Navigating denominations

The Bible describes the church as the body of Christ. When witnessing to unbelievers, how does one respond to questions related to the various denominations within the church.

How does one distinguish between sound doctrine vs. heresy/incorrect doctrines? Are there any practical guidelines that would help evaluate a church/denomination before committing to it… Would love to hear from the group.

12 Likes

@Rakesh_Chowdhury Great question. I’ve included a few fuller threads on denominations below. I think the short answer is the famous saying:

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

There are essentials in the Christian faith that all Christians throughout history have held to - the deity of Jesus Christ, the physical resurrection, the reality of Christ’s return at the end of time, the resurrection of the dead, the day of judgment… Non-essentials include your view of the age of the earth, your eschatology, your view of baptism as sprinkling or dunking… We must decide for ourselves through study what constitutes the ‘essentials’. We can join any denomination that we believe agrees on these essentials and shows liberty in non-essentials - allowing people to disagree with condemning them.

My favorite Church I have ever attended was Baptist, but the denomination is not why I liked it. The pastor had a 3 tier policy - certain doctrines were tier 1, some tier 2 and others tier 3. All members were expected to agree on tier 1 - Jesus is God, the resurrection, etc. But on tier 2 - baptism - or tier 3 - eschatology or similar - he allowed a great degree of freedom and room for loving discussion among brothers and sisters. And with those whom they considered outside the faith, they were very gracious,m patient and kind. I really liked that Church - in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

9 Likes

Thanks, @SeanO. After I’d posted the question, I was going through the post you’ve shared. :).
I think the challenge I’ve faced is with a particular denomination that does believe in the essential doctrines, but has a very strong leaning towards specific practices that it expects all the members to follow - for example, confessing sins to other members (disciplers) who may or may not really be spiritually mature, over emphasis on inviting people to church to the point where it feels like a perennial marketing campaign, lack of in-depth teaching, not willing to associate with any other denomination, etc.

So while the essential belief in the Trinity, salvation through Jesus, and baptism are in place, the practices and the expectations from the members seem unreasonable and constricting.

3 Likes

@Rakesh_Chowdhury Orthodoxy is correct belief, orthopraxy is correct conduct. A Church can hold to orthodoxy while not having correct orthopraxy. I believe we should look for a Church that has correct orthodoxy and correct orthopraxy. What you described - requiring the confessing of sins - sounds manipulative to me and would be improper orthopraxy. An unwillingness to associate with other Churches shows a lack of love for brothers and sisters and closed mindedness - again bad orthopraxy. Sometimes a Churches’ actions shows that it does not really believe what it claims to believe - its walk does not match its talk - and that’s a problem too.

That is one reason I would never choose a denomination - instead, I always choose a local Church. At the denomination level you can get an imperfect guarantee of orthodoxy, but no guarantee at all of orthopraxy. Orthopraxy always depends on the local Church - not the denomination. So I think finding a Church with good orthodoxy and orthopraxy is a journey - it has been for me every single time I’ve moved. I’ve never picked a Church with the same denomination after moving - I’ve always found one where I sensed the Spirit was moving and they held to both orthodoxy and acceptable orthopraxy.

There is no perfect local Church, but I think it is important, as you pointed out, to try to find somewhere that is not manipulative or unwise in their orthopraxy. As James so famously says, faith without works is dead. Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is empty.

Do you find the concepts of orthodoxy and orthopraxy helpful?

6 Likes

Thanks @SeanO. This was really helpful! I agree with the position that Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy must go together.

2 Likes

@Rakesh_Chowdhury Great to hear! May the Lord Jesus guide you guys to a good local Church.

2 Likes

I have noticed the biggest questions people have is whether or not a church believes in the inerrancy of the bible. Especially Bible churches and non-denominational churches. Can you speak to that?

