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From my reading of the Bible, I have come to understand that unity among Christians is a good thing.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Psalm 133:1

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!

We know from scripture that "God is love" and that Jesus exemplified love throughout his earthly life. It would seem to me that our relationship with God is the most important thing--more important than the religious traditions to which we might adhere, or the religious rules and principles by which we might live, or the religious organizations with which we might affiliate ourselves.

Micah 6:6-8

With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

There are multiple examples in the Gospels where Jesus rebuked the leaders for putting more of an emphasis on their rules and traditions than on their relationship with God.

These, and other passages of scripture, seem to emphasize the importance of Christian unity and love while de-emphasizing the importance of religious rituals and distinctions. In light of these passages, how do Christians justify separating themselves into so many different denominations? Are there any Biblical justifications given for why having such division is preferred over unity?

History is replete with examples of schisms of the Chruch. How did the Pope, and other leaders at the time, defend the East-West Schism? How did the protestant leaders, such as Martin Luther, justify the need for a separation? Did these leaders specifically address the apparent contradiction with the scriptures which stress unity? Specifically, did they provide any Biblical reasons for their positions? Even among modern evangelical churches, such as the Baptists and Congregationalists, there is a strong belief in separation and local autonomy. Do they provide any Biblical reasons for why their autonomy is more important than the unity of the Church?

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Hi and welcome, we're off to a bit of a rough start here, so let me try to help you along. Let's start with the first thing if you haven't had a chance to read the tour page, please do that now. Second, this question, as phrased is highly subjective and very broad, there isn't really a right answer the way you've asked it. I know it's a bit strange, but what we're looking for when it comes to right and wrong answers is whether or not they a verifiable. Generally we lean on asking for denominational integrity (does the answer you made fit a denomination). 1/2 –  wax eagle Dec 16 '13 at 19:29
2/2 But obviously that's not a valid situation in your case. In this case you might identify specific points of views on concepts or doctrines about which to ask questions. if you'd like to ask this particular question, you might ask if there is a biblical basis for the fracturing of Christian communities. –  wax eagle Dec 16 '13 at 19:30
Perhaps this question could be reworded to something along the lines of, how do Protestants justify their division from the Catholic Church, or how do Baptists justify their separation and local-autonomy in light of 1 Cor 1:10-13 –  Steven Doggart Dec 16 '13 at 19:36
This scripture gives more substance to my question. thank you Steven. –  Jason R Dec 16 '13 at 19:44
Your edits have certainly helped to clarify your point, and makes it a bit more fitting for this site, but now it seems to be more of a challenge to readers rather than a question. I would recommend rewording this to something like "What biblical justifications are given for the necessity of separate denominations" I think the spirit of your question is an interesting one, but the way it's worded right now is still a little off. –  Steven Doggart Dec 16 '13 at 19:47

3 Answers 3

Rather than answer all the questions I'm going to stick with the main question.

Q. What is the Biblical justification for different denominations?

A. What is the Biblical justification for one Church?

There should never have been different denominations (or branches of belief) but as Paul stated here in Eph 4:1-16. There is only one body of believers, the Church.


3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,


14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

Paul did grapple with the beginnings of denominations in his day too. It was because the believers brought in traditions and beliefs from the old testament law that they thought were still required, such as circumcision.

Why did it occur? because of many reasons. But you could say simply that it's because the people who have started these denominations haven't believed and followed the one who is to guide us into all truth. So instead they have substituted it with corrupted understanding and taught this corruption to others who do not have the knowledge.

Another reason can be because of poor translating. There are many words added in some translations that are not there in the original text. These words are added to help clarify the text but sometimes they change the meaning. At least the King James writers had the integrity to italicise added words.

Even with poor translation though, the Holy Spirit can still guide you into truth. And the only way to be guided is to walk in the spirit as in Romans 8. We need to study the text and ask the right questions. Did you not know that you can ask the Holy Spirit in you questions about what you're reading? In the end it comes down to a relationship with Jesus. Not everyone in the church has a relationship. This is why Jesus said in Matt 7:21-23 -

21 Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out demons? and in your name done many wonderful works?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.

It's because it's all about the relationship.

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Are you asserting that the people in all denominations (except one) are not true Christians? –  mojo Dec 19 '13 at 16:10
I might suggest refraining including from long, extended quotes, for the sake of making your answer a little easier to read. Perhaps you could only include verses relevant to your point or just include a link to the text (ref.ly or something). Personally, I like to read your reasoning, but it gets difficult to keep everything in my head when only pieces of the quoted passage are used in the argument. –  mojo Dec 19 '13 at 16:17
The KJV isn't the only translation that makes clear its editorial changes. I know the NASB does as well. –  mojo Dec 19 '13 at 16:20
mojo - I'm not asserting that the people in all denominations (except one?) are not true Christians. The Apostle Paul made that assertion. The word denomination doesn't even appear in the bible. –  Matt Dec 19 '13 at 19:41
Another reading of Paul's words might be that there are only Christians, not denominations, and regardless of what name appears on the sign outside the church building, all true Christians are a part of the (one) body of Christ. "Denomination" isn't some sort of victorious mantra. It's admitting some level of defeat. It's descriptive of our fallen nature rather than prescriptive of what the church should look like. –  mojo Dec 20 '13 at 13:44

I think the key here is the word church. A church can mean a building (often it's a kind of temple with an later), or it can mean an group whose membership implies commitment to a particular creed and may involve an earthly authority over its members. The word church in the bible just means a group of believers who met together.

When the bible was first translated into English, the word "church" didn't occur in it: the word used was "congregation". The people who read it and understood it, wanted nothing to do with the Church.

In part, further divisions came about when new churches were formed and people wanted to separate themselves from what they saw as false teachings. The biblical justification, and cause of division, I think is evident in:

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. Romans 16:17-18

There is a difference between the unity of the Church, bringing people under a single earthly authority and doctrines that men teach for money, and the unity of Christians under Christ in the doctrine which is described in scripture and the Holy Spirit teaches.

There is plenty of relevant scripture especially in the later books of the New Testament. See for example 2 Peter.

If you continue reading until 1 Corinthians 3, you will see that division is a sign of immaturity. And as baby Christians, we need to grow, desiring the milk of the word. See 1 Peter 2:2

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None. The word denomination is not in the bible.

Today, the reality is that we have denominations because each church handles their own money and doesn't let an outsider govern the money.

We see autonomous churches that Paul would visit from time to time to collect and govern. And in some cases like in Corinth, would not even take a penny but would still lay down authority. The early church worked like a federation.

After Paul, Christians opt-out of this model.

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Does Paul govern established churches, or only when he starts new ones? –  curiousdannii Dec 18 '13 at 3:52
Good question.. let's see... Both and even when he couldn't be there (Titus 1:5). Scholars say he planted about 14-20 churches. Which is amazing. Anyway, Paul's model tested each church to be IN THE FAITH (2 Corinthians 13:5). We lost this model - that is why we have denominations. I think. –  WelcomeNewUsers Dec 18 '13 at 21:13
You have a start of an interesting answer. Please consider adding references to your answer to better solidify it as a good answer. Please consider reading What makes a good supported answer? and / or How we are different than other sites? –  The Freemason Dec 19 '13 at 15:59
I think it needlessly cynical to assert that the divisions are all about money and power (to govern). Among the regular (Protestant) Christians I know, the difference in "important" beliefs (regarding baptism, the eucharist, etc.) makes people want to separate themselves and worship with like-minded people. I can't justify this as "good," but it's not about money or power. –  mojo Dec 19 '13 at 16:10
@majo I largely agree with you. On a macro scale, it isn't about money or power. On the micro scale (specific churches) money and power are an influence on their existence. –  The Freemason Dec 19 '13 at 16:59

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