NON DENOMINATIONAL CHURCH
In this chapter we learn a lesson or two from the non denominational churches in the world. Then we can choose to be a denominational church or not.
Under non denominational church most places of warship are Christian churches with relevant, Jesus focused Bible teaching, modern and powerful worship music, and a friendly, comfortable atmosphere, these Places are known for their love of God and people, service to the community, and passion for sharing Christ with emerging generations. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” Psalm 90:1
In order to have a foundation for unity with others, it is necessary to define the essential beliefs of our faith. To this end, most non denominational churches have chosen the Apostle’s Creed as that definition. It is one of the earliest and simplest statements of Christian belief and has remained a document of agreement and unity among Christian individuals and churches for nearly two millennia. Non denominational churches are willing to partner and fellowship with any individual or organization who confesses these same beliefs. However, this should not offend those non denominational churches that do not believe in the Apostles creed in its entirety.
We believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hades.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic apostolic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Question: “What is a non-denominational church? What do non-denominational churches believe?”
Answer: This question really has several answers, and they can be either simple or complex. The simplest answer is that a non-denominational church is any church which is not part of a larger denomination. A denomination is a church organization that exercises some sort of authority over the local churches that comprise it. Examples of denominations are Roman Catholic, Anglican, Southern Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, etc. Non-denominational churches go by many different names and hold to a wide variety of beliefs.
Why do some churches choose to be non-denominational? Though the answers will vary somewhat, a major consideration is the freedom to direct the ministry and teaching of the local church without interference or control from without. When we look to the Bible, the evidence points to each church as self-governing and answerable directly to God Himself; In the book of Acts, where we read of the first missionary journeys and the establishment of many churches, there is no indication of a hierarchy of authority beyond the local elders of the church. Some people point to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 as a pattern for denominational structure, but it is nothing of the sort.
The Gentiles had been given the gospel under the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, by the direct authority of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2; 15:7). The churches established in that first journey were left under the care of elders (Acts 14:23) from their own ranks, after having been taught by Paul and Barnabas. When the council was called at Jerusalem, it was not because of any question of organizational structure or control, but to discuss doctrinal matters about what constitutes salvation (Acts 15:5-6). The apostles who had been directly commissioned by Jesus were the only people who could properly address the question authoritatively.
When a church is non-denominational, does that mean it has no need of other churches? That may be the belief of some, but it is certainly not the example we find in Scripture. The book of Acts and the New Testament Epistles make it clear that the churches communicated with one another regularly. As Paul and his companions made their missionary journeys, it was not uncommon for the believers to send letters to the other churches (Acts 18:27), or to greet one another through his letters (Romans 16:16). Likewise, when there was a great need, the churches worked interdependently to meet that need—for example, the collection for the famine in Jerusalem (Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 8:4). The various churches of the New Testament, though independent, self-governing bodies, were definitely connected in fellowship and cooperative ministry, giving us an example to follow today.
The measure of any church, whether inside or out of a denomination, is not how it is organized nor what name it is called, but rather how faithfully it adheres to the teachings of the Word of God. No church is inerrant, because churches are made of people who are capable of error. Even the apostles, with all the gifts God gave them, were not without error. Paul records in Galatians 2:11 that “when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Peter, the first to give the gospel to a Gentile, gave in to pressure by the Judaizers to separate himself from Gentile believers. Paul’s ability to confront Peter was not based on his position as an apostle, but on the revealed truth of God’s Word. Paul complimented the believers in Berea (Acts 17:11) for checking his own teaching against the Bible to find out if he was telling them straight doctrine.
All believers need to be like the Bereans, checking what we are taught against the Word of God to find out if those things are so. If our church is out of line with God’s Word, we must lovingly, patiently give instruction or correction. If it will not be corrected, then we should seek out a church that is faithfully obeying God’s Word.
Why nondenominational churches are winning over mainline churches
When people leave mainline churches they go somewhere else. As Rodney Stark, a sociologist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas describes it; they are not leaving religion so much as they are looking for religion. About 64 percent of Americans say they have a religious affiliation that is different from the religion in which they were raised, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” Such surveys are yet to be done in Africa.
“Everybody knows that the so-called ‘mainline’ is now becoming the sideline. The Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, Presbyterians, Methodists and the Episcopalians have been shrinking at a rather prodigious rate. But that isn’t because people left church, it is because people left THOSE churches,” says Stark. “Groups like the Assemblies of God have doubled and redoubled in size in the same period of time.”
The flight from mainline churches, Stark says, has been going on since the 1800s. It wasn’t really noticed until the 1960s because overall population growth made it look like mainline churches were growing, while all along their percentage of the population was dropping.
Among the groups that have benefited from mainline church leakage are nondenominational churches independent geographically-based Christian churches that do not espouse a particular denomination affiliation. These churches some of which are so big that they are called mega churches are most likely evangelical flavored (75 percent), but some are more akin to the mainline tradition (20 percent) and a few are more like the historically black Protestant tradition (5 percent).
Part of the reason Stark thinks denominations are declining is that they used to be, at least partly, connected to a person’s ethnic identity. “My generation is much less concerned to be Lutheran than my parents and especially my grandparents were because they were Norwegians and Swedes and immigrants. And being Lutheran was part of the package.” Stark says.
