Misconceptions We Have About Denominations
I grew up hearing how the church I was a part of was not a denomination (i.e. a sect, or split-off from the original). We might be non-denominational, un-denominational, or pre-denominational, but we’re certainly not a denomination. As a result, I grew up looking at denominations and those who attended them rather disparagingly. People in denominations were misguided, ill-informed, creators of division.
Boy was I wrong.
As it turns out, the one who was misguided, ill-informed, and divisive was me. I viewed those in denominations as people who didn’t care about the unity of Jesus’ body, or the truth of His word, and as a result I closed the door of conversation to those with whom I disagreed.
The more I’ve talked with those inside other church groups, the more I’ve realized that many of my perceptions were misconceptions. Maybe some of yours are too.
They Don’t Care About Unity
Between classes and casual conversations with other preachers I’ve had many discussions about restoring the unity of the New Testament church. Again, I don’t have any problem with this idea, in fact I believe the restoration movement of old was meant to be a continuous event even until now, not just a celebrated moment of religious history.
No, my problem isn’t with the idea of restoration, it’s with the fact that we sometimes think we are the only ones who want unity that the Restoration Movement brought. This simply isn’t true (the Restoration Movement itself was comprised of all kinds of different churches). Sure there are those in the denominational world who don’t think about unity, but that could be said of churchgoers everywhere.
From what I can tell, through reading books from denominational writers and speaking with those who attend other churches, they want religious unity just as bad as we do! They may go about unity in a different way, but that doesn’t change the fact that they too do not like the fractured “Christendom” that exists today.
They Don’t Care About the Truth
One thing often said of those in denominations is that they have great sincerity, but don’t have the truth. Frequently I have heard the accusations that those in denominations simply want teachings that affirm what they already believe (see 2 Tim. 4:3) and that they just don’t love truth. If this is true why did 37% of people in this poll say that sermons should be somewhere between 35-55 minutes long? Why are there thousands of views of sermons 45 minutes in length, preached by denominational preachers on YouTube? Why does this research show that the Bible is widely favored and praised among those who call themselves “Christians” in my generation?
Yes there are a lot of people who enjoy, and prefer shorter sermons out there (that’s not to say that shorter sermons equate to less love of the Bible), but the fact that so many want to hear long sermons and watch videos of longer sermons indicate that those in denominations have a great love for the Bible. Just because someone interprets the Bible in a different way or practices doctrines we believe are wrong, that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about truth.
Changing Our Response
I’m a believer in doing better. Sometimes “better” results from looking at the successes of others, other times it results from looking critically at ourselves. It can be tempting for us to look at the growing denominations around us and say “they’re only growing because of gimmicks” or that “it’s sad to see how many don’t love truth”, but that’s not being fair to those people.
Instead of saying “they’re only growing because of gimmicks” we ought to examine the biblical things they are practicing well. Instead of saying “I guess they just don’t love the truth” we should observe their approach to the Biblical text. Instead of assuming that those in other places were growing based off of lies and fluff sermons, we need to listen to them and hear what they’re saying.
I believe that Christ established and died for one church, but that doesn’t mean that those other churches out there with whom I don’t fully agree are truth and unity-hating monsters. The fact of the matter is, there are things we can learn from denominations. At the very least, we need to change the way we view people in denominations if we ever want to reach them.
Extend the same courtesy you would want others to extend to you. I don’t want people hearing that I go to the Church of Christ to think “he must think he’s the only one going to heaven!” I want them to give me a shot…it’s only right that I give others a shot as well. Let’s do away with our misconceptions of denominations and those in them, and extend others the courtesy of listening to what they have to say, even if we may disagree. You may be surprised at the common ground we share and the opportunity for conversation that it brings.