An Interesting Question

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
One that has probably been asked before.

A writer at National Review was pondering the following: "If Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al, could have seen the future and what an unholy mess we have made of things, might they not have decided that it would be better to have one church in need of reform than to have 88,862 churches in need of reform?"

I guess the short answer would be: "Well, we have 88,862 churches in need of reform because that one church refused to be reformed."
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
In recent months I've found myself taking the accusation against evangelical denominations much more seriously. After all, Ephesians 4 does say the following:

Ephesians 4:11–15 - And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

Denominationalism is a blight. It shouts disunity. It's embarrassing to see. Denominations aren't the result of the church as a whole becoming godly, but the presence of aberrations. Christ's prayer in John 17 is for the church to be one. Yes, all true believers love one another regardless of stripe, yet how can that prayer not apply to visible unity as well? It rather seems like denominations happen because someone doesn't hold onto the truth, doesn't want to know it, or conflicts are dealt with in an ungracious and unloving fashion. In other words, lack of oneness. Not the ambition of Ephesians 4. As one friend has said, Judgment Day will reveal that many church splits and denominational formations were unnecessary.

Paul's ambition is that we speak the truth in love, thus grow into Christ, our head. Under the heading of truth, our agreement in particulars as well as generalities ought to increase, and our love for one another ought to likewise increase. But I think if we had much more of the latter, there'd be fewer splits, fewer contentions, much more give-and-take in our theological and practical deliberations, more willingness to admit where we are wrong, more inclination to listen, and in that way come nearer to manifesting ourselves as one body in Christ. And we would actually show ourselves to be visibly one. I think it's something that the church ought to work towards and pray for. In New Covenant times with such a promise of the Spirit, I don't think it should be excluded as impossible or even unlikely that there should actually be far fewer than actually are.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
In conjunction with the last post, what denomination met in Acts 15? It wasn't the PCA, OPC, RPCNA, ARBCA... it was just the church.

What denomination met for the council of Nicea? From what I can see, it was just the regional church.
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
'Denominationalism' needs to be defined. Most all orthodox groups all stand under the Apostles Creed and in this, we are unified. The secondary issues are just that, secondary. They do not necessarily, separate, in an absolute sense.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Saying there was one ecclesiastical body in the world pre-Reformation is not true, though the number of bodies was smaller. There had been schisms in the church before that point (even before 1054). It was surely smaller than today by a long shot though.

At the same time, the number of denominations is too small in another sense, because there's also independency. I remember talking to a fairly recent newcomer to a Reformed church, who was part of a church in a micro-denomination of less than a dozen churches. I asked him how he felt about such a small denomination, and he said it was the biggest he had ever been in. He grew up in an IFB church which didn't have any kind of real connection with any other, being independent. There was constant strife between other IFB churches and narrowing of doctrines. To have several other churches in the same geographic region that partnered together strongly was a welcome change.
 

The Original Secession

Puritan Board Freshman
Kevin D Williamson who wrote the article in question a Romanist, and I am sure when he is says that he has other motives involved. In fact much of the Religious right is no longer controlled by Fundamentalist or historic Protestants but rather by Romanist and the Eastern Orthodox. Many of these social commentators, Rod Dreher, Williamson etc seem to have this bizarre fantasy that if there was more unity with the Protestants then politically things would get done. I also don't doubt they harbor the not so subtle fantasy to subject us to some bishop somewhere.

Denominationalism I think arises mostly in an American context because of our history, we have allowed religious freedom and therefore any Christian denomination has a right to exist. Further in a society that values the Free Market so much; denominationalism(Claiming to be the only Biblical Church, and marketing yourself) makes sense. Basically every church in a given geographic area is competing with other churches, it doesn't help that Evangelical Church planting gurus and "consultants" use modern advertising and marketing schemes to attract people.

In respect Jake's thoughts on John 17, before Christ prayed His wonderful petition for unity(John 17:21) he stated in John 17:17 " Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."I think this gives us an idea of the priority here, we can't have true unity apart from the truth. Christ is praying that his people would be made holy by Truth, I think again this demonstrates the vitality of knowing the Truth. The more the Christian knows the better he can live to his chief end. Christ gave a similar rejoinder in verse 19 of John 17. In John 17:21 he really prayed directly for unity, but notice it how Christ described it- it is similar to the relationship between the Father and Son of the Godhead. Surely this high standard! You can't sacrifice any truth for the sake of outward unity, it must be perfect at least in accord with this standard. Overall true Christian unity isn't outward, and it can't be, it is Spiritual and it must be so.

The last thing I would say is very practically if you know anything about the Church of Rome they have outward unity but inwardly there are different rites, which hold different beliefs, and feud with each other over doctrine. There are a lot of inward politics in the church of Rome. Protestants though perhaps don't value outward unity enough, but Rome and the Ecumenical movement give way too much ground.


Ultimately my conclusion is this quote is from a Romanist who doesn't actually care about Protestantism, or the corruption of the church. I don't think there is much stock to be put in this.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
I’ve recently wondered whether the various regional churches in the ancient Church were something akin to modern day denominations. After all, surely the church in Rome had different theological distinctives than the church in Antioch or Jerusalem. Same thing with East and West, even before the Schism. They didn’t deny that other regional churches were true churches, but they had objective and identifiable differences. Is not today's denominationalism similar, just on a smaller scale? My church doesn’t deny that the Baptist church across the street is a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we do have differences in doctrine and practice.
 

