There are, according to Wikipedia, over 41,000 different denominations of Christianity.
Considering that the one original source of all we know about that religion is a single compilation of documents (The Bible), one could say that this number is pretty incredible, since the Bible is supposed to be the Word of God. You'd think the Creator Of All There Is could at least provide an single easily discerned set of instructions for what he wants us to know about him and how he expects us to behave, wouldn't you?
I think, when the Catholic Church got its chance at fame and fortune upon its selection by Constantine as the one and only State Religion for the Roman Empire, that was probably the general idea. The way they started off eliminating everything that smacked of "pagan" religions (the former State Religions worshiping Zeus & Company), you'd think they seemed a bit serious about that!
But as such things usually are, it wasn't quite that simple.
There were churches in Alexandria, Egypt that didn't answer to the infant church's call, as well as in Eastern Europe, Turkey and other parts east. As the nascent RCC compiled documents in readiness for canonization into what would become the bible, these other churches were doing the same thing.
The result was, essentially, more than one version of the bible. Some had more books, some had fewer, and no two had the same list.
The result was a miss-mash of belief and theology that has never been resolved to this day.
Some denominations hold that salvation is by the Grace of God. Others by Good Works. Others hold out for a combination, and at least one major group insists on Predestination.
All from what is supposed to be ONE book. Or, more correctly, one compilation of documents.
The Bible was supposed to be the one place to go to standardize Christian belief. All doctrine and theology stems from that compilation - supposedly. Originally, the bible, as canonized, was printed in Latin. Priests were taught Latin, and it was also used as a message cypher. It was, at one time, illegal and against church law to translate it to any local languages. The Mass was spoken in Latin.
Priests were there to interpret the Scripture for their flocks, to tell them what it meant, and what they were to believe. It was all very authoritarian, for a number of centuries.
Thus was born Theology, to settle, within the church, just what that message was to be, so the myriads of priests would have a standard message so things wouldn't get mixed up. Of course, as such things do, it became a major career within the church, as after a few hundred years, all of the stuff written got so voluminous it took decades to learn it all and become an expert in church theology.
Talk about job security!
Of course, the Reformation came along, and Protestantism flourished, as did Theology. Lots and lots of churchmen had to flesh out the NEW theology, and a lack of authority from Rome meant that people were free (within bounds for a while) to think up their OWN interpretation of the Bible's message.
Now, in the United States, we have the Constitution, which guarantees every person the right to worship as he/she wishes. Which is why we now have over 41,000 different flavors of just Christianity alone. Every Tom, Dick, and Harriett can start his/her own church based on what their interpretation of just a single verse of the bible might be.
So, let's keep it simple. Let's toss out eighteen hundred years of Theology and start over.
YOU are the guy responsible for sorting out the many and varied documents used at one time or another by all the churches within your sect's area of authority into some form of a compilation in order to standardize the teachings and doctrine of your church. So your priests can have a simple, easily articulated message for a simple, uneducated flock all over Europe.
The documents you have are all over two hundred and fifty years old. Nobody alive has ever spoken to or read anything by a witness to Christ's life or death. With a few exceptions, most of the documents you've got were written by different authors, at different times, often as far apart as two hundred years in time, and geographically diverse as well. Different audiences, different goals, different attitudes about Christ and his message. None of them are known to you, although a few do claim to be written by a named author. Most are not notated for authorship.
All of them are claimed by the churches who use them to be authentically authored by early church fathers, and have a reputation for being the documents that informed and helped found those churches. So, politically, you cannot ignore many of them. Others are considered sacred by your own group, so your bosses insist on the inclusion of quite a few.
What do you do? You examine the documents and for many, you've got to punt - they contain stuff intolerable to your group. So out they go.
Others may have contradictory stuff in them, but you cannot ignore the people who support them, so in they go.
In the end, you have your compilation. Nobody's happy with it, but it satisfies enough so that when the Council sits in judgement of your work, it is accepted, canonized, and made the Holy Writ of the church of God.
Fast forward over a thousand years.
NOW you are one of a group of people who have rebelled against the RCC, and now your job is to examine that book and differentiate your group from the RCC.
Here's the question;
By what criteria do you decide?
What do you accept as authentically the word of God and what can you safely ignore? There has to be some measure by which you will examine that compilation of documents, verse by verse, and make a decision as to which verses are a good guide to your flocks and which are not.
How do you know?
Good Works? Grace of God? Predestination?
Do you accept the long ending of Mark from which the Snake Handlers of Appalachia get their inspiration? Or is it something that can be safely ignored?
Will your denomination focus on Jesus' loving message of helping the poor, or will you instead focus on the verses that intreat you to be God's Warriors? Will you hate the Gays, or just overlook that unfortunate couple of passages, since they are in the Old Testament?
How. Do. You. Know?
Think about that. This is important if you subscribe to the doctrine that people have souls that are immortal. Upon your decision will rest the fate of not only every member of your flock (as well as yourself and your family) but every member of your flock for centuries to come! Your decision will impact where their souls will go - to heaven or hell?
This is not an easy decision. At one time or another, over 41,000 people have gone through that same process and made their decisions, resulting in at least that many denominations with often quite different interpretations of the Bible, which by now has as many translations as Carter has little liver pills.
Additionally, now that the Internet is here, and millions of people are now simply looking at that same book and just walking away, you are no longer bound by a doctrinally authoritarian religious order which can burn you at the stake for being a heretic.
You can, in short, read that book and make up your own mind what is right and what is not.
So, here's the same question to you.
How do YOU know? Today, right now. What is it, to you that makes one verse doctrinal and another one not? IS it an abomination to be gay? Has God already made up his mind who is going to heaven and who isn't? (Predetermination.) Or do you have to be of Good Works to make it into heaven? Or maybe just by the Grace of God you'll get to go?
How. Do. You. Know?
Have you even read the whole bible? I don't mean the parts your church leaders would have you read, but ALL of it? You'll have to, if you mean to be an informed Christian. and don't cheat. Put away the study guides that tell you what stuff means.
Figure it out for yourself. Pretend you are the guys deciding what goes in and what doesn't. Decide on your own criteria, and not some mumbo-jumbo theology stuff coming out of some guidebook.
This is YOUR soul, if such exists, and it is your responsibility to see that you do your religion right.
Not some theologian's. He's not the one going to hell if he gets it wrong.
Unless, of course, you end up seeing through the endless contradictions, mistakes and outright outdated material and decide that none of it makes any sense. Millions of us already have, and many of us did it by reading the bible.
Take the dare. After all, even if the bible is right, you still only get one chance down here.