by Jefferson David Tant
To authenticate the title, consider its source. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 14:33: “for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” There are two significant points made.
- God is not the author of the confusion in the churches claiming to be a “Christian” denomination, and
- the churches in the first century were at peace with one another.
Oh, there were problems within some local churches, and the writers dealt with them, but we don’t have one group of churches at odds with another group, with one teaching a particular doctrine and another group teaching just the opposite.
As we look about us in the 21st Century, what do we see? Don’t we see confusion? One denomination ordains women pastors, and another permits only men. One church forbids bishops to marry, while another says the Bible teaches they must be married (I Timothy 3:2). One church teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation, while another does not even practice baptism. We could go on citing such differences among the 45,000 denominations in the world that all claim to follow Christ, but there isn’t enough room for that in this treatise.
How does this measure up to Christ’s prayer in John 17:11? Not long before Christ was crucified, he prayed to His Father in heaven. One part of that prayer is: “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” Notice that he prayed that his disciples, his followers might be “one” even as He and the Father were one. Now, in considering the Godhead--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- how can we portray their “oneness?” Perhaps the Father is a Mormon, and the Son is a Presbyterian, and the Holy Spirit is a Jehovah’s Witness? Who would make such a claim?
It’s obvious that all this division is not from God, since he is “not a God of confusion.” So, where did this confusion originate? The only logical answer is that it came from Satan. Were we not warned about him? “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).
Satan has been working for ages — well since he deceived Adam and Eve. He worked among Israel in the Old Testament. Even though they were God’s chosen people, time and again they went into idolatry. And in Christ’s lifetime in the 1st Century, there were various Jewish sects or denominations. Satan was still working to cause division among the Jews. We read of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Herodians, etc. What did Christ think of these various denominations? The Scriptures give us a clue. As an example of Christ’s thoughts, we see the following words repeatedly: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…” (Matthew 2:13). The Pharisees were one of the strictest sects. And he added the Sadducees: “But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 26:11). Now add the Herodians: “The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6). And we also have the sect of the Zealots, one of whom was called to be a disciple. That was Simon in Luke 6:15. Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote about this sect. “Some Jews gave this name to themselves, according to Josephus, because they pretended to be more than ordinarily zealous for religion, and yet practiced the very worst of actions.”
With respect to Simon, we know that men’s hearts can change. Saul was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians. But he became the Apostle Paul upon his conversion. The point made in mentioning these sects or denominations among the Jews is that this practice of denominations among those claiming to believe in God is nothing new. Christ condemned it then, and there is no indication that he has changed his mind about such practices today.
Thus, the question, “How do we know which church is right?” What we must do is compare the teaching and practices of any denomination with what the Bible says. There was an occasion when Paul was preaching in the city of Berea, and the listeners didn’t just accept what he said because it sounded good, or tickled their ears, or because he may have been a good preacher. No. Consider what Paul said about them. “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
They checked out Paul’s teaching with what the Scriptures said. Why isn’t that done more today?
Was there any group that had Christ’s approval? The only term that Christ did not speak against was used when he called Nathaniel to be one of his disciples. “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’" (John 1:47). An “Israelite.” That’s just what all Jews were supposed to be, Israelites. And what does God want us to be today? The church in Jerusalem heard about the conversion of Saul, and they sent Barnabas to find him. “And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:25-26).
I believe that’s what God wants us to be called today — just Christians, followers of Christ. Not Mormon Christians or Holy Ghost Repair Service Christians, or… Well, there’s no room to list the 45,000 sects. God gave us the New Testament to guide us into all the truth. If we just do what the Bereans did, then we won’t need the creeds and catechisms that all teach something that contradicts the Bible, as well as the other sectarian creeds. When men go beyond God’s word to follow men’s creeds they have gone too far. “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (II John 9). The first man-made creed was not written until the 4th Century, so the early church existed for hundreds of years by following only the Scriptures. Why won’t that work today? And who is behind these creeds that differ from one another and the Bible? If not God, then it must be Satan. So, if God is not the author of confusion, it must be Satan!
Christ promised the disciples: "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13). If that happened, then that was sufficient for hundreds of years before men began to write creeds and catechisms. And that’s true even for today. God has not changed. Truth has not changed. Look for a church that follows God’s word, not the doctrines, creeds, and practices of men. Don’t be guilty of what Christ said -- “But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mark 7:7.) If it was wrong to follow the precepts of men then, what makes it right today to follow creeds that not only contradict the Bible but contradict one another? If they all taught the same thing as the Bible, we wouldn’t need them, for we already have the word of truth.
Consider Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Can we change that to read “45,000 bodies, five Spirits, ten Lords…” etc.? Obviously not.
And what is the “one body?” Paul wrote in Colossians 1:18: “He is also head of the body, the church…”
Can you imagine the impact on the world if all 45,000 sects were united as one body/church, the one you read about in the New Testament?