“Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it…. We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”
G. K. Chesterton; Heretics, “On The Negative Spirit“
The movement which I grew up in – a movement away from denominationalism – i.e., to define oneself to be within a certain theological tradition, confession and/or creed – is a curious proposition.
The attempt at non-denominational is commendable in one aspect in that it seeks to distance oneself from the divisive nature that inherently exists among a massive group trying to align themselves around the truth. Even this article itself is divisive.
But non-denominationalism, at it’s heart, is a defective and broken system that cannot pinpoint themselves to align solidly with one set of doctrine or practice. For non-denominationalism asserts, at its core, that it rejects definition. They are “non“- denominational. The term or appellation is used in such a way that they wish not even to be known as “non-denominational” yet their “kind” is so clearly discerned.
Though many non-denominational churches adhere to a specific set of doctrine, what one encounters is that these doctrines are very broad in their definitions (in terms of ecclesiastical function) and therefore they are much more implicit in than explicit in the context of the life blood of the activities of the church. A broad definition is necessary, but a scientist does not simply stop at calling all haired animals “mammals”. A dog is a mammal and so is a cat, but a dog is not a cat.
Non-denomination asserts a non-willingness to the specific, for that is the very thing that got them in trouble in the first place – specificity is what caused all the trouble, so we shall avoid it (often at all costs). Denomination – the act of naming, which is more acutely, the act of specifying what something is (which is, at the same time, defining what it is not) is opposed to non-denominationalism.
Hence within a non-denominational church, you have the meeting point of a thousand different ‘perspectives’ yet many congregants are hard pressed to define what the unsurrenderable doctrines are. Many in the upper-echelon may be able to define a creed of some sort, but this creed (if there is one that exists) is not impressed upon the congregants.
Hence, the shift in modern non-denominational churches away from a clear-cut presentation of the statement of beliefs, and now towards a “statement of direction” which is cloaked in the business-language of “Purpose and Mission”.
Who we are is now defined by our “activities” not our “beliefs” since our beliefs are “non-denominated” – they are, at the core – not specified. If we were to define ourselves in terms of “beliefs” then we would undermine the very essence of our “non-denomination”. Since we cannot ultimately land ourselves upon denomination, we must land somewhere else.
When solid definition is lost, a group must justify it’s existence. Arrangement around a core set of beliefs is what creates a group in the first place. But, since for the non-denominationalist, definition is retracted, what then is it’s purpose for existence?
That must be upon our direction. And if we are to have direction, it must always be “forward” (whatever that means).
Since forward or progress must be our direction (for certainly we cannot go backwards!) then we mus grow, for what is a more defined evidence of forward movement and progress than growth?
Belief is not sufficient ultimately. It is seen as a means to an end. Belief brings you to the edge, effort (Purpose and Mission) brings you in. Were we to define ourselves in terms of belief, we would run the risk of failing to “grow”.
But the Christian faith is first and foremost truth-based. Given human weakness and fallibility we are certainly going to disagree, but this need not deter us from standing firm upon the truth and defining ourselves in terms of it. Let others name us or let us name ourselves – naming is the duty of man, God commissioned Adam to taxonomy anyway – for we must be specific, or else we run the risk of non-specificity, and if we are not specific about who and what we are, then people run the risk of not knowing who or what we believe ultimately, and if this is such, we should fail in an even worse enterprise – the Mission itself, for no one will have anything to believe since the beliefs have not been denominated.
The non-denominationalist loses his place in the marketplace of ideas. Where the Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, and Nazarene may come together to discuss matters of truth, the non-denominationalist cannot participate. The non-denominationalist might reject this on the grounds that he rejects the divisive nature of the meeting, but the underlying reason is that he has shrunk back from the definition required to participate. He cannot contribute for the very reason that he has nothing to contribute. To comment would only be oxymoronic since he would ultimately not adhere to any set conclusion on such matters, otherwise one would violate the first commandment of non-denominationalism – definition.
The movement away from denomination is reaching it’s zenith in the evangelical church. Within the next generation the non-denominational church will be in a crisis. It will either have to surrender its “non”ness. It will either be surrendered to liberal tendencies and degenerate into more and more scriptural error, or else it will have to conform to the voices of denominationalsim, for they are solid.
The crisis is already evident in such churches as Willow Creek, where they polled their congregants to see how they were doing, and found, not surprisingly, that those who considered themselves “Mature” were largely if not entirely dissatisfied with their church. Willow Creek may continue to exist for another generation or two simply because of its economical prowess and the marketing power that is derived from such resources. But we will not be surprised when, in order to sustain itself, Willow Creek surrenders to full-blown non-denominationalism and swallows the liberal tendencies whole.