December 01, 2022

Why Are There So Many Denominations in the Church?

Nathan W. Bingham & Harry Reeder
Why Are There So Many Denominations in the Church?

There are many different denominations that make up the church of Jesus Christ. Today on the Ask Ligonier podcast, listen as Harry Reeder describes some of the ways that these distinctions come about.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining me live at Ligonier’s 2022 Birmingham conference is the senior minister at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Dr. Harry Reeder. Dr. Reeder, why are there so many denominations in the church?

DR. HARRY REEDER: Well, Nathan, Jacob has a great question, and it’s actually one of these questions that cuts both ways. So let me take the two questions up, one after the other, and then connect them back together. Number one is, why are there so many denominations in the Christian church? Not why are there so many religions, but within Christianity, why are there so many denominations? Well, there’re two reasons. Some denominations have grown out of the sins of men: factions, self-absorption, self-promotion, manipulation, and departure from the truth are a wrong way of ministering to others who are not addressing the truth right. And so unnecessary divisions.

By the way, one of the best epistles to do this is to take a look at 1 Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul is addressing the divisions at Corinth. And what he says to that church about its divisions within that church is very much applicable to answering this question. He says that the divisions are there out of the sinfulness of men who begin to have a party spirit, who promote themselves or promote others. And it becomes about the servants of Christ instead of Christ. And that’s why he says, “Who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We’re servants. Christ is our Savior. Christ is our Lord. Christ is our Master.” So, some denominations are there out of the sinfulness and self-centeredness and self-absorption and self-promotion of individuals or groups.

But he then says in the same text, “I hear there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part because those who are of the truth need to be approved.” In other words, some divisions become necessary in order to uphold the truth. And so, that would be the second reason. And that brings me to the answer to his second question. The existence of some denominations mars the witness for Christ because the origins of those denominations had nothing to do with being faithful to Christ and His Word and being led by the Spirit. The origin had to do with it was all about the leaders of that movement, instead of the leaders making it all about Christ. But then there has to be—in order to honor Christ—times we have to separate from false teaching.

Now, what we ought to do in the church is bring the discipline of God’s grace to bear in the church and discipline out of the church false leadership and false teaching. That’s why the Apostle Paul said to the elders at Ephesus, “Be on guard for yourselves and for the flock of God, which he has made you overseers.” Why? Why be on guard? Because false teachers who twist the Scriptures and false leaders who will lead others to themselves instead of Christ are coming among you, the elders in this church.

So, exercise church discipline so that false teaching and false leaders have no place and no home in the context of the church unless they repent. But having said that, we also realize that sometimes false leaders and false teaching has gotten into the church, and it is beyond the remedy of church discipline. And the church discipline now is we have to depart because the glory of the Lord has departed this particular church and in this particular situation.

My closing thought is Christ’s church will stand. I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. But not every local church and every denomination will stand. You can only stand firm in Christ when you stand firm for Christ in the gospel and the truth of His Word. And surrender to the Spirit of God and exist not for the glory of the denomination and the leaders, but for the glory of God alone.