01 May 2007

"Men... de" on denominations

by Dan Phillips

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.

Men -- On the One Hand.
I see the sense of denominations. I really do.

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.

De -- On the Other Hand.
For one thing, name me one Christian denomination more than fifty years old that hasn't either drifted, or plummeted, left, or marched inexorably towards the faux-"right" of hidebound traditionalism.

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.

Dan Phillips's signature


Anonymous said...

This kind of sort of really resonates with me, as I have been a quasi-denominational Christian ever since receiving Christ 17 years ago. I don't see any denomination that I can fully buy into regarding doctrine and practice. Maybe that's why I've been part of local churches that are loosely denominational (EFCA), and I've focused on the ministry and doctrinal stance of the individual local church rather than the denomination.

BTW - I have the copyright on the "sistren" term, it's mine, I first coined it. Attribution where needed please.

I also like the denominational sunset idea - except for mine, of course. All those other ones out there that are - well, wrong. Maybe like a jubilee every seven years. Debts forgiven, slaves set free, land returned to original owners. Hmm, maybe something to this. I know a church administrator that would love this idea.

Neil said...

I like this post.

Jon from Bucksport said...


Thanks for another great post. I will wade in with one solution: intrerdenominational fellowship. This is one thing that has really gone off track in Fundamentalism. It started out with Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, et al who all believed the Fundamentals but has now been nearly completely taken over by Independent Baptists. So I think the balance point is that we need to have separate denominations but those denominations must realize that their distinctives are denominational and not kindgomal (if that is a word!).
I want to love those who love Christ even if they spritz their kids and even if they allow the sisteren to be deaconesses! But I may not join their church.
BTW, I admire that you are involved in a church and working with them but recusing yourself from leadership. I think too many would either leave or would accommodate but you have taken a very principled stance. I am adding that to my list of things I like about Dan.

In Him,

Anne Marie said...

Dear Brothers in Christ.

Christ prayed on the eve of his torture and death for unity among believers. So that the world would know He and the Father are one. He prayed for our unity so that we would witness His Glory to the world. This is what was on His mind as he faced an unimaginable fate. We should out of love of the Lord give it our utmost attention.

Christ founded a church, He gave His authority to it's leaders. "Who's sins you forgive, are forgiven..." His church is "the pillar and foundation of truth". His church has existed on earth for over 2,000 years, longer than any human institution. A feat I assure you is not the result of human ingenuity, given man's sinful nature. This is the result of his promise that "I am with you until the end of the age, and the gates of hell will not prevail..."

I submit that denominations are of the enemy. Confusion and division is not of God, he cannot be the author of confusion.

Is the Church flawed by human's propensity to sin, certainly? Do we then reject what Jesus suffered to bring to humanity? Only at great peril.

DJP said...


I really want to thank you first three commenters. I drafted this post months ago, then shelved it. Even now, I think the RSSers, or whatever that is, are muttering at me, because I probably re-edited another half-dozen times after posting it. But you three make me feel that the point I was trying to make may have been made, and I appreciated it.


Ann Marie, you're either new, or I'm just noticing you. But with your comments on the last two posts, you're building up, with me, a reputation for glancing at the topic of a post, and then preaching a sermon that doesn't actually engage the content of the post. I don't know where you're coming from, but it isn't looking good.

donsands said...

"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."

I have seen this first hand.

Our pastor ended a service with: "You are dismissed".
And some people really had an attitude about it. There are those in the church who don't like authority, and who don't understand eldership.
If taught correctly what eldership is biblically, some may have a change of heart and submitt, but there will others who will never submitt to elders. And they will scheme and work hard to have their own way.

My local church has split. It was , and still is, and EFCA church.

I'm now attending a Non-denom, with a fine pastor, whose congregation is three years old. And he's still seeking God how to proceed. I;m excited to be with him, as he seeks the Lord how to be a biblical local church.

Hey anne marie,

Where do you attend church? If you don't mind my asking?

Anne Marie said...


I respectfully disagree that the unity of the body of Christ is very much on point with the post. I'm simply offering a view point I don't see considered within the post.


