(Christian Post) Pastors Debate ‘Should Denominations Go Away?’

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Seven influential megachurch pastors took part in live unscripted discussions on different approaches to ministry in the second round of The Elephant Room – an event billed as "conversations you never thought you'd hear" from pastors.

Held in Aurora, Ill., and broadcast to over 70 locations around the U.S., the discussions were mediated by James MacDonald of Chicago's Harvest Bible Chapel and Mark Driscoll of Seattle's Mars Hill Church.

With nondenominational churches growing across the county, the role of denominations and church networks was the first topic discussed.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesBaptistsDisciples of ChristEvangelicalsLutheranMethodistPentecostalPresbyterianReformed* TheologyEcclesiology

20 Comments
Posted January 27, 2012 at 8:04 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. David Keller wrote:

I have always been in a demonination, the Southern Presbyterian Church growing up, TEC from 1978 to 2011, and then AMiA and now PEARUSA (I think that’s the new moniker). But it seems when one looks at the troubles in the three of the four demoninations I have been associated with that the problem is the denominational structure. In PCUS and TEC there has always been a leftward drift which accelerated from the mid-70’s on. I don’t know what the solution is, but there is a problem.

January 27, 12:09 pm | [comment link]
2. Undergroundpewster wrote:

They didn’t ask any denominational leaders/museum curators to participate in the discussions?

January 27, 12:37 pm | [comment link]
3. A Senior Priest wrote:

About 15 years ago I told my then bishop that I thought denominations aren’t good for much except as resource centers and pension funds, and basically, I still see things that way. Ecclesiastical, liturgical, and theological, lineages of traditions don’t need denominationalisim to survive and flourish.

January 27, 1:12 pm | [comment link]
4. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

Ah yes, Nondenominational churches, or, as I call them, ecclesial agnostics, i.e. We can’t really know what the church is because we can’t be bothered by theological problems that might actually divide us. So, we will just pretend all these questions don’t exist and just make it up as we go along.

January 27, 1:14 pm | [comment link]
5. off2 wrote:

subscribe

January 27, 1:23 pm | [comment link]
6. Jim the Puritan wrote:

I think the problem is that a number of mainline denominations in America have been taken over by non-Christians, and so a lot of Christians are really soured on denominations.  The value of a denomination (when it is working properly) is it provides some form of greater accountability over individual churches, so that they can’t mutate into a cult or the personal fiefdom of some pastor.  But, that presumes that the oversight is by mature Christians that are acting in accordance with the leadings of the Holy Spirit, not the carnal and unregenerate non-Christians that now control TEC, PCUSA, UCC, etc.  It’s not that much different from when Rome was controlled by the same types of folks as now run today’s liberal Protestant denominations, and the Reformation happened as people had to flee that structure.

January 27, 2:25 pm | [comment link]
7. Pb wrote:

I am a member of a TEC parish which holds up Jesus and not Anglicanism. We are said to have broken communion. We are slso growing.

January 27, 3:25 pm | [comment link]
8. Scatcatpdx wrote:

First I want to take issue the Elephant Room conference is unscripted especially when decrement blogger / show host Chris Rosebrough was denied entry on the threat of arrest.
http://www.letterofmarque.us/2012/01/threatened-with-arrest-at-the-elephant-room.html
While there are bad denominations and few ok non denominational church but for the most part show me a non denominational church, and I will show a church in theological error.  The problem is there is no accountability in non denominational churches.  Even if there is a congregational accountability committee, vision casting one mega church pastor ‘s strong personality make any accountability group null and void.
Ps. I believe non denominational churches is an American phenomenon.

January 27, 6:15 pm | [comment link]
9. Jill Woodliff wrote:

I am a member of TEC, but have visited some nondenominational churches with great worship.

January 27, 11:32 pm | [comment link]
10. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

First of all, if you understand the history of American protestantism in the least ... you know that non-denominational churches tend either to become denominations, or disappear.

Second point: if the water’s pure, does it matter what aquarium our Lord’s fish swim in?

