Rise of Non-Denominationalism: Good or Bad?

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.)

  4. 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?

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@MicahB I would like to share my experience with non-denominational churches. I have just been a member of two churches in my life and both of them would be considered “non-denominational fellowships”. I have no experience with these churches in the US, however, all of my experience has been in Asia.
The first church that I was involved in was part of a larger church group. There was an oversight from the external organization to some degree. Both of these churches had/have a clear statement of faith, very similar to the one used by RZIM or the Nicene Creed.
It is funny that you mention church discipline as this is a factor that led me to become born again. In my home church and while visiting a church in another large Asian city I witnessed two situations where elders had to be asked to leave their positions due to discipline issues. This greatly impacted me as in the Catholic church in Ireland, it is completely acceptable to be sinning and attending with no consequence.
To sum up, my experience with non-denominational churches has been very positive. It has given me the opportunity to worship with Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans and Charismatics and to benefit from learning from their different views.
This is just my experience, however, I am sure there are places where this is not the case. I hope this helps.

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Hi @MicahB,

I’m going to jump right in. Your first two points seem, at least to me, to be human problems. Blindly swallowing what you are being fed, do you not have your own Word to study? I’ve made the same mistake when I was much younger and it cost me half my life, it did however teach me one of the most valuable lessons.

About churches not being accountable do you not think that perhaps the congregation in some way has to be answered to? If they are not happy (satisfied with the level of righteousness) that they will then move on?

I do have a criticism of many churches. I’ve not done the apologetics course so this is me as in the flesh as I can be. My biggest complaint is what I call blatant idol worship. The fact that everything is sold, forgiveness in the middle ages, teachings and merchandise today, actually infuriates me.

Did you know that you can get the satanic Bible, countless occultism books and worse I won’t mention here, all for free? Why is everything Christian for sale? Freely I received?

So again I put it down to being part of the “human condition”, born into sin, serving the ruler of this world.

Please engage with me if you feel I have made a mistake anywhere.
@Jesse_Means_God_Exists I love that we are able to have open and honest discussions without fear, but rather an expectation for an environment to learn.

I pray John 15:26 over the whole earth.
Bless you…

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Jesse_Means_God_Exists has a valid and cautionary thought.

JESUS said it more succinctly. " And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us."
“But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.”
“For he that is not against us is on our part.” Mark 9:38-40.

And again. " And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
“Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?”
Matthew 7:3-4.

Perhaps this is why unbelievers think some of the best sinners they know are in the Church. It’s just a question, but it’s a wasteful question because its about doctrinal differences. And how one is better than the other.

The problem is not denominational versus non-denominational. The problem is, people. So, wherever we are you can bet, wrong will be there. Our solution rest in our persistence to pray for one another.

Meanwhile, souls are being lost as we wrangle with one another about our differences.

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Some interesting points have been brought up. Yes, of course the sinfulness of the human heart is at the root of problems within the church; all the same, I expect that, as in secular government, some systems of church government may be better than others at promoting accountability and incorporating appropriate checks and balances. If there is anything to the suggestion that a particular church type lends itself to the creation of shallow-rooted Christians, I think that is something that warrants serious consideration. I want the Church to be filled with people who can stand up to adversity, not people whose faith looks shiny on the outside but is weak and rotten at the core.

One of the main reasons I left the church I attended for two years was because I began to worry that the leadership had adopted a growth-at-all-costs mentality that was bound to lead to trouble. After years of being a mobile church, the congregation was finally in the process of transitioning toward a permanent building, yet the senior pastor’s attitude seemed less one of gratitude and excitement for what God would do in this next season of the church’s ministry than one of the new building being a stepping stone toward his ultimate vision of a megachurch with satellite campuses; on more than one occasion, he claimed that God had given him a vision of one day preaching before thousands, which increasingly struck me as a rather self-serving goal. (When visiting another church during an internship that summer, the lack of such ambitions behind its history of rather impressive growth stood out to me.) Even more concerning was the recollection that the senior pastor, who held credentials for multiple denominations, had once told me that his wife had actually done all the work to earn his credentials for at least one denomination, which I now saw to be dishonest and geared toward appealing to as many people as possible.

There were other factors behind my ultimate decision to search for a new home church, but perhaps you can see why a lack of built-in structures for external accountability concerns me. Internal accountability to the congregation does not seem sufficient to me; that can too easily devolve into a contest of popularity that has little to do with what is true and wise. Then too, much of the New Testament was written by people higher up in the church (particularly Paul) calling others out for their mistakes and giving instructions on how to chose their leaders and structure their congregations and worship.

