what is a denomination?
4/27/2006 01:58:00 PM
I posted this mainly in response to "Systems: Change/Redirect or Build New?" on the Missional Baptist Blog. I wanted to investigate denominational thinking for myself, and here is some stuff I compiled.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition: A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy.

WordNet ® 2.0: a group of religious congregations having its own organization and a distinctive faith

Wikitionary.org: A class, or society of individuals, called by the same name; a sect; as, a denomination of Christians.

Wikichristian.org: Although there is only one universal Christian Church, there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations or churches. These denominations have formed and divided since the time of Christ, because Christians have had differences in beliefs and practices. Some of the main groups include the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant churches, and Pentecostal churches.

Wikipedia: Religious Denominations
A religious denomination, (also simply denomination) is a large, long-established subgroup within a religion that has existed for many years. However, in Islam such subgroups are referred to as "sects", not denominations.

Denominations usually have a significant degree of authority over their member congregations, although the term is also used to describe religious groups when the congregations have authority over the "denomination", such as Congregationalist church governance such as the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the numerous Baptist associations.

Denominations often form slowly over time for many reasons; due to historical accidents of geography, culture, and influence between different groups, members of a given religion slowly begin to diverge in their views. Over time members of a religion may find that they have developed significantly different views on theology, philosophy, religious pluralism, ethics and religious practices and rituals. As such, in any of a myriad of ways, different denominations eventually form. In other cases, denominations form very rapidly, either as a result from a split or schism in an existing denomination, or as people from many different denominations share an experience of spiritual revival or spiritual awakening, and choose to form a new denomination based on that new experience or understanding.
Wikipedia: Christian Denominations

Expressions of Christianity, in modern times, exist under diverse names. These variously named groups, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc. are colloquially called denominations.Some denominations are large (e.g. Roman Catholic, Lutherans, Anglicans or Baptists) while others are just a few small churches, and in most cases the relative size is not evident in this list. Also, modern movements such as Fundamentalist Christianity, Pietism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism and the Holiness movement sometimes cross denominational lines, or in some cases create new denominations out of two or more continuing groups (as is the case for many United and uniting churches, for example). Such subtleties and complexities are not clearly depicted here.

What Is a Denomination? By D. Gene West

...As a matter of fact, when one begins to read the history of the religion called "Christianity," he will find that from almost the time of its beginning heresies arose in the midst of Christians that eventually divided the church and formed new churches, or what we call denominations. The biblical word for heresy and heretics has reference to those teachings (doctrines) and teachers who "split" the early church with their false views, forming new denominations...
...The source (dictionary) then names a religious body as an example. However, when this has been said, we have insufficient information to really tell us what a denomination is. Two other important things must be added. (1) There must be an organizational concept added into which the local churches are drawn for the purposes of identification and function. Hence, denominations are organized collections of churches. (2) There is collective function (government) or activity.

...Still another characteristic of a denomination is that it has some kind of formal creed that sets forth, usually in few words, the fundamental beliefs of that body....

...In addition to these things, denominations wear special and peculiar names that designate such things as one of their outstanding ceremonies (baptism), their form of church government
(presbyterian), the name of the person whom they claim as founder....
The common thread in all of these statements goes back to the first two definitions that I gave: faith and organization. Faith is the common beliefs that a group of churches large or small have in common, and organization is how they unite themselves together. Even these characteristics of denominations still leave a great deal of ambiguity. It seems that it would allow for a denomination of denominations. Such a group would be something like he Baptist World Alliance which is a grouping of smaller Baptist denominations from all over the world. And even larger than that is the World Council of Churches. These structures are somewhat stratified, but there are also networks of churches, such as the Willow Creek Association. This group is formed from churches that are part of other groupings. Overall, the term denomination is somewhat ambiguous.

Because of the perceived trappings and discontentment with denominational thinking, some churches have declared themselves nondenominational. Nondenominational means "not restricted to a particular religious denomination." A nondenominational church then under this context in does not subscribe to a particular grouping, but is independent. In order to truly be nondenominational, the particular church could not cooperate on any level with any church. If the church were to agree with another church on a common goal, and pooled their resources (monetary or not) with another church to accomplish the task then they would in essence be part of a denomination. Even nondenominational churches, although they may not officially subscribe to a particular sect, often doctrinally will agree with a particular denomination, although the denomination may not be officially a denomination, such as Baptists.

Interestingly enough, many mainline denomination where formed based on the doctrinal persuasions of certain theologians although they themselves had no desire to be separatists.

Martin Luther: "I ask that men make no reference to my name, and call themselves not Lutherans, but Christians. What is Luther? My doctrine, I am sure, is not mine, nor have I been crucified for any one. St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 3, would not allow Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I, poor, foul carcass that I am, come to have men give to the children of Christ a name derived from my worthless name? No, no, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names, and call ourselves Christians after Him Whose doctrine we have."

John Wesley: "Would to God that all party names, and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world, were forgot and that the very name [Methodist] might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion."

Anti-denominational thinking among Baptist is nothing new. Charles Spurgeon wished that the Baptist name would disappear. "I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ's name last forever." The idea of only church denomination being the church that Jesus started in the first century is nothing new either. Their are many denomination that trace their lineage back to this church and not through the schisms that happened over the centuries.

I personally have mixed feelings about denominations, even my own the SBC. But anytime there is a group of churches gathered together whether 2 or 200,000, there is always going to be bickering and politics involved. Cooperation at the cost of politics may be the only way to cooperate. And avoiding cooperation because of politics doesn't seem to be biblical and downright impossible in some regards. I do like what C.S. Lewis said, "Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is his only Son." If somehow those who have never believed could see the church without seeing the denominations and schisms, then it would be great. And rather than trying to share the Baptist Faith and Message with someone, I think I would be better off sharing the gospel.

Comments: 1
Blogger joe kennedy said at 4/29/2006 12:06 AM...
Well, I feel good knowing I'm in good company with Luther, Wesley, and Spurgeon. Maybe I have something right after all.
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