January 28, 12:08 am | [comment link]
11. driver8 wrote:

Of course its not simply various Protestant churches that argue they are non-denominational. Both the Orthodox and the churches in Communion with the See of Rome argue they are not denominations. Perhaps a slightly broader reflection on quite what it means to exist as a church that is not a denomination, may be fruitful?

January 28, 12:38 am | [comment link]
12. NoVA Scout wrote:

No. 1:  what does “leftward” mean in a theological context?

January 28, 1:51 am | [comment link]
13. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

I really don’t think that’s the point, people.  And the question isn’t “should they go away”?  The factoid suppported by statistics is denominations ARE going away, and, more relevant for those attempting to live out their ministries within a denomination, at what point will they finally look more like associations than “denominations.” 
It doesn’t take too much work to see that the zenith for TEC in terms of attendance was 1963, 1964.  It has been a slide since then.  And in common with some other mainline denominations.  The kind of structural changes going on in the mainlines really has to do with downsizing; the catalyst is less people and thus less revenue.

Will there be denominations?  Sure.  Unions of them.  Will there be a need for associations and “fellowships” of congregations?  Yes.  Current Synonym/buzz word: Network.  Should we shoot the denominations as failed?  You could try, but [sarcasm on] again, the way to put a denomination out of its misery is to unite with another miserable soul. [sarcasm off]
It is hard to know from the article what all was discussed, and to what depth.  I did get the impression at the end, though, of the evangelical guillotine:  if souls are being saved, who cares what their name is; if not, off with their heads.  : )

In the meantime, no matter where, and no matter what flag you fly, those who seek the Lord will find Him.

January 28, 2:49 am | [comment link]
14. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

Looks like you don’t have to do the work at all to see the TEC zenith and decline.  Kirk Hadaway presented this at Exec. Council today:
http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/docs/ExecCncl_012712_FINAL.zip

January 28, 3:04 am | [comment link]
15. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

And from that same report, this has to be the quote of the day:
“While these numbers may not capture the totality of what is
happening in the Church, we do not have a measure that is
moving in a positive direction.”

January 28, 3:08 am | [comment link]
16. David Keller wrote:

#12—Loss of belief in Biblical authority and eventual outright heresy.

January 28, 8:34 am | [comment link]
17. William Witt wrote:

The issue here is not “denominations,” but ecclesiology.  The rejection of “denominatons” is simply “congregationalism” taken to its logical extreme.  The question is whether Jesus died and rose to establish a Church (singular) which is his body, or, rather whether he intended to leave behind a bunch of independent local “congregations” that have no inherent structural relationship to one another. 

There is no question what form the Church takes in the NT.  There is only one Church, which is located in various locations (the church at Ephesus, at Corinth, at Rome).  After the death of the apostles, this one Church continued, led by bishops who were in communion with one another regardless of the physical location of congregations. That is the form the Church took everywhere until the time of the Reformation.

Tragically, in its history, the Church has suffered divisions, some necessary (to exclude heresy), and some not so (schism), yet the Church has always understood such divisions to be tragic, not virtuous. 

“Non-denominationalism” changes schism from a sin to a virtue.  Indeed, schism becomes the very esse of the church. “Non-denominatlionalism” is the heresy of modern/post-modern individualism and autonomy (which is, arguably, the cause of many if not most of the the social evils afflicting Western culture) in a “Christian” setting.  It is a case of Christians embracing the worst aspects of a culture rather than challenging them.

January 28, 9:10 am | [comment link]
18. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Dr. Witt (#17),

I’m happy to say that I fully agree with you.  Need I add that such congregationalism, or rather anti-institutionalism, is simply Protestantism run amok and taken to its ultimate extreme?  Non-denominationalism or “post-denominationalism” (as some of my friends like to call it) is inherently anti-catholic.

As the recent AMiA crisis shows, all attempts at being mission-driven and doing church planting inevitably IMPLY an ecclesiology, even if it’s never made explicit or rises to the level of consciousness.

