Heaven, his blood is the only acceptable payment for sins.  White and black issues are those things that:

1) God leaves no question about (“love one another…”) and
2) would probably keep people out of Heaven for not believing them
 
Everything beyond these criteria should be handled with the rest of the following council of God’s word:

The Foolishness of Strife


Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before the argument gets out of control.
(Pro 17:14 GW).

Whoever loves sin loves a quarrel. Whoever builds his city gate high invites destruction.
(Pro 17:19 GW).

Avoiding a quarrel is honorable. After all, any stubborn fool can start a fight.
(Pro 20:3 GW).

Like grabbing a dog by the ears, so is a bystander who gets involved in someone else's quarrel.
(Pro 26:17 GW).

Without wood a fire goes out, and without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal fuels burning coals and wood fuels fire, so a quarrelsome person fuels a dispute. (Pro 26:20-21 GW).

The Sinful Condition of Arguments

When you are jealous and quarrel among yourselves, aren't you influenced by your corrupt nature and living by human standards? When some of you say, "I follow Paul" and others say, "I follow Apollos," aren't you acting like sinful humans? (1Co 3:3-4 GW).

Remind believers about these things, and warn them in the sight of God not to quarrel over words. Quarreling doesn't do any good but only destroys those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker who isn't ashamed to teach the word of truth correctly. Avoid pointless discussions. People who pay attention to these pointless discussions will become more ungodly, (2Ti 2:14-16 GW).

Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments. You know they cause quarrels. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel. Instead, he must be kind to everyone. He must be a good teacher. He must be willing to suffer wrong. He must be gentle in correcting those who oppose the Good News. Maybe God will allow them to change the way they think and act and lead them to know the truth. Then they might come back to their senses and God will free them from the devil's snare so that they can do his will. (2Ti 2:23-26 GW).

Description of an Honorable Minister

"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, whom I love, and in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will announce justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or shout, and no one will hear his voice in the streets. (Mat 12:18-19 GW).

How to Act as an Honorable Minister

Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don't get into an argument over differences of opinion. (Rom 14:1 GW).

So those of us who have a strong faith must be patient with the weaknesses of those whose faith is not so strong. We must not think only of ourselves.  (Rom 15:1 GW).

We should all be concerned about our neighbor and the good things that will build his faith.  (Rom 15:2 GW).

"Whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me. Whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (Mar 9:37 GW).

May God, who gives you this endurance (patience) and encouragement, allow you to live in harmony with each other by following the example of Christ Jesus.  (Rom 15:5 GW).

Then, having the same goal, you will praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Rom 15:6 GW).

Therefore, accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God.  (Rom 15:7 GW).

"The one who is least among all of you is the one who is greatest." John replied, "Master, we saw someone forcing demons out of a person by using the power and authority of your name. We tried to stop him because he was not one of us." Jesus said to him, "Don't stop him! Whoever isn't against you is for you." (Luk 9:48-50 GW).

But the Pharisees and the scribes complained, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
(Luk 15:2 GW).

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me. I will never turn away anyone who comes to me. (Joh 6:37 GW).  

"I'm giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other." (Joh 13:34-35 GW).


Conclusion

If we are to ever be found guilty of arguing over scripture, let it be for the defense of the loving, forgiving, saving, and accepting grace of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.


Members of NACM may discuss this article here.

 

Reference: Barrett et al, (2001) World Christian Encyclopedia, volume 1, page 16, Table 1-5.