Every Greek student — which should be a set including all pastors who read this blog, plus — knows the men...de construction. It's the way a Greek writer says, "On the one hand... and on the other hand." Like, "Men, Viggo Mortenson was really great as Aragorn; de, he can really, um, not come off so bright."
I've got one of those on denominations.
One big criticism of anti-denominationalists is that denominations are divisive. However, that can only be harmfully so among denominations. If members of denominations decide that only their denomination is 100% right, and everyone else is in the outer darkness, this is harmfully divisive. How many really, formally do, however?
My late father liked to chuckle about the church in which he grew up. I won't identify it... beyond speculating that "Church Organist" would never have been on their yearly budget.
Dad chuckled because his father always insisted that theirs was the only true church. All the others were "just denominations." So, we concluded, they were the only non-denominational denomination.
Exclusivist denominations can be harmful among denominations. But within them?
If you oppose denominations because they're divisive, what would you propose in their stead? Every Sunday, debate afresh over what the meaning of Communion is? Every time someone has a baby, debate over whether to "baptize" that baby, and if so, how to do it, and what it would mean? Every Sunday morning service, debate over whether you even have a pastor or not, or whether you have to have at least seven of them, and whether he/they should preach, or whether everyone should just pop up and pop off as he "feels led" -- and whether the brethren should be joined in this by the sisteren?
Having some sort of denominational standard actually promotes unity—within that denomination.
Now look, I know there are many shades of denominations, and ways to be independent yet (somehow) associated. In my view, there are strengths and weaknesses to virtually any structure you propose. The former would include the fact that pooled resources can form bases for more endeavors, the possibility of accountability and doctrinal form/stability, and so forth. The latter would feature "Weakest Link" phenomena, mission creep, an oppressive or ineffective degree of organizational control and discipline, and the like.
Well, except your denomination, I'm sure. All strengths, no real weaknesses. Right? Right.
But my point, as I said, is that the concept actually promotes unity in its way. Ideally, we'd all be 100% right about everything, and would 100% agree about everything. Some of my readers may think they fit in the first category. If they were to admit it, the Comments section would soon prove that the second does not yet obtain.
This is not the ideal, but it is the way it is. Agreement like that will not be seen until every one of us gets a passing grade in Remedial Theology 101 at the start of the Milliennial Kingdom -- or, if you prefer, the Grand Eternal Happy Blur, or The Long, Long More of the Same, or whatever it is you're looking forward to.
So how do we approximate Paul's call to "be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10)? Denominations are one way to do that. So your Presbyterian church doesn't have a big argument every time the pastor wants to spatter a baby, and your Baptist church doesn't have a schism every time a baby is born because the pastor won't agree to attach religious significance to getting the little feller wet. You're at peace, you're agreed, you get along. It's all-good. Considering.
Plus, as I alluded, denominations can enable more widespread works. Denominational financial support can support a small church in a small desert community, or start a new one in an town without a Gospel witness. Denominations can start seminaries or other Bible colleges that honor their core convictions.
In my personal observation, those fiercely opposed on principle to all denominations and anyone in them have Personal Issues. Akin to the folks who try to find their way around Scriptural commands to be involved in a local church and submit to its leadership, they just have unresolved authority issues. They haven't come to peace with Romans 13 and related truths, and see themselves as lone tumbleweeds (and a higher class of tumbleweed, at that), rather than members of a body.
These aren't noble iconoclastic reformers. They're just childish, spoiled, self-indulgent rebels who haven't embraced the Ephesians 4:1f. vision. They need to deal with that sin of categorical insubordination and self-righteous isolationism (Proverbs 18:1). They need to get their imperfect selves into an imperfect church, and start growing and serving with all the other imperfect, redeemed sinners.
Full disclosure. I wish I could be denominational. I really do. I wish I knew of one in which I just fit perfectly. (Maybe you'll point me to one.)
I love the church I attend, and its leadership. Christ is honored, God is glorified, the Word is preached wonderfully and passionately. But — God love 'em! — it's a Presbyterranean church. My convictions differ with the denominational stance on a number of matters.
So, though I'm nominated yearly for leadership offices, I can't serve. The pastor, who I love dearly, has given me many opportunities to preach, and I do other ministries. But there is, as it were, a stained-glass ceiling. I knew it going in (-- hello? "Presbyterian"?) , and that's the way it has to be. Absolutely no hard feelings about that whatever.
But I envy folks who can wholeheartedly be just Presbyterian, or _____ Baptist, or one of the other major franchises. They fit in, they can sign the contract, they buy into the whole program on church government, doctrines, and everything. It's all laid out, in the ______ Confession, or what-have-you. Must be cool. And there are some in which I could fit -- but I'll just say not in our neck of the woods at present. And in my past pastoral experience, I wasn't able to "hook up" with one of those, successfully.
Not yet. But I'm hopeful.
All that to say that I don't start out with an anti-denominational chip on my shoulder.
But there's still the de.
The Southern Baptists are notable because they are an exception to the former. However, I think all SB's who comment here will agree that, even there, all is not completely placid and united on the true essentials.
And then there's the alcohol thing.
So, what are the "major Christian(oid) denominations"? We'll all immediately think of the darlings of the lamestream media, the vaunted Big Three "Mainline" Denominations: United Methodists, United Presbyterians, United Church of Christ (who really, really need to change their name); and usually the Lutherans and Episcopilpalpalians, as well. These can just about always be counted on formally coming down on the anti-Biblical side of any pressing issue.
What would Wesley think, good and godly man that he was? Knox? Luther? One hopes that their heavenly bliss is not disturbed by awareness of the smarmy, vicious defection of which the institutions they were instrumental in beginning.
Even within sound denominations, denominational unity can be a two-edged sword, can't it? If the denominational stance is not very specific, there is room for a lot of mischief; if it is quite specific, there isn't much room for personal growth, and the panorama is more of a microrama.
Let's say (forgive my generalizing) that I have a pastor-friend in Denomination X, who agrees with their stance on Z. (Imagine Z as something consequential, but not Heaven/Hell essential.) I have a different conviction. So I talk with him, study the Word with him, and have a friendly debate. Let's say that he becomes convinced that the Scriptures teach otherwise than he has held. Otherwise than Denomination X holds.
What have I done for him?
Well, whatever else you can say about his personal growth, one thing I've done is I've lost him his job. He'll have to resign. His denomination isn't going to change their stance on Z just because he has done so. If he tried to make them do so, he would be a schismatic.
So he, his wife, his twenty-seven children, his horny toads, his cats -- all out on the street, and he as denominationally homeless as I currently am. He'll stand on street corners holding a sign that says "Will preach for food" on one side, and "Gee, thanks, Dan!" on the other.
Summary: there is no summary. I have no solution that isn't numbingly simplistic, or just dumb. Want to hear one idle thought? All decent, Biblically faithful denominations should have a "sunset clause." They should just fold, every fifty years. Everyone gets fired, has to go independent or... or get a job. Maybe they could then start back up -- but only with people who will sign the statement of faith.
Nah, that's no good. Too many loose strings and details.
What if everyone got kicked out of his denomination once a year? Then everyone would have to ask himself, "Do I believe the Bible teaches this because I'm an Epiptopresbymethobaptopalian... or am I an Epiptopresbymethobaptopalian because I believe the Bible teaches this?" And some denominations would die (—and good riddance!), and some stalled people would get growing seriously?
Naw, that's a dumb idea too.
So I guess we just have to muddle by with what we've got: imperfect, redeemed sinners pooling their resources and giving their utmost to know and serve a perfect Redeemer, to keep His truth central, and not to be unnecessarily unpleasant about it.