Posted by: NotAScientist | August 4, 2009

Which Christianity is True?

Ever wonder why there are so many denominations of Christianity?

ChristianBrushes-CrossesAccording to a quick Google search, there appears to be over 38,000 different Christian denominations. Most, I would imagine, differ along doctrinal grounds. They also differ based on race, ethnicity and language. But there is one thing they all have in common. Can you guess what that is?

If you guessed the divinity of Jesus, you’d be wrong! Sorry, close but not quite.

In fact, the simple factor that all denominations have in common is that they all believe themselves to be the true Christianity.

Now to be honest, this is a bit of a red herring. I certainly don’t begrudge people or groups of people believing themselves to be right. I would venture to say that everyone believes they are right, or else why would they believe what they believe?

When dealing with something as nebulous as Christianity it can start to get confusing. What justification do members of denomination A have for their beliefs? Are those justifications any better than those of the members of denominations B and C?

I make no claim of expertise in Christianity. But in my limited experience the only justifications I’ve come across have been particular Bible verses.  And when dealing with the Big Book of Multiple Choice (aka, The Bible) things get confusing really fast.

The Old Testament says to handle snakes, so one denomination does that. The New Testament says that we shouldn’t listen to the Old Testament, so another denomination thinks the snake handlers are crazy. Another denomination points out that Jesus said not a jot or tittle of the law would be changed, and so says homosexuals shouldn’t be tolerated. And yet another says that Jesus never says anything about homosexuals one way or the other, and so ignores Paul and the Old Testament.

Confusing, no?

I’ve found myself involved in quite a lot of arguments and debates about ‘true Christianity’ as of late. And those debates are entertaining. But ultimately they’re pointless.

Why?

It doesn’t matter which Christianity is true. Not to me. Not to an atheist.

Because whether or not one group of people has stumbled upon the exact intentions of the founders of Christianity is secondary to whether or not the supernatural claims made by the religion is true.

By all means though, keep debating. What the majority of Christians believe their religion to mean does matter in that it effects how our society will progress…or regress. But it doesn’t matter a bit to the nature of the real world.

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Responses

  1. I don’t think most Christian denominations would claim to be ‘The True Church’ or something. A lot of denominations are separated by administrative, rather than doctrinal, divisions. For instance, a lot of methodist denominations share a common theology and have tried to unite, but leaders from the different groups oppose losing their titles and offices. Furthermore, Methodist and weslayan groups are pretty ecumenical and consider other protestant sects, and even the Roman Church, as essentially Christian.

    To be sure, some groups are exclusivist (independent baptists, Catholics, etc.) but on the whole, there is a lot of common ground between groups and they see other Christian faith traditions as “brothers in christ”.

    Organized religion is mostly a political endeavor.

  2. Morsec0de,

    I’d like to comment, but well, there’s nothing really worth talking to on this post. I’m not here to bash you.

    I am curious if you actually put time into looking at the differences you pointed out. When you talked about the Bible verses, and Old Testament, and homosexuality and stuff, did you look that up somewhere? or just common knowledge stuff?

    Where does the Atheist go to build one’s case?

    I’ve got a couple tools that I’ve used to try to educate myself, but I’ve never gotten around to asking an atheist where they get “schooled” at.

  3. “I am curious if you actually put time into looking at the differences you pointed out.”

    Yup.

    “did you look that up somewhere? or just common knowledge stuff? ”

    Both. Talking to different types of Christians and from reading the bible myself.

    “Where does the Atheist go to build one’s case? ”

    I don’t build a case. I look at the case the religious have built up and see if it holds water. So far, it hasn’t.

    • You will never really know God by looking at religion. You may see him at work through organized religion regardless of denomination. God builds his kingdom regardless of our attempts to characterize our churches to the outside world. The only way you will know for sure if God is real and understand the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your sins is if you seek God. Just yell out there to him “hey God are you real?” and watch and wait. You can be sure he is ready to have a personal relationship with you. You may have things in your life that are separating you from God and you can try to get those out of the way to expedite the process, but it is truly a gift when he personally gives you the assurance that he is real and his promises for our time here on earth and in heaven are real.

      • I totally hear you on the “You will never really know God by looking at religion” part, but as a Christian myself, not sure what you really mean by the rest. Are you saying that if you feel something then you know that God is real? Not sure that I would want to stake my life on a feeling.

