Since the 1970’s or so, there seems to have been a move away from traditional denominations. I am not saying a large contingent as we well know that many denominations are still prospering. But we must also be aware that there are denominational churches drowning in their own tradition. I can’t really pinpoint a reason for this movement’s beginnings that has evolved into the emerging church today. Some of it might have been the Jesus Movement in the 1960’s. Some it might have been trying to create seeker-friendly environments. And it may have been reasons that I am unaware of.
The question I raise in my mind is, “Does this movement away from denominations create healthier churches?” We could get into the discussion on what constitutes a healthy church but this is neither the time nor the place for that topic. I was thinking about a quote from the great German philosopher Hans Georg-Gadamer that I came across a few years ago: “The horizon of the present cannot be formed without the past.” I think he was onto something quite profound with this. The stages leading up to the horizon greatly shape the horizon itself. Without the past, we have no horizon. The past is a very part of our existence that we cannot deny no matter how ugly it may have been. But how does this relate back to the church? Well, many of these churches moving away from denominations simply come up with their own theologies. What I mean by this is not that they create some sort of movement, but rather that they are hesitant to tab Calvin or Zwingli or Luther or Augustine the father of their faith. By breaking off from a denomination and starting one’s own church, they are also breaking ties with those who have walked in the faith before us. In this, I think they are sacrificing something quite special, probably even more special than you or I can get our minds around. All of a sudden the founders of the new church become the fathers of the new church. But what happens when the next generation comes along and they do not agree with their parents’ theology. Then what? It would be difficult to fall back on what earlier Christians have contributed to the faith. Thus, the younger generation breaks off again, and starts their own church. This becomes an endless cycle of breaking off and regenerating elsewhere. One could picture it as a tree, with Christ as the roots, the church as the trunk, the traditional denominations as the big branches, and all the non-denominational churches branching of from the denominational branches. Before we know it, the non-denominational churches are branching off from themselves, and are quite some distance away from the large branches, the trunk and thus the roots. And that leaves us with bastard churches – churches without fathers and mothers of the faith raising it and caring for it. It’s off on its own. In some cases, it may be an orphan. But most of the time its worse because it is a bastard.
Please hear me out: I am not saying that denominations are the only way to Christ. I am saying, that we may be ditching them too fast out dislike for them because they do not fit into our consumeristic mindset. I think denominational churches have something to learn from non-denominational churches as well as vice versa. But I do think we are walking on a slippery slope when we choose to walk away from traditional church and the faith of our fathers because we think we can do better. But in the end, we’ll realize we also came up short. And where will that leave us? But more importantly, where will that leave the state of the church?