A popular lie in the world today is that there are 66,000 Protestant denominations. While this is simply incorrect for reasons I don’t intend to go into in this post, it doesn’t lessen the frustration of deciding which one is right. If you’re anything like me you have at some point felt the pressure of discerning whose interpretation of the Bible is correct. So many opinions, so many denominations, and everyone makes so much sense, yet they can’t all be right since they seem to contradict and even hate each other sometimes. How on Earth does one navigate this massive denominational battlefield? And if we try to share our concerns with others, the response seems to always be something like “Oh I understand exactly what you’re going through! But then I chose so and so denomination because it is the most biblical!” This seems valid, but unfortunately when every denomination believes they are the most biblical, it can be hard to determine which one truly is. However, I do relate to the overwhelming weight of being pressured into choosing a denomination. I do have my theological leanings, but for the sake of not adding to your pressure I will refrain from attempting to bring you over to my side.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about you either will, are crazy blessed, or are in denial. I believe I was saved just under two years ago as I’m writing this post so the inner discord of wanting to join the right church but not wanting to be wrong is still fresh in my mind. Though I had been raised culturally Christian my entire life and I always knew other denominations existed, I never really cared or questioned that mine could be wrong. I just knew that they were different. Upon being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, my entire view changed. No longer was I content with my emotion based religion, I wanted more. Sadly, I didn’t have any sort of mentor (except the Holy Spirit who, thankfully, did lead me in the proper path) to teach me things or reassure me that God was still good and that the message of the Bible still makes sense and still applies. If you find yourself in a similar situation or are experiencing the dissonance of denominations, I hope to encourage you or ease your stress to some extent.
First, let me explain how we should not be dealing with these feelings. These emotions and the pressure we feel should not be our guide. Choosing which doctrines to believe in should not be based on how much we like them. If you feel an emotional pull towards a church, do not trust it (Jeremiah 17:9). If anyone or any church tells you that the way you know which denomination is true is by praying over it and feeling a “burning in the bosom”, keep Jeremiah 17:9 at the forefront of your mind. Feelings are not a good means for determining truth. I was very guilty of this for a while. I would call myself one thing one week because I liked its premise, but choose another thing by the next week. When a person has a very cursory knowledge of scripture as I did, it is easy to fall prey to this kind of thinking, easily swayed by every doctrine that blows in one’s direction.
Another problem arises when we don’t have in-depth knowledge of scripture. Someone will come along with a new idea that seems very persuasive. They use scripture to back it up, maybe even the original Greek (the language the New Testament was written in and to which the Old Testament was translated). We may be tempted to say “I have no argument against that, it seems very scholarly so it must be true”. This can be a much more difficult problem to discern our way out of. Many people will use Greek correctly to make their case, but just as many people will use the language improperly, asserting meaning to the text that isn’t there. Do not trust someone just because they use a few Greek words or they sound intelligent. I do believe that Believers should learn Greek to the best of their abilities and means, but this isn’t always possible. It is not a necessity for understanding essential doctrine (Doctrine that unites true believers and separates them from those who do not have saving faith), but learning it will aid you in knowing when people are abusing it. Please don’t take this to mean “don’t listen to anyone, because everyone is wrong”. That is not what I’m saying at all. Many learned men and women of faith have much to share with you, and you should always remain teachable. Simply be aware that not every argument which sounds reasonable is biblical.
The good thing about the denominational discourse is that picking one is not required for salvation! In fact, I would highly recommend beginning with scripture before even considering joining one. What does the Bible actually have to say? It will be a much better time if you learn first what the Bible teaches, for Holy Scripture is our authority. There are many resources you can use, often for free online. Something I have found to be invaluable is Biblical Training which has multiple free courses for biblical interpretation, exegesis, and even learning the original languages in which the Bible was written. It is very hard to avoid doctrinal decisions while studying scripture, but that’s okay! The purpose of learning how to read the Bible first is to draw your doctrine directly from scripture. Keep in mind, studying on your own is a good thing, but it also has the potential for us to accidentally assert meanings onto the Bible that were never intended. This is why proper methods of interpretation is so vital, and the resource listed above is a very good way to start down that path. Remember that while you are interpreting scripture there are 2000 years of accepted creeds and confessions that provide the frame of orthodoxy (accepted Christian belief).
I did say that I would not attempt to push my doctrinal leanings on you, however, when picking a denomination there are just a couple things I want you to remember. There are essential truths that the Bible teaches that must be adhered to. Some of these are:
●Jesus Christ is Truly God and truly man ●The Doctrine of the Trinity ●Physical resurrection of Christ ●Salvation by grace ●Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation
For more information check out this link.
If a denomination does not affirm these truths then you have not found a denomination but a cult or a non-Christian religion. Another thing to consider in your search for picking a kind of church is that you do not neglect to go to any church. Find a church that is within orthodoxy where you can grow as a Christian while you study. It is very important to be a part of a local body of believers (Hebrews 10:25) even if you are unsure of the church’s secondary doctrine (teachings that differ between denominations). It is slightly controversial, but it is okay to “church hop” for a while. Finding a biblical local church can be very difficult and it may take a few tries. Sometimes a church’s doctrinal statement on their website is simply not enough to know what they actually teach. Visiting multiple churches can also be a great way to not only learn but experience the difference in doctrine (it is vital to note that if your experience at a church ever contradicts the teaching of scripture, the experience should be rejected and scripture believed).
It can be a lot to think about, but no one ever said it would be easy. If you only remember one thing from this, please let it be this: denomination affiliation should arise out of patient and deliberate study of scripture. It is not necessary to pick a denomination and may actually be ill-advised to do so until one is more mature in their study of scripture. It is certainly frustrating at times but diligence in faith and study is necessary. We cannot expect the Bible to study itself. If we want answers we have to be willing to put in the work necessary to find them. Be encouraged and don’t give up!