Today there are 38,000 Christian denominations. For the first 1500 years of the existence of the church, there were only two: Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. When I was working in Harlan, KY a couple of summers ago, I was shocked to find out that there were over 500 churches in Harlan county alone – 500! The biggest church in the entire country was 150, and most of them ran between 10-20.
Harlan is one of the most impoverished places in the United States. 35.4% of residents in Harlan live on incomes below the poverty level. While we were there doing ministry, people would constantly come up to us and ask us to help them with things. We became overwhelmed by the sheer number of requests, and had to turn many needy people down because of our limited time and resources.
Where was the church in all of this? Why did the burden of the poor in Harlan county fall squarely on the shoulders of small short-term missions organizations like Adventures in Missions? By and large, the most important reason why this was the case was the church in Harlan was so split and splintered that real ministry was impossible. Most of the churches didn’t even have enough money to pay a pastor’s salary, much-the-less minister to the poor.
Why do we have so many denominations?
In 1843, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection was established that eventually came to be called “The Wesleyan Church.” We broke off from the Methodist Episcopal Church because of the issues of slavery and episcopacy. After the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was abolished and our primary reason for leaving the M.E. Church was gone.
Should the Wesleyan Methodists have returned to the M.E. Church when slavery was abolished?
Many Wesleyan Methodists went back to the M.E. Church, including famous Wesleyan abolitionists Luther Lee, and L.C. Matlack. But others stayed out, citing reasons like church government, weak positions on holiness issues, and other issues as reasons for not rejoining with the M.E. Church
If they had all gone back to the M.E. Church, there would be no Wesleyan Church today, but would there be more unity in the church universal?
I don’t know the answer to this question. I know that there were some very important issues with the M.E. Church that made the Wesleyan Methodists withdraw in the first place. Yet, I still feel like the very people who are called to a ministry of reconciliation should not be causing division after division in the church until we are too crippled to do any good.
I’ll leave you with this:
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort in his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Phil 2:1-4
 US Census Bureau 2007; http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Harlan-Kentucky.html