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.

 

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25 thoughts on “In Praise of Denominations”

  1. Ruz says:

    Denominations would be a lot better if they actually did have a lot of those benefits. They seem to be focused upon supporting the denomination rather than pastors, congregations, churches, etc… In fact, denominations often seem to be used to fracture churches, oust pastors by elders of a church (and then accept blame), cover over pastor’s sins, provide a third party to air grievances (making them public anonymously), integrate non-biblical ideology into the church, and make churches into faceless business entities. (Yes, I have been frustrated by denominations multiple times.)

  2. SteveT says:

    Jason, I think you make some great points here, but I would offer what I think is the single biggest counter argument: denominations as a whole inevitably drift into more liberal theology as they try to keep all of their people “unified” … and as the denomination drifts, it takes its seminaries and eventually its churches with it.

    You can see this quickly just by doing a quick brainstorm of all of the denominations you can think of and sort them into faithful v drifting. You’ll find the drifting list to be far larger.

  3. Donnie says:

    Actually, I can see many of these things having a downside. I am a disgruntled Methodist who is sick and tired of the denomination saying and doing things in my name that I find repugnant.

    And it’s not just the UMC doing this. Most, if not all, mainline denominations (aside from the SBC) use their name to further godless political agendas.

    Accountability is important, but that should be the function of the people in the pews. A unified voice is also important, but again, the people in the pews can carry out that function. Not to mention, most of the new heresies come from charlatans who have the full backing of apostate denomination leaders.

  4. Paul O says:

    Jason this is a great list of benefits. I’m part of the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and while we don’t consider ourselves to be a technical denomination – we call ourselves as association – this list fits. Thanks for the reminders of the benefits that we enjoy.

  5. Jason, great word here. Growing up non-denom, I’ve see the joys and the downsides. I’ve also seen the ridiculousness of denominations more recently as I work in one now. I’ve yet to see someone clearly and concisely lay out the benefits of one. Thanks!

  6. Nick says:

    Could you clarify on what your definition of “Denomination” is? I say this because when you say Denominations are a good thing, this sounds very bad to me. If by “Denomination” you mean Christians who don’t agree on what are Essentials and refuse to worship in the same building and don’t want to submit to a common Leadership, then I don’t see how this is a good thing at all nor does it fit with the Scriptures.

    The intention of Luther and Calvin was to *reform* the one Church, but if denominationalism is the way things are done then the very concept of Reformation makes no sense. I don’t see how there can be Accountability or Pastorate or Unified Confession in Denominationalism since their very nature is to create a new denomination whenever a group does not like an existing Pastor or Confession.

  7. Mark La Roi says:

    It has pained my heart since shortly after I was saved to see how many divisions exist in the body of Christ. How the arm says to the leg “I can operate without you”. The descriptions I see here merely describe the church as many congregations working properly, not a benefit of denominations.

    The existence of denominations calls to mind 1 Corinthians 6:7. We cannot defend denominationalism, even though some arose in areas the church had failed.

    They will be a black eye to the Church until the redemption.

  8. Arthur Angst says:

    Denominations are good in that through them we see the many facets of God and variations of ways he works through spiritual communities. Denominations fail when they jettison tradition and are co-opted by prevailing culture. No offense, but I am still searching for any correlation between pastors as we define them today, and any Biblical counterpart. Paul’s ecclesiology appears to compare the church to a “body” where each part plays an important role. Today’s pastors are given authority and responsibilities beyond what any human is able to bear. Denominations and churches always risk failure, but we ought not to facilitate failure by ignoring the priesthood of all believers.

  9. Robert says:

    As Ruz said, this would be great if this is what denominations actually provided. Unfortunately the arguments against denominations are stronger than these points above. Too often in the past structured authority in denominations (epsicopal and presbyterian polity) have protected the wrong interested and sacrificed biblical fidelity. The free church, or congregational, approach was reintroduced through aspects of the Reformation in response to the abuses of denominationalism. As it stands now, I don’t know of any major denominations which utilize the kind of authority and structures listed above that are growing and baptizing new believers.

    In fact, most the churches and networks represented on this site use a free church or low church models and are growing. When healthy denominations grow and exist they do strengthen churches and pastors. Yet too often in history (both ancient and modern) we see they denominations end up being bureaucratic nightmares that abuse the spiritual authority instead of wisely stewarding it.

    Let’s not forget that when Lord Acton coined the phrase, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” he was speaking to Catholic leaders at Vactian II. That is the history of denominationalism.

  10. Dan says:

    Neither denominations nor non-denominations are perfect; I’ve personally seen the serious flaws of non-denominationalism first-hand in a church governed more by preference than by Scripture, and I’ve experienced the whiplash coming from unstable ecclesiological views within my church leadership. So in general I’m inclined to agree with Jason’s post. While denominations themselves aren’t a guarantee of stability and health, the historical documents that unite them, when heeded and embraced while understanding their non-canonical nature, lend a shared understanding of the Christian faith that promotes true fellowship within a body of believers.