I don't mind you asking. I'm Catholic, I assumed that was pretty obvious. As a non-denom I searched and searched but I could not find sola scriptura or sola fidelis in the bible. I found passages speaking to faith, but not to the exclusion of our actions on behalf of and at the direction of the Lord, and certainly not to the exclusion of obedience to the Lord. If He was obedient even unto death, our response to Him can be nothing less.

I've read Calvin, Luther, Piper and a host of others. The wrangling about security in salvation and denominations is not something I ever found in the bible. Does Paul correct the local churches he has founded? Yes he does. Has the body fragmented over their individual challenges? No. The body remains one.

Jesus' work is sufficent, the Church he founded remains in place, and will continue to offer the undiluted message of salvation thru Christ untill His return. Assuming one beleives what Jesus has to say on the matter, and I most certainly do. The human response to Christ’s work is the key, do we fall to our knees and cry My Lord and My God, and follow in obedience or do we fragment? I don’t find fragmentation (ie denominations) in the bible.

Nauvoo Pastor said...

The more I read this blog, the more it strikes a cord with me. I have been a part of the SBC for 36 years and know about isms, schisms, rips, and splits. I have seen way more than my share. And the issues are usually over something petty and personal. When the parties involved are approached about the doctrinal aspect, they would come back with something like this. "Doctrine, we don't argue doctrine."

Now I am a pastor of a SBC church and have to deal with the politics; which takes up way more time than anything else. The wrangling, back-room discussions, and sidebars are enough to make you nuts. What ever happened to the doctrine of the SBC? When did we decide that moving up in the convention was of greater import than teaching the Word?

Denominations? Well, we are going to have to deal with them. Man's pride will not allow nothing less. Personal theological stances will not allow for accommodation of non-essentials of the faith. Nick-picking grudges will say, "I'm leaving" instead of "I'm sorry".

For me, I can agree with the Baptist Faith and Message. I agree with James Boyce's Abstract of Theology. Why? not because of my denomination; but because of Scripture. Do I disagree with other things in the denomination? Absolutely! But I am not about to run off and start my own denomination just because there are two hard-headed, pride-pillows having a disagreement over some trivial non-essentials, while lost souls are dying in my community and yours.

Like Luther, I will pray for reform from within, yet stand on the Scriptures as the final authority for my life and the lives of the church I pastor and community I serve.

Sorry about the rant. I just had too.

Pastor Steve said...


I feel sorry in a sense that you can't get fully involved in your church, it would be my prayer that some day soon you might find a church that you can be more involved in, but on the other hand, it sounds like your church is very solid.

My dad came out of a Presbyterian background and began going to a Baptist church because he thought it would be better for his family. He never joined because of theological differences, but served in every way they would let him (mostly grunt work). I admire him for that. He didn't cause a scene or division, bur rather served as best he could.

DJP said...

Ann Marie—well, we try not to assume the worst about anyone. But the way you have dealt with posts and comments does parallel the way you, and your sect, deal with the Bible:

1. Set Bible aside
2. Construct grid
3. Return to Bible
4. Impose grid

At any rate, sorry to hear about your choices. These threads really don't exist as advocacy-points for Buddhism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, or the lot. Feel free to read. Don't feel to hijack.

And to everyone else: I'm not going to let the comment threads become a re-enactment of the Reformation. It happened, thank God for it, thank God for those who learned from it, pray for those who won't.

Please stay on-point.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts Dan. It's interesting to see where the quest for doctrinal unity or the quest for unity doctrine can take a church.

My co-blogging buddy, Dave, belongs to the URC, which if I were to ever attend with him, likely wouldn't permit me observe the Lord's Supper because I don't confess to their very specific doctrine on the nature of the elements. I think that is unfortunate. Among the Reformed churches is the tendency to divide ad infinitum over (to me) minute doctrinal conflicts. That's a shame.

I have attended churches where the Supper is never administered or at best administered irreverently (wheat thins and fruit punch). I find this to be a travesty and an offense as well. These churches tend to be in backlash against the ritualism of Rome or some such thing- they aren't non-denominational denominations, they are anti-denominational denominations. Anything that could be construed as tradition or ritual is eschewed with great violence. When the Gospel is marginalized to promote widespread harmony, you don't have a true church, you have a Christian-esque club.

I'm a lot like Dan. I attend a Presby church, not because I like to sprinkle babies, but because it is the only church around (and there is a myriad) that values good doctrine and Biblical, expository teaching.

