This question was asked of me, “there are 34,000+ different Christian denominations today. Who is to say which churches constitute the congregations of ‘true Christians’?” My response was…
I saw someone else make a similar statement about two weeks ago and have not had time to comment but would like to do so now. The post I am commenting about used 19,000+ as the number of Christian Denominations.
I would like to postulate a question that I believe statements like this beg to ask. I believe this is what people mean when they make such comments, “With between 19 and 34 thousand different Christian denominations, is it not ludicrous to think there is anything but confusion among Christians as to what Christianity is? Why should I consider joining such a confused bunch? Is there really any logical reason to consider Jesus Christ?”
It is my belief that people who make such claims, as there being between 19 and 34 thousand denominations of Christianity, in the sense that there are that many different versions are really saying, “you guys are fools and can’t even figure out ya’lls own religion”. Some may actually believe that there are many different versions of Christianity, but I believe that most prop up such bogus ideas in their head to justify their denial of Jesus Christ.
FALSE TEACHERS, PROPHETS, GOSPELS AND A DIFFERENT JESUS
Every New Testament book except Philemon contains warnings against false teachings, false prophets and false gospels that teach a different Jesus and a different Spirit. Paul said there were false teachers among the Corinthians and Jesus said “beware for many come false teachers have come to lead you astray”. We are told that there are men who secretly introduce destructive heresies and that Satan and his ministers masquerade as Servants of Righteousness. We are even told that there are Doctrines of Demons.
To the church in Galatia Paul said “you are being thrown into confusion by people trying to pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ, I am astonished that you so quickly turn from the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel”. We are told not to accept any other gospels than the one preached by the Apostles, even if they come from Angels or the Apostles themselves.
Satan is rightfully descripted as “adversary”. But Christianity is not dualistic (there is not a bad god and a good god battling it out) and because God is sovereign, Satan cannot be rightfully viewed as an adversary to God. He is just a created fallen angel. Satan opposes God’s plan of redemption. He does this by perverting the simple Gospel of Grace and certain truths about the nature of God, Man, Angels and Salvation.
ORTHODOXY VERSES HETERODOXY
The New Testament and church history shows that Christianity has always made a valiant effort to keep the Gospel from being perverted in the midst of constant attempts to redefine the essence of Christianity. The book of Galatians notes that some were trying to lure the Christians in Galatia back into the legalistic systems of Judaism, and the epistles of John tell us that Gnostic Teachings where already on the rise.
Detractors always like to claim that Christianity was not a codified belief system until the creed producing church councils, which they wrongfully say was the beginning of what we call the Church. Dan Brown claims that it was at these councils that Christianity was invented. But anyone who knows church history will tell you that these councils where required because false teachings came to attention and had to be dealt with. The church councils where not held to establish real or essential Christian doctrine, but to refute false heretical teachings that had risen up in the church. Establishing Essential Doctrine was a byproduct of some of these councils, and as Gnostic writings continued to appear on the scene these councils also established what is the Cannon (measure of, or for, inspired scripture). Christians have always struggled to keep out the heterodox beliefs and to the keeping in of the orthodox.
History shows that Christianity was institutionalized as the state religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine. The Christians had been persecuted, even to death, for their beliefs about Jesus for many years, and the reprieve was welcomed but wrought its own problems. The major problem was that religious belief cannot be mandated by a state since religious belief is soulish in nature, and law cannot dictate personal belief. You can make a pagan say he believes in Jesus but you can’t make him actually believe in Jesus through force. In the generations after Constantine people were said to be Christian by virtue of the place of their birth (i.e. in Rome) not by virtue of their beliefs. All roman citizens were decreed to be Christians because of their birthplace, but that did not make all Romans non-pagans or actual Christians. Christianity was temporarily redefined by some.
I am not at home so I don’t have the specifics handy, but at one point a Pope made a decree that church tradition would be given as much emphasis as scripture regarding Christian beliefs. By elevating church tradition to the level of scripture as the authority for defining and living the Christian faith, the Catholic Church perverted the gospel as it had never been perverted before. The deification and worship of Mary, salvation by penance and works, and many other heretical beliefs arose which required the protesting of the Protestant Movement. Once perverted the Catholic Church remained apostate and Christians required a separation and reformation. It was a return to the Essential Doctrines of Jesus and the apostles themselves.
UNITY WITHIN DIVERSITY
A few months ago, I was engaged in debates at Factnet (a cult watch ministry) with followers of Arnold Murray and the Shepard’s Chapel. They can be called a Christian Cult because they do not hold to Essential Doctrine. They cannot be called a denomination or a true church. They have nothing in common with others that call themselves Christian, except for the name Christian. They hold an unorthodox view concerning the nature of God, Man, Sin and Salvation. From non-essentials such as the heresy of pre-existence, to the heresy of anglo-israelism, to the essentials of God, Man and Salvation by grace, not works or genetics, they are unorthodox to the core. They are not Unified Within Diversity as real Christians are. They are isolated and don’t have unity with those who hold to Essential Doctrines. Let me explain what I mean by Unity Within Diversity.
My phone book list about 20 different local Christian Churches. Among them are denominations and non-denominations and Christian Cults. I can go to most of those churches and have much unity in beliefs with them, especially concerning Jesus. As many have said “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things love”. Some I could not attend at all because they are diametrically opposed to essential orthodox Christian beliefs, but we must remember that they are Cults by virtue of their unorthodox teachings.
Christians churches and denominations enjoy a shared Unity Within Diversity about beliefs concerning God, Man, Sin and Salvation amongst all non-cult denominations and non-denominational churches. But a follower of Arnold Murray and the Shepard’s Chapel cannot enjoy that same unity with other local churches. To fellowship they have to travel to Arkansas or do their fellowshipping online with other Shepard Chaplers. They are isolated, exclusive and authoritarianist because of their beliefs.
There are beliefs that are essential to Orthodox Christianity. There are beliefs that are important, but not essential. And there are beliefs that have no relevance at all concerning orthodoxy such as eschatology. Because most of these churches hold to Essential Doctrines, they could be called essentially Christian. But some would have to be called Christian Cults because they are not Christian by virtue of the essence of their beliefs about Jesus Christ, yet still apply the name Christian to themselves.
THE VISABLE AND INVISABLE CHURCH
Who is to say which churches constitute the congregations of ‘True Christians’?
I think it is fair and right to say that there are two real churches of Jesus Christ. The visible and the invisible. The cooperate and the spiritual. We must realize that the church is personal and spiritual, and it is not an institution. There is not one denomination that is totally doctrinally correct. Denominations arise out of non-essential matters such as which day is the Sabbath (SDA), and should we be baptized by immersion (Baptist) or sprinkling. If a denomination arises out of a misconstrued essential doctrine, it is not a denomination but a Christian Cult.
It is safe to say that no church organization has the corner on True Christianity. There are true Christians within all Christian denominations and non-denominations. There are false Christians within all denominations and non denominations. But there is exactly zero false Christians in the invisible church.
My conclusion is that it is not appropriate to say there are many Christian denominations and try to link any and all proclaimed denominations with true Christianity. The Bible is full of warnings about false teachings, prophets, gospels, spirits and even false Jesus’s. The Bible even claims that it is a fallen angel’s agenda to pervert the truths contained in the Bible. History shows the fight to keep Christianity from being redefined. It is absurd to say “I will not consider Jesus because there is no unity in his followers” because there is Unity Within Diversity among the people of Jesus.
There are many individuals and groups that call themselves Christians, but you don’t become a car by parking in a garage. You have to become a car to be a car by nature. A Christian is a Christian by virtue of what they believe about Jesus Christ. I have avoided defining what is Essential Christian Doctrine because I don’t have time, but I will say it is safe to say if you don’t think Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Light, you’re not a real Christian. It is safe to say that not all, but close to all Christian churches listed in my phone book believe He is The Way, The Truth and The Light. It is safe to say that of 19-34 thousand alleged Christian denominations that there is only one true church, and it is called the Body of Christ, of which Jesus is the head. The True Church is not a denomination. The true church are people that hold to Essential Christian Doctrine.
It should be no surprise that there is Unity Within Diversity within true Christianity. To be otherwise would be authoritarianism.