Could Denominations Be A Good Thing?

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” 1 Co 12:14 (ESV)

Kenneth Samples at Reasons to Believe has a five-part article answering the skeptic’s question, “Why should I seriously consider Christian truth-claims when Christendom is so deeply divided?”

Our disunity is an embarrassment. It hinders our witness and does not completely represent the image of Jesus Christ. Because of this some will complain and criticize denominations. They have gotten a bad rap through the years. But could there be a good side to denominations? Samples gives us positive reasons for denominations: the fullness of the faith, critique, and protest.

“Fullness of the Faith”

We are fallen human beings. Our thoughts and desires are mired by sin. We are not perfect, therefore, our thinking, our theology, and our interpretation of the Bible are imperfect. This is why we have many denominations. But the positive side to this is with all the churches together we get a more full view of the faith. Where one denomination is lacking the other will fill in. Because we all are different, together, our diversity shows the whole picture of Jesus Christ that no one denomination can full show.

“Diversity Can Provide a Needed Corrective”

Because we are imperfect we need the diversity of the body of Christ in order to give correction when needed. I’ve often seen the blogosphere be ignited in a firestorm over certain issues. There are many voices and several good arguments. They buffet and correct each other. The key in this is humility and the patience to hear correction. By having multiple denominations and traditions we can discuss, challenge, and perhaps even shape each other closer to the image of Jesus Christ.

“Principled Protest Has Its Place”

There are times with denominations do go well outside the realm of orthodox Christianity. When a denomination changes its creed, teaches a different gospel, or denounces essential elements of the faith, they have fallen away. This leaves many faithful people within that denomination no choice but to splinter off. They are separating in protest. Much like the Protestant Reformation, when the doctrines of the faith are lost, we need to seek our reformation, and maybe even separation.

In spite of our differences, we can still be united in the essentials. We can come together, work together, and grow each other in the faith.

Individual Spirituality

Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

I read an interesting article in the LA Times a few weeks ago. The headline: “Religiously unaffiliated ‘nones’ are pursuing spirituality, but not community.

The category of “nones,” those who check the “none” box when asked what religion they are, has increased from 10% in the 80s to over 23% today. It is the Millennial generation that is the driving force for this increase recently.
However, it is not that they are not religious. They are very spiritual in their thoughts and actions. Contrary to the sexy secular utopia promised by the New Atheist of the last decade, the “nones” are turning to other forms of mysticism and spirituality.

“Rather, they are turning toward more individual forms of spiritualism, including yoga, meditation, healing stones, Wiccan spell casting and astrology.”

The individualism is reaching its peak in our culture. Religion and spirituality is no different. Picking your own beliefs, your own truths leaves you free from the judgments from others. It lets you be you, no matter how greedy or envious you are. There is no need to change because you are OK just the way you are.

When people look at the Church, they see judgmental, oppressive, and controlling entity that is a huge kill-joy. What they don’t see is the love, the compassion, and the family that can be found in Jesus Christ.

The challenge of the Church today is to show the love that God has for his people. The way in which that love is shown is how the Body of Christ loves each other. Several places in the Bible the unity of the people of God is a witness to God’s work and God’s love. When we are united we show the true image of Christ on earth.

As long as we continue down the road of disunity we will continue to push away those who need God the most.

How Do We Work With Others – Part 1

In a recent post, I pointed to an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website titled, “When Should Doctrine Divide?” I wrote that our different traditions should not keep us from partnering together for the good of our city.
But, the question remains, how are we to partner with other churches of other traditions? Gavin Ortlund gives us four guiding questions to ask as we partner together.

  1. What kind of partnership or unity is in view?
  2. What kind of partnership or unity will best serve to advance the gospel?
  3. Do I naturally lean toward a separatist or minimalistic spirit?
  4. Even when I must formally divide from other Christians, is the attitude of my heart gracious, humble, and inviting toward them?

In this post, I will talk about the first two.

What kind of partnership or unity is in view?
Ortlund talks about relational partnerships among groups and individuals. But, this works also with churches. When partnering with other traditions, it helps to understand the other traditional distinctions that different churches have. You don’t want to partner in a baptismal service if you disagree on immersion versus “sprinkling.” You don’t want to partner in an “End Times” conference if you differ regarding the Millennial reign of Christ (unless of course it is meant to be a multi-view conference). But, you may be able to partner together for a Good Friday service creating a meaningful experience to highlight a Christian holiday celebrated by most Christians.

What kind of partnership or unity will best serve to advance the gospel?Ortlund rightly says this is a hard question to answer. And even more, that we need the Holy Spirit’s help to answer it. Many churches would first ask the question, “How will this advance my church?” But, the real question is, “How will this partnership advance the gospel?” We need to start thinking in terms of kingdom growth, not church growth. How will our partnership best serve the community? How will they see the light of Christ best in our partnership?

Doctrine Divides

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “doctrine divides,” doctrine has become a bad word. But, pick up a KJV Bible and you will find the word doctrine 56 times. Our modern translations simply translate the word as “teaching.” Doctrine is not a bad word. And division is not entirely bad.

The reason we have differences of doctrine between the many different traditions is beyond the scope of this post. But, at the least, the reason is that the Bible is a hard book to understand. And we are a fallen people prone to error even when reading and interpreting the Bible. In another light, the differences of doctrine are proof we take the Bible seriously, and that’s a good thing.

Gavin Ortlund asks the question, “When should doctrine divide?” over at The Gospel Coalition. He warns of two extremes many people take when partnering with other churches of other traditions: doctrinal minimalism, and doctrinal separatism.

Some would discount doctrine altogether, saying it is too divisive. They would say we should all come together regardless of tradition or creed. But, you would need to draw the line somewhere. There are churches who claim to be Christian but are wholly outside confession Christian of the last 2000 years. The extreme of doctrinal minimalism would lead us to partner with religious traditions that are antichrist or even with secular institutions that have contrary to the gospel of Christ.

Separation of the traditions is often lamented. I’ve even asked the question of why there are so many Protestant churches. But, sound doctrine is important. And sound doctrine separates one from unsound doctrine. For example, the Reformation itself was a separation from what the Reformer believed to be unsound doctrine concerning the nature of how one is saved. But, the extreme of doctrinal separatism would cause one church to fail to partner with other churches in the area to reach those who are in need. The larger issues of the city would be missed because we were too prideful to partner with churches that disagree with our doctrine.

When partnering with other churches, we need to avoid these two extremes. We need to work together in ways that do not minimize our traditions and respects them.