"I planted the seed... but God made it grow." I Cor. 3:6

A Brief Historical Review


“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” ~ Eph. 4:3


When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door he had no idea what he had set in motion.  Like many of history’s changepoints the event was a catalyst with reverberations even to the very present.  Before Martin Luther, the Catholic Church pretty much had a stranglehold on what it meant to be “right with God”.  Mass was in Latin, all preaching likewise in the foreign tongue, and the reading of God’s Word only something priests were able or worthy to do. 


Luther’s motivation was not to start a new denomination, to create new power hierarchies, or change history.  He was simply desirous to confrontRome with regards to her errors, to set the record straight as to what the Scriptures were really all about and to help people discover the wonderful liberating truth of the Gospel. 


This act, however, changed the power structures of Europe when Germany broke away from Rome in 1529, desirous to give people the freedom to choose their faith. In a document titled “Protestation” the German princes argued that “everyone must stand and give account before God for himself.”  Nation after nation followed suit as the word of God was translated into the language of the people.


John Calvin soon “set up shop” in Geneva and systemized the truths of the Reformed faith. Leaders from all over came to Geneva to take the message back to their homelands.  In Scotland it took shape as Presbyterianism.  In England, the break with Catholicism became Anglicanism. 


Because of its emphasis on a personal reading of God’s word and individualism with regard to the study and interpretation of Scripture, this break between Protestants and Catholics had some unexpected consequences. Protestant groups would break with other Protestants in an effort to be “more faithful” to the truth, or for various other motivations. As a result we have Amish, Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Apostolics, Four Square, Alliance, Full Gospel, Evangelical Free, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Church of Christ, Congregational, Wesleyan, etc. etc. etc. 


I’ve heard it stated that there are more than 300 denominations in America today. As Christians we should not be surprised to find non-Christians a bit confused by all this tumble of denominational names and divisions.  Especially confusing is the quibbling over technicalities that leave major denominations split in slivers.  I think here, for example, of the various branches of the Lutheran family or of the many shades of Baptist. 


And then I read a passage like John 17 where Jesus prays for His disciples, that they would complete the work which God has given them to do.  And the Lord prays not only for these, but for all who will ever believe and be called by His name.  His prayer is that we would be one, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  And a little further along, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” 


Of course church divisions did not begin with the Reformation.  In the New Testament we read of divisions right there in the beginning.  In Acts chapter eleven we find a division between believers called “the circumcised” and the “uncircumcision.”  Peter had just had his vision which resulted in a new understanding of God’s message and he immediately set about addressing it head on with this group.  Yet later, in Acts 15:5 we find there is still a circumcision group, and that Luke refers to them as believers. 


Not all divisions stem from a point of doctrine. Some divisions have to do with personalities as well.  In the Corinthian church we find another division.  Writing in I Corinthians 3 Paul was disturbed to find some were claiming to be followers of Apollos and others said they were followers of Paul.  Paul stated emphatically that what was important was their allegiance to God, not to men. 


What we lose sight of in all these matters – these things that divide us – is the Lord’s compassion for the confused and lost masses that live aimless, hurting lives in the world around us.  Let us be moved by these words from Matthew 10:36-38.  “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” 


“That all of them may be one…” ~ John 17:20


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