Why Do We Have Denominations?
Everybody hates denominations! Denominations reveal the hatred Christians secretly harbor against each other. Denominations show that Christians cannot get along, and show the weakness of the gospel. The one thing agreed upon in the universal church is that denominations are bad.
Really? Let's assume for a minute that God is still in charge, still wise and still loves his church. If those things are true and denominations still exist, then maybe, just maybe, denominations serve a divine purpose. But what could it be?
First, remember where denominations started. Most American denominations actually started with their country of origin. When Germans came to these shores, they brought Lutheranism. They didn't speak English, so they did not worship with the Episcopalians and Baptists. The Scottish brought Presbyterianism. Methodism began as a reform movement within the Episcopalian church, but soon became its own denomination in America.
Nothing sinister so far. People just wanted to worship in a language they understood with people they understood. As the denominations developed, they began to reveal specific character. That character enabled them to reach the different people groups in the United States and now the world.
Baptists loved independence. They gravitated toward freedom and away from centralized authority, which made them perfectly suited to evangelize the American pioneers moving west to seek freedom.
Methodists cared deeply about personal holiness and social reform. They championed cause such as temperance, abolition and gender equality. As they have done so, they have preached the gospel to those they sought to redeem and heal.
Presbyterians have always loved education and theological precision. We have been slow to reach the frontiers, but we bring important corrections with us when we finally arrive.
I have seen in one family how the different traditions have reached different generations. My friend's grandfather was a hard-working, hard-partying country boy with a ninth grade education. He did not trust educated people because only sissies read books. But a hard-working, hard-loving Pentecostal preacher reached him and he became a preacher himself. His daughter never got the gift of speaking in tongues and went off to college. There she met a Baptist and got married in a Baptist church. Their son (my friend) fell in love with history and wanted a church with a greater emphasis on tradition and theology. So today he is a Presbyterian. But when he goes to visit his grandfather, he worships in the Pentecostal church with great joy.
We see similar stories on a national scale. Baptists were primarily responsible for reaching the United States. Pentecostals have had wonderful success reaching South America. Presbyterians had phenomenal success reaching Korea. Anglicanism reached and transformed Nigeria. The stories go on and on.
Try not to get too caught up in denomination bashing. We are one Church. We serve the same head, Jesus Christ, share the same Baptism, the same Spirit and serve each other the same Lord's Supper. But our differences are our strengths. God uses those strengths as He wills to bring about the salvation of the world.