“That they May Be One”
“...that they may be perfected in unity ."

By Jon W. Quinn

 Some have wondered why there are so many different denominations scattered across the world today. They each have their own names and doctrines. They worship differently and have differing goals. Most also have many things in common, but the question is why are there such differences that they are compelled to divide into distinct groupings of congregations? More importantly, is this what Jesus desires?

One denominational preacher, in seeking to justify this condition, illustrated the "wisdom" of having so many denominations. He said that it was a lot like a lady buying a hat. What suits one lady fine may not suit another, so stores provide plenty of different types of hats from which to choose. That way, the lady who prefers a hat bedecked with imitation fruit can buy it; and the lady who prefers flowers can buy that one instead.

Now then, I can see the wisdom of having a choice in hats (well, most hats anyway). And there is also wisdom in a system of government that allows people a choice of religion or even to choose no religion at all. You cannot force a change of heart and the Lord has never been pleased with worshipers just going through the motions. There must be a true conversion of heart. It will not serve the Lord's purpose to try and force others to become what they do not want to be.

So, consider the question
"Is it so bad to have a thousand different denominations rather than just one body of believers?" From a social or political standpoint, it may arguably be good to have the civil freedom to have as many denominations as our hearts' desire. But we are going to answer the question from another perspective: "Just because Jesus wants us to have freedom of choice and use it to choose Him, does that mean He is pleased with whatever our choice may be?”

Jesus Wants A Specific Unity Among His Disciples
So, how important is unity among believers to Jesus? It was part of His prayer on the way to Gethsemane where He would be arrested:

"I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. “
(John 17:20-23).

Now note this: Jesus desired for unity to exist between disciples just as it does between the Father and the Son. The Father and the Son have the same intent and purpose. They are in absolute agreement about what constitutes holiness, morality and righteousness. There are no contradictions between them. There is no conflict. None. That is exactly what Jesus desires in His disciples.

The fact that there are a thousand denominations simply shows that something which Jesus wanted never to happen has happened at least a thousand times. And people claiming to be disciples caused it to happen every one of those times! Whatever good feelings may exist between these different groups is fine; we ought to have good will toward all men. But Jesus prayed for a unity much deeper than that.

The New Testament and Unity
The Corinthians were having many problems with overcoming their carnality. They had begun to split and divide into smaller groups. Each group had begun to have differing attitudes and judgments and to designate itself by a different name (see I Corinthians 1:10-13).

Paul ordered the church at Corinth to make correction. And yet, throughout history, the exact same thing has occurred bringing about division after division. In fact, the very word
"denomination" means "division". Paul did not commend their divisions by suggesting that it was much like buying a hat. Instead, he reminded them of the authority of the Lord Jesus. He has already told us what kind of "hat" to wear; so to speak.

The New Testament stresses the unity of the church. It is
"one body". Jesus had promised, "I will
build My church" and never suggested that He would build “churches” as in differing denominations (Matthew 16:16-18; Ephesians 4:3,4; 1:22,23).

In fact, the Bible not only urges unity of mind and voice among disciples of Jesus, it gives instruction on how that can be accomplished. It does not appeal to our opinions or likes or dislikes. That is fine to do if you are looking to buy a hat, but it is not the way to please the Lord. Instead, it appeals to the mind of Christ. When all will honestly say,
"I will put away my opinions forever and accept fully the will of Christ" then we shall have taken a giant and needed step toward the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed (Romans 15:5,6).

The Cause of Denominationalism
The cause of there being so many denominations has always been the improper pride of men and women who are willing to change God's written law (I Corinthians 4:6). Just like at Corinth, a group will form a denomination by selecting a particular name by which to identify themselves and at the same time distinguish themselves from others (1 Corinthians 1:12). Then, representatives from the group will vote on various rules and regulations that the group will hold in common. These will then be put into a creed book. These rules of men are subject to change (what is immoral this year may not be after next year's vote!). Is that what Jesus wants? (Matthew 15:9).

One can try on different denominations the way a woman might try on different hats, never asking the question,
"Is this church doing what the Bible teaches?" Is that what Jesus wants? Maybe instead of looking for the church of "our" choice, we ought to consider what Jesus' choice would be. To honor Christ is to honor His desire. He desires that we come together in unity; a unity of mind and purpose as we submit to His will. True unity calls for humble hearts before God and loving, trusting submission to His only creed; the standard of His holy word.

From The Bradley Banner 6/14/2009
Published by the Bradley Church of Christ
1505 E. Broadway
Return to Bulletins of the Month
Return to Homepage