Thursday, January 28, 2010


The Value of Denominations

There was a lot of discussion, flowing from a conference a while back, on the place of denominations. MMI had some interesting discussion and Justin Taylor did a round-up of all the related blogging. There is a lot there, and some of it is none of my business, I'm not Baptist which is where all this started. But I am a die-hard denominationalist, thought I'd take the opportunity to explain a bit of the why to that.

There are a lot of reasons why I cling to my PC(USA) denomination, and why if I did leave it, I would go to another denomination, but put as succinctly as possible, it's because a denomination is the only institution I have found that can actually be the whole church. If you think about it, they are as old as the church itself, consider the so-called "Council in Jerusalem" recorded in Acts.

And why was that council called? For purposes of accountability. That's the first reason I believe in denominations. I have seen way too may congregations, even mega-congregations, go wrong. There is a need for a corrective force that is "outside." Only denominations can provide that. One of the reasons these questions are being asked in Baptists circles is because their convention has largely punted on that role. My own PC(USA) is increasingly doing the same thing. We might actually think more of denominations if they did what they were supposed to.

But more importantly, congregations, regardless of size, tend to only take on part of the total ministry that God intends for the church. They tend to "specialize." Evangelical churches in general tend to specialize in, unsurprisingly, evangelism. And while necessary, that's not church, that's para-church. There is something a bit wrong when something that chooses to call itself a church is acting more like Young Life than anything else.

Narrow definitions and limited experiences do not stretch us into the people that Jesus came to make us into. Even though we are all called at different points to different specialties (gifts, ministries, vocations - insert your word here) in the church, God has also called us to be first His in ALL aspects of life. We need to experience others who are specialists in aspects that we have, but may not concentrate on. We need their perspective, and we need to learn form them. For example, I will never agree to ordain practicing homosexuals in the PC(USA) - but I have learned much about how to appropriately express Christ's love to people struggling with a deep, personality-defining sin from those that would. And further, such insight informed me greatly about my deep, personality-defining problems.

The Glory of God, His grace, mercy and love are too large to be contained in anything other than the largest possible institution. We fail here everyday, but we cannot abandon the effort.

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