No, God does not approve of denominations. In the night before He was crucified, Jesus prayed “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, …that they may be one, even as We are one” (John 17:11). God desires the unity of His church.
The word ‘church’
In the New Testament the word ‘church’ is used in three ways. First, it is used for the worldwide church. An example of this is Ephesians 5:23: “Christ is the head of the church, His body“. Second, it is used for the church in one city, e.g. “The report of this came to the ears of the church Jerusalem” (Acts 11:22). Third, it is used for house churches. An example is “Greet also the church in their house” (Romans 16:5).This house church obviously was part of the larger church of Rome.
One worldwide church
So in God’s view there is one worldwide church. There is one church in each locality (village, town, or city). This one church may have several meeting points.
This is still a spiritual truth. Sadly, organizationally it is not true anymore. There are many different denominations. While only a few would consider themselves the one true church of God, there is no organizational unity among them.
Sin is the reason for denominations
Sin is the reason for this. Sin is the reason that the church was not proclaiming the Gospel message of God’s grace in the Middle Ages, and that the Protestant Reformation was needed. Sin is the reason that the Protestant movement broke apart in countless denominations over differences that did not touch on the heart of the Gospel. As church splits became more acceptable, sadly even personal disagreements and ambitions became common reasons to start new denominations.
The most ironic of all ways to start a new denomination is to not recognize churches in denominations and just starting to meet as believers, claiming to be no denomination at all, or to be the one true church. This has often been done in church history, and always the result has been just one more denomination.
What can we do in a situation like this? We keep confessing with the Apostle’s Creed we believe in ‘the holy catholic (that is ‘universal’) church’, even though we can now only see a spiritual and not an organizational unity. We recognize brothers and sisters in the Lord, even though they are members in churches in other denominations.
God’s vision of unity for His church also makes us faithful to the local church that the Lord has placed us in. We realize there is diversity in Christ’s body, and that that is part of God’s design. We are not to look for a group of people who are just like ourselves.
At the same time, as the church, Christ’s body, was broken in church history through sinful actions of man, we are on our guard against the signs of danger just mentioned: a false Gospel; sectarianism that tries to force uniformity rather than spiritual unity; and churches based on personal ambition, in which the leaders are not accountable to the wider body of Christ. If we find ourselves in one of these situations, we might need to move to a church that is a more faithful expression of the body of Christ.
Let us remember that it is Christ’s church. It is not a volunteer association that we may start by ourselves according to our own liking. So let us pray for clarity to understand the Gospel. Let us pray for spiritual unity among all God’s children. Let us also pray for the organizational unity that Protestant churches have disregarded too lightly in history. More unity would bring more mutual accountability, which would help churches remain biblical. It also would help us to celebrate unity in diversity more. And most important, it would be an answer to Christ’s prayer “that they be one, even as We are one“.