Keith G said...

I wonder if there's a time to not let your own personal beliefs be the final authority as to what denomination you're a member of. For instance, I'm a member in a PCA church, and although I'm still not 100% convinced on a personal level that infant baptism is correct, I've had my two kids baptized as children. Why? Because I accept the authority of the church, and I realize that if I only accept a doctrine because I've been personally convinced, then the church has no real authority at all.

philness said...

Seven churches are mentioned in Revelations. Might these be the missing fragments or denominations that anne marie mentions she was unable to find?

DJP said...

Garet—my best communion story:

There was a reformed Baptist church that had me over to preach a number of times. I really enjoyed it, really enjoyed the fellowship. They were good people.

But I could not celebrate communion with them. I had to wait in another room.

Think about that. They were confident enough of my soundness in Christ to let me take the pulpit and direct them in their consideration of the Word — but not enough to celebrate our shared fellowship with Christ.

candy said...

We attend a doctrinely sound church. Unfortunately it is an hour away. Almost all churches in my town have folded and become part of the Purpose Driven folly. Other churches are really really Arminian and think that Dave Hunt is the ultimate expert on all things reformed. Sigh.

When my husband and I read articles and watch videos on the Together for the Gospel conferences, and other wonderful conferences where God is doing a marvelous work, we honestly think about moving so that we can be a part of a good church, that is not too far away from our living quarters, in which we can fully participate.

By the way, the Together for the Gospel guys is a sterling example of unity in the Body of Christ.

Josh Harris in his book Stop Dating the Churches does state that sometimes moving is a last option. We would move for a good job, wouldn't we?

joey said...

"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..."

good questions...I would love to hear someone explain how to get around those questions without saying 'easy, everyone should agree with me about everything'...good post.

LeeC said...

I think there is a real value to denominations as we struggled to be more conformed to the image of Christ and present ourselves as his spotless bride. The Holy Spirit enlightens us as HE wills at HIS time not ours. One day we will be in true unity in Him. Until then categories are useful.

When someone says they are a Calvinist, preterist, Pre-trib, amil, Baptist, Presbyterian ect. these words convey volumes of data that can be used as starting points for us understanding where each of us are in our walk.

The hand is not the foot, and the finger does not do the same job as the big toe, and even though some of us may be warts even we are still a part of the body of Christ. This is not a bad thing...until it is combined with an absence of love. Just as almost every marriage counseling instance is due to selfishnes, so to is conflicts in the church invisible.

Love Christ, love one another, never compromise what God demands, but never stand on those things in an unloving way, or no matter how "right" you are intellectually you are but a clanging gong.

I know one church that denied membership with one mans wife because she was sprinkled as a believing adult and that denomination required immersion for membership.

This couple had some marital trouble, that ended in adultry and divorce with three children. Now their sin is their sin, but this church, where they attended, refused to apply Matthew 18 for the purposes of restoration because she wasn't dunked....they could not love her enough due to a secondary conviction. Go in peace, be warmed and filled.

Right now I am in amazement every day that the Lord has given me a church that I concurr 100% with in it's doctrine and practice. It's non-denominational, but that had little or no effect on our coming here.

Andrew D said...

Thanks Dan! This is really helpful. Last year I had to go "church shopping" after relocating about 38 miles away. I did a "men... de" evaluation on whether to seek a church of the same denomination (in Virginia this denomination is a BIG tent and local churches can be total hit or total miss). I would have really benefited from this post then!

I ended up joining a non-denom about 1 mile from my new residence. The statement of faith is very specific and I embrace 100% of it! I was prepared to settle for much less... but WOW what a blessing!

"...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."

I laughed so hard at this... now my stomach it is starting to hurt.

DJP said...

Thanks, Andrew. Sometimes I wonder whether anyone's "getting" some of these things I throw in.


Anonymous said...

Dan: That's a disheartening story. I wouldn't expect that from Reform Baptists. To me it seems obvious that the only thing that should bar a person from communion is being unregenerate. What we believe about how the elements work, or what they contain, seems far from the Lord's purpose in instituting them. On the other hand, would we expect a Baptist church to acquiesce the demands of a paedo-baptist family that attends? Of course not. This is such a difficult topic as you aptly illustrated in your post.

