Friday, July 26, 2013

Giving Denominations the Benefit of the Doubt

A lot of times I've spoken with people who say that they don't like associating themselves with denominations or giving themselves denominational titles. They either prefer to call themselves simply "Christians" or even "Bible-believing Christians." While this may not be necessarily wrong, and while no one's a heretic or going to hell for doing so, I think there is much to be said about associating yourself with a denomination. Let me present a few reasons why I believe this:

Firstly, denominations can be helpful in identifying and understanding our presuppositions right off the bat. When someone tells me they're a member of the Presbyterian Church of America, I immediately have a better understanding of what they believe on a variety of topics. If someone tells me they're a Wesleyan Arminian, I automatically know what possible differences we might have. When I tell someone I'm a Reformed Baptist Christian, it is not because I care about the two adjectives over and against the noun, but because they will know what I believe and what I uphold to be truth. It permits us to neatly categorize where we are and where we stand. This is the great danger of postmodernism and its related teachings, because it breaks down those dividing lines and tells us that everything can mean anything.

Secondly, even if we call ourselves "nondenominational" or "just a Christian," at some point this breaks down. To any person who likes to call themselves just a "Bible believing Christian," ask yourself this: do you believe in paedobaptism, or credobaptism? If you deny one, you isolate yourself from those who affirm the other. Do you believe in predestination? If you do, then you isolate yourself from those who deny it. Do you believe in a church hierarchy with bishops and priests? Then you isolate yourself from those with a different ecclesiology. Even if you want to avoid identification with a specific denomination, when push comes to shove or you are forced to analyze what you believe the Bible teaches, you will either unintentionally align yourself with a denomination, or you will make yourself a denomination all by yourself. This is why many so-called "nondenominational" churches, in and of themselves, become much more denominational than most denominations.

Thirdly, this seems to come from the assumption that distinctions automatically cause great divisions. By this I mean that, when we distinguish ourselves from one another, we are not automatically placing ourselves as "better" or "more godly" than another person - we are merely identifying what we believe and what we uphold as truth. Let me give these examples: if I am with an African American friend, and I give the distinction that he is a black male and I am a white male, I am in no way saying that he or I are better than the other; if I am with a British friend and I make the distinction that he is British and I am American, I am in no way automatically suggesting he is better than I am, or vice versa. In a similar fashion, if I make the distinction I am a Reformed Baptist, over and against being Lutheran, Presbyterian, or any other church, I am not declaring that I have all the secrets of the universe. We can have unity without cult-like uniformity.