1 Like

@Daphne_Corder What was the context of their question? Help me understand a bit more what their struggle is regarding the Church and the Bible. It is important that a Church believe that Scripture is ‘breathed by God’, as Timothy says.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 - All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

@Lakshmismehta has some good thoughts on how we know the Bible is inspired and what inspiration means in the thread below:

Theologian Carl F. H. Henry defines inspiration of scripture as - “Inspiration is a supernatural influence upon the divinely chosen prophets and apostles whereby the Spirit of God assures the truth and trustworthiness of their oral and written presentations”

2 Likes

@Daphne_Corder, hope you find the information on the inspiration of the Bible from the past post helpful. To me faith in the inspiration of the Bible seems logically necessary to assess the legitimacy of the beliefs of different denominations. The Bible would serve as the objective reference point when opinions differ especially on matters such as pursuing a relationship with God. With a lowered view of the Bible, slowly everything will become open to one’s own interpretation, feelings and experiences. In short, Christian faith would become relativistic much like our popular culture. Another big issue I see with doubting the Bible as a Christian is that it weakens our ability to receive from the Word and be strong in our christian walk ( James 1:6-7). The word of God nourishes our faith, provides promises of hope, gives direction, is our shield against lies and so much more! There are also warnings in the Bible not to remove or add anything to it (Rev 22:19). So, if a church as a whole is moving away from the orthodox authority of the Bible, its a dangerous sign. It’s like moving backward from special revelation in the Bible back to general revelation in nature. I believe the term used is " Progressive Christianity " for this kind of belief. I think we as humans tend to misplace the qualifier of truth of the Bible in our judgement of who God should be like or how much God should have revealed clearly in the Bible. When questions of errancy arise we are not always quick to consider - what facts/ evidences the proponents of errancy are basing it on, are cultural considerations taken into account, is reinterpretation possible without sacrificing established truths, what about the rest of the Bible that has evidence etc. Look forward to other thoughts that this may have led to. God bless!

5 Likes

@Rakesh_Chowdhury

I think this is historically one of the most difficult questions that faces the Christian worldview. The simple, historical fact is that the church has seemed to be divided almost since day 1. We see in Galatians for example, or 1 John, that there are already heretical communities of ‘Christians’ with their own preachers who are preaching some false Gospel. So, how do we know which communities, or today, denominations are heretical or not? Can a community be wrong about doctrines, but not heretical? How many or which doctrines determine if one is on this side or that side of heresy?

I’ve been working through a series on the early Christian creeds here that tries to get some clarity on this issue. I think if we can ground orthodoxy in a historical, apostolic witness of the earliest eyewitnesses and companions of Jesus, then we have a coherent set of core beliefs that can ground our “mere Christianity.” However, the Creeds are just an outline, the Bible must fill in the rest.

Here is the link to that series, I hope it helps some.

in Christ,
Anthony

4 Likes

Thanks, @anthony.costello. It’s true. Divisions in the interpretation and application of the scriptures dates back to the early days. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that - Truth is what you believe in. If you’re truly convinced about something, that becomes the truth for you.
Irrespective of the arguments for and against various denominations and groups, a believer has to go on this journey to discover the truth. No wonder our Savior so rightly said ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’. While we may be looking for spiritual fellowship in a local congregation or church, the journey to knowing God and having an intimate relationship with Jesus is always a personal one.

3 Likes

I totally agree on your approach to picking a local church in most cases and that’s how we’ve found the churches where we’ve lived around the world. We attended a Baptist church in Kansas, Assemblies of God in Western Australia, Methodist church in Singapore and currently attend a Pentecostal church here in Texas (thought you wouldn’t know it… no tambourines or people dancing in the isles or anything!)

I’m no expert on denominations but aren’t there some churches that are more “congregational” i.e. each local church mostly governs itself with some oversight from a central group, whereas others are more strictly hierarchical? I’m not saying either approach is good or bad, but it might shift how you pick your church and how much you consider the relevance of the denomination.

And my favorite apologist when it comes to denominations is Tim Hawkins… “Non-denominational is just a baptist church with a cool website”!

5 Likes

@Andrew_Shaw Lol - nice Hawkins reference. Yes, the denomination I am in now is more congregational. I remember meeting a guy at the Urbana missions conference who said he was “Pentecostal, but not one of those…” He gave a list of qualifiers. I think when he said pentecostal he meant that he still believed that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of the believer and in some of the gifts still being active today.

I really appreciate your testimony - finding a local Church is really about so much more than just the denomination. Each local Body is unique and each of us is unique - so I think it takes time, discernment and the Spirit’s guidance.

