(Warning: Be prepared to engage your brain.)
This was written for those who rightly wonder why there are so many Christian denominations in existence but also for those who dogmatically defend that theirs is the "correct" one, regardless of who it annoys. You may feel free to politely disagree.
I struggle with selecting the appropriate words to begin, so I shall start with the thoughts foremost in my mind. A question which has nagged me over the past several years is this: What would Jesus think of "the church" today? I personally observe much of what I would call "denominational separatism" in print and on the web, all of which frankly is making my head spin. One church believes this, another believes that. All based almost entirely on a select set of passages which seemingly buttress one particular view or set of doctrines to the "polite" exclusion of all others. The average unbeliever must think that Christians are schizophrenic in this regard. Actually, many do.
Tradition and teaching carried down through the church age is steadfast and unwavering in many mainline denominations. These bear much fruit and strengthen the body of Christ. Yet for every healthy church one can easily find dubious contemporary denominations lurking around the corner. More on those in a moment. All Christian denominations which choose to be considered "apostolic", hold to the essentials of the historic Christian faith. These are drawn from the Old Testament writings, the teachings of Christ and the apostles within the New Testament. Who says so and why, you ask?
This is not as boring as you may think, so bear with me a moment. The 66 books in Holy Scripture was first canonized by the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 in an effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. This council merely confirmed what the apostle Paul had already written to young Timothy during the first century when he wrote: "You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." However Paul did not stop there, he continued: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16). There are many great churches across this nation and around the world who hold to these truths. As Paul warned, there are also many churches who are like infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of leadership in their deceitful scheming. Many precious souls are drawn away from Truth and towards empty promises of good health, timely healing or wealth and prosperity. Had we simply read our Bible we would have been able to heed its warning that we must examine everything carefully and hold fast to that which is good, abstaining also from every form of evil. The question remains, how does the Christian choose a "healthy" church?
All things begin and end with the Word of God, who is Jesus (John 1:1). As I understand Scripture, the church is the bride of Christ. At the Second Coming of Christ, the church will be united with the Bridegroom and the eternal union of Christ and His bride will be actualized. Until that day arrives, we must focus on the simple good news, which is and has always been that those who declare with their mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in their heart that God raised them from the dead, they will be saved. Whoever wants to be His disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. What does Jesus ask in return? As you walk along your path in life, tell people about Him. Find out what pleases Him by reading His Word daily and live your life accordingly. Let the Word of God be a lamp unto your feet. Why the analogy of a lamp? Because a lamp can only illuminate so far, say a few feet or so and then the darkness overtakes the light. If we choose not to read His Word, then the words of man become brighter and overtake the Word of God. The result of that in my experience, is poor decision making and disfellowship with the Creator of the universe. A tragedy, indeed.
A church is simply a structure with walls and a roof until it is filled with believers of The Lord Jesus Christ unified as one in the worship of our Savior. The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands but instead He dwells in our hearts through faith in Christ. In regards to the importance of the church, the writer of Hebrews said it best: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
The classic definition of a denomination is that of a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity. Don't get lost in the weeds and stumbling blocks of denominationalism and lose sight of the true prize, a relationship with The Lord of all things.