09 May Denominations? Good or Bad?
Sometimes we hear concerns from fellow believers about so many Christian denominations. Denominations separate and divide, it is thought. They may create prideful and critical spirits. In fact, there is a rise in non-denominational churches in America. According to LifeWay research, the percentage of Americans who identify with a specific Protestant denomination has fallen from 50 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2016. This statistic could be fueled by the growing number of people who call themselves “nones,” as in no religious preference, that has risen from 10 to 20 percent. That said, the number of people who are in nondenominational churches rose as well from 9 to 17 percent.
Are denominations, like the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a bad thing? Do they simply foster division? They can, for sure. In the words of one of my seminary professors now with the Lord, Dr. Knox Chamblin, “Denominations should provide lines of distinction and not walls of separation.” I think that is well said and gives a helpful, balanced perspective. We always want to avoid sectarianism- seeing ourselves or our denomination as the only true Church that God will use or bless. To that end, we want to pray for the work of the gospel in all churches that are faithful to God’s Word and to His gospel. We are grateful for such churches in Houston County.
Also, we have to acknowledge that denominations are ultimately a result of the effects of sin. Sin clouds our judgment and understanding leading to differing doctrinal views. Opponents of the Protestant Reformation would say this is what happens when you let people read and interpret the Bible for themselves. I would say that the rewards of Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, as our ultimate authority are worth the risks. Without it, churches can and have strayed into all kinds of unbiblical practices. Abandon the authority of the Bible and you abandon orthodoxy.
With these things in mind, what good are denominations? Here’s my list of reasons that is not exhaustive:
• Denominations provide accountability and encouragement among churches. They can help assure that churches are faithful to the Scriptures. They can help prevent “rogue” churches. In our case, we have a Presbytery, which is our regional governing body, that is charged with oversight of all the pastors and churches within its bounds that they maintain sound doctrine and practice.
• Denominations provide a helpful pooling of resources. In the case of the PCA, we have a large and vibrant worldwide missions agency through Mission to the World (MTW) and a thriving campus ministry on college campuses through Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). Without denominational support, these works couldn’t happen.
• Denominations are in the best position to plant new churches. This follows from the point above but is worth its own category. The planting of new churches is one of the great needs and most effective ministry tools we have.
• I would argue that denominations actually foster greater unity among churches rather than division. We belong to a family of churches across the country that truly are sister congregations to us. They foster what we can call “connectionalism”- such as what we see in Acts 15 as an important decision is made that affects all the churches and is communicated to them. WE also see churches taking up collections to help sister churches in need.
Bottom line, when it comes to denominations, I believe the good far outweighs the bad. I’m grateful to be in a denomination that holds the Scriptures up as our ultimate authority. I’m grateful for the PCA- she’s not perfect by any stretch and needs prayer and work to grow in many areas- but she’s a great place for us to be connected and to serve.