Friday, 9 April 2010

Why So Many Churches?

There are apparently 35,000 Christian denominations. But why? Of course, when the Church originally started there were no denominations. But this didn't last long. Paul the apostle refers to the beginning of denominationalism when he noted that some believers were already gathering around the teachings of certain teachers.
First Corinthians 1:12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
Paul rebuked this divisive attitude among believers. A couple of hundred years later a Creed was formulated which stated- "I believe in one holy and catholic church". This Creed (The "Apostles' Creed") stated what the New Testament clearly taught about the unity of the church. (The term 'catholic' actually universal, or the whole.)
Up until 312AD the Church was somewhat able to be minimally structured. Churches were usually overseen by elders with a lead-elder (who later became known as a "Bishop" and today would be referred to as a pastor). Initially these churches were grouped under the oversight of an apostolic leader. This primitive church leadership structure is seen in the opening chapters of The Revelation. It is here that we seen John the Apostle writing to the lead-elder (referred to as a 'messenger' or an 'angel') who then passes this message onto his congregation. But this structure was unable to keep up with the growth of the church. In 312AD the then World Emperor, Constantine, claimed to convert to Christianity and then decreed that everyone in the Empire should also convert. The then persecuted underground church then took centre stage. When Constantine wanted to speak to the leader of the church, there was no one to speak to. So Constantine summoned all of the bishops of the churches to come to Nicea in Turkey to hold a meeting to determine what was essential Christian doctrine. Because there was no universal leader of the church, Constantine declared hiimself that leader and gave himself the title: Pontifex Maximus ("Great Leader"). A couple of centuries later this title transfered to the bishop of Rome after he saved Rome from being destroyed by Attila the Hun. To accommodate its growth, the church had added hierarchical layers. This continued unabated for several more centuries.
But those in leadership within the church were increasingly irreligious. Despite the affirmation in the Apostle's Creed (I believe in one holy and catholic church), the Catholic church was becoming anything but "holy". Around this time, the Catholic Church had a major split. The result was that the churches of East, who traced their leadership back to Constantine, formed a denomination called- The Orthodox Church, while the churches of the West, who traced their leadership to the successive bishops of Rome, became known as- The Roman Catholic Church. By this time both the Eastern and the Western Church leaders took the title "Father". For the Eastern (Greek speaking) Church the word for "leading father" was Patriarch (from the Greek word: Pater). For the Western (Latin speaking) Church the word for leading father was Pope ("Papa"). It was about this time that a forged document surfaced called The Donation of Constantine which allegedly claim to the record of the Apostle Peter's statements that the Roman Bishop should be the leader of the global Church.
A few hundred years later the moral condition of the Church's leadership had deteriorated so much and their teaching had become so unbiblical that some could take it no more. The English churchman, John Wycliffe responded by making the New Testament freely available in contemporary English so ordinar people could see the situation for themselves. This started an inevitable schism that would take 100 years to explode. It was Wycliffe who challenged the hierarchical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and its divergence from the teaching of Scripture. Wycliffe inspired William Tyndale who translated the Bible into English which continued the brewing revolution of the Church. But not until Martin Luther came did the Reformation explosion occur. Luther was a priest who lectured on the Book of Romans. As he read this epistle, he became disturbed that the Roman Catholic Church was teaching something which the Bible condemned. He was initially convinced that the Pope was unaware of what his priests on the frontlines were teaching. To make the Pope aware of these disgraceful teachings, Luther nailed 95 Objections (Theses) to the door of the local university at Wittenberg. He soon learned that Pope was not only aware these anti-biblical teachings, but was himself promoting them! Luther also made the Bible available to the common people to read for themselves. The result was a new denomination of the Church called, The Lutheran Church.
Meanwhile in France a young lawyer was coming to similar discoveries from the Bible as Martin Luther. He was John Calvin. He was driven from France and fled to Geneva for his life. Another denomination arose around the teaching of Calvin based on his "Reformed Church" teaching. This was the beginning of thePresbyterian Church. This Reformation teaching also gripped England and the result was the birth of another denomination called- The Anglican Church. By the late 1700s the Anglican Church had largely become 'formal' (all form and no authentic spirituality). Out of this spiritual deadness came John Wesley who is credited with the rise of another denomination- The Wesleyan Methodist Church. It was also around this time that the Baptist Church, which rejected the idea of "infant-Christening" of the Reformed/Presbyterian/Angican Churches, emerged as a growing Church. William Carey was one of the greatest Baptist leaders of this era and within a generation it produced one of the greatest preachers of all time - Charles Haddon Spurgeon (referred to as "the prince of preachers").
About 100 years later, on at least four continents, there arose a simultaneous outpouring of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to the Pentecostal denomination. By this time, around 1900, the idea that the Bible does not prescribe a single heirarchy of leadership meant that congregations did not regard it as necessary to belong to a large denomination. This coincided with the rise of independent Protestant churches, generally called Evangelical Churches Thus, there are now thousands of Pentecostal and Evangelical denominations.
Throughout the history of the Church it is possible to see how God has guarded and guided it. The Reformers coined a Latin phrase, Ecclesia Semper Reformata - "the Church always being reformed". Each generation of the Church has been guided by the Lord to return to a more refined understanding of what it means to be the Church. As we seek to be a part of the ongoing reformation of the Church we too must be reminded by history, reformed by Scripture and responsive to contemporary culture.
For this reason it is my hope that Legana Christian Church will strive together to build a Biblical community of Christ-loving, Scripture-honouring, Spirit-led believers. In this light, I look forward to what God has in-store for us over the coming years. We want to be a New Testament Church, not a denominational Church. That is, in our attempt to be reminded by history, reformed by Scripture, and responsive to culture, we affirm the ancient Creeds of the Church (The Apostles' Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Chalcedon Creed) and the New Testament's plea for people to be reconciled to God through Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit to save, speak, guide, and gift the believer. Therefore, in striving to be a contemporary church we want to respond to culture not with irrelevant tradition, but with the ever-relevant Gospel presented in a way that is itself relevant to culture, but most importantly relevant to God and His Word.
Father, help us to follow You and to be guided by Your Word and Spirit. Help us to honour history but not to become enslaved to traditions. Give us the ability to be both prophetic and pastoral to our society and communities. May we understand Your Word more clearly. May we be able to make the necessary and reforming changes that must be made in order to remain faithful to Christ and His intention. Grant it Lord that we can care for each other like we should. Help me as the pastor of this precious church to lead by example in word, deed, and thought. I ask that You would speak Your Word to us continually. Fill us each with Your Spirit and Your joy, in Jesus' Name,

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andrew,
    really enjoyed reading this blog post... so informative... thanks for sharing