If Christians all love God, and if every believer has the Holy Spirit living within him to give understanding of the Word of God, then why are there so many different churches that believe so many different things? Most communities have Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Baptist Churches. Add to this the Congregational churches, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentacostal, Church of God, Church of Christ, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Assemblies of God and non-denominational churches of all stripes and flavors. If God’s truth never changes, why is the list of different kinds of churches is so long and bewildering.
Not all who claim to love God truly love Him. Men have always used religion for their own selfish purposes. The Epistle of Jude warns against those who “ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” Selfish men will use the Bible to justify their false teachings so they can get rich. Besides the willful distortion of the Bible for selfish gains there is the inability of the unsaved to understand Scripture. The things of God cannot be understood by the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14), thus those who have rejected God can not rightly understand God’s Word.
On top of this, Satan is actively working to confuse and distort the truth of the Bible. Since the beginning of the church there have been false teachers masquerading as men of God and traveling around teaching things they ought not (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). The Bible also warns that as we get closer to the return of Jesus more preachers of false doctrines will spring up. Satan has always and will continue to have men in the church who promote demonic doctrines.
Aside from the distortion of truth by the enemies of God, believers face a couple challenges in rightly understanding the Bible. Sin has affected our ability to comprehend the truths of God. The effects of sin upon mankind are more than just moral. Everyone has brain damage. The consequences of sin prevent the minds of men from working as they ought. Salvation does not entirely change this reality. After salvation the Christian still battles the hindrances of the flesh. Even when the Holy Spirit enlightens our understanding we do not fully know as we ought. Now we know in part. Now we see dimly. Our limited knowledge hampers our understanding of Divine truth which causes good Christians to reach different conclusions.
Every person is also a product of his time. As we read the Bible we cannot help but read it in light of our own presuppositions and assumptions. Our understanding of God’s Word is shaped by our culture. The most careful student of the Word can not fully put aside his own culture and background. Everyone has his own ways of thinking. Some people are more logical and some are more emotional. Some prefer facts while others prefer experiences. The variations in each person and personality shapes how we understand, and misunderstand, truth.
From the earliest days of the church there have been competing ideas within the church about key truths. In the beginning the transition out of Judaism and the influence of false teachers caused the church many troubles. The apostles had to confront false ideas that had already begun to infiltrate the church. Small wonder that when the apostles passed off the scene churches began to develop different ideas. Many different churches exist because Satan is active in hindering the truth and because we do not yet know God’s truth perfectly.