On Christian Denominations

I’ve never really had much attachment to the idea of Christian denominations. If you think it matters, I attended a Baptist church growing up, but I wouldn’t consider myself to have any strong sense of identity as a Baptist. For that matter, I don’t remember our church having much of a sense of being Baptist – there was never a very strong sense of distinction between us and most other churches that taught the Bible and trusted Jesus.

The matter of denominational label just wasn’t important. The important thing was whether you believed and taught the Bible as authoritative, in which case you were an evangelical and One Of Us, or you didn’t, in which case you were a dodgy liberal and One Of Them.

In my late teens and early twenties at university, the only time I would use a denominational label for myself was when pushed, in order to show that I was part of a respectable mainstream church and not a sect.

I was at least 12 before I first encountered the (Calvinist) idea that Christ died solely for the Elect, and to this day I could not tell you a single thing that John Calvin said about anything. We didn’t place much stock in human founding figures; the origins of the Baptist denomination are a little more obscure.

Cut to the present day in which I live and go to church in America, last bastion of denominational thinking.

I simply do not get the stock placed in one’s denominational allegiance. And I’m using the word “allegiance” deliberately; it always seems like you’re expected to maintain an allegiance to whatever denomination you’re in. I have learnt, for example, that when one of my work colleagues asks “What religion are you?”, they are looking for an answer along the lines of Baptist/Methodist/Lutheran, not, as I instinctively interpret the question, along the lines of Christian/Muslim/Buddhist. It’s all very strange.

Most of the differences between the denominations seem like either peripheral issues of practice (like form of church government or mode of worship), minor issues of theology (like the issue of whether one can genuinely believe and then fall away), or purely semantic, with different denominations misinterpreting one another’s standard terminology. Unless you’re a member of a non-mainstream group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we all believe the same essential body of truth about God, humankind, sin, salvation, Jesus and the Bible. These are the core matters of faith. Everything else is like the question of whether it’s ok to eat food sacrificed to idols (in Romans 14 and elsewhere). They are things that can be left to individual conscience and preferences.

But the American church, at least in the denominational forms I’ve seen here, seems all too often to extend the circle of “core doctrines” further and further out, with many denominations, if not every denomination, seemingly focused on the things that set them apart from every other denomination.

I get it that denominational labels can often be a fairly good shorthand for certain positions on church government and theology. But the result of numerous theological discussions between me and my wife has been a realisation that the only thing separating her distinctly Methodist-flavoured doctrine from the Baptist-flavoured generic evangelicalism I grew up with were the question of whether one can genuinely fall away, and the terminology we used for everything else. I learned that when a Wesleyan talks about having “received sanctification”, they don’t mean what I would naturally expect, ie that they think they’ve been placed forever beyond sin, beyond error and beyond temptation, but that they have come to a place of maturity in their walk with God in which they are not bound to sin as if they have no choice, but instead they love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. I learned that when I said that full sanctification is impossible this side of Glory, they understood it to mean that one was condemned to keep on repeating the same old sins and that there was never any hope for freedom from them or for walking in victory, when what I meant was simply that we weren’t going to be placed beyond error and beyond temptation in this life. We both use the same word, “sanctification”, but we mean slightly different things by it.

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I’m fairly certain that an awful lot of other denominational differences are probably similarly semantic in nature. The experience of learning to speak one another’s theological language has left me wondering what all the fuss is about over what label we put on our church and our theology.

As for me, “Christian” or “follower of Jesus” is all the denominational label I feel I need. I always feel it ought to be good enough for any of us, but then, I really don’t get denominational thinking at all, so maybe there’s something I’m not seeing.

Why do we insist on dividing and separating the one Body of Christ into ever smaller and finer segments, based on how we answer abstruse theological questions? I couldn’t care less what label is on the tin; if we have the same functioning set of basic beliefs, we ought to be able to work together.

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2 thoughts on “On Christian Denominations

  1. NEW TESTAMENT DENOMINATIONS? BY STEVE FINNELL

    Are denominations acceptable under the new covenant? There were no denominations of the church of Christ that were acceptable to the Lord for the first one hundred years of the church. Why do men believe that God finds the hundreds, if not thousands, of the contemporary so-called churches of Christ to be pleasing to God? Did Jesus die for a divided church?

    FIRST CENTURY DENOMINATIONS

    The First Church of Knowing Only The Baptism of John: Acts 19:1-7 ……2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this they baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus…….

    When these twelve men heard the truth and they repented of their false misunderstanding. They canceled their membership in “The First Church of Knowing Only the Baptism of John”.

    These twelve men realized that John’s baptism was not a baptism into Christ. (Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.)

    These twelve men understood that they could not receive the Holy Spirit unless the received the water baptism of the new covenant. (Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.)

    You will notice, not one of the twelve told the apostle Paul that they did not need Christians baptism, because the thief of the cross was not baptized and he was in paradise with Jesus. They understood that they were living under the new covenant.

    Repentance is required for those living in error. It was mandatory for the twelve and it is necessary for those involved in the errors of modern- day denominationalism.

    The Resurrection Is Over Christian Church: 1 Timothy 2:17-18 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.

    Denominations are established because they deviate from the truth. It was true in the first century and it is true today.

    The Jerusalem Judaizers for Christ: Galatians 2:11-21 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision, 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews…………

    The apostle Paul confronted the apostle Peter because he was practicing the denominational doctrines of The Jerusalem Judaizers for Christ. Peter was perverting the truth of the gospel. Peter needed to repent. The apostle Paul did not say, it does not matter what doctrine you teach and practice as long as you are sincere.

    Men, today, who are preaching doctrines different from Biblical teaching, need to repent. There was only one church established on the Day of Pentecost. There was only one way preached, telling men how to be saved.

    WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
    1. FAITH: John 3:16
    2. REPENTANCE: Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19
    3. CONFESSION: Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:37
    4. WATER BAPTISM: Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21, Galatians 3:27.

    JESUS PRAYED FOR UNITY

    John 17:20-21″I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

    Can there be unity when different denominations teach various ways to become saved?

    THERE IS ONLY ONE BODY OF CHRIST!

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

    • Thanks for your additional comments. I wouldn’t normally consider the comments section of another’s blog to be an appropriate forum for what is essentially your own blog post. If my thoughts and ramblings inspired your own, great! Link to me and it’ll appear in my comments section. That’s how it’s done, as far as I’m aware. But I don’t think you need to put what is effectively a completely different blog post (together with blatant advertising for your own blog) in my comments box. Or anyone else’s.
      You’re on topic, at least, but if you’re going to comment on a blog, I think it should be about the substance of the other blogger’s work, not copypasta of your own blog’s posts.
      Thanks,
      Geoff

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