Are denominations Biblical?
Question: I have a new question for you to tackle. Is there support in the Bible for the starting of denominations and if so what are the requirements? I would love to hear your comments as most people kind of stutter and and switch topics when asked this question.
Answer: I’m writing this on the fly and I don’t have a Bible in front of me at the moment, so I’ll give you the first thoughts that pop into my head on this.
First of all, I’m not as negative as most Christians I know when it comes to the subject of denominations. There are many people that see the presence of so many denominations and splinter groups within Christianity as a negative thing. I don’t view it that way. If you study the New Testament closely, you’ll notice that the apostles approved of diversity within the Church from the beginning.
The first example I can think of is the appointing of the 7 elders in Acts chapter 6. All of the elders chosen were Jews from a Hellenistic background. Dr. C. Peter Wagner in his book, “Acts of the Holy Spirit” says that the incident of choosing Hellenist deacons represents a natural racial/cultural separation in the early church. It doesn’t seem that Luke would have us to believe that the incident was a negative occurence. (Of course, we can’t press this too far. The church in Antioch was racially diverse and it is certainly held up as a model church for future believers to aspire to)
Another example of a sanctified split is the dispute between Barnabas and Paul over John Mark. After they couldn’t resolve their dispute, they went their separate ways. Luke makes no moral judgment on the matter, but we have no reason to believe that Barnabas left the ministry or dropped out of the faith over the issue. He probably continued the ministry in other places.
In Acts chapter 15, when the Apostles dealt with the question of whether Gentiles need to be circumcised to be included in the Covenant community, the Jerusalem Council decided that the Gentiles should not be burdened with the ceremonial aspects of the law even though the Jewish believers continued to practice the Torah in the same way they had always done (although there is evidence that their views did gradually liberalize as is the case with Peter staying with Simon the Tanner). The Jerusalem Council decision was a landmark decision denoting apostolic approval of cultural diversity within the universal Body of Christ.
On the other side of the coin, it’s also true that Paul took a negative view of the factions within the Corinthian Church. Some said they followed Paul, others said they followed Peter or Apollos. Paul’s point was that Christ should be the uniting factor regardless of who follows who.
Lastly, if you study the Judean Churches and compare them with the churches that Paul founded, you will see that the leadership structure was very different and so was the structure of their meetings. Paul’s churches seem to be free-wheeling and “make the leadership structure up as you go along” while the Judean churches seem to be more organized. This tells me that there is no one definitive set of church government in the New Testament. This makes sense because Jesus taught His disciples to shun titles (e.g. In Matthew He says,”Do not call anyone Rabbi, Father, or Teacher)
Knowing that the New Testament does not lay out a uniform set of church government (this is why I reject the doctrine of Apostolic succession) simplifies your question on what is the requirement to form a new group of believers (whether a church or a denomination). The answer is simple: Godly character and doctrinal purity. I don’t think the Holy Spirit is as concerned about organizational structure as we are. Just an opinion, but I think it’s a wellfounded opinion.
Well that’s all for now. I’m definitely not an authority on this subject, so I think this will make a great discussion for the comments section. I’ll be out of town for a couple of weeks, so I probably will not be posting for a while. Let’s get a discussion going! Perhaps show this to your friends, Pete and see what you guys come up with.
Hope you’re enjoying yourself at school. We miss you at SCCC!