How would you pastorally answer a new believer on why there are so many denominations?

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John Yap

Puritan Board Sophomore
How would you pastorally answer a new believer on why there are so many denominations?

I would say that we are fallible creatures reading God's infallible word, and the Holy Spirit illumines our understanding but we are to seek and pray for wisdom continually(Eph 1)

Furthermore, instructions are given by teachers (Eph 4) who are fallible as well..
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
One part of this answer is this: Our need for ongoing sanctification manifests itself not only in our conduct but also in our doctrine (both personally and corporately). WLC 78 reminds us that in all true believers sanctification is "neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection."

Another part of the answer is that the best churches are not perfect and some denominations (or churches) are not really properly Christian at all (just like some professors of the faith are not). WCF 25.5 teaches this: "The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan."

Peace,
Alan
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
I would say that we are fallible creatures reading God's infallible word, and the Holy Spirit illumines our understanding but we are to seek and pray for wisdom continually(Eph 1)

Furthermore, instructions are given by teachers (Eph 4) who are fallible as well..
We all are seeing through a glass dimly, and we all have our own assumptions and filtering that we are bringing to the scriptures. Also, we are pre conditioned by our culture and traditions to have sometimes us holding unto and keeping as theology things that are really preferences and convictions, and not really doctrines and theology per say.
We also tend to major on minor items of theology and doctrine, so that we ignore that we are all one now in Christ, as we have to quibble over which version of the bible, which baptism mode, what type of worship et all.
 

John Yap

Puritan Board Sophomore
Add on, where in Scripture do you see that difference in groups or churches is something unavoidable?
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Another part of the answer is that the best churches are not perfect and some denominations (or churches) are not really properly Christian at all (just like some professors of the faith are not).

Hi, Alan,

I know that some churches "have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan," (WCF 25:5) but what about the true Church? Is Jesus prayer "that they may be one, as we are" (John 17:11) ever to be fulfilled in any practical way? Or is that just my Postmill bent that hopes for such things. I always considered Jesus' prayers as prophecies, for certainly his prayers shall be answered. Here again, Jesus prays for a oneness that will convince even the unbelieving world that God has sent his son to earth.

John 17:21
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Is this all just wishful thinking on my part?

Thanks.
 
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Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
Hi, Alan,

I know that some churches "have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan," (WCF 25:5) but what about the true Church? Is Jesus prayer "that they may be one, as we are" (John 17:11) ever to be fulfilled in any practical way? Or is that just my Postmill bent that hopes for such things. I always considered Jesus' prayers as prophecies for certainly his prayers shall be answered. Here again, Jesus prays for a oneness that will convince even the unbelieving world that God has sent his son to earth.

John 17:21
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Is this all just wishful thinking on my part?

Thanks.
The only way for that to happen as Jesus really desires is when we in the Body of Christ can agree to disagree on the non essentials of doctrines and practices, and holding with the essentials of the faith, and to extend charity towards one another.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Ed,

Our Lord's prayer to his father for the unity of his people has been perpetually answered: all those that are his are inseparably joined in him across all sorts of boundaries (national, denominational, etc.). The real truth and force of that must be grasped and appreciated.

I suppose that your question is about unity not only in the organism but in the organization. How much of that we will ever achieve before Christ comes, I do not know, but I do believe that we ought both to value and strive for such: we should actively pursue unity in the visible church with great vigor.

We will never be glorified below, but this should not slacken our pursuit of sanctification. Similarly, whatever visible unity we achieve, we should press on to be more united visibly, to a greater outward realization and expression of the unity that all true believers enjoy in Christ.

Peace,
Alan
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
Ed,

Our Lord's prayer to his father for the unity of his people has been perpetually answered: all those that are his are inseparably joined in him across all sorts of boundaries (national, denominational, etc.). The real truth and force of that must be grasped and appreciated.

I suppose that your question is about unity not only in the organism but in the organization. How much of that we will ever achieve before Christ comes, I do not know, but I do believe that we ought both to value and strive for such: we should actively pursue unity in the visible church with great vigor.

We will never be glorified below, but this should not slacken our pursuit of sanctification. Similarly, whatever visible unity we achieve, we should press on to be more united visibly, to a greater outward realization and expression of the unity that all true believers enjoy in Christ.

Peace,
Alan
Our unity is based upon Jesus and sound doctrine, not just unity for unity sake, as there are many who for sake of that have renounced sound doctrines.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
The problem is what we define as being those essentials though, as some would see it as Calvinism/Arminism, or tongues/no tongues for examples.
 