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  12. Henry says:

    Robert: I think you mean Vatican I.

  13. Ted says:

    I would love to see the author of this article explain what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 1:11-15. It seems to be a clear condemnation of denominations. If accountability is his concern, there are plenty of ways to create that without dividing Christ’s church into childish clubs based on non-salvational pet doctrines.

  14. Jim Grant says:

    Hi Jason,

    Great article, but I think you may have generalised a tad (may that statement be interpreted in the British sense). I don’t think denominationality, or non-denominationality for that matter, is the causal factor behind the list you give. Rather, I believe it is relational capacity. I’ve seen denominations that rock at relationship and this list will be found in their togetherness, and I’ve seen denominations that are hopeless at relationship and the things would be absent. The same goes for movements, associations, etc.

    Having said that, I’m part of a tribe that really does the relational thing well and some of my denominational brothers locally battle incredibly under Pharisaical burdens bound up for them. I’m not tarring all denominations with the same brush but suffice it to say in our corner of the globe things tend to be different to what you describe concerning denominations.

  15. Rick Owen says:

    Denominations are not ‘unbiblical’ (that is, the Bible does not forbid them), but there is no biblical requirement for them either. They are like a manmade boat which helps a missionary spread the gospel and make disciples abroad. As long as the boat stays on course, and does not consume more resources than it delivers, it remains useful.

    Ideally, we should follow Paul’s vision for the church (Eph. 4:1-16), whether or not we are working with others through a denomination.

    Gathering as Christ’s Church (or “ekklesia,” the NT Greek word for “summoned assembly”) means

    — building up one another (via a diversity of gifts, Rom. 12:3-13; 1 Cor. 12-14)
    — in Christ-centered community (the NT Greek word “koinonia” pictures shared life in the Lord)
    — according to Jesus’ pattern (Acts 2:42-46: teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayers)
    — with spiritual devotion (mutual service motivated by sacrificial love and aided by His Spirit).

  16. Melody says:

    I think 1corinthians speaks more to people thinking their denomination is the best or the only real church. Clearly we have all met truly evil people from each denomination just as we know God lovers from many different ones. To declare that it speaks against denominations sets up the same paradox. Only now it is the non-denominational person seeing themselves as the superior one.

  17. Tom P says:

    A non-denominational church is also part of a denomination – the “Non-Denominational Church Denomination”.

    I came to know Christ in a non-denominational church and rose to a position of leadership over time. The elders were individually righteous, god-fearing men, but collectively were drifting away from Biblical standards. I then attended a denominational church for many years and experienced the exo-congregational heirarchy out of touch with the local congregations and unable to give way to the Spirit’s directions when they conflicted with tradition or political structures within the denomination.

    I believe Christ wants all His followers to be unified, but not necessarily under the rule of human structures, whether solely within the congregation or on a larger exo-congregational basis. Any believer should be able to find Jesus within the body of believers he or she attends with at a given moment, safe in the knowledge that our Lord’s agenda is the only one being sought there. Alas, I know I’m not going to find that in any church, whether part of a denomination or operating in a home, for they are all led by men instead of God. d:¬{|

  18. Alberto L says:

    Jason,
    I appreciate the values that you lift up in your article because they truly are Biblically sound. May I suggest that perhaps denominations are good but not ‘denominationalism.’ You see, I also grew up in both the Catholic tradition and a non-denominational church(which stand on opposite sides of the ring according to this issue). My experience has been that while denominations provide a platform for the church to provide diversity, they do this at the expense of being held accountable to each other. To follow the Biblical metaphor, could you imagine a body where the legs are not accountable to the brain or to the arms. It would be nearly impossible to tie one’s shoe, much less walk. Denominations have allowed the Body of Christ to not only find diversity but also to lose its accountability to itself. The other great issue that arises out of ‘denominationalism’ is that it provides fertile ground for a growing problem in America known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (read Soul Searching). People misuse denominations in order to go church Shopping, to participate in the body of Christ, not as a servant, but rather as a consumer. I can imagine denominations being a good thing for the church,but not as they stand, further conversation is needed between denominations in order to establish more unity. As a final word, human structures do work, because God has redeemed them. The Church is a human structure in so far as Christ (who is both HUMAN and divine)is its head. Though it is conformed of sinners and therefore it makes mistakes, it carries on through history as pure and beautiful because it is the body of Christ. We must keep this in mind even though it is hard to perceive at times!

  19. justa guy says:

    Maybe, if we started with a proper definition of “Fellowship”, we would see that the entire body (locally) should be laboring together for accountability, safeguarding the pulpit, the body, and the shepherds and elders. This is the manifold wisdom of God Paul wrote about in Ephesians. The gifts the Spirit of God gives are for God’s glory, for the edification and growth of the body.

  20. Reid says:

    For Reformed Baptists, I like to recommend F.I.R.E.
    http://firefellowship.org/about/

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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