In the first installment of this series I pointed out that while disunity among Christians is a problem that hurts the overall Christian witness, many people (especially skeptics) fail to appreciate the tremendous unity that historic believers share. The Christian faith encapsulates a set of beliefs, a collection of values, and encompasses a broad world-and-life view. In these three critical areas the faith holds a robust unity.
But what are we to make of the various divisions in the body of Christ? Isn’t denominationalism scandalous?
Some elements of the denominationalism phenomenon within Christianity are regrettable. I will have more to say about that problem in part four of this series. However, there are also positive features that come from having various theological traditions within Christendom.
Fullness of the Faith
No particular denominational body can encompass all the richness and completeness of the broad historic Christian faith. The various denominations reflect a collage of God’s redeemed people. Christ’s church is one but it is found within the various ecclesiastical traditions that make up authentic Christianity. The Holy Spirit and the truth of Scripture are not the exclusive property of any one denomination within Christendom’s vast domain. Therefore Christians of various traditions have both common elements as well as distinctive features to share with their brothers and sisters in Christ in other denominations.
Diversity Can Provide a Needed Corrective
A variety of ecclesiastical bodies within Christendom means that these traditions serve to challenge and correct each other on doctrinal and moral matters. The denominations can serve as a healthy type of peer review for one another. Christian denominations can learn from the strengths and weaknesses of other theological traditions. Theological debate on such controversial issues as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and eschatology (end times) can serve to enrich multiple bodies when it is conducted with gentleness and theological integrity. Heretical sects, which depart from the essentials of historic Christianity, often suffer from having no legitimate competition or peer review to provide a needed theological corrective.
Principled Protest Has Its Place
Unfortunately, there are times when Christian denominations apostatize (fall away from the faith). When churches or denominations renounce belief in the vital truths of the faith such as the ecumenical creeds of Christendom, then members of these bodies have no alternative but to leave. Thus, some forms of denominationalism are based upon principled acts of protest. The unity of the faith is very important, but never at the expense of essential biblical truth.
While denominationalism poses clear challenges and difficulties for unity among believers, it also emits positive features that contribute to the health of the various Christian theological traditions.
Next week I will discuss the difficulty of sin and hypocrisy as it affects unity within Christianity.
For more on the essential beliefs, values, and worldview orientation of historic Christianity, see my two books Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions and A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test..
For a principled call for reunion among evangelical church bodies, see John M. Frame, Evangelical Reunion: Denominations and the Body of Christ.
|Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5|