People wonder how sincere Christians can come to such different opinions in regards to what the Bible teaches. Why are there so many denominations? Why are there so many Christian groups? Why are there so many offshoots? Why are there so many offshoots of offshoots?
My answer is, it’s because you can take any one passage or verse from the Bible and use it to make the Bible teach just about anything. You see, it’s not that all the different denominations, groups, and offshoots don’t base their doctrinal beliefs upon scripture. The problem is that they emphasize different passages and verses. Let me show you how this works.
Some Christians see nothing wrong with getting married and back up that belief by using the Bible’s many passages that promote marriage. For example, Hebrews 13:4 says: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled…” But what about 1 Corinthians 7:7, where the apostle Paul says in the context of a teaching on marriage, “I wish that all men were even as I myself (single)“? Whatever else we might say about that verse, let’s at least admit that a celibate priest or monk could build a life around it.
Some Christians see nothing wrong with having money and back up that belief by citing the likes of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, King David, King Solomon, and Joseph of Arimathea as being wealthy believers. Also, 1 Corinthians 16:2 teaches that Christians should give as God has prospered them. But what about Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22)? And what about James 5:1-6, a passage that offers a strong rebuke of the greed and corruption that oftentimes accompany wealth? Whatever else we might say about that passage and Christ’s words to that ruler, let’s at least admit that a Christian might read them and deduce that having a lot of money hinders one’s walk with Christ.
Some Christians believe in the doctrine of eternal security, i.e. “once saved always saved.” One of the passages these Christians cite in support of this doctrine is Romans 8:31-39, which teaches that God will never bring a charge against His “elect” (the Christian) and that nothing can separate the Christian from the love of God in Christ. But what about John 15:1-8, where Jesus says that if a branch in Him doesn’t bear fruit, that branch will be taken away and thrown into the fire? And what about Revelation 22:19, which says that if anyone takes away from the words of the prophecy of that book, God will take away that person’s part in the Book of Life? Whatever else we might say about John 15:1-8 and Revelation 22:19, let’s at least admit that a Christian might read them and reach the conclusion that salvation can potentially be lost through certain behavior.
Some Christians believe that water baptism isn’t necessary for salvation but is, instead, merely a ritualized object lesson that serves as outer evidence of the inner transformation that has already taken place. Christians who hold to this doctrine quote John 3:16 and similar verses that teach that salvation comes singularly through belief in Jesus Christ. They also point out that neither Jesus (John 4:2) nor Paul (1 Corinthians 1:17) majored in baptizing people. But what about Acts 2:38, where Peter says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”? And what about Mark 16:16, which quotes Jesus as saying, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…”? Whatever else we might say about those two passages, let’s at least admit that a Christian might read them and think that baptism is a mandatory link in the chain of the salvation experience.
Some Christians criticize their fellow Christians who handle snakes and drink poison. The Christians in the first group say, “It’s wrong to expect God to protect you when you are purposely placing yourself in harm’s way. After all, Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). But what about Mark 16:17-18, which quotes Jesus as saying, “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”? Whatever else we might say about that passage, let’s at least admit that a Christian might read it and interpret it completely literally.
Well, I think I’ve given you enough examples to help you understand why we have so many different Christian denominations, groups, offshoots, factions, cliques, movements, etc. Again, it’s not that they don’t all quote scripture to back up what they believe. The differences arise from what scriptures get quoted.
I have been a Christian since I was a boy, but I didn’t get serious — I mean really serious — about Bible study until the Lord called into the ministry. That means that for the past 25+ years I’ve had my nose in the book. And what have I learned during those years? I’ve learned that “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) takes work, real work. Each verse must be interpreted in the light of the totality of scripture, and each doctrine must stand up to the challenge of verses and passages that might seem to contradict it. Putting it simply, we should interpret minority passages through the lens of majority passages, not the other way around. Ignoring twenty verses that teach one thing so that you can run wild with three verses that seem to teach a different thing is a surefire way to get off track.
Frankly, as complex as the Bible is, it’s no wonder that even devout Christians have a hard time reaching an agreement as to just exactly what it teaches. Please don’t take this to mean that the Bible can’t be understood or that it contradicts itself at every turn — neither is the case — but do take it as the explanation as to why Christians so oftentimes disagree when it comes to doctrine. Honestly, we really are trying, but the Bible isn’t exactly a Dr. Seuss book.