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This is our third installment concerning the question of, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” We have approached the question by considering both history and the Bible. We began with observing the source of division that produced the various denominations of Christendom today (Part 1) and then we discussed why the church of Christ is not one of those denominations (Part 2). There remains a third element to addressed. It is the question of, “If the Church of Christ is not a denomination, then why are there several different ‘types’ of churches of Christ?” Sadly, this is a question we often avoid, or only speak about in private circles. But, it is important for brethren to know the differences and the history behind it. Let’s see if we can explain.
After the prominent men of the Restoration Movement were successful in convincing the hearts and minds of God-fearing people to turn back to the Bible in order to restore the Lord’s church, it was no time at all before departures surfaced once again, this time from within the church. As early as 1849, questions and opposing opinions emerged over church cooperation within missions, the inclusion of musical instruments in worship, and other methodological disputes. This lead to differing practices among the various congregations around the country. In 1906, the U.S. Census revealed just how far and wide the sectioning had truly reached. It exposed the fact that the Restoration church had segmented into two distinct groups: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Church of Christ. The primary difference between the two was instrumental music. Only the Church of Christ maintained the practice of a cappella singing in worship. It didn’t stop there, the sectioning continued among those two branches as differing factions among their membership developed over the next several years. All the work that had been done to unify Christians in returning to the Scriptural model of the church had fragmented into different bodies.
Among the Churches of Christ, these differing factions grew in number over the course of the twentieth century. Quite frankly, this should be one of the expected results of true autonomy. When independent congregations started “working out their salvation” (Philippians 2:12), strong opinions develop over all kinds of Scriptural interpretations. The various views that emerged within the churches of Christ lead to some groups assigning special identities to themselves, such as, “Mutual Edification, Non-Institutional, One-cup, Main-Stream, etc.” Sadly, there are some who have attributed pejorative labels to the various groups, also. This means that just because it says “Church of Christ” on the sign doesn’t always guarantee that a particular group practices the exact same thing as another church of Christ down the street.
Perhaps, the biggest problem with all of this division is the lack of love and respect so often displayed between the various groups. So often, it is just a matter of differing OPINIONS! The sad reality is, these opinions have turned into “tests of fellowship,” where one faction won’t have anything to do with another just because of the differences. Some of these groups are downright hateful toward each other, either directly or indirectly. Certainly, matters of opinion (or even doctrinal differences) are never grounds for treating someone with contempt and hatefulness!
So, what does all of this history teach us regarding, “Why are there so many churches in the world?” It teaches us that although God has given man the Bible, man still hasn’t quite worked it all out perfectly. We’re still learning! The only answer to all of this – from the beginning of the church’s history until now – is to study the Scriptures diligently (Acts 17:11). Jesus clearly taught that only those who DO God’s will shall enter into heaven (Matthew 7:21). So, we must find His will in His word and obey it if we want to be acceptable to Him. It is as simple as that.