“Why are there different denominations? (with my lack of knowledge in the bible when i am faced with this question i direct people to 1 Corinthians 12:12)”
The simplest reason is that people all think differently and can’t get along. The more complicated reason is due to the human desire to represent the truth closer and more specifically than their neighbor. Paul said to the Corinthians: “I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Whenever there is a large mass of people who believe varied things, and someone intends to emphasize a particular point of view, he or she makes the distinctions very clear and often attaches a label on it. If you make cars, you attach your logo and name to the ones that you make, so they will not be confused with another model. There is no evidence in this against the Christian faith, as there are many variations of atheism as well, some are social Darwinists, some are moral others are relativists, some believe in free will others in biological predestination and so forth.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH & DIVISION
The Christian church (especially in the early days) has never been as closely united as some would wish or attempt to present it. The days of birth pangs, when Christ sent the Holy Spirit and commissioned apostles to form his church (“assembly”) were filled with many schisms and divisions. The writings of the apostles are filled with many warnings to avoid false “Christian ” teachers and movements, ranging from Gnosticism to christian Judaism or other christian legalism. Besides the warnings to avoid movements outside of the true Christian camp, Paul also rebuked true Christians who would sinfully divide into groups (1 Cor 1:10-17).
In the first few hundred years of the church, she managed to stay loosely together. In 313AD all persecution was officially ended by the Roman emperor Constantine, and almost 70 years later the Christian faith became the official state religion. Throughout this time many ecumenical councils were held, in which participants of the church from all geographic regions met, agreed, and validated christian doctrine and expression. Through this time many heresies (such as Jesus is only a person, new additions to the bible, and etc) were fought off and many of our core doctrines were officially agreed upon (such as the inspiration of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity and etc.).
West vs East
However, partly due to the politics of a system that had at times seen corruption, the Church split between the east and west Roman empire, first unofficially during the split of the Roman empire, then officially as a result of doctrinal disagreement during the Great Schism in the 11th century. To this day the Christian churches are divided into the East and the West. Over time more changes ensued and today both regions of the world can further be broken down into three main groups each. The east contains the Eastern Orthodox Church (Greek orthodox and Russian Orthodox) as well as the Oriental Orthodox (including the Coptic church) and finally the Eastern Catholic Church. In the west the three primary branches are the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and the Protestant Church.
While the churches in the east have remained very traditional, undergoing little if any changes, the church in the West has had numerous schisms and divisions. The largest and most significant being the protestant reformation in the 16th century. A great many people in the West saw the Roman Catholic Church as having many abuses and sought to correct or “reform” the church, in other words they “protested” against the catholic church by declaring against its decisions, thereby becoming known as protestants. As a side note the Church of England (Anglican Church) sees itself as a continuation/offshoot of the Catholic church in England that is reformed in methodology and theology, so it has its own branch by most classifications.
30,000 denominations of the Protestants?
From one of the six major movements in Christianity, specifically Protestantism, we have saw the development of further divisions, which are titled denominations, meaning only that they are a specific group of one faith/”religion” not a whole different type of “religion.”. Its often incorrectly said that there are 30,000 different denominations; this is somewhat true, but needs clarification. These 30,000 are broken down a few handfuls of big branches such as Lutheranism, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Anglican and most can trace their heritage to them. Most mainline churches are towards Lutheranism/Reformed/Anglican. Most Baptist are from the Anabaptist heritage. All Pentecostals come from their Anglican/Methodist roots. The reason for the 30,000 number is that many churches are called “non-denominational” and consider themselves to be fully self-reliant and self-governed, thus making each church be incorrectly counted as a denomination (yet many of them are can be grouped into the bigger branches, with some overlap here and there.
These denominations were formed as a result of numerous things both personal conviction and historical movements. For example great revivals saw the formations of the Methodists (because John Wesley taught on “methods” of obtaining holiness) and the Holiness movement (many from that movement later left and formed the Pentecostal denomination after more revivals). In other cases it was doctrinal convictions that led men to form a group with distinctions, such as infant baptism vs believers baptism, church style, and etc.
NORMAL DIFFERENCES VS HERETICAL
There needs to be something said about the many Restorationist movements as well as other branches that have gone stale and need to be cut off the Church. Firstly, the Restorationist are those who believe they do not in any way belong to the historical lineage of the church but have received the lost but now “restored” faith of the apostles. Groups like the Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses, as well as others who claim to be restorations of the original church and are based on visions and dreams at the core of their theology instead of Scripture. There are also many groups which go under the name Christian but have abandoned the very essence of their faith, these often belong to the historical succession of Christianity but have abandoned the central doctrines such as inerrancy of Scripture or the divinity of Jesus. Different liberal denominations may belong to this category.
Two types of differences
There are then two types of differences, the first being serious and major divisions between two groups as a result of serious changes in doctrine. So a Christian church and Mormons or christian cults cannot be in the same body, they are universally different at the core. Such a division is good and normal. The second type is between true believers over issues that are secondary in importance
CAN WE LIVE IN UNITY?
The scripture constantly reminds Christian to live in unity and peace amongst each other, as fellow partakers of the Grace of Jesus. In fact our Lord Himself prayed for the unity of those who would carry his name and his message across the earth. And so we are called to place denominational divisions as secondary to our unity in Christ.
It seems to me that the more primitive and young a church movement is, the more it tends to identify itself as the one true church and exclude all other believers as lacking the proper attributes and criteria. Yet by doing that, by denying people who have a true saving faith in Christ from being called Christians on account of their lack of tongues, difference of worship styles, different views on small issues in Scripture and etc, adds a condition of the Gospel. This type of belief tends to say “the Gospel/way to salvation is what Jesus Christ said it is AND my addition.”
In essence we are called by Paul to consider that those who have placed their faith in and recognized Jesus Christ is truly Son of God, have only done so by the revelation of the Holy Spirit and belong to one body of Christ. That said, within the body of believers, it is good and normal to have calm discussions about the nature of our faith. This is only possible when we realize the proper priorities and the differences between primary questions (Who does God say he is? How goes God say we are saved?) and secondary questions (How can I personally respond and worship God?)