Just How Many "Churches" Are There?
by Ken Gardner

As members of the New Testament church we have clearly recognized and strongly condemned the sinfulness of denominationalism. We've lamented the large numbers of denominations--they are nothing more than manifestations of man's stubbornness and rebellion, and all are enemies of the Lord's church. I well remember as a youngster hearing preachers say there were over 250 denominations in America. Then one day I heard someone say there were over 300 religious bodies, and sometime later a preacher wrote that there were over 400. I began asking myself, who's doing the counting? Who comes up with these figures? Do we just add on a few more every few years? Do we say to ourselves, "Let's see, we've been saying there are over 400 denominations for quite some time now--there must be at least 500 by now"?! Surely we're not that reckless! (Although sometimes I think we are!)

When I saw a Goodhousekeeping article in 1980 entitled, "The 1,200 Religions in America," I cut it out and saved it. They actually listed all 1200! Get a load of some America's "religions" mentioned in this article: the Kennedy Worshipers (yes, people who actually worship John F. Kennedy), the Ministry of Universal Wisdom (for folks who believe in flying saucers), the Church of What's Happening Now? (and it's not comedian Flip Wilson's made-up "church"), and the Holy Ghost Repair Service (just who needs repair, I wonder). In this article the Baptists are divided up into 72 different groups, the Catholics into at least 30 groups, there are 14 different flying-saucer groups, 5 homosexual organizations, 34 Jewish groups, a dozen mail-order churches, 8 divisions of Satanism, 26 witchcraft groups, and a "Moral Re-Armament" body. The Pentecostalists seem to be more divided than anyone else--there are 129 different Pentecostal denominations! (and they're the ones trying to convince us God talks to them--either they're awfully confused, or God is). The Pentecostalists include the "Neverdies" (I guess they've been around a long time), the "Fire-Baptized Church" (ouch!), the "Church of the Little Children" (that's what I call our business meetings--"Business Meeting of the Little Children"), and two snake-handlers groups (notice they don't call themselves the "Neverdies"). And on and on we could go.

Several years ago the World Christian Encyclopedia listed 20,800 distinct denominations, and US News and World Report has stated that "in 1985 the number of denominations surpassed 22,000, with an average of five new ones organized each week."

So how many "churches" are there? I don't know, and quite frankly I really don't care. Religious organizations can be divided and sub-divided forever. If there's only one counterfeit church, there's one too many. All I care about is the one church of the New Testament, the church that Jesus built (Matthew 16:18), the church Jesus is the head of (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18), the church Jesus gave Himself for (Ephesians 5:25), the church Jesus purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28), the church Jesus loves, cherishes, sanctifies, and cleanses (Ephesians 5:22-32), the church Jesus saves (Ephesians 5:23), the church which is the one body (Ephesians 4:4; 1:23), the church we are baptized into (I Corinthians 12:13), the church the saved are added to (Acts 2:47), the glorious, holy church, without spot, wrinkle or blemish! (Ephesians 5:27). God's word clearly teaches that there is only one church, the scriptures adamantly condemn religious division (Romans 16:17-18; I Corinthians 1:10-13, and we Christians earnestly beseech all to leave the multiplied, man-made religious organizations, explicitly follow the New Testament, and be a part of the one church Jesus died for!

Firm Foundation, September 98