Dave on the Prairie said...

Interestingly enough, today is the day my church officially leaves it's denomination. I won't say which one as I don't want to unfairly represent the other brethren an sistren.

The reasons for this departure are lengthy and bible based. But that's neither men or de.

What really matters now is the future.

I think there is a strong arguement to be an independant church. We're active and growing. Do we really want the baggage that comes with another denomination. It seems that almost every one of them has some sort of issues.

Denominations provide stability. In a small congregation, the stronger personalties can control things. If they get some wierd ideas about the gospel or something, that can be bad. Belonging to a denomination can be like having a blueprint that only allows minor deviations from the plan. There is also the franchise aspect. A person looking for a church to attend has a reasonable idea of what to expect from a certain denomination.

All in all, the denominational name is just a name. We'll keep on going about the Lord's business regardless of what we call ourselves. The denominational issues are really just a distraction from the important stuff we could be doing.

Kevin said...

I don't mean to be irreverent, but do you all struggle with the fact that on the one hand, our Lord obviously requires/desires unity, but on the other, seems to virtually guarantee doctrinal disunity because some things are ambiguous? I once read a book titled "Baptism: the Water that Divides". The first half gave the scriptural case for believers only baptism; the second, the paedo baptist case. I read the first and was pretty much convinced--till I read the second, which seemed equally convincing. I should have quit while I was ahead, I suppose, and put the book down half way through.

Unknown said...

Wow, Dan, you've put out a string of REALLY good posts. Thanks.

Rhology said...


Is that kinda like "Calvidispiebaptogelical"?

That could be one advantage of teaching - you DO have to re-examine schtuff from time to time if you do it right, and if you take questions after your class.

I echo the thought - that's quite a few good posts in a row. Is there a wooden nickel for that?

Finally, good call on:
1) so we don't get together and re-fight old battles over and over again
2) the inanity (no "s") of the "non-denominational denomination/sect"
3) wishing you could sign off on a confession and leave it at that. As a mbr in a bit of a renegade SBC church (renegade in that the Gospel is preached and PDL is not highly-esteemed there, among other things), how I long for a confession!

DJP said...

Thanks, Janelle. Better-quality ghostwriter.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dan - just for the record, I usually almost always "get" the little stuff you throw in at no additional charge.

Days later I will find myself laughing for no apparent reason. Either I get it, or I am experiencing a second blessing...

Pastor Mike Paris said...

Why has no one mentioned the Corinthian dilemna? "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, etc." Paul about pops a blood vessel when he says, "Is Christ divided [into parts]?!!" (1 Cor. 1:13)It seems really important to him that there not be schisms and divisions -- especially over personal preferences/leadership styles.

This is a "hard saying of Paul" so to speak. Not because Paul said it, but because its practical ramifications will cause me to "allow" certain preferences to co-exist and not rail against them. Everyone thinks that he or she has got his/her stuff nailed down. It is tough saying, "I'm not sure yet" "Or I don't know" or "Scripture is not definitive, but here's how I have come to believe; I might be wrong". But that is exactly what we need to do.

I am speaking from a real tension since I want to honor my denomination's staunch stand on separation but I think the lines might be too tightly drawn. We separate over things which are non-essential and make stands on hills that are only speedbumps. Why not put a little more energy into rescue attempts than who we can't play softball with!

Thanks Dan. I really appreciate your attempt at a balanced (men...de) approach to the topic. Maybe we should have a "we're really firm on this" and a "you can still be a servant/leader" doctrinal statement. Naw, that's no good. That could result in a church of one -- me.

Thanks for wrestling with the truth as your standard,

Tom Chantry said...

There are two issues which are running together in this comment thread and which really ought to be separated. They correspond to two of the definitions of "denomination." On the one hand, it is a word that means "a group of churches," while on the other it can refer merely to "a name or designation."

It is in the second sense of the word that some of the advantages Dan listed are observed - namely, the distinctives of a church are identified by its denomination - it is Baptist or Presbyterian, Episcopal or Congregational, etc. Names (denominations) help sort this out. In this sense, can any church - no matter how independant - afford to be non-denominational?

