It is hard to believe that what started as one Gospel, one truth, has grown into over 40,000 different Christian denominations today (1). A ‘denomination’ is “a recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church” (2) and within these multitude of denominations there are varying beliefs and interpretations of Scripture. Interpretation of Scripture and knowledge of God has seen a division in the Church for generations, however, the earliest Church (prior to 325 AD) were resolute in maintaining the unadulterated truth of God’s Word; preserving the teachings handed down from Jesus and His successors. The Apostle Paul tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and John tells us that Jesus was the Word that was in the beginning with God and was made flesh to dwell amongst us (John 1:1, 14). Therefore, Jesus (the Word) never changes; being the same yesterday, today, and forever. Throughout Scripture God’s people are exhorted to be of one mind: in one accord with the Lord. It is by rightly dividing the Word that we can see how this unity is achieved and how we, the Body of Christ, must come into one mind, the mind of Christ.
In his epistle to the Philippians, Apostle Paul exhorts the Church to be of one mind. Paul writes:
“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:1-7)
The term ‘like-minded’ in Greek means to have understanding; to be wise (3). This is the same meaning for the word ‘mind’ in Greek. Regarding knowledge, King Solomon wrote “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.” (Proverbs 1:5-6). A proverb, enigma and riddle alike speak of similitudes or parabolic sayings, which are an earthly story with a heavenly meaning (4). In his Gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus only spoke to the multitudes in parables, but to the disciples, those who wanted to attain wise counsel, He explained the deeper meanings of His teachings (Mark 4:34).
In Hebrew, the term ‘one mind’ is yachad, and means to be in unity, and to riddle– “the riddle begins by dividing the hearer from the listener by creating the riddle. The riddle ends with the answer uniting the two”. (5) In Hebraic thought, when two people do not have the same understanding they are not in unity- they are separated in their minds. Jesus taught in riddles (parables) to divide between those who genuinely wanted to understand His word, and those who did not. Fausset’s bible dictionary explains that “Jesus’ purpose in using parables is judicial, as well as didactic, to discriminate between the careless and the sincere.” (6) We can see that to be like-minded, having the mind of Christ, pertains to understanding the parables that Jesus taught, as His disciples did.
During Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount a scribe said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (Matthew 8:19), to which Jesus replied parabolically, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20). The Apostle Paul informs us that Christ is the head of the body, which is the Church (Colossians 1:18). So, when Jesus stated He had nowhere to lay His head, He was not talking about a literal place to rest, He was using a metaphor to explain that it is the Church that He wants to give His mind to. However, without a true Church, who has a revelation of who He is (see Matthew 16:13-20), Jesus has nowhere to place His mind. His mind is the Word of God, so if we don’t have the right understanding of God’s Word, we don’t have the right understanding of Jesus, and therefore cannot attain the mind of Christ.
In the time of the early church, 40,000 (and growing) different denominations with various interpretations of Scripture would not have been tolerated. The Apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17). The “offenses” being made were false teachings (doctrine) being spread within the Church, causing a stumbling block and sin (7). Below, second-century early church Father Irenaeus explains how the heretics are in discord based on their interpretations of Scripture:
Such are the variations existing among them with regard to one [passage], holding discordant opinions as to the same Scriptures; and when the same identical passage is read out, they all begin to purse up their eyebrows, and to shake their heads, and they say that they might indeed utter a discourse transcendently lofty…
Further on he continues,
Thus do they, as many as they are, all depart [from each other], holding so many opinions as to one thing, and bearing about their clever notions in secret within themselves. When, therefore, they shall have agreed among themselves as to the things predicted in the Scriptures, then also shall they be confuted by us. For, though holding wrong opinions, they do in the meanwhile, however, convict themselves, since they are not of one mind with regard to the same words. But as we follow for our teacher the one and only true God, and possess His words as the rule of truth, we do all speak alike with regard to the same things, knowing but one God, the Creator of this universe, who sent the prophets, who led forth the people from the land of Egypt, who in these last times manifested His own Son, that He might put the unbelievers to confusion, and search out the fruit of righteousness. (8)
Irenaeus states that those who were in the Church scrutinizing Scripture and contending with their personal interpretations, were convicting themselves because they were not in one accord in their understanding. These people were within the Church, learning the Word of God, but strayed from orthodoxy through their perversions. Notice he writes “we do all speak alike with regard to the same things, knowing but the one God”, thus those who do not speak alike (and are not in unity) have a different god to those who are in unity in their understanding of the Word. This is not the world, or other religions, this was happening within the Christian Church, and is still happening in today’s Church, but on a much larger scale.
Ignatius, disciple of John and Bishop of Antioch in the second century, wrote the following warning in his Epistle to the Ephesians:
But some most worthless persons are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, and hold opinions contrary to the doctrine of Christ, to their own destruction, and that of those who give credit to them, whom you must avoid as ye would wild beasts. For “the righteous man who avoids them is saved for ever; but the destruction of the ungodly is sudden, and a subject of rejoicing.” (9)
Ignatius’ warning is in accordance with Irenaeus above, highlighting that there were people within the Church who were following doctrines contradicting Christ’s doctrine. He warns those in the Church to avoid contrary doctrines, not to embrace them and create another denomination based on their destructive opinions. Similarly, Apostle Paul urges the Church of Rome “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17 KJV) It is false teaching that has created the division within the Church, therefore only true teaching, or, the right interpretation of the Word, can bring us into one accord. On the Day of Pentecost, the apostles were all in one accord, in one place, and then cloven tongues of fire fell and the holy spirit moved upon them (Acts 2:1-4). This is a critical prophetic picture for today’s Church- it will only be when God’s people are in one accord, that His fire will fall again.
The Early Church was uncompromising in their understanding of God’s Word. Scripture is not open to private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20) and the earliest Christians were striving to maintain the pure doctrine of Jesus. To be in one mind is to have the mind of Christ, which can only be achieved through right understanding of His Word. Just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus cried out to God: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21) This is still the cry of our Lord’s heart today; that His body would come into complete unity with Him. The Lord is calling us all back to what was established in His original Church, for those to have spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear (Matthew 13:16).
1. Fairchild, M. (2020, April 16). How Many Christians Are In the World Today? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/christianity-statistics-700533
2. Oxford dictionary: “Denominations”.
3. Thayer’s Greek definitions: “Like-minded” (G5426)
4. Thayer’s Greek definitions: “Parable” (G3850)
5. Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible: “One” (H3116)
6. Fausset’s bible dictionary: “Parable”
7. Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries: “Offences” (G4625)
8. Irenaeus- Against Heresies. Book IV. Chap. XXXV
9. Ignatius- The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians. Ch. VII
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.