Different churches

One of the most perplexing aspects of Christianity, particularly for those who are outside of the faith, is that of the variety of Christian churches. You can go to one church where the worship seems to be steeped in mediaeval costumes, practices and language and worship God, and go to another where guitars, jeans, and informality seem to be the order of the day.

How then can the diversity within the Christian faith be explained? Is one approach more right than the other? And these are just the extreme cases. Between these two poles are countless expressions of the Christian faith.

Before setting out to tackle the issue of diversity within Christianity we should remember that many of the faiths of the world are composed of different groups with differing emphases, for example, Islam.

I want to briefly suggest some reasons for the variety of expression that characterises the Christian faith.

Firstly, there are historical reasons

Some churches exist for reasons that are deeply embedded in historical events which may or may not be long forgotten.

For example, the Anglican church in England in part owes its existence to King Henry VIII's desire to have his marriage annulled.

James Glass is the pastor of a church in Crawley (United Kingdom). He wrote this article because both the church he now leads and his previous church both have a significant number of ethnic Christians including South Asians worshipping God along side English folk. Frequently Asians will ask the questions, "Are Asians welcome in Western churches?", and "Why are there so many different churches - can't Christians agree with each other?". It is hoped this article will go some way to answering these questions.


The head of the western church, the pope, was unwilling to grant Henry's wish, so he decided to take the law into his own hands and made himself head of the English church.

Secondly there are doctrinal reasons

Some of the reasons for variety in Christianity can be put down to differing interpretations of the Bible concerning certain aspects of what it teaches. Probably the most famous example is that of the difference between the evangelical church and the catholic church. In the 16th century, a catholic monk, Martin Luther challenged the church teaching of salvation by works, arguing instead that salvation came through faith in Christ alone.

It should be noted, however that many of the differences in biblical interpretation are of a secondary nature. For example, the major Christian churches adhere to fundamental doctrines such as the Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Christ, the atonement of Christ on the cross. In the twentieth century some of the differences in Christian expression have resulted from the influence of nineteenth and twentieth century on the church and its approach to the Bible.

A traditional view of the Christian Church


Some theologians and church leaders rejected the supernatural status and content of the Bible and advocated what amounted to little more than morally upright philosophy. Their rejection of such core teachings as the divinity of Christ caused much controversy in the Christian world.

Those who disagreed with them and held to the traditional teaching of the church felt that they could no longer work with people whom they believed to have abandoned the Christian faith. This accounts for some of the divisions in the institutional church in the twentieth century.

Thirdly, there are cultural reasons

Sometimes the differences in churches can be explained in cultural terms. In England, for example, there are quite a few West Indian churches. They have a strongly Caribbean feel to their worship, which would have been difficult to incorporate in to the English church scene at the time when many of these Christians arrived from the West Indies.

The same is true throughout the world. Whilst churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America might believe the same things, their expression of worship tends to be influenced by their cultural roots.

Unfortunately some churches which have their identity in their ethnic roots owe their existence to what would now be considered a racist mentality on the part of some white Christians. In recent years church leaders have sought to confront this evil as something which is at odds with the gospel of Christ.

Fourthly, there are Biblical reasons

One thing that must be borne in mind when considering the diversity that exists in Christianity is the distinction between the institutional church and the church or body of Christ as taught in the Bible. As far as God is concerned there is only one church, it is made up of those who have trusted Christ as their Saviour, regardless of the " church " group to which they belong.

Fifthly, there are reasons to do with God's character

There are reasons to do with God Himself. God is not restricted to any organisational structure, even those which He has established! For example, God gave His Word to the Israelites, yet when Jesus came to earth He upset many of the representatives of the Jewish system of worship! God is not tied or limited to one particular organisational structure.


The benefits of variety

Sometimes the diversity within Christianity is seen as a weakness. Even Christians would accept that the multiplicity of Christian groups is not entirely a good thing.

However there are some benefits

One benefit is that no person or group can legitimately claim to have a monopoly of the truth.

Another advantage is that Christianity grants people freedom to express their faith in many different ways. No-one should ever feel excluded on the grounds of culture, race, social position or any other ground that potentially excludes people.

The real church is the people not the building


Need for love

Increasingly Christians from the various groupings that make up the Christian faith are recognising that they need each other. In a rather unexpected way the diversity within the Christian church is proving to be the source of humility and love which transcends many of the differences listed above. In so doing the followers of Jesus Christ are finding the opportunity to become like Him by manifesting the same characteristics that caused Him to come to this earth to lay down His life for the salvation of the whole world.