Gforce9

Puritan Board Junior
Our unity is based upon Jesus and sound doctrine, not just unity for unity sake, as there are many who for sake of that have renounced sound doctrines.

The problem is what we define as being those essentials though, as some would see it as Calvinism/Arminism, or tongues/no tongues for examples.

I think you have missed what Dr. Strange has proposed: that we are united and one right now, because of Christ and His work. That earthly factions exist is irrelevant to that fact. As he stated, it is perpetually answered....
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
I think you have missed what Dr. Strange has proposed: that we are united and one right now, because of Christ and His work. That earthly factions exist is irrelevant to that fact. As he stated, it is perpetually answered....
We in the Body though many times act as if we were not that united, as we tend to see other Christians as not having right theology and practices at times.
 

Gforce9

Puritan Board Junior
We in the Body though many times act as if we were not that united, as we tend to see other Christians as not having right theology and practices at times.

I understand we act that way often and have our differences. It is so important to affirm that Jesus prayer was answered and upheld, though. To say otherwise is to say that somehow, His prayer and His mission failed, which must never pass our lips in speech or in thought....
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
I understand we act that way often and have our differences. It is so important to affirm that Jesus prayer was answered and upheld, though. To say otherwise is to say that somehow, His prayer and His mission failed, which must never pass our lips in speech or in thought....
Agreed, as the unity of the Body was and is something that God already reestablished among those of us now one in Christ, and we must seek to keep that among us.
 

dece870717

Puritan Board Freshman
This excerpt from an old Q&A with John MacArthur I think answers some of it. https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/1301-A/bible-questions-and-answers-part-3

"Why is there much division over doctrine among Christian leaders with the same Holy Spirit...and the same available knowledge? Now, that is a...that's a question that perplexed me a few years ago to the point where I struggled and struggled and struggled in my heart with that question. And I kept saying, "How come everybody doesn't always agree with me?" Because, you know, I studied so hard, and I come out and say, "How can they...?" and then I begin to say, "Well, how come I don't agree with them? Maybe it's me."

So I began to sit down and try to figure why, and I'll give you why from my own mind and from my own observation. I think there are four basic reasons why there are differences. No. 1, theological bias...I think that some of us are victimized, because we grow up in a certain theological system, and we become indoctrinated by it, and we begin to live out its patterns, and we've spend so much of our time believing it, that we wind up defending it, and we spend so much of our time defending it, that we could never get rid of it. So we bring a theological bias from our background into a passage.

And, for example, if I've been raised all my entire life to believe that such and such a passage teaches a certain thing, and I have wound up defending that because it's an out front position, if I spend enough time defending it, I'm not about to give it away. So I think we all suffer from a certain amount of theological bias; and I'll tell ya. This comes a lotta ways. You know, one of the worst things is you write a book; and once you got it in print, you gotta defend it the rest of your life or else you're gonna say, "I'm wrong, I'm wrong." That book was wrong. I got a new one...There have been people that have done that. I remember the book came out on demons written by Dr. Unger in which he said that he did not believe that a demon could be inside a Christian. Several years later, he wrote another book, Demons in the World Today, said, "I was wrong in the first book. I'm right now." It can happen, and he defended it. So there has to be that; but there is a certain theological bias.

Second thing is a lack of careful study. I think all of us are...are...are victimized to some degree by our failure to be diligent. There's so much material available, boy, it just, you have to be diligent. The third thing, I think there are differences because of a...the absence of conclusive information. The reason there are differences is 'cause all of us...all of us are dealing with some missing links, and we're trying to fill in the gaps. We can't know fully the mind of God. We say, "Well, the best way I see it it's here, and it's this way." And then the next time you come to that same concept, it's this way; and pretty soon you've built your whole system around that realizing that, at the bottom, it's just a very good, strong guess at something that could go a couple of ways.

So I think there's theological bias. There's a lack of careful study, and that is a real big reason why people disagree. They just don't bother to study the Bible. But the third thing is there's the absence of conclusive information. There's insufficient revelation. Fourth, tradition. I think some things have always been believed to be a certain way, and you just believe they're that way; and when somebody comes along and says something different, everybody goes, "Yikes, we've always believed the other way." Tradition. So those would be some reasons that you might find for that."
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
"Why is there much division over doctrine among Christian leaders with the same Holy Spirit...and the same available knowledge?

