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Sidebar: The 38,000 Denominations Argument

We interrupt this ongoing series on Catholicism to bring you a special bulletin, hopefully clarifying something I said in a previous post before some sarcastically impaired person tries to use it against me.

In this post, I stated:

Without submission to the church as a teacher, you have no other way to go other than to split into a separate body of believers with no further fellowship when a disagreement arises.  And there are 38,000 recognized denominations of Christianity proving my point!

Of course, this argument is frequently used by atheists to suggest that there is extreme disunity in Christianity.  It’s also used by Catholics to show the need for a central teaching authority.

Here, I was using it flippantly the same way as a Catholic, to highlight the need for a high church concept and for the body of believers to submit to their local church.  I don’t believe in “church shopping” if you don’t like where you currently attend.  And I hate the fact that people create new denominations on a whim, and sometimes over the most trivial points.

I have often argued that there is more unity in Christianity than disunity, with varying opinions on side issues or non-issues.  I’m not going back on that by making the statement I did, and was reminded this morning that the issue is much more complicated than just a few differences of opinion.  This video from JP Holding does an excellent (and humorous job) of showing the differences in the various denominations:

Denominations are most often formed to serve the unique needs of a specific geographic area.  For example, I’ve often talked about being a member of a Grace Brethren church.  The doctrine comes from the Schwarzenau Brethren (the “German Dunkers”), and was renamed “Grace Brethren” in the United States.  We have no doctrine that is distinct from the original denomination, just a different name for a different geographic region.

The Anglican Church in the United States is called the Episcopal Church.  Why?  Well, “Anglican” is the Church of England, and probably wouldn’t have been a popular name to go by after this tiny, little row called “the American Revolution.”  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  Anti-English sentiment would have run high in the new republic, so they changed their name.

Over time, the two churches have grown apart.  Episcopal Churches, for example, celebrate homosexuality and bless gay marriages, ordain openly gay clergy and elect openly gay bishops, as well as allowing female pastors.  None of that is condoned by the head of the Anglican Community, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He has, in fact, threatened to expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Community over these issues.

Despite the row, at the end of the day, the Episcopal Church is still part of the Anglican Church, just called a different name for a different region.

Geographic region is really the key to understanding denominations.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to form a denomination than to answer to a larger authority who might not understand exactly what a particular church needs.

I just wanted to make it clear that I’m using the argument flippantly.  I meant it as a humorous underscore to my point that people aren’t going to understand the Bible unaided, and that the Bible cannot be our sole authority.  We need teachers to show us how to read the Bible.  I’m not trying to suggest that 38,000 denominations is equivalent to 38,000 completely different and contradictory views of Christianity.

Calling for the Resignation of V. Gene Robinson

This is a call for V. Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire, to resign is episcopate because of his unrepentant sin of homosexuality.

The apostle Paul said:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 9-10, emphasis added)


Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Tim 1:8-11, emphasis added)

Based on the Law’s prohibition on homosexuality (Lev 18:22) and the apostle Paul’s clear echo of it, I would say that homosexuality is wrong.  Let’s look at the qualifications for a bishop (overseer):

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Tim 3:2-7, emphasis added)

I am not considering Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s qualifications outside of the boldfaced terms.  I hope he has been an good bishop in every other area and served his people well.  However, he does not fit the qualifications of a bishop and should therefore resign his office.

Bishop Robinson is gay, and has joined in “marriage” to his long time partner.  This is unacceptable.  Homosexuality is a sin, and people who live in unrepentant sin should not serve in any capacity in ministry.  This man is supposed to be the spiritual leader of his diocese, and he is “glorying in his shame” (Phil 3:19).  This isn’t fair to the people of New Hampshire.  Their spiritual leader can’t control his own sin, how is he supposed to counsel others to control their sins?

Until he repents of homosexuality, Bishop Robinson should not be permitted to continue in ministry.