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Crow: Why are there so many Protestant denominations?

Crow: Why are there so many Protestant denominations?

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On a visit to Anytown, USA, one would find a main street. There are over 7,000 Main Streets in America. (

What does this fact have to do with religion? On these main streets, there would be many houses of worship for different faiths and denominations. It is obvious that in this country, freedom of religious expression is supported by the First Amendment.

The presence of different denominations leads to the question of the week: Why are there so many Protestant denominations? According to research from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are more than 200 Christian denominations in this country. A general view is that people have spiritual and personal needs, and they want a belief system that will provide comfort and guidance. Also, Christian history tells the stories of the different opinions, interpretations and divisions from the first century to the present.

We read about the different views of first century leaders and groups including Simon Peter’s Jewish-Christian group, Valentinus’ Gnostic theology and Paul’s Pauline beliefs. A brief overview of Christianity will reveal several important historical changes and divisions. Christianity was accepted by Rome in 313 AD. The European Christian church was divided into the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054.

The Protestant Reformation of 1517 was a major disagreement with the power and practices of the Catholic Church that led to another split in the Christian Church. It opened the door to different Protestant denominations. From that point forward, many new denominations and splits have occurred.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor emeritus of church history at the University of Oxford in United Kingdom said, “There’s never been a united Christianity.” (

I agree with MacCulloch and history, but I would add that the Christian faith, with its divisions and denominations, has endured and grown for more than 2,000 years.

Denominations provide many ways to express religious beliefs. A study of denominations does indeed reveal the need to worship in different ways based on many factors including culture, environment and even personalities. In the same way that people learn in different ways, people need to find the best way to worship and to create a community of caring and faithful people.

One example of different practices is the methods of baptism. In my opinion, the different methods of baptism do not change the intended purpose. There are people of faith whose denominations use prayers and refuse medical care, and there are numerous denominations who hold steadfast for prayers for health issues along with their medical care. Yet, many may be surprised by the way some denominations use scripture to support beliefs and practices.

One way is the handling of snakes as part of religious services. People in some churches use Mark 16:17-18 to support this practice, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Snake handling is illegal in some states due to health issues, but there are still churches in some rural areas that continue this practice to prove their faith.

We could discuss more differences if space was available. Many of the differences are not troublesome, but I believe it is harmful to any denomination or faith to engage in petty disagreements that divide congregations and split churches. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Along with upholding the tenets of the Christian faith, people of all denominations should bring humility, wisdom and kindness to God’s house. Christian denominations should be based on what Jesus taught about love that heals and relationships that bring harmony and peace. A simple understanding of human nature clarifies that there are different ways to have a relationship with God. There are many Biblical sources to teach people how to have a respectful and meaningful relationship with strangers, neighbors and fellow church members. These common goals are essential. With open-minded love for each other, different denominations could find ways to be more inclusive as God’s people.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” — Ephesians 4:2

Earl Crow’s column is published Saturdays in the Winston-Salem Journal. Email him at


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