Here in Uganda denominations used to be, at least partly, connected to a person’s political identity. “Today’s generation is much less concerned to be UPC or DP than our parents and especially grandparents were. If you subscribed to the UPC party being Anglican was part of the package and if you subscribed to the DP party being Catholic was part of the package.” Over time with marriage and intermixing, ethnicity, politics and denominations became less important.
In Uganda, denominations continue to decline as many people especially the new generation who go to cities in search for jobs find more comforting and counseling in the non denominational churches. Even those who have found jobs continue to attend to non denominational churches because of the routine motivational modes of preaching, inspirational prayers and strong fellowship. Many have confessed that the time they have to attend the mainline church is when they go back to the village for Christmas holidays as they have to show respect to their parents.
Stark points out another example of how denominational identity has lost its importance: Some churches just appear to be nondenominational. Rick Warren, bestselling author of “The Purpose Driven Life” is Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California which is a Southern Baptist church. “I bet half the people who go there don’t know,” Stark says, “because Warren doesn’t make a big point out of it. I think in that sense denominationalism has receded.”
As denominations are less linked to identity, it opens churches up to greater competition. Timothy Dalrymple, associate director of content at Patheos.com and an evangelical columnist, says “Christianity is a vital open marketplace of religious ideas in churches. These non-denominational churches can try 100 things and find a model that works.”
Often that model includes a well-defined conservative expression of Christianity that contrasts with mainline churches’ theology. Dalrymple thinks this “dissipation” of mainline churches’ theology is part of the reason why people are leaving. “They became less committed to traditional Christian teaching regarding the authority of scripture, regarding salvation in Christ alone, and so forth.”
Cannon Nestler doesn’t think this conservative trend is a good thing, particularly the danger of defining things in inflexible ways, regardless of how appealing they might be. “The developments of theologies that say ‘we are the only right way’ have had a profoundly detrimental effect on our culture,” she says. “We are called to live here in toleration of each other. The scariest part of the religious right is the voicing of the idea that ‘It’s not part of the culture that we are called to live with other religious expressions.”
Dalrymple agrees that part of the weakness of mainline churches is that they became centers of left-wing political activism. “That may be where the leadership was, coming out of the seminaries, but that was not where the congregations were.”
He admits, however, that people are more open now to churches that have a commitment to social justice. “The more successful of the non-denominational churches right now are those that bring together solid Biblical teaching with dynamic social activism. And they may do it in ways that remain socially and culturally conservative.”
The Rise of the Non Denominational Church
Changing religious and cultural backgrounds are causing Christians to be increasingly interested in joining and worshiping at non denominational churches over their old denominations.
Christianity has been divided by denominations for centuries. However, a recent trend has appeared where spiritual Christians are choosing to discard those divisions in favor of non-denominational churches. In 1990, fewer than 200,000 Americans claimed non-denominationalism as their religion; by the year 2008, that number had grown to well over 8 million. What sparked this trend? Why, after centuries of division into separate and autonomous denominations, have so many Christians begun drifting away from the separations that have served to define their faiths?
The trend toward no denominationalism isn’t entirely surprising, considering that our culture as a whole has shown an increasing tendency toward acceptance and tolerance; non-denominational churches often follow a policy of accepting followers from a wider range of religious backgrounds. Freedom from strict church doctrine and adherence to often outdated ritual often attracts younger parishioners; lack of labels often draws people who feel they have been labeled as outcasts or undesirable by societal norms.
With an increasing number of interracial and intercultural marriages, frequently between two people of differing religious beliefs, the diversity often found within a non-denominational church can be very attractive to those who don’t feel comfortable in the old, conventional religious groups. Many people claim that they find more spiritual fulfillment in a church where Christians of any denomination are welcomed.
There is also argument that the Christian church was always meant to be non-denominational. There are no such divisions within the Bible itself, certainly; a passage from Paul’s letters to the Romans in the New Testament claims that the Bible offers salvation to everyone who believes in it. Others argue that the church was always supposed to be united under God, rather than divided into different sects. These people claim that each sects’ history, traditions and beliefs serve to distract from the messages and moral principles espoused by Christianity, and thus do more harm than good. Many of the tenets of these denominations have no roots in the Bible at all, but rather in tradition and decrees by their governing bodies, or principles held by their founders.
The most literal analysis of the word “denomination” shows that it is the very definition of division. In fact, this is how Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines the word. It could easily be reasoned that, by their very nature, denominations promote division among a religion that is supposed to be united, as one, under the same God. Even as far back in history as the sixteenth century, there were people like Martin Luther, the theological scholar and founder of the Protestant reformation, who believed that the existence of denominationalism went against biblical purposes.
With this in mind, it can hardly be surprising that Christians today can read the Bible and follow the same logic that Martin Luther himself did; it is possible to be a true Christian without wanting to participate in denomination rituals and politics. While it is true that many denominations were founded in good faith and with the best of intentions for following the word of God, the draw of non-denominationalism may very well be not only its tolerance and acceptance, it may be its foundations in the nature of Christianity and the Bible itself.
“I play that they may be one” (John 17: 21-23)