By Ron Thomas
Why are there so many denominations? This is the question asked in a Bible study book called God’s Answers to Man’s Questions (p. 178). The answer given? “Each is probably like a variety of fruit and it takes many varieties to make an orchard. (Many spokes to make a wheel.) Christ’s desire is that the Church on earth should be clean, glorious and holy, Eph. 5:27. ‘That He might present it (the Church) to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it (you and I) should be holy and without blemish.’”
This is all there is to his answer. Did he answer it? Yes, I suppose you can say he did. Is his answer adequate or, better yet, biblical? It is not. The Bible passage he referenced is certainly biblical, but it does not support the contention of the “orchard” he mentioned.
In the same epistle of Paul to the Ephesians there is also a reference to the church obeying Christ in everything (5:24), and that there is only one church or body (4:4; 1:22). There is no mention of more than one, and there is no mention of anything corresponding to an orchard.
This is the problem with such an approach to the topic. In one’s desire to be charitable to others of a different persuasion or understanding of Scripture, there is an answer given that is wholly inadequate and unbiblical. It is good to be charitable, but it is better to be biblical.
Problem. Denominationalism got its start with the thinking of man. One can go as far back as 1 Corinthians 1:10, and note the seed of denominationalism being planted. Paul took note of it and “headed it off at the pass” before the seed broke ground (so to speak). Denominationalism is a plague that every man has to address at some level with regard to himself. A man constantly struggles to suppress his own thoughts and his own ways under the authority of Christ. Jeremiah proclaimed quite a number of years ago that in man there is no direction within that allows him to know where he is going – if he desires to go to God. “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23, KJV).
Denominationalism exists because man has allowed his way of thinking to rise to the top. In Galatians 2:20, Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (ESV). Thus, the Lord’s apostle made it very clear that the only thinking that was (and is) to rise to the top is that thinking that belongs to Christ. This is another way of saying that which Paul wrote to the church in Rome. The NET reads, “For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed” (Romans 15:18).
Solution. Considering further what Paul said in his remarks to Rome, he would not allow himself to speak by his authority, but only by the authority of Christ. Given the fact that Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to preach and write, one can be sure he spoke only the word of God (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3). Second, Paul would only do that which the Lord authorized. In other words, if the Lord did not “ok” it, it was not to be done!
The New Testament does not speak, not even a little bit, of denominationalism. It is a man-made concept; they are institutions of ideology that allow us to “agree to disagree.” If there is one “Church” (one body) in the heavenly realm, why is there not the same on earth? Because many want to eat from an orchard full of variety. I, on the other hand, want to eat from the singleness of the Lord’s hand.