In Praise of Denominations
Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos
“We are moving into a post-denominational age” or so we are told. If that is the case, I for one don’t think it is good news. Denominations serve a real purpose and are worthy of our promotion, propagation, and commitment. I know that many of us have been “burned” by denominations and there is much fruit being born by different networks, fellowships, and independent churches. However, we shouldn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Networks, fellowships, and independent churches can’t provide the same benefits as a denomination. They may be able to provide some of the things below, but not all of them.
Accountability: Every church and every pastor of a local church needs accountability. If we believe that sin is a true reality, then we will strive to check it. And that often requires a voice outside of our own local church. Denominations provide structure with their policies, appeals process, confessions, and authority.
Safeguarding the Pastorate: Pastors can be the greatest harm or blessing to a local church and its people. This is a reason for the high qualifications listed in Scripture. Therefore, there should be a rigorous, time-tested, biblically faithful process by which men are ordained as pastors. This process should include a true trial, a true testing, and actual confirmation by men who can give an honest and unbiased assessment. Denominations provide for the credentialing and ordination of men in a way that seminaries, fellowships, and independency won’t and sometimes can’t.
Safeguarding the Congregation: Congregations need the protection afforded by denominations. A congregation at odds with its pastor or leadership should have a body to which it can appeal. And this body should have some authority to counsel and possibly intervene (depending on our ecclesiology) in the midst of a troubling situation.
Safeguarding the Pastor: As much as the congregation needs protection from unruly and overbearing pastors, so pastors need protection from fickle congregations. A pastor should have recourse when he finds himself at odds with his congregation. He should have a body to which he can run for counsel. And there should be a process in place by which a congregation at odds with its pastor can’t jettison him at a moment’s notice and move on to the next willing candidate.
Unified Confession: A congregation should also be able to expect certain theological precision and convictions from its leadership based upon the denomination’s stated beliefs and theology. In this way, a congregation is protected from a pastor who would come in and change the church in drastic ways (i.e. from an infant baptizing church to a believer’s only baptizing church).
Unified Mission: Denominations allow for a concentrated and comprehensive approach for engaging in ministry. It is just easier and more effective to do missions, Christian education, planting churches, etc. with a group of churches who belong to one another and are united around the same theology. Their combined assets, both physical and spiritual, will far-outstrip anything they can do independently or by uniting with a handful of like-minded churches.
Unified Voice: There are times when a myriad of voices should be replaced with one strong voice. When an old or new heresy has emerged, it is helpful to belong to a denomination that can speak with one voice to this aberrant teaching. There are also moments when the church should speak to the state or to another group of churches; and denominations provide this possibility.
Theological Precision: Every denomination must have some statement of faith. And usually those statements of faith are examined and tested over the years through the courts of the church or the annual assemblies of the denomination. In this way, theological precision is encouraged not only in the seminary, but in the confines of the church itself.
Fellowship: Don’t underestimate the advantages denominations provide for fellowship. Annual general meetings, regional meetings, and even denominational committee meetings can provide fellowship that is lacking for many pastors and churches. I have witnessed this often in the communities where I have pastored. In each locale, I have been contacted by area pastors looking for fellowship and a way to bring our churches together for some area events. Why? Because they see the need and have the desire for fellowship with like-minded men and churches. Belonging to a faithful denomination provides this.
Mutual Encouragement and Support: Every church and pastor needs to know that they are not alone. It is easy to get caught up in our own little corner of the world and feel quite isolated and as though there is nowhere to turn. Denominations can be useful in encouraging the work of the ministry and actually supporting that work in a significant way.
Denominations are not always easy or enjoyable, but they are worth sustaining. Without them there will be a void that we just can’t fill. A void that will do injury to the Church and her work in this world.