The question has often been asked; “Why are there so many denominations today?” Well, a denomination usually happens when certain believers within an assembly of believers disagree with their leaders for the most part over some doctrinal matter and decide to leave and form their own denomination. On the other hand it can happen when a group of Bible believers are forced out of their assembly by a hierarchy that does not accept the authority of God’s Word. Having said this is in fact denominations with their differing doctrines Biblical? Denominations in fact are not even mentioned in the Bible. In the time of the apostles there were basic doctrines that were taught and believed in every fellowship the apostles established and ordained overseers. (Acts 14:23)
All of the apostles were of one heart and of one mind in doctrinal matters. As far as the message of the gospel and the way for men and women to be saved it was the same doctrine taught in all of the assemblies established by the apostles as we see affirmed in the gospels and the epistles. When there were matters to be discussed the apostles and leaders of the assemblies would meet to discuss matters. We see this happening at Jerusalem when the apostles and assembly leaders came together to discuss a certain matter related to Jewish and Gentile believers. Together, in fellowship with, and by consulting the Holy Spirit, they came to know His will in the matter. (Acts 15:1-21)
When a split did occur in a local fellowship it was usually brokered by those who did not want to submit to the doctrine of the apostles but had created their own doctrines. (1 John 2:18-19) Denominations were never in God’s will. How do we know this? Well, when the apostle Paul wrote to the assembly at Ephesus it was a letter not only for the Ephesians but one to be circulated among the other assemblies, most of which had been started by Paul.
In Chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul writes; “…striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
There was only one doctrinal authority established by the apostles and it was based upon the Old Testament Scriptures and from the Lord Jesus Himself who had instructed them in the Word of God personally and commissioned them to teach others. Added to this they had the Spirit of Truth, the blessed Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. (John 16:12-15) Today we have apostolic doctrine set out for us in the New Testament. In fact we are told that “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Clearly there was only one set of authoritative God-breathed doctrines held in unity by the apostles and by all of the assemblies over which they had doctrinal oversight.
In fact the apostles saw the Body of the Messiah as the completion and fulfilment of Biblical Messianic Judaism in the Messiah in whom they had believed. Gentiles who were saved were brought into the assemblies and spiritually grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel being all those Jews, who, like believing Gentiles, had been circumcised in heart by the Spirit and whose praise was from God and not from men. (Romans 11:15-24) (Romans 2:28-29)
As the Body of the Messiah they were “one new man” in Him and the ethnic distinction and partition between Jew and Gentile removed. (Ephesians 2:11-22) However, it was still the Commonwealth of Israel and the apostles saw the assemblies as the fulfilment of the Mosaic Judaism of the Torah. In saying this nowhere in the Bible does it teach that when a Jewish person believes in the Messiah they lose their Jewish identity and are no longer considered to be ethnically Jewish. The Torah has been written on the hearts of both Jewish and Gentile believers in the Messiah by the Holy Spirit. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The whole idea of denominationalism we have today is not a Biblical one, especially when you consider they are here today mainly because of doctrinal differences. This was not the case in the first century. In his letter to the assembly at Ephesus, to be circulated among all of the assemblies, Paul mentions that for every believer in the Lord Jesus there is the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. Let’s now briefly look at these things Paul mentions…
1.”The Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth not error and will never lead God’s people into unbiblical doctrines. He is the one who teaches us from the Bible what to believe, how to believe and what is to happen in the future. (John 16:12-15) When you look at the doctrines of the denominations are they of one mind and heart? Do they have the Spirit’s endorsement? Do they all hold to the inerrant Word of God as the final authority in matters of faith and doctrine? Unity of the Spirit has nothing to do with denominations or ecumenism or religious ceremonies and traditions but everything to do with the truth as revealed in God’s unchanging word, settled in heaven forever. (Psalm 119:87)
What is the truth? It is all of God’s Word. As the psalmist writes “The sum of Your Word is truth.” (Psalm 119:160) No one has the right to change what God has written in His Word or to put one’s own doctrinal or denominational ‘spin’ on it. We need to get back to approaching the Word of God without bringing with us our doctrinal systems of denominational interpretations. We must get back to allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us. The first century assemblies were all led by the Spirit and moved in the gifts of the Spirit. The only division they experienced was when certain members started to promote unbiblical doctrines and practices. Usually they left the assembly when they were exposed by the apostles. Usually it came in a letter with apostolic authority.
The apostles had doctrinal authority in the first Century Body of the Messiah. They had been given ‘the keys’ to the secrets of God’s Kingdom by the Lord Jesus Himself. (Matthew 16:19) They were writing scripture and establishing doctrine.
2.”One Body”: For the human body to function as it was created by God to function every member of the body has its individual function but the body itself can only function properly when it functions in unity and in harmony with the other parts of the body. This is why we have the gifts of the Spirit so that the local Body of the Messiah, might be strengthened and built up in its faith as every believer, within the assembly, operates in the call and gifting they have from the blessed Holy Spirit. In this way the local Body of the Messiah is established and builds itself up in love and when this happens their witness to the unsaved will be very conspicuous. (1 Corinthians Chapters 12-14) (Ephesians 4:9-16) (John 13:34-35) Those assemblies that do not recognise or operate in the gifts of the Spirit are like soldiers enlisted in the army and even though trained, have no weapons and armour needed to fight the battle.
3.”One Spirit”: Where the Holy Spirit is actively working or is allowed to do His will in a local assembly there will be unity in their faith and their doctrine and in the way they see things Biblically. He is the Spirit of truth and will never lead any believer surrendered completely to Him, to embrace doctrinal error. In fact He will never endorse doctrinal error or extra ‘manifestations’ that cannot be proven by scripture. Even though the gifts of the Spirit will be different in each believer there will be a unity fostered when they are exercised Biblically with every member in submission to each other for the common good of all. (1 Corinthians 12:7)
When anyone is spiritually reborn they receive the Holy Spirit and drink of His life giving spiritual power and sustenance. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) Because He is the same Spirit then the doctrines He reveals from the Word of God will be the same doctrines and God’s will for every assembly. They will be unified in their doctrines especially in the matter of the way and the means of salvation.
4.”One hope”: The blessed hope of every assembly in the New Testament was the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. (Titus 2:13) It was the end goal of their commitment to Him and the focus for them when facing persecution, oppression, and hostility from the world, the flesh and the devil. The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus was not only their hope but a motive for living a life separated to Him from the world and to His work. In the New Testament we see commandments to holy living directly connected to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus and His Messianic Kingdom to be established. (2 Peter 3:10-13)
5.”One Lord”: When you look at denominations with their particular doctrinal emphasis, often to the exclusion of the doctrines of other denominations, can you say there is One Lord? Is the Lord Jesus divided? Is His Spirit divided? Now the Holy Spirit will vary in the methods He uses in individual assemblies as they seek to witness and work for the Lord Jesus but in matters of Biblical doctrine there will be unity. However, we do not see this in denominational circles today.
When you look at the seven churches in the Book of Revelation they all had differing situations but in every case the Lord Jesus says “Listen to what the Spirit says to the assemblies.” The Lord Jesus Himself was the Torah clothed in a flesh and blood body and the eternal one who tabernacled among us! (John 1:1-3, 14) These letters to the seven Churches were personally written to each individual assembly by the Lord Jesus. Doctrine was one of the issues addressed. Unity and oneness in the Spirit is paramount to spiritual survival and when the anointing of the Spirit flows off from the head of the Messiah and runs down upon the members of His body there will be unity of mind and spirit and a clear understanding of God’s Word. (Psalm 133:1) (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35)
6.”One faith”: Primarily this is saving faith. (Romans 5:1) There are not many ways to salvation but only one way. Through repentance, faith, baptism, confession and receiving the Holy Spirit one receives salvation. (Acts 2:37-39) (Romans 10:8-10) There is only one person through whom we can be saved and that of course is our Lord Jesus. (John 14:6) (Acts 4:12) The Bible does not recognise any other way of salvation.
7.”One baptism”: Some would lead us to believe this is a reference to the Baptism with the Holy Spirit but it is actually a reference to baptism itself. Believer’s baptism is not just a religious ceremony but an outward act whereby one publically declares the inward change and washing from sin by the blood of the Messiah. It is by a full immersion in water not a sprinkling! The outward act of baptism in itself achieves nothing of spiritual value unless it is accompanied by a pure heart washed clean from spiritual defilement by the blood of the Messiah and by the pledge of a clear conscience before God. (1 Peter 3:21) Infant Baptism is nowhere taught in scripture. Besides how can a baby repent of sin? Baptism in a nutshell is a death and burial to the old life of sin and a resurrection to a new life in the Spirit. (Romans 7:4-6)
8.”One God and Father”: This is the Triune God as He is revealed in both Testaments. His deity, His character and his attributes revealed are the same in both the Old and the New Testament. While He is One God (Echad) He is also three (Elohim) yet all three are one in their eternal and divine attributes. Any attempt to diminish His Tri-Unity, which includes the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son, is the spirit of antichrist. (1 John 2:22-23) We are not talking about three “gods” but thee equally divine and eternal beings who together are One in every way. Also we are told that God is a Father. While He is the creator of all men He is the Father of His children on earth. The unsaved do not call God “Father” because they do not know Him. It is the privilege only of those who have been born again by the Spirit of God living down on the inside of them that cries out to God “Abba Father” or literally “daddy.” “Abba” is usually the first word an infant utters after its birth. (Romans 8:15) (Galatians 4:6) Those who are joined to the Lord are one spirit with Him through His Spirit living in them. (1 Corinthians 6:17)
To sum up: The first century assemblies had the unity of the Spirit, were subject to the doctrine of the apostles and all operated in the gifts of the Spirit. Apostolic doctrine was the norm in every assembly. Where the Holy Spirit really has freedom to operate in the local assembly of believers there will be unity and the bond of peace. Division over doctrine will not be an issue once that fellowship has surrendered completely to the control and guidance of the Holy Spirit. He will lead the fellowship into purity of Biblical doctrine, into holy living and direct them into the work and into the will of God. Anything less than this will not get the job done!
What we see in the Book of Acts will happen again at the end of this age. Man-made Denominations will ultimately go to ‘Babylon.’ The end-time Body of the Messiah will be like it was in the first century. Believers will devote themselves to apostolic doctrine, to fellowship and especially to celebrating the Passover meal. They will be experiencing God’s supernatural power among them. Many will have everything in common and share their resources with their needy brothers and sisters. They will be meeting as much as possible when they can, eating their meals together in their homes praising God with a glad, thankful and with an undivided heart for His provision of their daily needs. Souls will be added to their number daily by the Holy Spirit working through them. They will be of one heart and mind and established in one doctrine founded on the apostle’s doctrine. (Acts 2: 42-47) Ultimately these things will be the marks of the global Body of the Messiah in all of the assemblies established upon apostolic doctrine as taught in the Word of God. Added to this the Body of the Messiah will also rediscover its Hebraic roots.
God does not recognize any other assembly that is not founded upon the Word of God. The New Testament is apostolic doctrine and nothing needs to be added to it or taken away from it. When denominational division started, sometime after the time of Constantine, the devil was jumping for joy. He knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand. However, when Satan sees a local assembly seeking to obey God’s Words instead of the religious traditions of man he starts to tremble and when that assembly opens up to the leading and the genuine Biblical gifts of the Holy Spirit he runs for cover!
There is great spiritual power and freedom in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace established on the solid foundation of God’s unchanging Word. When this happens in a local assembly of believers the hammers of human commandments, the opinions of man and the trappings of religious traditions are smashed on that solid iron anvil of the Word of God! This is the only solution for the denomination debacle!