church history

Why all the denominations?

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People are often puzzled by the incredible amount of denominations in Christianity – especially in the United States. Many of these denominations began in the 1800s as people began to apply the principles of democracy and personal freedom to religion. As people exercised what they believed to be God-given reason and logic, it fostered a movement full of schisms.

According to Nathan Hatch in his book “The Democratization of American Christianity“, one of the primary reasons this happened is, “They denied the age-old distinction that set the clergy apart as a separate order of men, and they refused to defer to learned theologians and traditional orthodoxies.”

It this a positive or negative concept?

My answer is YES!

1. The concept of denying the distinction between clergy and lay-people is extremely positive.
As the church became institutionalized around the time of Constantine, Christianity became powerful. It was recognized as an official religion and Constantine devoted a vast amount of wealth to create buildings and memorials to the faith.

This also encouraged Christians to pattern their churches after the Roman government. Rather than being led by servants following in the example of Christ, the church was led by powerful leaders intent on exercising militant-like authority towards those in their charge.

Eventually the Scriptures were chained to the pulpit and the “common people” had to rely on the priests to mediate the Word of God. This resulted in spiritual abuse, domineering leadership, and the twisting of Scripture. Thankfully the many reformations led by men such as Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Zwingli and others brought the Scriptures to common people.

Nevertheless, there was still a distinct class difference between clergy and lay-people. The Scriptures teach that it is the job of the pastors and spiritual leaders in the church to equip the people for the ministry (Eph. 4:12). In other words, the model that the “paid professionals” do the work of the ministry while everyone else sits in a pew and critiques the work is deeply flawed and began to meet its demise in the belief that there was no distinction between clergy and laity.

2. The refusal to defer to learned theologians and traditional orthodoxies was negative and fostered heretical movements.
These first American Christians practiced what C.S. Lewis called “intellectual snobbery.” They believed that their own reason and logic trumped the labor put in by faithful followers of Jesus throughout the centuries. Through such statements as “No Creed but the Bible” the people were ironically led into heretical movements such as Mormonism!

The irony is that there are numerous creeds in the Bible itself!

When Christians, especially Christian pastors, refuse to study church history they are exercising arrogance. In pride they believe that their conclusions, arrived at through searching Google, are more sound than the hours of labor put in by faithful saints throughout the ages. As Christians, we desperately need to understand and defend sound doctrine against those who have shipwrecked their faith by listening to the teaching of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).

This means we need to enter into conversation with Christians of other centuries through carefully reading ancient texts and Christian classics. These writings have stood the test of time for a reason – they have something substantial to say which still applies to the 21st century!


Have you ever studied Christianity in the early United States? What are some concepts you noticed which have shaped our understanding of religion today? 

Are Traditions Bad?

tradition

Many in contemporary churches brush aside tradition – myself included. We pride ourselves on rejecting ancient practices in order to remain relevant in an ever changing world. We upgrade our sound systems, preach through catchy sermon series, and capture the emotions of those in our churches.

None of that is bad, but I would argue we are making a grave mistake by blindly discarding the value of tradition.

When it comes to Christianity, tradition has numerous benefits. Although you may not find all traditions life-giving, it is foolish and arrogant to assume that those in more “traditional” churches somehow love Jesus less.

Below are some of the benefits of tradition:

1. Tradition connects us to a “cloud of witnesses”.

The writer of Hebrews refers to a “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1. This cloud of witnesses is a reference to those who have gone before us. Specifically, the writer encourages us to consider these faithful saints who have endured the hardship of life and finished the race successfully. According to Hebrews 12:1, looking to these faithful men and women will enable us to:

  • Throw off everything that hinders us in our own race.
  • Kill sin which entangles us.
  • Encourage us to run our race with perseverance in the midst of trials and persecution.

2. Tradition prevents chronological snobbery.

The phrase “chronological snobbery” was first coined by C.S. Lewis. According to Lewis, this special type of snobbery is defined as, “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” We cite technological and intellectual advancements and neglect to study ancient material since we do not find it “relevant.”

The opposite is often true.

If something has been around for hundreds (or even thousands) of years and people still talk about it, it holds immense relevance and truth for the 21st century. Rather than accepting the next self-help book because it is on the best seller list, acquaint yourself with the classics. By reading classic Christian literature and even the church fathers (writings from early church history), you will gain a deep appreciation for the person and work of Christ which extends across generations.

3. Tradition exposes cultural idols.

When we come to Scripture, we do not come with a blank slate. Some people erroneously claim that we should allow the Bible to interpret our theology rather than allowing our theology to interpret the Bible. That sounds great on paper but is impossible in practice.

All of us, whether we admit it or not, bring assumptions, experiences, and cultural assumptions to our understanding of God and Scripture. The same way a fish does not know what water is because it is surrounded by it, we do not see our cultural idols because they are deeply embedded in our being.

Reading the works of those who lived in different periods of time with a variety of backgrounds will help us see the “water” we swim in. God will use the writings alongside of Scripture to expose the disgusting idols we willingly sacrifice our time, finances, and abilities to.


I would encourage you to read a Christian author this month who lived outside of the 21st century. Below are some of my favorite authors whose works of literature are considered classics. Some are older than others; all of them will add great value to your life. 

  • Jonathan Edwards
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • John Bunyan
  • Augustine
  • John Calvin
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer