By: Ron Benrey
“I ask ... that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you ... (John 17:20, NRSV)
Before I became a Christian—I’m a late-bloomer, baptized less than ten years ago—I saw Christianity as a vast monolith: billions of people who shared the same beliefs. I was astonished to discover that the community of Christians is more fractured than a bag of crushed ice and that in-fighting among Christians is as common as sharing the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus clearly anticipated that Christians would disagree, but I think the disciples who heard him pray for unity would be dumbfounded to learn there may be 40,000 Christian denominations around the world. This is a breathtaking estimate, but even the most cautious count—9,000 denominations—is an extraordinary number. There are more than 2,000 Christian denominations in North America alone, each with its own spin on some Christian teaching or form of church government.
No other worldwide religion has as much “diversity.” It prompts thinking Christians to wonder what happened to Paul’s teaching that we’re all part of the “single body” (1 Corinthians 12).
My introduction to denominationalism—narrow-minded devotion to a specific teaching—came at the first Christian writers’ conference I attended. One of the other conferees told me in all sincerity that I’d made a “fatal mistake” when I’d chosen my mainstream denomination, because its teachings are not truly Christian. “You think you’re saved,” he said, “but you’re bound for Hell, until you join a real church.”
I recall using some distinctly non-Christian language when I urged him to worry about someone else’s salvation at the conference. Happily, I’d learned enough about Christianity by then to recognize that he was hot under the collar about teachings that had nothing to do with core principles of Christianity—the key doctrines that C. S. Lewis called “Mere Christianity.”
Most of the tussles among Christians fall into that category, because when you think about it Christians have almost nothing to fight over:
God’s Grace is available in unlimited supply—take as much as your situation requires.
Your personal relationship with God can be as deep (or as shallow) as you want—tap into it whenever the Spirit moves you.
And as for the Spirit—well, He’ll provide as much counseling and comforting as you’ need.
Christianity may have more flavors than an ice-cream maker’s convention, but I don’t expect to find any denominations in Heaven.
Ron Benrey, the author of the soon to be published Complete Idiot’s Guide to Christian Mysteries, an explanation of Christianity’s toughest teachings, is a prolific writer who has written nine non-fiction books and co-written nine novels with his wife Janet. Ron teaches courses and workshops at major Christian Writers’ Conferences on topics ranging from plotting to copyright law. He holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master's degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a juris doctor from the Duquesne University School of Law. He’s a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Ron and Janet live in North Carolina