Where Did All The Protestant Denominations Come From?

I read with interest this link which discusses the goods and bads of having so many denominations.  It is good because people sometimes are more comfortable and take ownership of a smaller group.  It is bad because denominations point to the “errors” of others and make it look like nobody really knows what is the “truth”.

Add to the denominations thousands of unaffiliated churches.  It could be said each of these is a “denomination” unto itself.  All this variety when, as one commentator said, there was only one church at the beginning.

While there are libraries full of histories plotting the origins of denominations, my guess is there are just a few very human reasons for all the variety.  They have to do not with what is in the Bible but with human nature.

There have been and remain many countries in the world. Not too far back there were many more countries in Europe than there are today, before that tribes. Within these countries are a variety of groups with different ethnic heritages.  Within the ethnic groups are subgroups who do not see eye to eye.  Within the smallest unit, the family, people often do not get along.

All this variety must be the source of the many denominations.  The theology and “error” would have come along later after the splintered groups had time to write down their thoughts.

Because it is human nature to “do your own thing”, we can look forward to many new denominations and unaffiliated churches.



20 Responses

  1. Simple

    That is one thing that I wonder about. Yes a few denominations were started by con-men but the vast majority are sincerely trying to follow god’s will. They have god’s perfect word in the bible, sincerely pray that they follow god’s will, and believe that the holy spirit guides them; yet they end up in such different places.

    They can’t even agree on what it takes to get to heaven. You would think that a god that loved us so much would make that very clear since our eternal fate is on the line?

    Just more proof that the christian god does not exist.

    1. Simple 12:47 One human trait seems universal. People often give reasons for doing things that are different than the reason reason. In the case of starting a new denomination, they may give a theological reason, but the real reason might be they just don’t like the other group.

      1. entech

        That reminds me of a story about a welsh sailor who was marooned on a desert island. The Welsh, when religious, take it very seriously and are inclined to be very sectarian, when he was rescued he had built himself a hut and two other buildings. When he was asked about the buildings he said they were chapels – Why two? “The one I pray in and the one I won’t go too”

        With apologies for the stereotyping.

        1. entech 1:22 “The one I pray in and the one I won’t go to.”

          That is FUNNY. Perhaps we could jack up the sophistication by, “The one I pray in and the one in error.”

        2. B-dubya

          Entech, your Welsh story first made me smile—and then laugh, but then it became something like lint sticking to my mental socks. I will be rerunning the whole implied attitude, complete with examples I’ve seen over the years—and chuckle for days. Thanks!

    2. entech

      A thought that has been around a long time. They can’t all be right, but it is possible that they can all be wrong.

      Well I guess the ‘prime directive’ was to go forth and multiply. The thing is that as any truth that may exist is continually diluted and, unless you are a homeopath, dilution is weakening increasing the possibility that all the remnants contain nothing of value.

  2. Wanna B Sure

    when I was little, I asked one of my uncles why he didn’t go to our church, as he drove by it on Sunday to go to another church. He said “I married a Swede”. When he got married, the German churches had services primarily in German, the Swedes had theirs in Swede, and the Norwegians had theirs in Norwegian. Most could speak English, and their heritage language, but couldn’t understand the others in their churches. The Catholics had Latin. Not saying the teachings were much different, but the language, and the ensuing cultural traditions, along with the developing polity, and ecclesiology were the distinctions. Much of that remains the same today minus the commonality of English. Even the liturgies were pretty much the same as now, yet they remain apart. As time went by, the non-doctrinal differences became more pronounced, and remain. Enter pietism later, and the differences were more pronounced. There are twenty different rites in the Catholic Church, each one different, and each one based pretty much on the culture in which they exist. One could call them denominations, but that would not be accurate. There are over twenty different Baptists. Armenian, Calvinistic , or blended, but even that isn’t what defines a Baptist. There are only two items that specifically define a Baptist. 1. No infant baptism- 2. strong particular congregational independence. The reason why most Baptists, and similar churches don’t like the term “Synod”, is that “denomination/synod” represents an agreement in matters of doctrine. So they prefer, as do many other post-reformed groups the term “association, or assembly.” Each particular has their own “statement of faith”. The Pentecostals/ Charismatics have a similar understanding of polity. All that being said, it is remarkable the similarities in beliefs. Practices being a different matter. Regionalism with cultural issues is another matter, not so important today with modern transportation, but a hundred years ago it too was a large factor. some of that has disappeared. If you look at denominational flow charts, one will be interested to see more mergers, and blending going on from time to time, than separation. 50 years is a short period in these matters. The only exceptions today are the new independent megas with remote campuses, but they too are regional, and as soon as the creating pastor leaves, dies, or is involved in controversy, several of them have folded, and their members went elsewhere, if anywhere. The smell of new paint does seem to attract some potential membership. There are those who like to be where it is the hip place to go. Some come, some go. Some split, only to reunite later. There are only so many new wheels to be invented, but upon inspection, there are no new ideas, only new names on the old no matter what language.

