Why do we have so many different denominations today?

Sometimes the truth is preserved better in fresh wineskins.

Acts 19:8-10 – “Then Paul went into the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But when some of them stubbornly refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way, Paul took his disciples and left the synagogue to conduct daily discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that everyone who lived in the province of Asia, Jews and Greeks alike, heard the word of the Lord.”

While estimates vary widely based on how a denomination is defined, some estimates put the total current number of Christian denominations worldwide (2022) as approximately 43,000-45,000. Even if this number is exaggerated by a factor of 2, that would still mean over 20,000 different denominations. Why is this the case?

The passage in Acts 19 above illustrates to me why there are so many. As was his common practice, when Paul went to a new area to spread the gospel of the kingdom, he would typically begin in the local Jewish synagogue. Some might believe and trust in Messiah; most wouldn’t. In this case, the text says that “some of them [the Jews of the synagogue] stubbornly refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way…” They were not only not being receptive to the message that Paul was preaching, they actively began a campaign of discreditation against Paul and the believers.

To protect the disciples of the believing sect, what was becoming known as the Way, Paul decided to separate himself from the corrupt activities of the Jews against them and “took his disciples and left the synagogue to conduct daily discussions in the lecture hall…” What they did was essentially created a separate sect within Judaism, distinguishing between those who were Messiah believers, and those who were not.

The results of this separation bore much fruit for the work of God, as the final verse mentions that “this continued for two years, so that everyone who lived in the province of Asia, Jews and Greeks alike, heard the word of the Lord.”

While it seems counterintuitive, sometimes separation is the only way to maintain the integrity of the truth. The fruit in the blossoming congregation in Ephesus bore witness to the testimony of the effectiveness of this type of action.

However, today I believe the issue of most dividing congregations and denominations stems less from a stand for the truth and more from an affinity for particular opinions. Believers have historically split on differing opinions of doctrinal issues such as baptism, spiritual gifts, views on end times, etc., yet more and more commonly they will also split over non-essential things like worship styles and modes of attire. Yet each of these issues are spelled out in God’s word and have a specific significance, or they would not be in there in the first place.

So how can we tell the difference between a legit truth split and an opinion split? One key way is to ensure that any distinctions are focused on those who believe Messiah, and those who don’t, much like the Ephesian congregation as described here. Another significant way is to become so familiar with the whole of God’s word that clear understanding becomes readily apparent through the Spirit of God. Another way is to see the fruit or results in the lives of each of the groups who had split: which group is actually flourishing within the kingdom and which is fading away with only bitterness over having lost a portion of their fellowship?

Division is never an easy event to endure, and sometimes you may find that in order to “keep the peace” of the congregation, that you are the one who has to move on as your views have grown and perhaps theirs have not. One thing is certain, division over doctrine is nothing new and is destined to continue. Our focus should remain on what the clear uniting features are of God’s word, and allow those seeds to bear fruit wherever they can be planted and received as they are, the word of God. As Yeshua taught:

Matthew 7:6 – “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”


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Being vigilant about what to believe

Our individual worldview can influence which things we accept as true and which things we reject as false.

Mark 1:15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Luke 4:43 But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.”

While there are many different religions in the world, all with differing views of God and spirituality, we find that even amidst Christianity there are wide variations among denominations and churches all claiming competing views of biblical faith. They all have “statements of faith” of what they consider the most important things for people to believe. In order to belong to a specific church or denomination, one must believe what their statements proclaim.

Here at the Core of the Bible blog and podcast, I don’t have a statement of faith, and I think that throws some people off because they want to know if I am presenting an orthodox view of the faith (according to them). Instead, I am always striving to present the message of the Bible reduced to its simplest form, not trying to complicate things further with man-made creeds. However, if I was pegged to distill the message of the Bible to one phrase regarding a statement of faith, it would be this: “Just believe Yeshua (Jesus).”

Of course, in saying that, a host of pre-existing and unstated elements would also have to be believed in to arrive at that simplistic statement. To believe in Yeshua, one would also need to believe the Bible is true, and truly depicts his life and teaching. If one believes the Bible is true, then one is understood to recognize that Israel was a faithful caretaker of the words of God. If one believes that Israel was faithful with the words of God, then the God of the Bible is recognized as being the true God. If one believes the God of the Bible is true, then, according to the Bible record, one understands he is the originator of everything that exists.

Everything we believe and know is interconnected to a host of other biases and assumptions about life and the universe. Our individual worldview can influence which things we accept as true and which things we reject as false.

For me, I do believe the biblical worldview. I accept that there is a God of the universe, and that he has chosen to reveal himself through what we call the Bible. The reason I do is because I believe the patterns, stories, and wisdom contained there hold a consistent message about the kingdom of God that has been borne out in real time through the historical circumstances of ancient Israel. I have concluded that Yeshua provided the pinnacle or the culmination of that message of the kingdom, and that the Sermon on the Mount provides a foundational structure that supports the rest of the biblical narrative. By focusing on the principles Yeshua outlines there, I believe a firm footing is achieved for a practical outworking of faith and the kingdom of God through all ages. For me, the message of the kingdom of God in the Bible gives reason for all that exists, and for why we are here.

In the spirit of simplicity, it is my hope that these notes, articles and podcasts will convey that understanding and reason in a way that makes sense to you. If you are ever in doubt about what I am attempting to convey, or you have questions about my stance on a particular thought, feel free to reach out to me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

And if you are ever in doubt about something particular in a church’s statement of faith, remember: Just believe Yeshua (Jesus), and you will be fine.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here.