Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Denominations Are Dying

Allow me just one more quick reflection on my brother Jamie's ordination this past week.  Many of my friends and congregants have asked me about my brother Jamie's ordination at San Marino Community Church, outside of Pasadena, California  The specific question people have asked is, "What denomination was Jamie being ordained into?"  The answer is; "The Presbyterian Church, USA."  And then the follow-up question has been, "But how can Jamie, your brother, be ordained in the PC USA, you be ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Order (ECO), and your father in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)?  How can one family occupy and be ordained in three different denominations?  My answer is just as simple:

Denominations are Dying

There is no material theological difference between Jamie, my father and I.  We are are all pragmatic evangelicals.  We all are conservative on the main theological hotpoint issues (the transformation of the incarnation of Christ, fostering a culture of life, same sex union, the authority of Scripture...).  We all went to different seminaries but trained in the same basic theological rubrics (Greek, Hebrew, History, Theology...), and we all wear black robes on occasion when preaching and wear ripped jeans on other occasions when preaching.  And for all of us, the call to serve has been much more important than the denomination in which we serve.  Our feeling has been that the Holy Spirit calls us to a particular church, and we serve, no matter what the denomination is.

First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs has often been called a "Bapterian Church" (a combination of Baptist and Presbyterian). I have always loved this combination in a church.  Presbyterians, in general, care a lot about process and about an elder led government, and about deep thoughtfulness when it comes to Biblical exposition.  Baptists, in general, care a lot about doctrine and evangelism.  Presbyterians and Baptists are a good marriage in my mind.  However, the truth be told, First Pres really isn't a Bapterian Church.

First Pres is a really a Penta-Bapto-NonDenomo-Mennanito-Charismato-CMAo-Episcopo-Lutherano-Catholico-TERIAN church.  

In other words we have Pentacostals, Baptists, NonDenoms, Mennonites, Charismatics, Christian Missionary Alliance, Episcopalian, Catholic, Lutheran and Presbyterians all under one roof (and that is just in the small group that meets each week in the church plaza).  And, if we were to do a sample inventory of First Pres on any given Sunday, we would find that the church has many, many more denominations being represented.  And First Pres is not alone or unique in this regard.

Fulller Theological Seminary did a study not too long ago in which they studied churches that had a denominational name under their title, and that particular church's individual growth potential, verses churches that didn't have a denomination in their title. In one amusing case (I believe it was Redeemer Lutheran Church), they found that the church grew more at the end of the month than it did at the beginning of the month.  Why was this the case?  Was the preaching any different at the end at the end of the month?  No.  Was the programming different at the end of the month?  No.  Was there more outreach at the end of the month?  No.  The reason turned out to be that the church gardener trimmed the hedge in front of the sign at the beginning of the month, and uncovered the denominational sign (Redeemer Lutheran), but then at the end of the month, the hedge grew over the sign and so it was just "Redeemer".  The church grew faster without the denominational sign.

Of course, it needs to be said that there are significant differences between denominations.  A denomination means more than just a name - it connotes historical background, core convictions, core beliefs, core attitudes, and world view.  And, of course, most of the major non-denominational churches are actually denominational churches who are hiding behind a non-denominational title (Saddleback is Southern Baptist, Willow Creek is Reformed, Northpoint is Baptist, LifeChurch.Org has Methodist underpinnings).  But the fact that these fast growing churches are not highlighting their denominational connections points to the larger public's desire to be a part of something larger than a small club of believers.  Trust me on this one:

Denominations are Dying

But in it's place, I believe something better is emerging.  A church that is truly kingdom focussed, has fewer walls or divisions, that strives to include the best parts of all evangelical denominations, and...that doesn't spend so much money on church gardens or hedges...

All For Now,

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