Examining Christian Disunity: Three Benefits of Denominationalism, Part 2 (of 5)

In the first installment of this series I pointed out that while disunity among believers is a problem, many (especially skeptics) fail to appreciate the tremendous unity among historic Christians. The Christian faith encapsulates a defining and shared set of beliefs, values, and a broad world-and-life view. In these three critical areas, the faith holds a robust unity.

But what are we to make of the various divisions in the body of Christ? Isn’t denominationalism scandalous?

Some elements of the denominationalism phenomenon are indeed regrettable and I will elaborate on that problem in part four of this series. However, there are also positive features that come from having various theological traditions within Christendom. Let’s consider three of those positive elements.

Fullness of the Faith

I don’t think any particular denominational body can, by itself, encompass all the richness and completeness of the broad historic Christian faith (some boldly claim otherwise). Rather, the various denominations reflect a collage of God’s redeemed people.

Christ’s church is indeed one but it is found within the various ecclesiastical traditions that make up authentic Christianity. The Holy Spirit and the truth of Scripture are not the exclusive property of any one denomination. Therefore, believers of various traditions have both common elements as well as distinctive features to share with their brothers and sisters in other denominations.

Diversity Can Provide a Needed Corrective

These varied ecclesiastical traditions can serve to challenge and correct each other on doctrinal and moral matters—a healthy type of peer review. Christian denominations can also learn from the strengths and weaknesses of other theological traditions.

When conducted with gentleness, respect, humility, and theological integrity, debate on such issues as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and eschatology (end times issues) can serve to enrich multiple bodies. Heretical sects (those that depart from the essentials of historic Christianity) often suffer from having no legitimate competition or peer review to provide theological correction.

Principled Protest Has Its Place

Unfortunately, there are times when historic Christian denominations apostatize (fall away from the faith). When churches or denominations renounce belief in the essential truths of the faith (such as the ecumenical creeds), Christian members of these bodies have no alternative but to leave in response. Therefore, some forms of denominationalism are based upon principled acts of protest. The unity of the faith is very important, but never at the expense of essential biblical truth.

While denominationalism poses clear challenges and difficulties when it comes to Christian unity, it also emits positive features that contribute to the health of the various theological traditions.

In the next issue of this series I will discuss the difficulty of sin and hypocrisy when it comes to the problem of disunity within Christianity.

Resources

For more on the essential beliefs, values, and worldview orientation of historic Christianity, see my two books Without a Doubt and A World of Difference.

For a principled call for reunion among evangelical church bodies, see John M. Frame, Evangelical Reunion.

  One thought on “Examining Christian Disunity: Three Benefits of Denominationalism, Part 2 (of 5)

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides
    April 1, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Hello,

    This looks like a very interesting series!

    Question: Are you okay with Protestants signing the Manhattan Declaration?

    Or do you object to the point of condemnation those Protestants who signed the Manhattan Declaration?

    • Keith Gonzales
      January 4, 2017 at 8:24 pm

      The bible specifically condemns religious division as sin .
      In the older Testament , David declares , I hate every false way .
      Paul in the New states under inspiration : ….that you all speak the same thing and there be no division among you : 1 Cor. 1:10 .
      John echoes similar sentiments in 2 John 7-11 .
      Does God approve of diversity in doctrine ?
      In the light of 1 Tim. 4:1-5 and 2 Tim 4 , 1-4 , I think not .
      We must be tolerant , loving , gentle and compassionate in how we correct error .
      And try not to sound like a know it all or pharisee .

      • January 16, 2017 at 11:44 am

        Hello, Keith.

        The branches and denominations that make up historic Christianity have amazing agreement when it comes to essential doctrine. The differences on doctrine are mostly on secondary issues though not entirely.

        Maybe denominationalism, as problematic as it is, is a way toward greater doctrinal purity.

        I pray so.

        Happy New Year!

        Ken Samples

      • Keith Gonzales
        January 16, 2017 at 12:13 pm

        Thank you for your timely response and belated happy new year to you as well .
        Galatians 5: 20 lists one of the works of the flesh as “dichostasia” meaning division , literally standing apart .
        I believe in freedom of expression and diversity : I am a product of several races ;
        African , East Indian , Spanish , French and Iranian .
        God wants us to speak the same thing ..
        Arian doctrine is condemned by the Gospel of John , Colossians and 2 John .
        Galatianism is condemned by the book of Galatians and Colossians .
        Those who teach baptism as a non essential for salvation reject Acts 2;38 , 22:16
        Mark 16:16 , John 3;5 and 1 Peter 3:20-21 .
        Paul said clearly : they shall not inherit the kingdom of God .
        I know it is a bitter pill to digest but that is God’s word not ours .
        Have a nice day and thank you for your kind words .

      • January 16, 2017 at 1:20 pm

        Keith:

        Greetings.

        The differences within Christendom does not involve Arianism (a heretical Christology). All Orthodox Christians affirm a divine-human Christ. Christendom’s difference are on secondary issues.

        You can say all Christians should agree on all issues but they don’t. As I noted in my article maybe temporary differences are a way to lead Christ’s church back into greater unity. I think final unity may not happen until the eschaton (John 17).

        Also the thief on the cross was not baptized but apparently was saved. So historic Christians have viewed baptism as normative but not essential for salvation.

        You say speak the same thing but as interpreted by whom? Catholic? Orthodox? Protestant?

        My article offers a possible way of addressing a real challenge within Christendom.

        Best regards in the Triune God.

        Ken Samples

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