Yesterday I critiqued denominations a bit. Today, I want to mention some of the reasons why I think denominations are a good thing.
First, there is another side to the consumeristic mentality. Because different denominations place emphasis on different things in the course of worship or in doctrine, we begin to receive a fuller picture of God. We have people expressing worship to God in a multitude of ways – some emphasizing the transcendence and mystery of God while others placing priority on the immanence or nearness of God (this is just to serve as an example). Also, if we don’t view other denominations as sheep-stealers or something of that sort, we begin to realize how much we have to learn from one another. Whether it is Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Methodist, etc., every denomination has something to offer to others. Essentially, denominations can serve as a checks-and-balances system for one another, always having something to critique themselves against and always something to be pushing against. I like what different denominations have to offer, but we have to stop looking at others with a suspicious eye like they are poisoning the Kool-aid or some heinous act like that. If we learn all the positive attributes of different denominations, maybe we will have a better understanding of the body of Christ, and a better perspective of the universal church.
At an institutional level, denominations are able to provide resources for the churches and parishioners that may otherwise not be possible. I myself am a beneficiary of denominations in this sense; I attend a college affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. There’s more to it than this. Pastors are connected to other pastors. Churches have denominational resources to aid in their ministry. Independent churches don’t have these same luxuries; they often do not have anything to fall back on during difficult times financially, or even when pastors are looking for networking support.
Yesterday I criticized for denominations for the indoctrination of their children, thus nullifying any sort of growth of the faith to occur. I may have been a bit harsh. But I do commend denominations for teaching students some sort of theology . . . my home church was not very denominationally grounded and therefore, I left there with very little knowledge about theology, church history, or even our denomination’s beliefs. In retrospect, I feel like I got the shaft there. At least denominations teach something other than just a psychotherapy Christianity that just intends for you to feel better about yourself and gives you steps to improve your life.
Denominations are also grounded in liturgy and often the church year. These provide the rhythms of Christianity and I think a recovery of them is needed in the church today. Denominations are able to offer structure to worship and faith. In no way do they constitute the body itself or the expressions it may take, but it does give shape to the community of believers. And it provides safe boundaries in which people can explore their faiths. Following the church year continues to intrigue me more and more to the point that if I ever were to start a church, the liturgical year would play a central role in worship. This may sound too traditional for some, but for me, it provides just enough structure to help form what we do without being so rigid that creativity is negated.
No matter your views on denominations or whether you agree with me or not, I think we would all agree on the perspective of St. Augustine:
In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.
Some other posts that might be of interest: