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June 21, 2005

Why have denominations?

I though for sure I'd posted this...I've been using it on message boards for years. Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost has an entry criticizing the denomination quizzes, and for the most part, rightly so, since they are horribly inaccurate. But he seems to be criticizing them more for pushing the idea of denominations than for misunderstanding denominations.

There's a very good reason for denominations...

When choosing a denomination you have to keep in mind that theology is only one aspect of the differences between the various Christian denominations. Below are the main differences:

Organizational Structure
Some denominations are structured from the top down, with the local church under the authority of a regional group, which is in turn under the authority of a national group, which would then be under the authority of the main leadership. That's called a presbyterian style denomination.

Other denominations are structured from the bottom up with the local church having almost complete autonomy (the only limits being whether or not they are allowed to claim that they belong to the denomination), and the local church sends representatives to decide issues for the regional, national and main leadership. This is called a congregationalist type structure.

Then some churches have no part in any organization beyond the local church.

Worship Style
Some denominations practice a very liturgical, tradition worship that focuses on solemn reverence.

Some denominations practice a more relaxed but still traditional worship that incorporates moments of solemnity as well as measured celebratory praise.

Some denominations practice a very robust worship focusing mainly on expressive celebratory praise.

Mission Funding
Some denominations fund their missions work collectively. This is very efficient, but lacks the personal involvement of individual members and congregations

Some denominations fund their mission work through the individual churches. This tends to be inefficient, but offers a special relationship between the missionaries and the local congregation, and allows the local church to feel more a part of the mission work.

While this is obviously the most important, it also tends to be the easiest. Unfortunately it also is something some people fail to take as seriously as it should be taken. Find out what the denominations you are looking at teach, from their material as well as outside sources that list numerous denominations. The church you attend will be like the food you eat -- what's the best looking or tasting is not always the healthiest.

Also seriously consider that there comes a point when a Christian needs to move from being ministered to, to ministering. Coasting is never a virtue in following Jesus Christ.

The denominational identities and labels serve to identify these characteristics of individual congregations and therefore are an aid to worship, not an excuse for division. Those that claim that any denominational label is divisive (namely those who dubiously claim to be non-denominational) are themselves causing division by ignoring the variety of ways other Christian choose to worship, organize, support missions or believe.

Posted by Danny Carlton at June 21, 2005 10:43 AM

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I can certainly understand the need for different denominations, but it seems to have gone overboard. When I first set up the http://htweb.org server I registered the TulsaChurches domain name intending to put up an online map of the area with different colored push pins for each denomination, like Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, etc, and then discovered about 10 different Baptist denominations, about the same number of Methodist, etc, and finally junked the idea, since thee were not that many different colored pushpins available.

Posted by: Don Singleton at June 21, 2005 11:07 AM

What peeves me are the people who say their church is non-denominational, as if having a preference in worship style or mission funding is somehow wrong. And they can get so hot about it if you point that out to them.

Posted by: Danny Carlton at June 21, 2005 11:19 AM

I agree. That is another reason why my idea for a TulsaChurches website just did not work. If you have any idea for how one might be able to identify exactly what categories a particular church met, so that one could come up with a way to select a church that met ones needs, let me know.

Posted by: Don Singleton at June 22, 2005 03:19 PM

One problem is that some group want themselves included in categories that other that would obviously go there, wouldn't like. There's a trend for Liberal churches to call themselves Conservative or even Fundamentalist. But listing them as such would be continuing their deception. The only way to do such a site would be to set some strict criteria from the start, and stick to it.

Posted by: Danny Carlton at June 22, 2005 05:25 PM

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