As previously noted, God knew full well that denominations would arise, just as he knew a monarchy would arise. I'm going to sketch an argument for denominations.
To begin with, the monarchy wasn't the problem; the motivation was. It's always bad when someone depends on someone or something other than God, and that's how the Israelite monarchy began. What about denominations?
Have you noticed that in 1 Cor 1:12, Paul mentions factions--early denominations--with disquiet and even disgust, but one of the groups claims to follow Christ? It's obvious that someone following Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (Peter) has a problem, but apparently so did the "Christ-followers." Why?
While following Paul is here a bad sign, Paul himself urged others to follow his example (1 Cor 11:1, Php 3:17). The difference is that it's good to follow the example of godly people, but it's bad to follow just one person and ignore all others. This is why the "Christ-followers" were a problem: just as the Paul-followers ignored Apollos and Peter, the "Christ-followers" would have ignored any merely human teacher, including Paul. But Christ sent Paul--and Apollos, Peter, and many others. Ignoring the ones Christ sent meant ignoring Christ. But following Christ in the right way, in humility, means following the ones he has sent as well.
The danger in movements and denominations comes when they have our devotion. Are you a Christian first or a member of your denomination? If your denomination comes first, it has become an idol. Also, you are probably rejecting out of hand some people God has sent to teach you, simply because they aren't from the right group. That's one of the main reasons the Jewish religious establishment rejected Jesus!
The proper use of denominations involves humbly following God's path for you without rejecting others, and in part this means knowing why denominations exist.
Paul told the Corinthians that different groups had to exist among them to show who God approved (1 Cor 11:19). I think we've misunderstood this. He isn't saying that the idea is to find the one group that is completely correct: given human sinfulness, there won't be one. Even if there were for a brief moment, human perversity would misdirect it--and a good thing, too, or we'd begin to worship and rely on it, not God.
This is what Paul was talking about: Christianity involves living out God's love in community, and nothing shows God's love more powerfully than getting along with people when you disagree with them. The existence of different groups should be an opportunity to love fellow Christians who are unlike us. If we do so, well and good; if not, it's really our fault, not the fault of the other groups.
And there will be different groups because we are individually different. Some denominations emphasize quiet contemplation, others loud, energetic worship. Some emphasize individual responsibility, others corporate worship. And so on. Just as no one has all the spiritual gifts, so no one lives out all these facets of the faith in perfect balance. In a given congregation, this leads to the "many parts, one body" phenomenon: no one has to do everything; we each do what we were called to do. And denominationally, there is no one perfect group; each has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own place in the Body. The trick is to carry out your function without demeaning the others. As long as we do that, denominations will be a blessing, not a curse.
1 year ago