The Problem of Denominations
Roger Oliver


Unity in the body of Christ is a primary testimony to the world that Jesus was sent by the Father. Some say it is the only testimony other than the miracles recorded in the Gospels. The reference is to John 17:20-23, the part of Jesus’ wonderful high priestly prayer for his disciples dedicated to those who would believe because of the testimony of these men. That means us, we believe.

Verse 23, “I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me.”

That there are so many denominations and Christianity seems so divided is worrisome. I heard the old folks complain about this when I was still a boy in knee pants. There are many old jokes about this problem that have withstood the test of time. Seems like the unity we have in mind would itself be a miracle.

Jesus also said, “…on this rock I will build my church.” Matthew 16:18. I don’t think Jesus is waiting around for us to get our stuff together in one denomination. It apparently doesn’t depend on us. Moreover, if God is sovereign, has He not permitted this for His purposes? Earlier in that section of Jesus’ prayer he said, “I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.” Perhaps that is the root of the problem. But if Jesus prayed it, it was an effectual and fervent prayer.

Before the Enlightenment’s terrible seeds began to bear their fruit of destruction, Christians were generally united in thinking of the faith as a Kingdom over all of creation with a single ruler and a single Law. That idea was removed from our educational system by the Progressives and through the educational system from the culture and largely from the church and the minds of believers.

Our children may know the Bible stories and may be able to correctly repeat the great tenants of the Christian faith, but they live by the worldview they learned in the public schools. Christianity became a personal and private faith, a Kingdom whose king went away and is still absent. Every Christian, like the rest of the culture, is a law unto himself. That never works. The tyrants are filling the void.

That we have lost the vision of Christianity as a Kingdom is more troublesome to me than the plethora of denominations. Our squabbles are generally about trifles. At the same time, some of the most vehement resistance to the dominion of the crown rights of Christ are coming from within the church itself.

None of this is new nor has it taken God by surprise. Rehoboam was an arrogant idiot who was responsible for dividing the kingdom by promising to raise taxes. But this was by God’s will as a judgement on Solomon for letting his foreign wives lead him away to worship their gods.

Jesus ends his prayer in John 17 with these reassuring words, “Righteous Father, even if the world does not know you, I know you, and these men know that you sent me. I made known your name to them, and I will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.” John 17:25–26. More of a process than a state of being maybe. If Jesus said he will continue to make it known, he still is. You can take that to the bank.

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