As I’m sure many of us (at least in the United States) have noticed, there’s been a major uptick in non-denominational Christianity in recent decades, both in terms of the number and size of non-denominational congregations. Many people seem to view this development as either positive or neutral: Without squabbling over finer points of doctrine, non-denominational churches may prove more accessible new Christians, promote greater diversity within the congregation, and, at any rate, if they are successful in bringing people to Christ, what difference does it make?
Personally, though, I’m a bit more skeptical. Although my direct exposure to non-denominational Christianity is somewhat limited (I was part of a non-denominational church during my undergraduate days), my experience, observations, and reasoning lead me to believe that the current trend may not be all good. Here are a few of the issues I see:
Nondenominational congregations tend toward congregationalism, which, as far as I can tell, tends to promote the development of church bodies centered around the teaching of a particular pastor (or pastors) rather than an established set of shared doctrines; the members of such churches are therefore at a greater risk of falling prey to a form of celebrity worship.
As another consequence of congregationalism, external accountability of non-denominational churches is almost necessarily voluntary, meaning that the pastors of such churches may be free to operate however they wish and/or surround themselves with like-minded people who are less likely to question their actions. A potential result is that one person more easily gains too much power, falls into disgrace, and shakes (if not shatters) the faith of his followers. The problem may be magnified even further if satellite campuses (which seem to be more common among nondenominational churches) are involved. In essence, the church is like the seed sown in rocky soil, which springs up quickly but cannot stand under adversity because it lacks deep roots.
When inter-church relations are voluntary, church discipline becomes considerably more challenging to implement effectively; the person or people who have stepped out of line may just go to another church down the road without any repercussions for their actions. (Yes, I realize that this is a problem anyway on account of there being so many denominations these days, but denominational churches at least have the ability to implement discipline more effectively intra-denominationallly.)
I worry that much of the appeal of non-denominational churches stems from a basic lack of biblical literacy and a feelings-driven view of the Christian experience. Most of the non-denominational congregations I’ve seen or heard of tend to be minimalist in their doctrinal affirmations, rarely recite the ancient creeds (ex. the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed), and only occasionally practice the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Additionally, the worship experience seems to be centered around inducing particular feelings (usually euphoric) within the individual, rather than promoting corporate expressions of praise, confession, thanksgiving, etc.
Perhaps I’m being overly cynical, and perhaps others have had different experiences. Do you think that the rise of non-denominational Christianity is a positive development, symptomatic of underlying problems, or something else entirely?