Does the Bible offer any clue as to why so many differences of thinking and religious denominations exist even among true born-again Christians?
Jesus once said to the unbelieving Sadducees, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29, KJV), and a principle extends here concerning your question. Differences exist even among believers because we have both a sin nature and finite minds. Truth is truth; and even believers have varying degrees of closeness to the truth, since their degrees of diligence and understanding vary in studying and obeying the Scriptures and only the Scriptures.
Many true believers fail to accept “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) because other matters, such as tradition, interfere with their embracing the truth. For example, I know of a certain group whose literature gives me no doubt that they are born-again people, since they teach salvation by grace alone through the new birth. But their message is frustrated by their continuing to hold on to certain teachings that their group has traditionally held, including the baptism of infants, and they attempt to justify or fuse these teachings rather than discard them. For example, they incorrectly cite 1 Peter 3:21, referring to baptism, by quoting only part of the passage. They do believe that a person past a certain age must know he or she is a sinner and trust Christ as Savior, but at the same time they try to maintain that salvation comes through sprinkling as a baby. This the Scriptures simply do not teach. We must come to the Scriptures without preconceived bias.
Tradition and misuse of Scripture are major reasons for differences among many professing Christians. It is wrong and dangerous to give blind allegiance to denominational dogma that doesn’t hold up when comparing Scripture with Scripture.
Christians disagree in a number of areas besides doctrine: philosophy, methodology, personal practices. It will always be this way on earth, since an individual’s God-given volition and soul liberty cannot be taken away. Paul and Barnabas were two individuals who loved God and His work, but their disagreements caused a parting of the ways (Acts 15:36–41). Who was right, and who was wrong? One writer expressed the opinion that one’s judgment goes with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas. But the fact is that God gave each of the men a mind, and we conclude that God used both men after their separation. Of course, whenever Scriptural principles are involved in human disagreements, the Bible must always be obeyed.
Occasionally someone will argue that we believers should forget our differences, great and small, and form some sort of all-inclusive, ecumenical Christian denomination. But while it is the sinfulness of mankind that has caused so many groups and differences, it is the same sinfulness of mankind that necessitates a group for the perpetuation of purity of doctrine. At times, separation of brethren has been necessary for doctrinal purity and continuance. Those who sincerely and seriously pursue truth will not be comfortable with, nor have effectiveness in ministry with, those who are not in basic agreement (Amos 3:3). Therefore, inclusively or ecumenism is not the answer, though there are, of course, situations when differences don’t necessarily need to be a factor among born-again people. But brothers and sisters in Christ can differ and have the unity in Christ that the Bible affirms without feeling that they must be forced into some organic union.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.