    1. Wanna B Sure

      With all that, and it being interesting, I don’t think about it much, nor do I loose any sleep over it. I look at as more of a family feud with the neighbors looking on. Not always a good impression. It all may even have a moderating effect. Who knows where some may go if there wasn’t “competition”. I know the term “competition ” is a poor choice, but it is close enough.

  3. We saw how this fragmentation happens just recently when the Lutheran church had a falling out among the group about gay pastors. Didn’t that result in a new subgroup formed as the Homophobic Lutheran Church? Also, don’t the fortunes of some of these small groups depend on the continued presence of a charismatic leader? When the leader dies, or is arrested for abusing children or whatever, the church falls apart.

  4. Wanna B Sure

    “I didn’t leave my wife, she left me”

    “I didn’t leave my husband, he left me”

    “I didn’t leave my church, it left me.”

    All applicable from time to time.

    1. entech

      Not exactly. While the conclave is in session we are between Popes, atheists know there is no Pope at this time, get the right smoke signal and The Atheist knows that there is a Pope. No belief required, no faith just simple verifiable knowledge.

      Whats the difference between a Lutheran and an atheist, could be everything or nothing. If the God of Luther would appear in public, personal appearances and pronouncements then both Lutherans and atheists would know that he exists, until that most unlikely event The Lutheran believes on faith alone, The Atheist disbelieves on the basis of no verifiable entity in which to have faith.

  5. Wolfy32

    There’s been great discontent over the separate churches. My grandma had spoke of times when “innocent” violence erupted across the street.. (Of a very small town in ND) between the churches. At times they would throw things at each other or simply snub each other.

    I don’t know why, but basicly it came down to both thinking they were better believers than the other. That their church was right and the other was wrong.

    However, I had heard a few years back that the “younger” generations are seeking private places of worship and be in peace. I had heard of a couple “churches” in Minneapolis where you could have your own private space with candles and religous focal points, where you can meditate, pray, or simply reflect on God.

    I found this idea intriguing in that it eliminates the need for piety, the need for group brain washing, and empowers the individual to worship and understand God in a way that is meaningful to their individual life.

    God is a very personal choice, not something that needs to be flaunted or in competition with someone else. If he’s a real being at a personal / individual level then I agree, it is a very personal / private choice.

    1. entech

      I like that one Wolfy, even though I have grave doubts about the God you talk about I can imagine a place to contemplate, meditate if you like, on the universe and my place in it. All I really know that there is an magnificent Thing out there (‘thing’ is inadequate but in the style of eastern thought if you try and describe it in words you have lost it before you begin) and I am part of it and it is part of me. This is quite literal I am made of the same stuff as the universe and when I die the component parts of me will return to an undifferentiated collection of universe stuff. Sub specie aeternitatis.

      1. Wolfy32

        I agree! It’s almost like the relgious community is marketing itself to compete with other churches financially. What can we do to make ourselves more popular than that church, have more people speak in toungues, or we do not encourage anyone to speak in toungues, or we just recite verses and send you on your way….

        Those are differences that churches talk about in terms of doctrine and ways of appealing to different groups of people. Evangelical Free is to be free of toungues and evangelical rituals (or whatever you want to call evangelical methods), Mass can be a way to “save the masses”. Go, count some beads, say a few hail marries, and be on your way.

        The problem with all that I brought up, is … Is God even mentioned once? What does God want? Does he want people to speak in toungues or to not speak in toungues? Does he want people to mindlessly go to Mass to be spoon fed their spiritual vegetables? Where is God in all the Church doctrine?

        As much as organized Christian churches claim to be servants of God, it seems so self serving. We don’t want people that speak in toungues at our church.. We only want people that are highly emotional and enjoy speaking in toungues… It seems so anti-God, that Christianity is the ultimate blasphemy of God. All wanting to be better and more favored than the other, and non actually having any care or asking what God actually wants.

        It’s all about what people want… That’s the biggest part of what turns me to simply self reflection and having something more personal. Where I don’t have to follow the group thought control….

  6. Michael Ross

    ” Not too far back there were many more countries in Europe than there are today, before that tribes. Within these countries are a variety of groups with different ethnic heritages. Within the ethnic groups are subgroups who do not see eye to eye. Within the smallest unit, the family, people often do not get along. ”

    I once read that if it were not for powerseeking conquerors trying to put more and more people under there political control the world would naturally break down into about 10,000 nation states based on ethnicity, religion, and geography. I believe that would be a better arrangement than what we have. Although it would likely be just quarreling squabbling and waring factions. That is the sad history of humankind.

    1. Michael 3:02 “…10,000 nation states..”

      That seems plausible.

      If nation states averaged 2 or 3 gods each, there would be enough gods so each would have a consistant set of rules. With the BIG god of Christianity there are so many diverse people who claim to believe the god’s rules are all over the park.

Comments are closed.