      • I didn’t say anything about feeling. God reveals himself more powerfully than that.

  4. Yes like that one pzischofrenic math proffesor who found all those patterns in the newspaper! Oh, i forget the name, but this is the internet i’m sure someone could fill me in.

    • Would that be John Nash (“Beautiful Mind” with Russell Crowe)?

      • Yes, thank you.

  5. Much of the division is completely man-made.
    You have those that “read into” or “put” ideas into the Bible (eisegesis), which is what occurs much of the time with Atheists and many Christians (hence the division) and you have those that simply read and study the language of the Bible and “pull out” the meaning of the words, phrases etc (exegesis).

    The line of division is where people cannot agree if they are “pulling out” the truth, or if they are “putting in” opinion.

    I’ll stop since I don’t want to sound like I know more than I do. :0

    • I haven’t seen an objective exegesis of the bible. Evangelicals exegete the bible differently than liberals, Catholics exegete the bible differently than protestants, Christians exegete the bible differently than Jews, etc. The exegesis-eisegesis distinction isn’t as cut-and-dry as you think it is.

      The closest I’ve seen to having an objective approach to exegesis is through “inductive bible study” but even that one is fraught with problems (assumption of inerrancy and biblical unity, for instance).

      • This topic is a tough one based on the simple truth that we are fallible human beings, and simply make mistakes no matter how smart or well intentioned we are.

  6. I guess part of the problem is that so many do take the bible to be a “Big Book of Multiple Choice” – including most Christians. But the bible needs to be read on its own terms in the way that it’s intended to be read. The technical term for the bible’s self understanding is “redemptive-historical.” In other words, it is the unfolding plan of God’s redemptive purposes in history, as they manifested ultimately in Jesus Christ that is the most basic way to read the bible correctly. Sadly, most Christians don’t understand how their bible is put together and therefore offer up a billion of blithering interpretations that often times have nothing to do with the bible’s original story.
    Don’t discount the role of politics either. Major denominational splits occurred less because of outright theological concern and more with political power mongering. Often by those who claimed Christianity as a political expedient, only to further their own agendas.
    Just look at the lives of Charles I and II to see that!
    Of course, Christians would also point to the doctrine of sanctification as an underlying reason why there are disagreements between Christians. We are all in a process of being sanctified, a process that doesn’t conclude until the second coming. Therefore there is the personal, ongoing battle with sin that mars each Christian’s understanding of the world and of his/her own faith.
    So, oversimplification to score some points doesn’t really help the matter. The issues are often deeper and more nuanced than you’ve let on.

  7. The real question to ask I think is.. With the “Holy Spirit” living inside of all of these believers, shouldn’t there be a merging of these various denominations instead of constant splitting that has been going on for thousands of years?

    I’ve studied religion, I was once even a charismatic believer, now I’m COMPLETELY agnostic. Christianity is particular and religion in general are just a crutch for the weak..

    • “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” seems to answer to this very real observation you make. You seem to infer that God should be forcing people to do things, which is completely against all Biblical teaching. Just an observation.

      As for the crutch comment, this is a common thought process for most non-believers. I too held this view not long ago, however, my faith has never served as a crutch in the manner that you are most likely describing.

      Blessings!

      • “which is completely against all Biblical teaching.”

        All the killing in the OT?
        Jesus chasing out the merchants by beating them with a whip?
        Do not suffer a witch to live?

      • Since the Holy Spirit wasn’t involved as Steve Smith discusses until the book of Acts, these points/rebuttals are a bit out in left field from the original topic, but they are still good to discuss nonetheless.

        They couldn’t have been forced to leave. If they wanted to stay they would have ganged up on this Jesus dude and tossed him out. By Jesus’ remarks and actions it seems pretty apparent that “this den of thieves” realized they were in the wrong by setting up shop in God’s House.

        All throughout the OT, the Israelites disobey God, and then turn and obey God. If they were forced they would not have disobeyed.

        “Witch” is such a poor representation of the original language, and it’s widely accepted that the original intent of the word was to mean something along the lines of “a woman who whispers incantations of death” etc. Hence, a murderer, she is.

        If we want to continue this one, we should probably define “forced” or “forcing people to do things”, since it seems we may have a disagreement on what this means.

        Hey, how’s the scar healing? I hope well!

  8. According to a quick Google search, there appears to be over 38,000 different Christian denominations.

    Yes, there are many denominations. No, there aren’t 38,000. In fact, the typical urban legend is that there are 33,000, so I see that the figure has grown recently.

    Glad you got through your medical procedure so well! That’s great news.

    Christianity is particular and religion in general are just a crutch for the weak.

    In a sense that is true. People with broken legs need crutches. Sinners need Saviors. Point taken. But I wouldn’t say that Christianity is “just” a crutch, unless I was just interested in throwing out tired sound bites.

  9. “No, there aren’t 38,000. In fact, the typical urban legend is that there are 33,000, so I see that the figure has grown recently.”

    How many do you suppose there are? Or do you have some figures? Like I said, it was a quick google search, and the word ‘denomination’ can be somewhat fluid.

    • Well, we cross paths again. Seems like we talk alot about some of the same things.

      539 Denominations actually, and 38,000+ doctrines. Not every group of Christians that creates some variation in doctrine can become an independent “Non-denomination”. There would no end to it.

      The fact that Christians are so divided use to bother me. That is until a mentor explained the church this way… “The Church, the bride of Jesus, was set up as a living entity by Jesus Christ. And being alive, it grows and spreads, gets pruned and mutates. So expect a lot of variety. Further, if Christ had wanted the first seven churches united, don’t you think He would have instructed Paul to do so? Instead Paul nurtured each as a new creation. Paul, himself did not force them to be identical, but sent different disciples, (Titus, Timothy, Barnabas…) to correct and guide the groups.” The End.

      I don’t worry about it any more. I just struggle to keep up.

      Glen
      “Lov’n the Lord & Liv’n the Life…”

  10. Yes, the definitions could be fluid. I’m not sure what the real figure is. I think the solution is simple: Whoever claims a number should defend the number. If they say 38,000, then they should have a list of them all, right? Otherwise, how do they know it is 38,000? I’m not gigging you, because I think you would make your same points whether there are 100 or 38,000. I’ve seen Catholics use the 33,000 figure to “prove” that they are the real church, and I find their logic to be equally faulty.

    You can also use the 80/20 rule to see if it even matters that there are a lot. Add up the figures for the top 20 denominations and see what percentage that is of the total estimated Christians. Then divide the remaining estimated number of Christians by 37,980 and see how many people per denomination you get. I think the number will be pretty small, thus proving that even if there were 38,000 denominations the members per denomination would insignificant.

    Of course, I think all estimates of the number of Christians are as inflated as the 38,000 figure — especially in the U.S. Lots of people check the “Christian” box but are anything but in terms of beliefs.

    I think the denominational differences are unfortunate, but sometimes overblown. Yes, some consider themselves the one true church, but many do not. They just recognize that they have different beliefs on non-essential issues (e.g., predestination, forms of baptism, forms of communion, etc.). I attend a Methodist church but would never claim it is the one true church. If I meet Presbyterians or Lutherans I don’t try to convert them to Methodism.

    And of course, just because atheists have so many divergent views doesn’t prove that there is a God ;-).

  11. Many atheist’s Christian polemics are so crappy that it makes me laugh at how they pride themselves for being “rational”. It’s reminds me of what Blaise Pascall said, “atheism shows strength of mind, but only to a certain degree”.

    I’ll answer this thread with the same answer I give to Catholics who make similar claims about Protestant denominations. Go back to all of those supposed denominations and tell me which one’s adhere to sola-scriptura and behave like they do from the pulpit.

    Also, Christians believe in secondary views and primary views. These only help determine if one is orthodox, but not saved. They can greatly infer if one is saved, however. But a true Christian is one who has entered God’s kingdom by why of being born again. We are unholy and sinful. God will kill all evil people. Christ lived the life we couldn’t live, died the death we deserved, and rose to prove it all satisfactory. Those who believe in this humble little message will have eternal life. Those who reject it will perish forever.

  12. Good post and good discussions. The questions you pose are ones typically answered by something called faith. If you look at that rationally, faith is often an irrational belief to fill in the blanks of things we dont know or cant quite understand. Faith does a lot of good for a lot of people (Christians i mean) and its hard for me to doubt anyones or say that one is better than the other.
    One of my main issues is the hatred and lack of reflection those without hate have towards those with faith. Everyone believes in something, and those who believe in no god, interspecies evolution, or whatever, are simply placing their faith in something other than a deity. I say no harm no foul, i just with others would say the same too.

    • Except you’re wrong. It’s a false comparison to say that having faith that a god exists is equivalent to accepting evolution. One has no evidence and only faith. The other has mountains of evidence and no faith.

      I understand your worldview insists that you disagree. You are welcome to your own opinion. But not your own facts.

  13. Naturalism requires the most faith. As a Christian, I consistently believe that life comes from life, logic comes from logic, and DNA coding comes from a coder. It requires great faith to say that life comes from non-life, logic comes from non-logic, and DNA code came about by a process void of intention.

    The arguments you guys have above here demonstrate that you’ve both never had your silly presuppositions challenged, not even for a minute.

    And all of science requires faith because science works off of propensities and inferences. We know things with 70% certainty, etc. Even a lot of science is theoretical and some things aren’t directly observed. Also, the problem of induction requires faith. Just because “nature” has operated the way it has in the past doesn’t mean it will in the future. If you live your life like the laws of physics wont change, which you do, then you’re trusting in the uniformity of nature when you can’t proof that nature will always remain uniform.

    • “The arguments you guys have above here demonstrate that you’ve both never had your silly presuppositions challenged, not even for a minute.”

      How exactly do my comments show that my engrained ideas have never been challenged? A tip… arrogance only breeds contempt.

      So in your round about way you are saying you have faith as a Christian, but not as most christians know it. Scientists must have faith since many things arent proven, and non believers actually have the most faith. Or is my def of Naturalism wrong here? Its these convoluted arguments of semantics and definitions that drive people nuts, and away from the subjects altogether…

      • I think I was wrong. The problem may not be that you’ve never had your presuppositions challenged, but that you don’t even know what they are. Naturalism is a worldview held by many, especially today. I would study it and get back to me and tell me if that’s your worldview and why or why not.

    • Wow, thanks for the psychology session. How much do i owe you?
      I do not find much use in trying to endlessly define everything, surprised you didnt already understand that about me. My personal worldview is that talking and thinking yourself into circles only fosters cognitive dissonance.

      • Oh ok, and what’s your definition of cognitive and dissonance? Oh sorry, you don’t define anything.

      • Haha. Thats actually a good one. But you know what i mean.

      • No, I don’t. People use certain terms in different ways. Can you define how you’re using those terms? Oops!

  14. I think MacGregor and Morsecode are both using the wrong definition of faith. The biblical view is never blind faith or faith in spite of evidence. Read the Bible, Christians! I expect those false sound bites from atheists but Christians should know better. The book of Acts, for example, has 13 presentations of the Gospel. They all point to evidence and reason. Go scan the book and see what I mean. Christian faith is trust in something — or more accurately, someone.

    And Cameron is right about faith and science. The “science of the gaps” dominates atheism. Evidence for the creation of the universe? “None, but we know God didn’t do it!” Evidence for life coming from non-life? “None, after countless tries, but we know there isn’t a God!” And so on.

    • You in no way correctly addressed what i was saying originally. I wasnt necessarily trying to give the biblical def of faith. I was actually saying that having faith, in God, is how people get by, understanding that they can no more prove the existence of god as they can disprove god’s existence. Most people dont live in a world searching for distinct and acutely accurate definitions of words, and it seems that you and Cameron agree that both the belief in god or lack there of requires some form of faith.
      Another point i was trying to make was that there are a whole lot of people fervently trying to disprove god, while showing a great lack of tact in doing so.

      • That’s cool. I of course would argue that God can be proven in the sense that without Him you can’t prove anything. It does no good to try and prove God empirically also because you’d never know if it was really God, unless He was trustworthy and enabled you to know for sure. But that’s what Christian’s believe their faith is, and is what Scripture says it is too (Rom 4:5; 10:1-8).

  15. Neil,

    Indeed Biblical faith is never blind faith. In fact, it is first a trans-rational faith, hence Rom 10:1-8 and Rom 4:5.

    It is not irrational, nor is it purely based on rationality alone, yet it accounts for rationality! Then I would say further it makes the most sense out of rationality, hence accepting that life comes from life rather then believing it comes from non-life and irrational things of the like.

  16. Hello! It’s not complicated. We are scripturally assured that there are wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, and that Satan is disguised as an angel of light.

    If Christ’s kingdom is worth anything, the enemies will most certainly use the most powerful tactic they have– the lie.

    Your concept of “Christianity” is (sadly) most likely framed by a litany of men who are not Christians.

    Saying “Lord, Lord” does not make one a Christian.

