It’s sometimes reported that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Christian denominations worldwide. A large number of these are more accurately described as independent churches or congregations, not affiliated with any denominational organization. Christian critics use this information to undermine Christianity by arguing that no religion worth its salt would have so much division. In other words, the New Testament isn’t much of a guide if it ends up creating tens of thousands of different groups.
But both the New Testament and secular history demonstrate there was division almost from the beginning. Of course, there was no New Testament in the beginning. There were Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, each group clinging to principles of faith that preceded Jesus and his apostles. Ancient documents discovered over the last two thousand plus years (the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example), disclose other Christian sects or groups that were trying to sort out the meaning of Christianity.
Given the explosive beginning of Christianity, the circulating documents and letters that were eventually codified in the New Testament, and various other writings available to some early Christian believers but not available to others, it’s not all that surprising to me that there were disagreements that evolved into different groups or churches. It’s nonetheless regrettable that these divisions have expanded over the millennia.
It’s worth remembering, however, an event recorded in Luke 9:49-50: “‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.'” (See also Mark 9:38-41.) Christian division is hardly a good thing, but it’s important to acknowledge that we’re all trying to serve and obey the same Jesus. In that sense, we’re for, not against, each other.