Where did the Christian Denominations come from?

There are many books written on Church History and this is just a short encapsulation that has helped me to understand the big picture of what has been happening throughout the centuries..


An illustration that has helped me is from the Old Testament where the Israelities are in the desert after they have left Egypt and they are on their way to the Promised Land.

(Note: Italizied text are quotes from the Bible or internet.)


15 On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. 16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18 At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord's order and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord's command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21 Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 23 At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out. They obeyed the Lord's order, in accordance with his command through Moses. Num 9:15-23 (NIV)


This Old Testament account of the Lord moving His people onward illustrates what has happened (and is happening) to His Church in His Story (History).  This will not have all the details but will describe the general principle of how the Church has fragmented; and explain why there are so many denominations in Christianity.


To illustrate the principle, let us start with Martin Luther in 1517 when he received “revelation”. Prior to this, many called it the “Dark Ages”. Things were dark but the Lord was still leading and giving revelation to His people. Luther received the revelation “the just shall live by faith”. Luther followed this Cloud of revelation and the camp of God moved. The next passages are from the internet discussing Martin Luther.


Martin Luther’s Evangelical Discovery

The demands of study for academic degrees and preparation for delivering lectures drove Martin Luther to study the Scriptures in depth. Luther immersed himself in the teachings of the Scripture and the early church. Slowly, terms like penance and righteousness took on new meaning. The controversy that broke loose with the publication of his 95 Theses placed even more pressure on the reformer to study the Bible. This study convinced him that the Church had lost sight of several central truths. To Luther, the most important of these was the doctrine that brought him peace with God.

With joy, Luther now believed and taught that salvation is a gift of God's grace, received by faith and trust in God's promise to forgive sins for the sake of Christ's death on the cross. This, he believed was God's work from beginning to end.


Luther’s 95 Theses

On Halloween of 1517, Luther changed the course of human history when he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, accusing the Roman Catholic church of heresy upon heresy. Many people cite this act as the primary starting point of the Protestant Reformation… though to be sure, John Wycliffe, John Hus, Thomas Linacre, John Colet, and others had already put their life’s work and even their lives on the line for the same cause of truth, constructing the foundation of Reform upon which Luther now built. Luther's action was in great part a response to the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest. Luther's charges also directly challenged the position of the clergy in regard to individual salvation. Before long, Luther’s 95 Theses of Contention had been copied and published all over Europe.



On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," which came to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses. Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly "searching, rather than doctrinaire."


Faith, for Luther, was a gift from God; the experience of being justified by faith was "as though I had been born again." His entry into Paradise, no less, was a discovery about "the righteousness of God" – a discovery that "the just person" of whom the Bible speaks (as in Romans 1:17) lives by faith.[42] He explained his concept of "justification" in the Smalcald Articles:

The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark13:31).[43]


So what happened in regard to our illustration?  Revelation was received by Martin Luther and some of the camp of God moved. Many stayed. But Luther moved the camp of God substantially. This was the start of the reformation and the camp of God began to move following the Cloud.  When the Cloud moved next, one of the people who received revelation was Zwingli from Switzerland. He has an interesting story, but one of the revelations he received was that when the Eucharist was performed it was not really the body and blood of Christ but a transubstantiation. Luther was in disagreement.


In October 1529, Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, convoked an assembly of German and Swiss theologians at the Marburg Colloquy, to establish doctrinal unity in the emerging Protestant states.[148] Agreement was achieved on fourteen points out of fifteen, the exception being the nature of the Eucharist – the sacrament of the Lord's Supper—an issue crucial to Luther.[149]

The theologians, including Zwingli, Melanchthon, Martin Bucer, and Johannes Oecolampadius, differed on the significance of the words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: "This is my body which is for you" and "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (1 Corinthians 11:23–26).[150] Luther insisted on the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine, which he called the sacramental union,[151] while his opponents believed God to be only spiritually or symbolically present.[152] Zwingli, for example, denied Jesus's ability to be in more than one place at a time but Luther stressed the omnipresence of his human nature.[153] According to transcripts, the debate sometimes became confrontational. Citing Jesus's words "The flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6.63), Zwingli said, "This passage breaks your neck". "Don't be too proud," Luther retorted, "German necks don't break that easily. This is Hesse, not Switzerland."[154] On his table Luther wrote the words "Hoc est corpus meum" ("This is my body") in chalk, to continually indicate his firm stance.[155]

Despite the disagreements on the Eucharist, the Marburg Colloquy paved the way for the signing in 1530 of the Augsburg Confession, and for the formation of the Schmalkaldic League the following year by leading Protestant nobles such as John of Saxony, Philip of Hesse, and George, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. The Swiss cities, however, did not sign these agreements.[156]


The landgrave of Hesse brought the two Reformers together in vain at Marburg in October 1529, and the whole Protestant movement broke into two camps, with the result that the attempt made at Schmalkalden in 1530 to form a comprehensive league of defense against all foes of the Reformation was frustrated. (http://www.nndb.com/people/504/000094222/)


In regard to our illustration what happened was; Luther received revelation. The Cloud moved and Luther and part of the Church moved. But they camped and Zwingli got the next revelation and some of the Church moved with him. (Note: When you read the full stories, you realize there was a lot more happening; but we are drawing upon one part for our illustration.)  Did the Cloud stop there? - No - the next group received revelation that we needed to be baptized.


1. The Anabaptists in Switzerland

The leader here was Conrad Grebel (1498-1526), an early disciple of Zwingli's. At one meeting Grebel re-baptized George Blaurock (1491-1529), who in turn re-baptized a group of adults. Zwingli tried to persuade them of the errors of re-baptism both in private and in a public debate (Jan. 17, 1525). Following two more public disputations the magistracy ruled against the Anabaptists and threatened them with expulsion from the city if they did not practice paedo-baptism exclusively.


Some of the people who had been with Zwingli received more light and moved on with the Cloud. Zwingli camped! The same as Luther before him. Now what did Zwingli do with those who received revelation and followed the Cloud? He was part of the group that persecuted them and put them to death! Horrors! Christians who had moved in God and camped, were now hurting those who did what they had done when they moved forward with the cloud of God.


The Anabaptists refused and protested in the streets of Zurich. Grebel, Blaurock, and Felix Manz (1498-1527) were arrested and charged with revolutionary teaching. The civil authorities implemented the penalty of death by drowning ("He who dips shall be dipped!"), a cruel parody of the Anabaptist doctrine (indeed, drowning was called the third baptism). Six executions occurred in Zurich between 1527 and 1532. Manz was the first to die: he was thrown, bound hand and foot, into the Limmat river on Jan. 5, 1527. He thus became the first "Protestant" martyr to die at the hands of other Protestants. Grebel died in prison and Blaurock was scourged through the streets of Zurich before being banished. In the first 10 years of its history, more than 5,000 Anabaptists were executed in Switzerland alone. By 1535 the movement was all but extinct there.


An interesting quote - "Zwingli, like Luther, experienced the shock of having his own followers read very differently the biblical text he had so labored to make available to them" (Lindberg, 203) (http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/19-zwingli-and-anabaptists/) . This shows part of the reason religious leaders try so hard to hang on to limit their sheep.


As we follow church history and check up on our protestant denominations; we find that they mostly started from a revelation that moved the church forward and then they camped. And the other interesting fact is that;  the last move of God, who just camped - then persecuted the next move of God. Always remember - 12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 2 Tim 3:11-12 (KJV)   Jesus and the Early Church were persecuted by the last move of God - the leaders of the old Testament Church. The same principle has been continued to this day.


(My son informed me when I shared this principle that I was wrong on one point. The Church of England was founded because King Henry VIII wanted a divorce; not from a move of God.)


The Early Pilgrims had a prayer - (paraphrasing) - “Lord, I thank you for yesterday’s revelation and ask that you keep me open for tomorrow’s revelation”.  There is a deep truth to this prayer and may we always be open and not get camped. It is important that we keep growing in the Lord and learning more of His ways.


What has happened in the last while that works within the framework of this illustration?  


The Azusa Street Revival was a historic Pentecostal revival meeting that took place in Los Angeles, California and is the origin of the Pentecostal movement.[1] It was led by William J. Seymour, an African American preacher. It began with a meeting on April 14, 1906, and continued until roughly 1915. The revival was characterized by ecstatic spiritual experiences accompanied by miracles, dramatic worship services, speaking in tongues, and inter-racial mingling. The participants were criticized by the secular media and Christian theologians for behaviors considered to be outrageous and unorthodox, especially at the time. Today, the revival is considered by historians to be the primary catalyst for the spread of Pentecostalism in the 20th century.


A major move of the camp of God was the Azusa Street Revival. Many of us have been touched by this move of God. But what happened next? What was the next move of God -


The Latter Rain Movement as currently constituted grew out of events at Sharon Orphanage and Schools at North Battleford, Saskatchewan between 1947 and 1948.


The Charismatic and Pentecostal movements in the US, and throughout the world, have been influenced by this movement. However, this belief is not held by a majority within either movement. In fact, some of the most ardent critics of the Manifest Sons of God and Latter Rain movements come from within the Pentecostal movement itself, especially concerning the more "supernatural" aspects to the theology.

The Latter Rain Movement had its beginnings in the years following World War II. When its proponents tried to mainline it into the Pentecostal Churches and in particular the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada where it started (Saskatchewan), it almost split the church. Nearly half of the assemblies within that province became part of the Latter Rain Movement and broke from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. It was an extremely controversial issue at the time, and many felt that this was a false movement insinuating its way into the church which glorified men of charisma. There was also concern that it espoused a post-millennial rather than pre-millennial scenario of the "End times." In 1949 the Assemblies of God condemned the doctrine of the 'Latter Rain Movement' as heresy.


A couple items of interest. The move of God that started on Azusa Street and founded the  Pentecostal Churches persecuted the next move of God, Latter Rain. Again the principle is that the last move of God condemns the next move as heresy. Of particular interest is that the Pentecostal Church of Saskatchewan apologizied 50 years later for the way they treated those of the Latter Rain Movement.


I remember talking with a friend of the Lord’s who helped disciple and train me in the Lord. I asked him what his desire was for me. He answered - “to go past me”.  At the time I never realized how important and unusual that was.  To have the desire that the ones we are teaching will go past us in the Lord. This is a most healthy attitude.


Is the Lord still moving? - YES, INDEED!!! Is the church of God still camping? - yes, indeed!  But an unusual part of the Latter Rain Movement is that when you speakwith the people who were part of it; they are still looking for the next move of God!!  Almost all the others when they camped - persecuted the next move of God, but those of the Latter Rain Movement are still looking for more.


Let us continue to look for more in the Lord!