    So you must not be confused by those who call themselves Christians. Discern them by their fruits– do they even vaguely resemble students of the One they call Master?!

  17. No True Scotsman Fallacy anyone?

  18. In these circles I wouldn’t even call it faith. It’s conditional acceptance.

  19. I think people are a little quick to throw out the No True Scotsman Fallacy.

    I could claim to be a Muslim. When people correctly point out that I don’t believe the Koran is the word of God, that it has mistakes, that I like Jewish people, that I love bacon, etc. and then say, “You’re not a Muslim,” I could just respond with the NTS Fallacy claim.

  20. No True Scotsman Fallacy anyone?

    There is no true Scotsman fallacy here. The atheist who posted this thread isn’t claiming to be a Christian. That’s like try pulling out the “no true Scotsman fallacy” card when a Native American is in question about being a Scotsman.

  21. There are 38,000+ Protestant denominations. A Protestant “denomination” can be as small as 5 people meeting in a living room. Then there are a number of smaller schismatic churches that have broken off from the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church. Every Protestant church is based upon the assumption that Roman Catholicism at some point went into apostasy, or was an apostasy from the beginning. Only in Catholicism, however, do we see the unbroken tradition of teaching (granted that teaching has evolved, but it is still essentially continuous) going back to the Apostles. A Newman said, “Anyone who knows history cannot be a Protestant.”

  22. “You seem to infer that God should be forcing people to do things, which is completely against all Biblical teaching.”

    Unless you believe, as all Christians must, in the sovereignty of God. Read the Exodus story. in the very beggining of the Sampson and Delilah story it states that “God put her there so as to make Sampson fall, for he desired a retribution for the philistines.” I’m paraphrasing, but even in the New Testement, the fact that Any prophecy is fulfilled indicates that there is theological fatalism.

    And even if you were to deny that, you would still have Hard Determinism to contend with.

  23. morse,

    Could you explain to me what you mean by the “real world.” It seems to be an important part of your arguments, its in the subheading of your blog. you mention that christianity/religion doesn’t matter a bit to the real world? What is your version of the real world?

  24. If there is a God, why did he make me an atheist?

    • Very good question Patrick.

      Some debate why God made satan. (absolutely no connection between you and him) Many Christians even deny God actually did create satan. (so where did he come from? dah!)

      God did not make you an Atheist any more than He made me a Christian. It’s free will. Each must choose his own path and walk it like you mean it.

      I’m sure what awaits me. But! But, I would not be so sanctimonious to say what awaits you. I don’t know. I can only imagine it to be different than what I am expecting.

      Glen
      “Lov’n the Lord & Liv’n the Life…”

      • I’m sure what awaits me but not sure what awaits you??

        Surely if there is a god and a “heaven” and he is all forgiving then we should all end up in the same place.

  25. No such thing as free will. Everything acts according to it’s nature and with the initial conditions acting upon them.

    • Every occurance has a cause and effect. And those cause and effect impact things around it. But, there are always choices to be made, paths to choose, different directions to go, and there is the free will.

      I hope it is of your nature to choose to discuss this issue in more detail.

  26. My nature is to point out the facts: our brains have a .3 second head-start on every behavior we perform before we are aware of wanting to even decide to do something- anything as simple as picking up a cup, to more ruminative deliberations in our minds.

    The fact that i am responding in this way indicates both bhabit, a regard for How i talk, and the rules of our language+the common colloquialisms and turns of phrase that are elicidated without my effort upon them to do so. I may be slower to remember a word or phrase, but the choices are
    all processed and decided by my brain to do so;after all, what is the origin of thoughts and feelings? Are they not spontaneous reactions to our environment?

    There is, in short, no free will. We act as if there is such only inasmuch in that we act ourselves as the forces that condition others and are conditioned. We speak as if our “free” actions are conditioned and modified -but if that is the case, then isn’t the span of history and the chaotic effects of the complexity of the world render all freedom either meaningless or absent entirely? Yes, i should think so.

  27. The title of your webpage is “Suddenly Atheist”. Does this mean that at one time you weren’t? If so, what changed your mind?

  28. This is the blog post I was talking about where you said that the Old Testament said we’re to handle snakes. It doesn’t. It’s at the end of Mark’s gospel, in the New Testament, and like I said earlier it was a metaphor. It’s not to be taken literally, though some Pentecostal churches erroneously do that.


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