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@cer7 and @Jesse_Means_God_Exists Hello to both of you :slight_smile: I sincerely apologize if I came across as being short or dismissive, I think it was almost 2am when I was trying to respond, doesn’t matter I’m sorry.
I do agree wholeheartedly that we need to be building each other up, “Do you love me? Then feed my lambs”.

Further to the discussion we are warned of all the false prophets to come. 1 Timothy 4:1. John 14:26
Be guided people, but live in 2 Peter 1:3-11
Bless you all :slight_smile:

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That is a Good question for new Believers. The born again Christian must now decide on who’s Church to attend. This may help: (P. T. A.) .Pray,Think,Act. Pray the Holy Spirit guides them. Think about what scripture says about what a Church should be about and Act on such wisdom. God is Good to All. Fred Proch

@MicahB First off, I praise Jesus for all of the faithful leaders doing His work in both denominational and non-denominational context! I am so thankful that the Gospel is being preached and people served with God’s love :slight_smile:

I think the first question we need to ask is - why are people leaving denominational Churches? And I think there are some legitimate answers to that question. The twitter poll linked at the bottom cites two - misuse of finances and unhelpful bureaucracy - that I can testify to having seen. We have also seen large denominations covering abuse in recent times, which is also another factor that could motivate people to seek out new communities. So before bashing non-denominational Churches, I think we need to understand that there is a valid reason they are becoming more common.

Regarding your specific points:

  1. I think that celebrity style Church can occur even within denominational Churches as well. Any strong leader is at risk of people latching onto them rather than doing the hard work of getting in the Word and being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

  2. Denominations are prone to the same issues - we have seen how large religious organizations have failed to hold individual’s accountable or silenced victims of emotional or physical abuse. The size of an organization does not correlate to whether or not they practice transparency and accountability.

  3. I do not think it is the Church’s responsibility to make sure someone suffers for their actions. Sin has its own consequences and God disciplines those whom He loves. As long as the Church upholds holiness within its own sphere of influence, I think that is all that we are called to do.

  4. I think we have to consider each individual Church on a case by case basis to understand if their focus is on emotions alone or if they are helping people become true disciples of Christ. Painting in broad strokes is probably not helpful here…

Informal Twitter Poll

I found the results of this informal twitter poll interesting. People cited a lack of good stewardship of finances and bureaucracy as two negatives of denominations. I would echo those concerns honestly, though I am not saying that non-denominational Churches are the answer. I belong to a denominational Church, but one where each individual Church is given a large amount of autonomy.

In light of the growth of these churches, I conducted an informal Twitter poll and asked why people are moving to non-denominational congregations from churches affiliated with denominations. Here are the top eight responses in order. There is obvious overlap in some of the responses.

  1. Denominational churches have a negative reputation. Some respondents used the phrase “negative brand” to communicate this reason.
  2. Denominations are known more for what they are against than what they are for.
  3. There is too much infighting and politics in denominations.
  4. The denominational churches are too liberal. From what I can tell from these respondents, they are current and former members of mainline churches.
  5. There is a general waning of institutional loyalty in institutions such as denominations.
  6. Denominations have inefficient systems and organizations. They are too bureaucratic.
  7. Some of the respondents could see no perceived benefit to belonging to denominations.
  8. Denominations are not good stewards of their financial resources.
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@Jax. No offense was taken. But your apology was a lovely gesture. Thank you.

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@MicahB. Micah, I have been a member of three non-denominational church since 1980. For most of that time, I was pretty committed to that form of church government. I was always very committed to the church body that I felt God had called me. The churches I was in have plural elderships, not a senior pastor and elders were chosen from within the church not hired from outside.

This had some advantages but now I see many disadvantages which you have pointed out. So I don’t need to repeat. They are all valid concerns. Looking back over all the teaching and doctrines about church government it seems easy to justify whichever model you subscribe to. The common problem is human nature. People are all the same, so whether you have a senior pastor or plural eldership, denomination or non-denomination there are going to be problems.

It is interesting that as much as we seem to try to find the right model for the church, Jesus actually taught very little about church government. The only teaching I know of from Jesus is Matt 20:25-28
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I think that Jesus knew that any form of church government that He instituted would get abused because we are not very good at fulfilling this one command.

We try hard to come up with the best way to do church but most churches miss this simple teaching. Now if Jesus couldn’t prevent the problems by laying down a clear model for the church then I doubt we will be able to come up with something on our own that will work other than just being a servant.

I think our only recourse is to be a part of whatever church God wants us in and accept it the way that it is. Certainly, there may be times when God wants us to address certain issues but I don’t think the bride will become spotless by finding the right form of church government.

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