‘Denomination’ is not a dirty word

‘Denomination’ is not a dirty word

Many people today cannot see any benefit to denominations. There has been an explosion of independent or pseudo-independent churches in the last few decades. After all, it fits with our independent culture; why should anyone else tell me what to do in my local church? Why do I need some dated bureaucratic structure that simply leads to more meetings?

In addition, some denominations have been heading down unbiblical directions with their beliefs or practice. This has been a discouragement for many Bible-believing Christians watching on while also causing serious issues for churches in those structures who remain faithful to the Scriptures.

I can see that denominational structures can cause problems. They are made up of sinful people so none of us should be surprised by this. Yet my church and I remain an active part of our denomination, the Westminster Presbyterian Church. There is real benefit and encouragement to be found in a godly, faithful denomination.

There is a strong Biblical basis to churches being connected to one another. When Paul and Barnabas faced a serious theological problem in Antioch, they sought the advice of the elders from the wider church in Acts 15. When the church in Jerusalem suffered through a famine, churches throughout the known world contributed to help. When Paul wrote a letter to one church, he often asked for it to be distributed to other churches for the issues faced in other places were likely similar. The idea of a local church isolated from the wider Christian community is a modern one, not a Biblical one.

In my experience there have also been significant advantages in being part of a denomination of like-minded people. Some of these advantages are structural, like having confidence in the training and examination of elders and pastors. Smaller churches have been helped with borrowed elders and preachers. But there are other advantages that are personal and relational. I am part of a network of people who can help one another. When I need advice, I can pick up the phone. Conversely, I am in a position to encourage brothers who are in more isolated ministries than I am.

Denominations can be a force for good, not only a hindrance or distraction from ministry. If carefully considered and well-ordered, denominational structures should be a benefit for everyone. We must be stronger together than by ourselves.

Let’s be honest. There are dangers and drawbacks too. Any ministry structure can generate unnecessary meetings. There can be issues around unity and theology. A range of people considering the same issue might well come up with different convictions on what to do about it. Yet, for all of that, a denomination that holds to God’s word and has strong training and examination processes should be a great benefit to the wider church.