I think the four points in your quotation were a helpful diagnosis of the problem, but the author did offer any real hope for anything much better. Will it ever be better? If so how much?

I thought I had the answer in the passages below from John 17, but then I was told, by someone I respect, that all believers are already one. To me, that was like saying, “don’t expect too much Ed. Hope and work for better organizational (visible church) oneness, but base your hope on the verses you quoted.”

Well maybe not, but doesn't Jesus’ prayer include sanctification (progressive) through the truth? The oneness I hope for will be visible enough to convince the unbelieving world—the world Jesus did NOT pray for—that God sent his son into the world to save and love those his church. We are not there at this time. Will we ever be? Did I misunderstand the teaching? What do you think of the passage below?

John 17:19-23
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Add on, where in Scripture do you see that difference in groups or churches is something unavoidable?
John, we can see the inevitability of different denominations in the story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas (c.f. Acts 15:36-41). Two godly men disagreed over methodology and the service of John Mark. They separated. Both men were convinced in their own mind that they were right. I concur with Alan when he wrote, "in all true believers sanctification is "neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.""

Ultimately, different denominations are the result of sin, but God is able to make sense of our sinful shortcoming and uses our shortcomings for His glory.
 

dece870717

Puritan Board Freshman
I think the four points in your quotation were a helpful diagnosis of the problem, but the author did offer any real hope for anything much better. Will it ever be better? If so how much?

I thought I had the answer in the passages below from John 17, but then I was told, by someone I respect, that all believers are already one. To me, that was like saying, “don’t expect too much Ed. Hope and work for better organizational (visible church) oneness, but base your hope on the verses you quoted.”

Well maybe not, but doesn't Jesus’ prayer include sanctification (progressive) through the truth? The oneness I hope for will be visible enough to convince the unbelieving world—the world Jesus did NOT pray for—that God sent his son into the world to save and love those his church. We are not there at this time. Will we ever be? Did I misunderstand the teaching? What do you think of the passage below?

John 17:19-23
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Dr. John MacArthur expounded on those verses, some of this might help. I tried to shorten some of the quoted sections so as to just get the main points across. Sources - https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-98/the-lords-greatest-prayer-part-6 and https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-99/the-lords-greatest-prayer-part-7

"...He prays for our spiritual purity, our spiritual purity. Out of love for us also, He prays for our sanctification. Let’s look at verse 17.
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” Very simple words, but a very direct focused and profound point is being made here.

First of all, the issue is sanctification. Sanctify – mentioned in verse 17. Sanctify, sanctified – twice in verse 19. Three times we see that verb. The verb carries the action. This is a prayer for our sanctification. He prays for our holiness.

Now, sanctification is kind of a stained glass word; it’s a churchy word. What it essentially means is “separation,” set apart from what? From sin. He’s praying that we would be set apart from sin. Hence, He’s praying for our purity, for our purity.

This is also an encouraging, wonderfully exciting element of our Lord’s prayer. Like praying for our joy, He prays also for our purity – for our continual separation from sin and increasing godliness. While we are on the way to heaven, while we are on the journey to get to heaven, He prays that we will be being sanctified. We will become increasingly more holy in practice as we are in position. He prays according to the Father’s will and according to the Spirit’s work. It is the Father’s will that we be holy; it is the Spirit’s work to make us holy, to conform us to holiness; it is the Son’s petition that we become holy.

Now, this prayer deals with our human flesh. We have three enemies: the world, the devil, and the flesh. We’ve already heard about the world, and Jesus prayed that we’d be protected from the world. We’ve heard about the devil, the evil one; and Jesus prayed that we would be protected from the evil one. Here He prays that we will be victorious over the ever-present flesh. It is the flesh, that humanness in which we are still incarcerated even though we’re a believer.

In verse 17 He says, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” “Set them apart from sin; separate them from evil.” And that is a practical prayer....Here on earth, the work of separation from the power of sin is a lifelong progressive work of God. He is speaking of already regenerated, already justified, already converted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, being continually made more holy.

