Why are there so many denominations?

This is a really confusing subject for people who are looking into Christianity from outside. Here are some biblical principles to help us navigate the mess: 

i) Jesus set up a church on earth, which he promised to preserve from Satanic attack until his return (Matt 16:18; 28:19-20)

– This means I can have confidence that I can find Christ’s church on earth. 

ii) Jesus appoints earthly leaders in that church – apostles and prophets (at first), followed by elders and deacons (Eph 4:11; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13), who are responsible for overseeing the churches and the people who belong to them (Acts 20:28; Heb 13:17). 

– This means I need to care about how Christ’s church is governed, and be willing to submit to that oversight. I can’t just work out the difference between false/true churches by myself with an internet connection. 

iii) Jesus treats belonging to the church on earth as the equivalent of being saved in heaven (Matt 16:19; 18:18) 

– This means being recognised as belonging to a local church should be very, very important to me. 

iv) Jesus was clear that false teachers will arise who will lead many people astray in his name (Matt 16:6; 24:5; Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1); his true church is marked by faithfulness to the gospel (John 10:3-5)

– This means I should be vigilant about what a church actually believes and practices, not just choose a church based on what I happen to like, or numbers.  I should particularly pay attention to what they believe about:

  • The identity of God – his triune character (Matt 28:19) 
  • The identity of Jesus – fully God, and fully man (John 1:1, 14)
  • The problem of sin – the well don’t need a doctor (Mark 2:17)
  • The grace of Christ – salvation is by grace alone (Eph 2:8-9)
  • The fruit of holiness – salvation creates fruit (Matt 7:17; Gal 5:22) 

v) When Jesus saves us, he promises to equip us to distinguish truth from error by means of his word (John 10:27; 1 John 4:1-6; Acts 17:11; 2 Tim 3:16; Isa 8:20) 

– This means I should get to know my Bible, and constantly check everything with Scripture, but humbly, not being wise in my own interpretation.

vi) Jesus will perfect his church, but the process won’t be finished until his return (Eph 5:27), so, until then, every local church is subject to mixture and error (1 Cor 11:17; Matt 13:24-30, 47) 

– This means I need to be patient with my local church, not treating every doctrinal error or moral transgression as reason to leave.