Question: In my small city, there must be a hundred Christian churches. All of them claim that they teach the correct way to do church. Why do we have so many denominations, and how do you know which one is right?
Answer: I suppose there are as many different Christian denominations as there are interpretations of the Bible. Thankfully, they all have a common theme that unites them—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Often the reasons for various denominations are the differences in style, purpose, and personality. Such distinctions are to be expected and even valued in the body of Christ.
An example of this is the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. According to the account in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas decide to divide their ministries into two because of a disagreement over John Mark. Was Barnabas right or was Paul? We think the text is ambiguous for good reason. Paul was suited to head up a mission of tough-minded, ready-for-anything people. Barnabas was suited to head up a ministry of encouraging and rescuing people. Just as it worked out better for Paul and Barnabas to form their own “denominations” so the denominations of today have different styles, different ways of seeing the faith, and different people they appeal to.
Was it wrong for Paul and Barnabas to split up? No. However, they were fallible humans. Maybe they didn’t handle their disagreement as well as they could have. According to the account, they had a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39). Their experience is a warning to church leaders to avoid handling disagreements with too much competition and acrimony.
Tragically, though, many Christian denominations have drifted from their spiritual roots and teach doctrines that violate biblical truth. The ultimate authority for the right way to practice the Christian faith is Scripture. Be like the Christians at Berea, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Use the Bible as your standard when evaluating a church’s doctrines and policies.