Nonetheless, I have some sympathy for the innovators here.  Renewal forces within the Church have often been virtually FORCED out, whether they like it or not.  It’s the old problem of potent new wine and rigid old wineskins.  This year marks the 350th anniversary of the so-called “Great Ejection” in 1662, when over 2,000 Puritan ministers were kicked out of the CoE when they refused to conform to the restored BCP and episcopacy, etc.  Similarly, it has to be admitted that in many ways the Methodist revival was virtually forced out of the CoE despite Wesley’s valiant efforts to keep the movement within the Anglican fold.

As lay Episcopal theologian Charles Hummel (of IVCF) put it in a classic book on charismatic renewal in the oldlilne churches, it’s the perennial problem of “Fire in the Fireplace.”  What guys like Mark Driscoll fail to realize is that when they are properly maintained (not least, by the accumulated ash being cleaned out), fireplaces or church institutional structures actually help a fire burn hotter and longer as well as safer.  But when the institutional guardians of the fireplace refuse to let the sacred fireplace be touched or changed in any way, then the fire starts to die down, and may even eventually nearly go out.  Then people are apt to either stage a revolt and throw out the guardians and rekindle the fire, or go off in a huff and start a new fire someplace else.  And if they are now ideologically anti-fireplaces, well, they just might start in the middle of the living room and burn the house down!  Church history is sadly replete with such tragic stories.  The truth is, fires and fireplaces naturally belong together.  But fireplaces do need to be cleaned out from time to time…

David Handy+

January 28, 1:37 pm | [comment link]
19. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Fr. Eaton+ (#14, 15),

Thanks for calling that latest statiscal report from Kirk Hadaway to our attention.  It continues to amaze me that 815 keeps such a straight-shooter on the national staff, when the numbers he provides are so utterly glommy and hard to spin in any positive way.

I spent some time reviewing all those graphs and charts, and the numbers are even worse than I thought.  The worst of them all, it seems to me after an initial stroll through the numbers, is the incredible page where the drop in ASA is tracked, based on the 5 year average for the past 5 years, followed year by year.  The results are absolutely stunning.  Breath-takingly so.

Back in 2002, just ten years ago, the gap between the number of churches that had declined by 10% of more (39%) versus those that had grown by 10% or more (31%) was only 8%.  But by 2010, a mere eight years later, that gap had mushroomed to a whopping 40%. 

Get this depressing, mind-boggling stat:  according to parochial reports and Hadaways’ figures, during the period 2006 to 2010, an unbelievable 57%, yes, that’s FIFTY-SEVEN percent, of TEC congregations declined by 10% or more.  Well over half of all congregations were literally decimated in the last five years alone.  OTOH, a mere 17% of TEC churches grew by 10% or more, and almost all of them were in the growing Sunbelt.

Just a couple other miserable stats that show just how bad off TEC is.  Nationwide, marriages are down 41% in TEC.  Child baptisms are down 36%.  Confirmations down 32%.  Yeah, there isn’t a single stat that’s positive.

Oh, except the number of gay marriages being celebrated, I suppose.  That’s way up.  (Sigh)

Obviously, TEC is a church nearing the point of implosion.  Yet 815 and Executive Council continue with business as usual, re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  After over 40 years of almost relentless decline, they seem to be fatalistically resigned to the demise of TEC.

Can you imagine what would happen in any corporate boardroom, if the accounting department presented these kind of figures on business performance to the Board of some Fortune 500 company?  Heads would roll, and drastic attempts at getting the business back on track would be jumpstarted, quickly.  But not in TEC.  Or in any of the liberal, oldline, ex-mainline denominations. 

Lord, have mercy.

Good catch, Rob+.

David Handy+

January 28, 1:59 pm | [comment link]
20. evan miller wrote:

Dr. Witt nails it.  And anyway, why would anyone care what one of these emergent church types has to say about ecclesiology?

January 30, 4:20 pm | [comment link]
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