by Steven Chan
Why are there so many Bible-believing groups (or Bible believing denominations) in so-called Christendom? I had been told that it was okay to be a member of any denomination as they all belong to the same Body of Christ. What about the differences that distinguish one Bible-believing group from another Bible-believing group, I was told that just as brothers and sisters in the same family do not bear the same name or even have the same likes or dislikes, so likewise, it’s okay to have Bible-believers belonging to groups that differ from one another. What about the different names that they bear to differentiate themselves from one another? The answer given to me was that a rose by any name smells as sweet! It matters not what you call it!
But what does the Bible say about Bible believers belonging to different groups and distinguishing themselves from each other in their teachings and practices by their different names?
One may recall that when Jesus came into the religious world of His time, the Bible-believing people of that time (i.e the Jews) were also divided by different groupings and names. In Matt 16:11-12, the Bible recorded Jesus as saying to His disciples:
“How is it that ye do not perceive that I spake not to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then understood they that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the equivalent of the leaders of many groups of Bible-believers of today. Whatever outward appearance of unity that they may portray, it nonetheless betrayed the reality of their division in what they believe and teach – as observed by the apostle Paul in Act 23:7-8: “And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.”
In Matt 22:29, Jesus answered and said unto the Sadducees: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” In the very next chapter, in Matt 23:13, Jesus said to the other group of Bible-believers: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”. Earlier on, in Matt 15:6-9, Jesus said to the same group of Bible-believers (i.e. the scribes and Pharisees): “And ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.”
Though they were Bible believers, Jesus did not approve of their teachings and practices. He told the Sadducees that they were in error as regards their understanding of the resurrection. Jesus boldly declared that the scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites for “they say and do not” – Matt 23:3 and they had caused the worship of Bible believers to be in vain because they “teach as their doctrines the precepts of men”.
No wonder Jesus prayed that His disciples would be united and not be divided:
“And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are.” (John 17:11)
Jesus did not just pray for Hi disciples who were with Him then, but also for those disciples who would believe through the preaching of the apostles (i.e. to all disciples of Christ living today):-
“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me.”(John 17:20-21)
Later on, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to address the problem of disciples of Christ distinguishing themselves from one another by their preference of different leaders in the church, as well as their tendencies to speak or teach differently from one another:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by them that are of the household of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos: and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul? “(1 Cor 1:10-13)
Man has never failed to attempt to provide seemingly logical explanations to justify their beliefs and actions similar to the justification for differences between Bible believers today – although the teaching of the Bible is unequivocally clear that Jesus does not want His followers to be divided – by either their different teachings or by their different names as explicitly explained by the apostle Paul. When Adam was asked why he had eaten the forbidden fruit, his answer was: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”(Gen 3:12). So it has been with the various attempts to explain away the clear teachings of God’s Word so that man can continue to do what he prefers or what he likes – in spite of God’s counsel: Prov 3:5: “Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, And lean not upon thine own understanding:” Prov 14:12: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; But the end thereof are the ways of death.”
The attempts to justify divisions among Bible believers today, contradicts the plain teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus prayed for unity – and not divisions among His followers. How can Bible believers today who profess to love Him and would obey Him, reject His plain prayer request by insisting that it is okay to remain divided among fellow Bible believers? How can Bible believers today in good conscience differentiate themselves by grouping themselves under different religious leaders of their own preferences when the apostle Paul had written clearly and specifically to the believers in Corinth that Christ is NOT divided and that therefore they should not denominate themselves by their preference for different Bible teachers/leaders?
If like me, you have been raised in a Bible believing group, perhaps it is time for you to ask yourself what Jesus has said about such divisions rather than continuing and perpetuating the divisions among Bible believers today as characterized by their different teachings and practices as well as by their different names.
When Jesus came into the world, He said, “Ye have heard that it was said… but I say unto you” (Matt 5:21-22). That’s the contrast in the teaching of human leaders with that of the teaching of our Lord Himself although both were Bible believers. So, ye have heard that it is okay for Bible believers today to be divided by different teachings and different names, but Jesus and the apostle Paul say unto you: “that you may all be one, and that ye speak the same thing – that there be no division among you; and that ye be not divided by different names as “I am of Paul, Peter, Apollos, or modern equivalent of Luther, Wesley, Calvin, etc”.(John 17:11, 20-21; I Cor 1:10-13).
The Bible records in Acts 11:26: “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” And Paul referred to the church of the New Testament as: “All the churches of Christ salute you.” (Rom 16:16). Is a name important? What does the Bible say in Acts 4:12? “And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.” There is no Bible authority for Bible believers to call themselves by any other name (Acts 4:12; 26:28; I Pet 4:16) or to differentiate themselves from one another by grouping themselves under human religious leaders.
We plead with all Bible believers everywhere to jettison man-made doctrines, reject allegiance to human leaders as reflected by the adoption of their names to differentiate one Bible believer from another, and return to the Bible for all that we teach and practice and thereby honor and glorify Him. We will then truly be one in name, teaching and practice. Wouldn’t that be acceptable and desired by our Lord? Wouldn’t you want to be a part of that effort? Come and study the Bible with us.