finally, some clarity on the origin of denominations

About three weeks ago, I began leading a six-week discussion at our church on how to study the Bible (theologically). During the most recent session, someone asked about the origins (or cause) of denominations within Christianity.

Because of time constraints, I opted for the simple (and somewhat over-generalised) response: denominations tend to emerge as a result of differing interpretations over certain important passages or specific beliefs.  Connected with this, denominations often form due to the practical outcome of these differences–i.e. people have different views over how the church should operate and/or conduct itself.

My response was either satisfactory (in spite of its brevity) or less than helpful (because of its brevity); it’s hard to know because no follow-up question was asked. However, it appears that I was completely mistaken in my understanding and I now need to go before the dear friends in this study and beg for mercy. How do I know I was wrong? Because Jack Kinsella has shown me why, in his wonderfully insightful ‘Omega Letter.’* About half way through his ‘article,’ Kinsella offers this bit of theological clarity:**

There are Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Anglican, Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Anabaptists, Brethren, Methodist, Apostolic, Pentecostal, Charismatic, African, United, Quakers, Mennonites, Unitarian, Messianic Judaism, and dozens more Christian-themed cults, like British Israelism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on.

In Genesis we read of the Tower of Babel, an effort by Nimrod to unite the world under his authority, and how God dealt with it.

“And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. (Genesis 11:6-7)

According to the Bible, when the Holy Spirit is withdrawn, Nimrod’s effort will be duplicated by the antichrist who sets up a universal government under his authority and unites it via a single religion under his control.

During the Church Age, God divided the Church into denominations to prevent that from happening prematurely.

Human beings are not all born the same type of people.  We are split in profound and fundamental ways and then set radically free to find our own way.   We are born with a sense of God-consciousness, but we are free to seek His face or reject Him altogether.

The Bible is deliberately obscure enough to empower all the various denominations without any one of them growing too powerful – God demands faith in His Son, not faith in a church.

Who knew?! God is the cause for denominations.

(For those taking part in our study [who happen to read this]: this is a decent example of eisegesis).

___________________________________
* Said with tongue nearly burst through my cheek.
** I’m ignoring the multitude of problems with Kinsella’s argument.

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3 comments

  1. The sarcastic nature of your post aside, I heard an interesting thought on the Tower of Babel recently. The person I was talking to suggested that there was a link between the tower episode and Peter’s sermon at pentecost. In the first story, God confuses language to discourage what people were doing. In the second, he clarifies language to encourage what people were doing. Thoughts, criticisms, insights?

    1. Yeah, the basics of Tower of Babel connection have a lot of mileage to them; in fact, it’s a view that has been more or less standard. Some of the earliest allusions to this idea (at least, some of the earliest I know of) come from Joseph A. Alexander, Acts of the Apostles, vol. 1 (1857); John Eadie, ed., A Biblical Cyclopedia (1860); Gotthard V. Lechler & Karl Gerok, Acts of the Apostles (1867); and Johann P. Lange, Genesis, or, the First Book of Moses (1868). I remember hearing something about this view dating back even further than these guys, but I cannot recall who started it.

      As far as your friend’s take, I would differ only slightly in the meaning of the Pentecost narrative. Personally, I see the miracle as not only the reversal of the curse at Babel but also the appropriate way things should have been done. In Genesis 11, the people were trying to make a name for themselves (i.e. make themselves great) whereas in Acts 2, it is God who is establishing a name for himself. It’s God drawing all people to one place in order to come into contact with him; not by their own power or skill but by his.

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