There is a statistic which is hotly debated and impossible to be verified, but speaks volumes as to this subject matter. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there were 33,820 denominations within so-called Christianity in 2001. It is estimated that there are currently 39,318 denominations in 2007. Regardless of whether these figures are 100% accurate or not, they demonstrate the degree of schism within the body of Christ.
According to Global Christianity; in the year 1900, there were 1900 denominations, meeting in 400,000 worship centers. By the year 2000, there were 33,800 denominations meeting in 3,448,000 worship centers. What these figures demonstrate is how Christianity has splintered into pieces. People cannot get along with each other, their pastor and their denominational leaders. The level of disagreement on doctrinal and practical issues is so strong that instead of working out their differences, small groups simply split from larger groups and start their own "church".
Not too many years ago there were a handful of major denominations which were separated by distinct doctrinal differences of opinion. In the year 1800 there were only 500 denominations in the world. By 1900, that figure had not even increased four-fold. Thus, it can be reasonably argued that as late as 1900, Christianity was still somewhat unified. But, considering the almost 20 fold increase in denominations between 1900 and 2000, one sees that division has literally ripped Christianity apart.
Jesus stated emphatically that a house divided against itself will never stand. This statement has been proven to be true countless times in every possible arena. Division within the ranks always is the precursor to defeat. No group; of any kind or nature can expect to succeed in their endeavors if they are divided. Unless some degree of unity can be forged, the group will splinter into factions and their ability to move forward stalls. In time, instead of moving forward, the group will fall back in retreat.
Unity of purpose is far different than unity of opinion. Whereas it is nigh unto impossible to ever see unity of opinion in any group, it is not that difficult to have unity of purpose. A jury provides a good example of this. Twelve people can, and do, have differing opinions regarding a case. They sit in a room and keep talking about the situation and reviewing evidence until they can reach a unified decision. Their unified decision is likened unto a unity of purpose. Although they still may have their own personal opinions, they lay them aside and look only at the facts in order to reach a verdict.
Unity of purpose demands enough humility to lay aside one's own opinions and demands for the common good. If twelve people decided to be stubborn and refuse to work together, the inevitable result is a "hung jury" resulting in a mistrial necessitating a new trial. Perhaps one of the greatest films ever made (not the newer version, but the old one with Henry Fonda) was "Twelve Angry Men". This old black and white film chronicles a jury of twelve men and how they dealt with a difficult murder case. The drama is captivating and the truthfulness is astounding. I highly recommend this film for any group wanting to understand how to work together.
The reason Christianity has lost its heart and soul is because of the division that has ripped it to shreds. How can one faith possibly be split into almost 40,000 denominations? This is a contradiction of terms. One equals one, not 40,000. The reason there are 40,000 factions is pride. People refuse to lay down their personal opinions for the common good. They become dogmatic in their private interpretation of scripture and Church by-laws. They have personality conflicts with other board members or the pastor and instead of working out their differences they opt to leave and start a new group.
Far and away, the biggest percentage of the new "denominations" is the multitudes of "non-denominational" groups that have sprung up in the past 35 years. Starting around 1970, people began leaving the older denominations in large numbers. For awhile, these people became categorized as "inactive Christians". Shortly thereafter small groups began springing up attracting those who had left the major denominations. These groups exploded in growth and many have since become mega-churches with well over 20,000 members. They still stubbornly hold fast to their belief they are "non-denominational", even though their numbers make them a denomination.
In 1969 God miraculously touched my life and transformed me from an introverted 16 year old unbelieving kid into an extroverted witnessing and loving people fanatic. 8 of us had gone on the yearly youth group work trip to New Mexico. Two weeks after the trip, the group suddenly had over 50 kids attending because they saw the change in me and wanted what I had. I became moderator of the group and during the next year we averaged close to 75 kids every Sunday evening for whatever we did.
In 1971 I was ex-communicated from the Presbyterian Church I had helped so much. I was too controversial and revolutionary. What else was new in 1971? Yes, they kicked me out and as a show of support, over 40 other kids left with me. The church was left with a little more than they had two years earlier. I drifted into a "non-denominational" group and stayed there until 1986.
I am not anti-church or anti-denominational. I am highly in favor of each believer going to wherever he or she gets their spiritual needs met. I understand that Christianity will never be unified until Christ returns and we all become as He is and are one with Him. Although unity of opinion is not possible in the Body of Christ, I know unity of purpose is still available.
As we will see in the next installment of this who knows how many part series, the apostle Paul dealt with division in churches he personally had planted and overseen for months and even years. Division is nothing new; it has been used by the enemy for two thousand years to keep what happened in the early chapters of Acts from ever happening again. If the enemy can turn believers against each other, where their energy is spent defending positions, accusing brothers of sin and plotting overthrows of churches; then he is free to do pretty much as he wills.
Families disagree, that is a part of life. Strong families will "air out" their differences and work out a solution to a problem that everyone can live with. It truly baffles me why Christians cannot seem to do this. Why can't one believer simply sit down and work out a dispute with his brother in Christ? I have sat in counseling situations where two so-called "brothers" in Christ will not as much as consent to be in the same room with each other. Christians many times have the uncanny ability to manifest more animosity toward each other (when offended), than they do toward unbelievers who steal from them and try to destroy them.
As believers in Christ, we need to fight FOR each other instead of AGAINST each other. As we will see from God's Word; things like selfishness and ambition have no place in the body of Christ. But, we are human, and as such, we have to deal with our egos and our pride. Good grief, even Jesus had to deal with the bickering among his disciples about who would be greatest in the age to come. They were men and they were filled with the same desires for fame as men and women are today.
Pride, ego and selfishness are the enemies of unity. Humility, meekness and selflessness are the friends which allow unity of purpose to be hammered out. I pray that as we continue to look to God's Word for instructions on unity, we can lay aside the weapons that divide us. We have enough denominations already. It is time to start classifying ourselves as Christians who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and are devoted to do as He says and love as He loved, instead of members of some particular denomination or non-denominational group. Amen.