That is our Lord’s prayer, that we who are still sinful are loved by Him with a perfect, heavenly love; and that love calls out from His heart a prayer for our sanctification. He accepts us in our imperfections and prays for us to become more holy. And what is the means of that? What is the means of that? Very clear: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” He says it again at the end of verse 19, “that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”

Where is the truth found? It’s the revelation of God; it’s the Scripture; it’s the Bible. It is as we immerse ourselves in the Word of God that we are in the place where sanctification operates. As we immerse ourselves in the knowledge of the Word of God, in the interpretation, the accurate interpretation of the Word of God; not only in terms of understanding, but affection, loving the truth. It is in being, as it were, immersed in Scripture, that sanctification takes place by the Holy Spirit.

Now, verse 19 is a very striking verse that pulls this together for us. Our Lord says something very unusual: “For their sakes, for their sakes, I sanctify Myself.” Does it strike you that there was something Jesus had to do to sanctify Himself? Would it not seem to you that this was something automatic for an absolutely holy, eternal being? But that holiness, that eternal holiness was maintained in some inexplicable way by the very purpose and intention of the Son of God.

“I sanctify Myself.” Why would He sanctify Himself? Two reasons, theologically speaking. Reason Number One: “He needed to live a perfect life.” He needed to live a perfectly holy life. Why? Because there had to be at least one perfect holy life lived by someone in the history of the world, and He’s the only one. Why is that important? Because when you put your trust in Jesus Christ, that perfect life is credited to your account; it’s as if you lived His life.

So let’s look at that second aspect. Our Lord is saying here, “I sanctify Myself for their sakes, that they themselves may be sanctified in truth.” So He’s not praying about justification here; He’s not praying about that. He’s praying about the sanctification process that every believer goes through in the application of divine truth. He’s saying, “I do it Myself so that they will have an example, someone to look to.”
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Part 7 excerpt

"And so we’ve learned from this chapter that He prays for those disciples; but not only for those disciples, but verse 20 says, “for all who will believe in the future.” So He’s praying for all believers through all of human history. And what is it He prays for? We saw that in verses 11 to 19. He prays for our spiritual security, that we will be safe and brought to glory. He prays for our spiritual felicity, or spiritual joy, that we’ll know His joy made full in spite of the persecution, the hostility, and the challenges. And then He prays for our immunity that we’ll be kept from the evil one –Satan, the adversary. And then He prays, in verses 17 to 19, for our spiritual purity, that we’ll be sanctified by the Word.
So He’s praying now for all the people who will ever believe through the apostles’ doctrine whether they preached it in that first generation or used by the Spirit of God, wrote it down for every subsequent generation. He gathers all of those believers in His prayer. And for what does He pray? Two things: for all of us, because we are those who believe in Him through the apostles’ word; two requests. Request Number One: “That they would be one in this world.” Request Number Two: “That they would be one in the next world.” He’s praying for their unity, unity in this world and unity in heaven. That’s the two requests. The first one, “unity in this world” is in verses 21 to 23.


A lot of times, you hear preachers preach on this and they say, “The emphasis of our Lord here is that we all ought to get along in the church, and we all ought to get along in the family, and we need to work on our unity.” That is not what he’s talking about. He’s not talking about some practical unity for several reasons, one, because He says it is a unity like that between the Father and the Son. It is something internal, not external.

Furthermore, He can’t be praying about the unity of everyone who will ever believe, because everyone who ever believes doesn’t live at the same time. We’re all strung out so far for 2,000 years, through millennia. What He’s praying for is clear in His words. The kind of unity He’s praying for is “even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us.”

It is an essential internal unity. He is not praying that we all get along at church. There are other parts of the Bible that address that, but not here. What He is essentially praying for – listen – is the future salvation of the elect. He is praying that we who believe in Him will receive the life of God, eternal life. He’s praying for the salvation of His people; that’s where His prayer begins. He prays for the future salvation of people not yet converted, not yet born.

It is the internal unity of divine spiritual eternal life. “Father, give them the life that we possess, eternal life. May they have Your life and My life in them; Your Spirit, My Spirit, in them; a unity of life as that which is shared between the Father and the Son.” He is praying that we would possess eternal life, the life of God.

Believers are said to be in the Father, in the Son, and in the Spirit. And it is said in Scripture that the Father is in us, and the Son is in us, and the Spirit is in us. Those are just ways to demonstrate that we are all wrapped up in the reality of divine life."
 

Held Fast

Puritan Board Freshman
As a pastor to a new believer asking the question, I would disciple on the reality of internal unity in the body of Christ that is incorruptible, even when the external expression seems fractured. I would not want to confuse a new believer in any way that would support a false notion that the external expressions are the true church, and the trick is to find out which one is right.
 
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