Most of the problems come with the first definition of the word, which is the one we all presume is meant by "denominational." It is this meaning which leads congregations to wonder if they will be compromised by the other churches in the organization. On the other hand, some of Dan's advantages relate to this definition. It is a "group of churches" which can pool its resources for missions and education, not a "name or designation."

So why a long comment at this point to make this distinction? It is an important clarification. When someone says, "I don't trust denominations because of the eventual corruption of all organizations," I respond, "I sympathize. We want to accomplish what we can, but without compromise."

On the other hand, when someone says "I don't like denominations because I don't think we should make a big deal out of doctrines which divide Christians," I become a staunch defender of denominationalism. I'll take a Presbyterian church whose denominational tag says "We doggedly hold a set of doctrines, one or two of which you might disagree with," over a non-denominational church whose lack of any tag says, "We embrace everyone and everything."

Jim Crigler said...

"SB" ??? Who you callin' a Sackville-Baggins???

;) <- Smiley for the humor-impaired.

lawrence said...

Pastor Mike,
I agree that sometimes we are divisive about non-essentials. CJ Mahaney once said (speaking about the roles of man and woman) "this is a hill we (Sovereign Grace Ministies) will die on." In other words, this was a subject that would "divide" us from a church that holds a different idea about Biblical manhood and womanhood.

The insinuation being that there are many smaller differences that we would not hold as so very important. It seems to me that that's what "Together for the Gospel" is all about. Those men have differing opinions on many matters, but not on, in this case, the centrality of the Gospel.

This seems to be Paul's burden. He asks the question "was Paul crucified for you?" When it comes to the Cross, to the centrality of the Cross, we are to be "united in mind and thought." However, if another brother in Christ is of the opinion that salvation comes through faith plus works, I don't think Paul, or, more importantly, Christ, would have me be "united in mind and thought."

DJP said...

So.. a bunch of really nice comments, and nobody's tried to get me into his/her denomination yet!

Which are y'all worried for? Me, or your denomination?


Stefan Ewing said...

Dan, I'm a bit confused and am going to ask a dumb question, so it's up to you whether you wish to answer it or not. I got the impression that the three of you who are regular contributors to this blog are all Calvinists, so I assumed that would make you either Reformed or Presbyterian (please forgive me for the pigeonholing), but you described your affiliation with a Presbyterian church as if it were a schocking thing. New as I am to the whole evangelical Christian thing—let alone questions of deep theology—am I missing something here?

DJP said...

Not a dumb question at all. I pretty much define "Reformed" as adhering to the five Sola's, which (to say the least) say nothing about spattering babies. There are I think you could say that Frank is a Baptist, and Phil and I are baptistic, though Phil is not in a Baptist denominational church.

I am ordained Southern Baptist, though currently attending a Presbyterian church.

And yes -- it is shocking. (c;

In fact, first time I attended, I saw in the program that it was Presbyterian, and said to myself, "Oh, okay, now I know I won't be staying... but let's see how the service goes."

Confused enough? Ask more.

In sum: being Reformed per se (no matter what some tell you) is not a denominational thing at all.

Stefan Ewing said...

Yeah, I get that. I'm a member of a Mennonite Brethren church—not a large denomination, but the MB church I attend is one of the largest evangelical churches in my city—so I fall in the same broadly "(ana)baptistic" category, with one of the chief distinctives being adult, full-immersion, believers' baptism. There also seems to be a similar interplay between Reformed and Anabaptist elements in the Mennonite Brethren.

Erik said...

Dan, great post!

My wife and I attend a Baptist church, but are not yet members of the church. We came out of a non-denom that had pastoral issues(my way or the highway kind), so we are in no hurry to join any church.

My question is this, why have a membership? Seems like there is no reason for it.

Gryphonette said...

One reason for membership is for the purpose of electing the leadership. Without official members, one could have the leadership chosen by a bunch of just-passing-thru attendees.

I'm confidant other reasons will be forthcoming pronto. ;^)

Along with the others...great post, Dan!

Anne in Fort Worth

DJP said...

Hey, that could be another post!

Well, Luke shows (in Acts) that they kept a head-count. I see the utility of it most easily in terms of accountability. In membership, the church says, "Here are our beliefs, here is our polity." When someone joins up, he accepts that. There's a mutual pledge that is formalized. If church discipline becomes necessary, no one can plead, "Gee, I had no idea."

Don Fields said...


