Sunday, July 1, 2012

What are the odds that your denomination has everything right?

If you don't think your denomination has everything right, then save yourself some time and go read this instead:

If you do think your denomination has everything (or almost everything) right, or if you just like reading fun blog posts, the next time you get into a deep conversation with someone it may be useful to keep the following post in mind. I say this because I used to have the firm conviction that I was right about everything, which made me only think about how I was going to respond while people tried to share things with me.

Anyway, let's pretend that there are a mere 100 issues that a denomination within Christianity can have an opinion about. Let's also assume that all of these issues pertain to doctrines that are clearly expressed in the Bible (not issues where the Bible leaves a large amount of room for interpretation). These issues could include whether or not the physical act of baptism is necessary for salvation, whether or not infant baptism is a good idea, whether or not spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues happens today, whether or not healings and miracles still happen, whether or not gay/lesbian people should be allowed to be priests/pastors, whether or not women should be allowed to participate in preaching or be elders, the way church government should be structured, the role of the church in politics, church discipline, what happens to people who never get a chance to accept the gospel, whether or not the English version of the Bible is perfect, whether or not the original Bible was perfect, whether or not it is ok to use birth control, you get the idea. If you feel the urge to tell me that the Bible leaves a large amount of room for interpretation on any of the issues I mentioned, that is fine! In that case, please treat the 'definitive answer' expressed by the Bible to be 'there is room for interpretation on this.'

Obviously there are way more than 100 issues that denominations can have an opinion about, but for now lets say that there are only 100. Also, for the sake of discussion, let's pretend that most people adhere to the teachings of the denomination that they are brought up in. Once again, many Christians change churches, denominations, or even revolutionize their worldviews, but let's just talk about the people who stick with what they grew up with and believe it with conviction for now!

Also, in reality, each individual church will probably have unique specifics that will vary within denominations, but lets also pretend that every church within each denomination believes the same thing.

Having interviewed Christians from many denominations (Baptist, Reformed, Lutheran, Evangelical, Bible-church, Quaker, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, Anglican, United, Presbyterian, Charismatic, Born-Again, Independent, and Non-denominational) to learn what they believe, I noticed only two things that almost all of them had in common: They thought they were right about everything, and they had faith that God 'just happened' to place them in the denomination that had everything right.

The interesting thing about this is that the reason that we even have denominations- as opposed to everyone just being 'Christians'- is that all of these groups have differences of opinion on at least one issue. This means that it is impossible for all of them to be right. There is a chance that one of the denominations could have everything right, but it is impossible for them to all have it right. I would also contend that in reality, every denomination is wrong about something.

Now then, lets say you are one of the people who grew up being a part of a single denomination, and lets also say that you believe that the teachings of your denomination correct on every issue.

Have you considered how unbearably unlikely this is?

If you were going to respond that you have faith that God placed you in the specific denomination that just happened to get everything right, know that you are in good company! Pretty much every denomination believes this. Maybe you got lucky (or 'ordained' if you would prefer that terminology) and just happened to be placed in the right denomination. I don't think this is a good assumption to make because there are tons of denominations. If there were only 200 denominations (and there are many more than that), you would have a 1/200 chance.

'So what?' you say- Keep in mind that I'm not arguing that it is necessarily a bad thing for people to have differences of opinion. Assuming you are one of the people I am talking about, all I'm trying to drive home with this post is that  you- yes you- are probably wrong about something, and your- yes your- denomination probably believes something contradictory to what the Bible teaches.

Because of this, I would encourage everyone to take a hard look at what they believe to figure out if they what they believe is accurate. Don't just take your pastor's word on it! Look for answers for yourself. Learn to think!

I acknowledge that this applies to me as well! For a full list of issues that I have been wrong on so far (and there are probably more that I haven't identified), see:

If you start to do this, you will probably find out that you will always be wrong about something. I think it is fun and important to keep searching so that you can get as close to the truth as possible.

Conclusion: the odds that you are right on every issue is approaching zero. You can increase the percentage of issues you are right on by honestly searching for truth. In my eyes, there is nothing more important than embarking on this quest.

In the next post, we'll have this same discussion about worldviews in general (what are the odds that the religion you grew up with is correct?), as opposed to the differences within a single religion.


  1. Who are you really arguing against? This seems pretty strawman-ish. It seems like wisdom says, "Spend more time investigating and being certain on the central issues, and don't lose sleep on the less important issues." Most people would say, "We've got it right on the key issues like the nature of God, and we're really uncertain about eschatology." It's the side issues (like church governance, infant baptism, eschatology) that make up the minute differences between denominations. Virtually all Protestant denominations say the same thing about the central issues. -MJG

  2. My goal in writing this post is to discourage a common mindset I have encountered while talking with Christians. When someone thinks that they have all the right answers, they tend to be very stagnant in what they believe, and fail to search for truth.

    I agree that making sure you are correct on central issues is more important than nit-picking side issues. However, the way in which you become correct on central issues is by thinking for yourself instead of simply sticking with what you grew up with.

    I'm using this to set up my next post, which will apply the same argument to religions in general. In the case of varying worldviews, the differences are far more extreme than the differences between denominations, and they are also more important.

    Before encouraging people to consider the possibility that the religion they grew up with could be wrong, and should therefore examine the evidence for everything, I wanted to encourage them to consider the fact that they could be wrong about something.

    Part of the reason I was willing to consider evidence for other religions was because I first found out that one of the central things I believed in (theologically) could be false. This taught me humility, and also opened my mind to honestly listen to other points of view.

  3. Also, thank you for your thoughts! Sorry I didn't say that in the last comment. =D

    I understand your concern from a Christian point of view. My point of view is one of searching for truth, so the post makes more sense when you look at it differently.

    Consider this: I assume you would not appreciate it if an Islamic person or a Buddhist had the mindset that they had all the right answers. If they do so, it is very hard to get them to consider evidence for Christianity, or Hinduism, or whatever you are trying to persuade them to believe. If instead they have a mindset that includes honestly considering the possibility that they could be wrong, you could have a much better conversation with them.

    I'm trying to promote humble interactions between varying denominations, which would in turn promote unity within the church!

    I'm also trying to promote humble interactions between different religions, and if one religion truly has the best evidence, hopefully everyone will acknowledge it and believe in the truth!

  4. Our church is non-denominational and independent. That being said, the odds of our church, any denomination, or an individual being 100% correct is about 0%.

    In fact, the only person on the planet that I know of that I think is 100% correct in everything they believe is me. I honestly can't think of a single point of doctrine or belief that I hold that I know to be wrong. In addition, there isn't anyone else that I've discussed theology with that I 100% agree with. I must be the ultimate source of truth! Wow!!! :)

  5. That is amazing Jim! Please share your ultimate knowledge with us! Haha I enjoyed your comment.