1 Like

A great question. I refer you first to Revelation chapters 2 and 3. The point is that most all Christian churches, even in the early church, did not earn a rebuke from Jesus. Jesus himself also warned his followers of false prophets. In my opinion, and the opinion of many, the enemy of the bride of Jesus, His Church, is not atheism but the apostate church. The Truth is Jesus and as in all things spiritual for which I have difficult questions I do three things. I make no hasty decision. I search for the answer in Scripture, the Word of God. I pray for the answer until it is received.

1 Like

Thank you all so much for this thread - quite fascinating discussion! I’ve really enjoyed and grown through this and several other threads on Christian denominations.

I’d be curious to learn from you all what the journey of finding a local church has looked like for y’all? From my personal experience, (most) church websites profess believing in Jesus and if you were to ask the average church member in the US on a given Sunday who Jesus is, they could tell you He is their Lord and Savior. How does one discern true orthodoxy and orthopraxy?

I’ve been in a transient phase of life as an intern and college student, and am looking at another temporary move this summer. I’d love for this summer to be a time of growth in my faith, alongside other believers. I yearn to jump straight into a church and engage in Bible study and worship and Christian living. As a young, single believer, I guess I’m a bit nervous that without someone to discuss my experiences with afterwards that maybe I could be easily swayed. I anticipate that my place of work for the summer will be a highly secular environment, and I don’t yet know other believers in the area to pick their brains on good churches to get plugged into.

In some ways, maybe my millennial side is showing – maybe I’m looking for a “quick” way to go through a journey that God is really calling us to take on as a slow journey with Him. I’d be curious, if y’all could share, what the journey toward finding a church home looks like practically?

2 Likes

@wbowman Here are a few thoughts from my own personal experience seeking a Church. I do think that after you’ve prayerfully done some research you just have to go out there and visit Churches. When you find one you want to try out, join a singles group or a small group and start to try to get a feel for the community. After a few months, if you still sense God’s leading, consider serving or becoming a member. At least that is the process I generally follow.

Determining My Stage of Life / What Type of Church Appropriate

What are my gifts (teaching, leading worship, administration, etc)? How do I want to plug in?

Who am I responsible for (spouse, children, friends who join you, etc) and what are their spiritual/safety needs? How do they want to plug in?

Qualities I Look For in a Church

1 - Clear, Biblical teaching - sermon outlines are helpful in my opinion and show the teacher actually prepared well (or at least tried)

2 - Healthy community (no recent splits, apparent bigotry, irresponsible use of finances) - I personally have ended up at Churches where the Pastor has been there for 10+ years - in my limited experience they have been more stable

3 - A Place to Serve

4 - Accountability (Leaders are not appointed without background checks, etc)

5 - Clearly stated beliefs - no clear statement of faith sends up red flags for me

6 - Good google reviews - def should not be the determining factor, but if half of the people who have reviewed it are upset, this may be a sign of broken community or manipulative behavior on the part of the leaders

Making the Decision

I think it takes time in a community and daily prayer to discern if a community is the right place to invest and be invested in. I would rather go without a home Church for 3-6 months while discerning God’s leading than jump in somewhere that is unhealthy spiritually or socially only to be hurt or forced to leave. That could still happen, but it seems to happen far less when I take the time to discern.

2 Likes

Thank you @SeanO! I completely missed this thread :slight_smile:

I greatly appreciate these good questions and qualities to pray through. Thanks for sharing what has helped you on your journey!

2 Likes

@wbowman Sure thing. May the Lord Jesus guide you as you seek Christian community.

2 Likes

If I might add, one thing to look for is love. Genuine love for Jesus and love for people are what make good churches. Not always easy to figure out in a single visit but you can usually tell after a few weeks between what is preached, how they worship and the interactions outside of a Sunday morning service.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

4 Likes

@Andrew_Shaw Thanks so much for sharing this! Really good insight, and a helpful reminder of what really sets Christian community apart.

It’s something I’ve been praying through at the church I’ve been attending at school. I was pretty invested in it, but when Easter rolled around I was shocked to spend the Sunday reading Job with nary a mention of the resurrection. Certainly more than it should have, it shook the faith of my friend and I and knocked us flat for a bit. However, a few of our department’s faculty attend the church, and I can see that they do their jobs differently and take care of their students in a way that is unique from non-believing faculty.

Thanks for this humbling reminder of what Christian living and community looks like in the big picture. I guess in my mind I’m eager to seek what can be easily and objectively measured, but we really are called to love Christ with our heart, soul, and mind.

4 Likes