Great post! I enjoyed your wrestling with these issues. I wished you would have had more answers than questions, because these are some of the same questions I have been wrestling with. Nonetheless, it was much food for thought.

Although much of the discussion has been on denominations I would like to discuss church membership. I agree wholeheartedly with your opinions on why people avoid "joining" and even try to consider themselves in line with Scripture. With that being said I am wondering if you would equate the level of commitment in church membership to the level of commitment in marriage? Are these two commitments/covenants comparable? Is there any biblical warrant for comparing these two commitments or for talking about church membership with the language of marriage? Is there any book you would recommend on this topic?

This goes to the question of when to leave a church. With so much church shopping and hopping going on I see an "easy divorce" mentality with church membership. When that is the case than membership has no real meaning.

DJP said...

If it's there, Don, I haven't seen it yet. We "marry" Christ, not the church.

Now, all covenants have points of connection, whether small, temporary, and relatively informal, or complex and lifelong. So I have no problem with the concept of entering into a covenant with a body of believers, as long as the usual strictures apply: our word is to be our bond. One should take membership vows seriously as surely as one takes his marital vows, whatever their varying gravity. A promise is a promise.

Don Fields said...


Without a formal church membership you can't:

choose pastors,
choose leaders,
enact church discipline,
financially support believing widows,
send out missionaries,
truly hold anyone accountable for anything.

All in all the entire New Testament (following the Gospels) makes no sense outside of a local church context including a formal church membership.

danny2 said...

we call ourselves a fellowship and try to keep it distinct from denomination...though sometimes i think it's silly.

our emphasis is on the autonomy of churches, not believing we have men in positions to oversee multiple churches....

however, that also creates a unique tension that you can't impose things on one another but it is also a struggle to govern things a bit.

at times, i think our statement of faith will bail us out...but it doesn't necessarily do a lot. a) we live in an era where it is real easy to sign the dotted line, having redefined words to fit within the statement and your personal convictions, b) i'm not sure we have the structure to remove a man if he did not comply with our statement (if the church was supporting him).

i guess if anything, you encouraged me that i may be expecting too much out of my fellowship...we can't work all the bugs out.

besides, one of my favorite professors at our school doesn't even attend one of our fellowship churches.

DJP said...

As everyone seems to get, in speaking for the concept of denominations, I wasn't saying anything against independent churches.

Andrew D said...

Based on Tom Chantry’s distinction, if my “nondenominational” church is working very closely with 3 other churches in my area, does that make a denomination? There are probably 15 more which we also cooperate with in lesser ways (because we have less in common). And then all those other churches & cults which teach a different gospel (=automatic zero cooperation).

What do you think – how many churches do you need to qualify as a “denomination”? Or perhaps a better question is… how much cooperation is required to be considered a “denomination”?

Depending on how you answer that question you could end up claiming the SBC is not a denomination (or perhaps certain state conventions do not qualify?). Hmmm... why does it sound weird to say that? Is it just because they are so big?

Erik said...

Vine, Dan, and Don, Thanks for your responses.

Dan, I hope that church membership does become a post - soon! We are taking our membership in the church we attend seriously - maybe too much!

Don, you make good points about the bene's to membership. I have not looked at Acts through the glasses of church membership, so please forgive my "independenceness".

I don't want to sign up, and then not live up to what I've signed. "Let your yes be yes.."

Stefan Ewing said...

I'm for church membership, but I can't articulate why in a way that would convince those who don't see the point to it. That would be an excellent candidate for a new post topic.

Jeremy Felden said...



I praise God that we Presbyterians can baptize (cf. "baptize") our children. It's a testimony that many godly men have stood against the popular, immersing tide of baptistic theology in America.


It's unfortunate our way of keeping Presbyterians from becoming Baptists are preventing you from being all the Baptist you can be. My grandmother says that there are some good Presbyterians out there. I feel the same way about Baptists, especially the Pyros.

At least the PCA will commune you, let you preach, and not force you to baptize your kids. I suppose that's not particularly nasty denominationalism.

DJP said...

You don't hear me complaining!


Matt said...

DJP - you define being Reformed as being in agreement with the 5 solas. We Mennonites can go along with that, but have difficulty with picking TULIPS with some of our non-Mennonite evangelical friends. Would you then consider non-Calvinists to belong under the Reformed tent?