Chad Hutson

Puritan Board Freshman
Just yesterday I heard a staggering statement from a lifelong Christian who has spent 30 years in a non-denominational church: "I don't know why we need doctrine! Doctrine just seems to divide everyone." Stunning!
Differences in doctrine and practice don't disqualify from unity in matters of first importance.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
The question is predicated on naive historical assumptions. And I've never found discussions about "what might have been" particularly profitable.
 

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
One that has probably been asked before.

A writer at National Review was pondering the following: "If Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al, could have seen the future and what an unholy mess we have made of things, might they not have decided that it would be better to have one church in need of reform than to have 88,862 churches in need of reform?"

I guess the short answer would be: "Well, we have 88,862 churches in need of reform because that one church refused to be reformed."
You can't reform a church if you've been excommunicated for trying to reform it.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
You can't reform a church if you've been excommunicated for trying to reform it.
This is also the other thing to remember. The Reformers didn’t, for the most part, separate themselves from the church. They sought to bring it back in alignment with Scripture and were cast out for doing so. That’s one thing that really annoys me: when I hear a papist say, for example, that Luther left the church. Um, no (LOL).
 

Jonathan95

Puritan Board Freshman
This was a type of stumbling block for me when I first came to faith. As of now I view denominations as helpful. They let me know who takes the Scriptures most seriously and who prefers to pick and choose what to believe and what to cast away.

I think the real problem is non denominations. I've had pastors, and talked to Christians, that explain why they are non denominational. It's essentially that they think it is the "purest" way to share and experience the Gospel. No issues of deep doctrinal devide. No preconceived notions before stepping into the church due to denominational baggage. Just people coming together to worship Jesus.

This is foolish thinking of course. It's just your church's own private denomination. And what are the odds that these churches that I've seen lean towards being Pentacostal, Progressive, and Word of Faith?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
The New Testament passages that speak of believers being unified don't have organizational unity top of mind. Those passages seem more concerned with infighting and backbiting within an organized church or group of churches. Infighting continues to plague both Catholic and Protestant churches.

If we want to take the passages about unity seriously (and we should), the first place our attention must go is in-house: the ways we bicker over politics, or how we seek to maliciously discredit those on the "wrong side" of inter-church or denominational squabbles, or our fortress-minded reluctance to fully welcome in believers who arrive from a different tradition/background/side of the denomination, out of a desire to protect our turf. That is a more dangerous disunity than denominations are.

As for organizational unity, denominationalism is most pronounced in the US, and not all of it here is bad. Yes, some of it is a carryover from different branches of the Reformation or the doctrinal disunity of the English Reformation. But much of our denominationalism is simply the result of us being a nation of immigrants who founded American versions of the churches they had in their home countries—and an organizational grouping of churches by nationality is not necessarily such a bad thing, especially if believers still tend to get along and appreciate each other. Other denominational divisions have resulted from faithful churches rejecting various wacko ideas of the Second Awakening, or rejecting theological liberalism, both of which were necessary. So the organizational disunity of American denominationalism is not all due to strife, and is often due to the good strife of believers who unified around biblical doctrine.

Furthermore, denominationalism is waning. In several ways, Bible-believing Americans are becoming more unified organizationally. The phenomenon of evangelicalism has made unity around the truth of Scripture more important than denominational affiliation to many believers. When American evangelical Protestants need to find a new church, denomination is often not their first criteria. The denominational disunity is merely a surface thing to them, and there is a deeper unity around other matters that is fostered by shared publications, cross-denominational leaders, large evangelical organizations and parachurch ministries, etc. Organizationally, the American church is more unified than it might look from consulting a denominational family tree.

To me, the most concerning organizational disunity within American Protestantism is the continued divide between historically black churches and historically white/other churches. This should not have happened in the first place. For example, the AME would not have been necessary if white Methodists had fully welcomed in their black brothers and sisters. And the divide continues to be fairly strong even when we look beyond official denominational distinctives. This is a particularly sad disunity that flows from the sin of some of our forefathers, and probably from some continued mistrust at the least, and it deserves criticism. (And admitting so does not mean one has succumbed to wokeness.)
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
One that has probably been asked before.

A writer at National Review was pondering the following: "If Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al, could have seen the future and what an unholy mess we have made of things, might they not have decided that it would be better to have one church in need of reform than to have 88,862 churches in need of reform?"

I guess the short answer would be: "Well, we have 88,862 churches in need of reform because that one church refused to be reformed."
If viewed from a purely historical perspective, the vast majority of the 88,862 churches would not even be considered a church by the standards of their (i.e. Luther and Calvin) day.

Furthermore if Luther and Calvin had not separated (particularly Calvin) they would have been dead before they had an opportunity to reform anything because Rome would have had them killed. Indeed many of those who had separated peacefully were put under the sword. To be blunt, the state of the church under Rome was contemptible, insofar as scandals and impiety ran rampant in that communion, and were countenanced and propagated by Christ's so-called vicar.

Thus, as Turretin noted, divorce was necessary if, for no other reason, that the papacy was considered to be the Antichrist. And though our separations and divisions are lamentable, at least there is hope that change can come by God's Spirit. But there is no way to reform Antichrist for he is, by his very nature, irreformable.
 
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