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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The balance of practicing cautious compassion

We are encouraged by Jude to initially show mercy to those who may oppose the message of the kingdom.

Show mercy to those who have doubts. Save others by snatching them from the fire. Show mercy to others, even though you are afraid that you might be stained by their sinful lives.

Jude 1:22-23

The admonitions of Jude revolve around contending for “the faith which once and for all God has given to his people.” The reason this had become necessary was due to the growth of the believers’ assemblies and the mixing in of others who were not true believers.

For some godless people have slipped in unnoticed among us, persons who distort the message about the grace of our God in order to excuse their immoral ways, and who reject Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord.

Jude 1:4

According to Jude, the baseline for belonging within the believers’ assembly is accepting Yeshua as Lord and Master; i.e., recognizing his unique role as the leader of God’s kingdom on earth, and abiding by his teachings. He recognized that individuals who did not hold those basic tenets had begun to infiltrate their assemblies.

  • v. 8 “[they] have visions which make them sin against their own bodies; they despise God’s authority and insult the glorious beings above.”
  • v. 10 “these people attack with insults anything they do not understand; and those things that they know by instinct, like wild animals, are the very things that destroy them.”
  • v. 16 “These people are always grumbling and blaming others; they follow their own evil desires; they brag about themselves and flatter others in order to get their own way.”
  • v. 19 “These are the people who cause divisions, who are controlled by their natural desires, who do not have the Spirit.”

How the assemblies of that day had come to admit such individuals, especially in such an apparent widespread manner, is the topic of another study on vigilance. However, the admonition of Jude is to remain cautiously compassionate, even with these types of individuals. He encourages the true believers to “show mercy” to such as these, and any who might be seduced by their selfish doctrines.

This is reminiscent of Paul’s admonition to Timothy

The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but be gentle towards all, able to teach, patient, in gentleness correcting those who oppose him: perhaps God may give them repentance leading to a full knowledge of the truth…

2 Timothy 2:24-25

The caution principle comes in as Yeshua instructs us there is a point where we should recognize that some individuals will unfortunately remain resistant to the truth and possibly become harmful to us as individuals and to the kingdom objectives.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:6

Paul also cautions Titus:

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:10-11

However, our initial response to those who oppose the message of the kingdom is to remain cautiously compassionate, to reach out and offer to assist and answer concerns, because through these gentle initial overtures, many may have had their eyes opened to their own sinful ways and have been encouraged to repent and truly follow the Messiah.

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. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.