Is there a place for denominations?

Posted by on Sep 6, 2016 in Blog | 2 comments

It has become common to declare that we live in a post-denominational era. Increasingly church attenders are indifferent to the label a particular congregation might carry… Presbyterian, Baptist, Vineyard, Church of Christ… whatever. Indeed, many churches declare to the public that they are simply the local community church, sometimes using a verb to describe their ministry (Impact Church, Encounter Church, Dreambuilders Church…). Often these churches have a denominational allegiance, but prefer to downplay this, mentioning it only in the small print, if at all.

Knowing this, I always wonder how a unit I teach at Vose is going to be received. It is “Denominational Distinctives” and focuses on the history and distinctive beliefs of Baptists. To be sure, many things that were originally distinctive for Baptists are now essentially mainstream. In fact I always drop in the tongue twister that the late 20th century saw the baptistification of evangelicalism, so that what once was distinctive, now seems axiomatic.

What are the classic Baptist distinctives? In no particular order (and there are overlaps, and different commentators focus on some different nuances)…

  • A believers church – thus a regenerate church membership
  • Baptism by immersion of believers
  • Separation of church and state
  • Religious liberty
  • Liberty of conscience
  • The supremacy of scripture
  • Autonomy of the local church
  • Congregational government (which must be understood in the light of the belief in the sole reign of Christ over the Church. Actually, it is not about democracy, but theocracy – which goes hand in hand with the conviction that any believer might accurately discern the voice of God speaking to the church)
  • The priesthood of all believers

Is there a place for a unit on denominational distinctives in the 21st century? The unit ran as an intensive last week. 22 students enrolled for it – most of them doing it as its one of the units that has to be taken if you wish to become an accredited Baptist pastor in this part of the world, a goal that was prominent for most of the 22 students. Given the obligatory nature of the unit for accreditation candidates (other denominations might call them ordination candidates – as would some Baptist groups, but not ours here in WA), some took the unit reluctantly, but by its end the overwhelming majority declared it to be one of the most significant units they has taken – several said, the most significant.

Why?

Because when all is said and done, ecclesiology does matter. What we believe about the church and what the church should be is not a matter of indifference. And it is shaped by some core convictions. In the end, last week wasn’t about becoming sectarian or fanatically Baptist, but it was about dreaming about what we believed the church should look like – perhaps could look like.

We started by asking these questions…

Are you a big “B” Baptist, or will a small ‘b’ do? Why?

For those who say “small b” how far could the way in which your church life is ordered be altered before you would start to feel uncomfortable…

Some areas to check in on:

1) Is the tradition of the church important to you?

2) Does the way the church governs itself matter to you (e.g. would you be as happy for a bishop to prescribe what the church should do, as the senior pastor, or the deacons, or elders or both… or should it be the whole congregation that decides where the church should head for? )

3) What should the role of the Bible be in church life?

4) Should the State be involved in the life of the church and vice versa, or should the two be kept separate?

5) One person believes that the Bible allows them to drink alcohol, the next believes that it doesn’t. Whose view should prevail – and why? How should you act toward the person who has reached a different conclusion to you?

6) Does baptism confer grace upon a person, or is it a sign that grace has been conferred?

7) Is communion/the Eucharist symbolic or a real (literal) receiving of the body and blood of Christ or something else?

8) Is there such a thing as the “priesthood of all believers”? Should it impact the way church is structured? If so, how?

Now imagine that someone feels the exact opposite to you on each of these questions. How likely is it that you would be able to work together closely? What attitudes might make it possible? Which would make it impossible? Are any non-negotiable? If so, which and why?

Naturally many (probably most) of my readers are not Baptists. What are your core convictions about church? Why do you think they matter? And what kind of church would you like to see birthed? And what attitude should you adopt towards those who have a very different vision to yours?

Questions, questions, questions. And they are actually important ones…

As always, nice chatting…

2 Comments

  1. In my career as a teacher in a Christian school with open enrollment, far and away the most asked question by non-Christian students is “Why are there so many denominations?”. I have absolutely no idea why this is the case.

  2. Most Christians have a inward view or a personal picture of what they think God is ,looks like and what God doesn’t notice about them. So this makes it difficult for everyone to inturpate what God is trying to tell them about himself or how he wants us to live. While we give our heart and soul to Jesus ,our minds we like to keep. So we tend to use our best judgement in inturpting God himself. Is it not a surprise that we have so many Denomiations.
    Having said this I know that God has spoken to me personally and I know that he speaks to many others .This he has done all through history. So the quest still remains , why is there so many different denominations ??? Why ,why,why. Is it what God wants ? Probably not.
    But guess what God can and does work with and in them every day building his kingdom he on earth as he will in heaven. amen.

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