Should it trouble us that there are so many denominations in the world? Should we express sorrow and even indignation over the fact that Christians have not banded together institutionally to give expression of their unity in Jesus Christ? For many the fragmentation of churches into many denominations is deplorable. It is common for speakers and writers to criticize “denominationalism” sharply and call for churches to band together for the sake of unity (usually by means of ignoring doctrinal differences).
Dr. R. C. Sproul briefly explains in the September issue of Tabletalk why there are so many denominations. His article is entitled “Why a Study Bible?”. Writing about Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into “the German vernacular,” Sproul explains,
This was anathema to the Roman church—Luther was told that if he were to translate the Bible into the common tongue, he would open a floodgate of iniquity. Hundreds of different denominations would arise, each claiming to base their faith on the Bible. Luther agreed that could very well happen. But, he said, if getting the gospel that is plain enough for every child to understand into the hands of the normal person carries with it the risk that some will misinterpret Scripture and open a floodgate of iniquity, then so be it. Luther understood the importance of every person’s knowing Scripture, and he knew that the church had to get it out to the masses even though misuses of the Bible was possible. As long as the church is faithful to this Word, she cannot be held accountable for its misuse.
God used the Reformation to make Bibles available for almost everyone to read and to spread the gospel far and wide! This has resulted in the formation of hundreds of denominations. If institutional unity (that is not based on sound doctrine) is what we really want, we could give up our Bibles and go back to Rome. Then we could have the institutional unity that existed before the Reformation. But that would be truly sad.