“Ron: Why do we have so many different kinds of churches??” Wow! Where on earth do I begin in answering this question? One source estimates that 30,000 or more different Christian organizations exist globally, and another states that more than 200 different church flavors make their home in the United States. The short answer is that it was never meant to be this way and wasn’t until about 400 years ago. Since then, a tendency toward individualism and a theological ‘wild, wild, west’ have led to many personal interpretations of the Bible and segregated churches. Add to that unchecked personal beliefs that God has given special revelation to some, and we end up with more Body of Christ fractures than the oil fields of western North Dakota! Perhaps a little church history would help us understand how we got here in such a short time – in about one-fifth of Christianity’s history.
The earliest and simplest Christianity modeled Christ in community and trained and then baptized anyone devoting their lives to the Father through the Son. Of course, there were occasional heresies and rebellions, but that was the basic approach. Over time, the Church split over differences in faith practices. For about 1,600 years, only two primary partitions of Christianity existed: Orthodoxy in the east and Roman Catholicism from about Rome westward.
Sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism, like many institutions, suffered corruption and some supposed unbiblical practices. Protestor Martin Luther (and others) pushed back against such things as indulgences and the idea that good deeds or money could earn a ticket to heaven. Although it doesn’t appear that Luther intended the eventual splintering of Christianity that we’ve witnessed over the last 400-ish years, this is what ensued. What began as an intended reformation of the Roman Catholic church brought on many unintended theological divisions and different worship practices.
Today, many Christian fragments exist, even within denominations. And they fall along a continuum of extremes. For some congregations, humans have no free will to choose a partnership with God. At the other end of the spectrum, God has no influence and exists only to make people feel good and respond when they need Him. Perhaps we should stop deciding for God how He will use His authority! He is indeed the Lord of all, and He seeks relationships with those who choose to receive the Living Water of Christ and walk by the Holy Spirit.
To summarize, there are 30,000 Christian ‘toes’ because each has a mind of its own and often wiggles to its own beat. Now, it isn’t all bad: some Christ-minded cultures that devote to God and love others have provided diverse and meaningful ways to put true faith into practice. Next week, we’ll explore worship and contrast Big-T truths of the Christian faith against the little-t truths of those worshipful practices.
Blessings and peace,