DJP said...

Kim Riddlebarger thinks he's The Gatekeeper on who is and is not Reformed. I don't think he is, and I don't think I am, either.

For the most part, if someone affirms the five Sola's intelligently, I'm not inclined to quibble. But if he doesn't affirm TULIP, I'm going to think he hasn't really thought through the implications of at least three of them.

Rhology said...

DJP: But if he doesn't affirm TULIP, I'm going to think he hasn't really thought through the implications of at least three of them.

The countdown has begun. Someone is planning to hijack this thread chasing that one down. T-minus 15, 14, 13...


Strong Tower said...

I really like that idea about kicking everyone out. I would modify it, however.

Each congregatio should set a census level, of say 500-1000. When the congregation reaches that level it holds a lottery, one for the elders and one for the pewtons. The two are necessary to insure proper oversight. The lottery would select, say 30 to 50 percent of the congregation. Then, they would plan to plant a church based on the draft to plant a church cross town, or otherwise. Like the NFL draft in a way but this would be like the MFL, Missionary Faith League.

What ya think? Don't just kick them out, help them pack and move them into their new house, eh?

DJP said...

Given that the ideal size for a church is 217, and the lottery makes it impartial -- it's every bit as good as my suggestions!

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Dan. Whatever I touch turns to rot. I'll wait for God to do it himself. I likewise have a similar experience as you church wise, but in reverse--a man without a denomination: Presbyterian in my head, but Baptist on the roll. Maybe me and you should swap churches!

Another dumb idea . . .

Jerid E. Krulish said...

I wonder if you would consider a single, "non-denominational" church to be a denomination of 1? And what is the difference between a one-church denomination and a large one? I would submit that the size of the problems tend to correspond with the size of the denomination, as many survivors of "non-denominational" church-splits can attest.

The problem that you described - you and friend look at Bible and issue X, and friend changes his mind on issue X, and is now out on his keister - is the same problem in any church, whether denominational or not, UNLESS it is the Pastor who holds autocratic power over his elders and congregation. I mean, he could convince his elders that he was right, and if they agree he could keep is non-denominational job. But that's the same for Presbyterians. It's only the

ChosenClay said...

There are no perfect churches/denominations because they are made up of imperfect, yet, redeemed people!

Dan loves us and we love him at Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church!

p.s. So when do you get to preach again?

jrminter said...

Nice post, Dan. I had to chuckle about your dad's experience with the non-denominational denomination. I've heard enough comments about the wooden brother to recognize what you were talking about. In our local church in that fellowship the leadership is committed to stressing the unity of the Body of Christ. We correct those who try to teach that our brothers in Christ in denominational churches are following "man's religion." I have been greatly influenced by James White's observation that tradition is typically a larger problem for those who refuse to admit they have tradition than for those who do.

Anonymous said...

DJP: But if he doesn't affirm TULIP, I'm going to think he hasn't really thought through the implications of at least three of them.

Wow, I guess I never thought about it in those terms. A clear and proper understanding and affirmation of sola fide, sola gratia and solus Christos will certainly lead one inevitably to affirming TULIP. Which then will lead one to also affirming sola Scriptura and soli Deo gloria.

I pass the test, I'm Reformed!

FX Turk said...

I just want to admire how Dan was his own one-man army corp here defending his own post today. I have jst no free time these days and I am sorry I missed all this bru-haha.

Dan: I owe you like two after your valiant effort here while Phil is bringing OT wrath of God to Mt Aetena and I am trying to do what they pay me for.

lee n. field said...

I get the impression that a lot of people are refugees in strange places.

Our current church home, where we have official membership, is an EFCA congregation (http://www.efca.org). Have been Presbyterian (the apostate ones) as a kid and CRC (before they started to go squishy too, so I hear) as an adult.

The denominational statement 'o faith is deliberately written to be broadly inclusive of conservative Protestants. They make no statement, for instance, on election, predestination, or the appropriate recipients of baptism. 'Could have fooled me, they sure act like Baptists.

The one thing the SoF is picky about is it's "imminent premillenial return" language, which is the one thing I do not agree with. So, I guess I won't be teaching. I shut up and hope nobody says something off the wall that I have to respond to. And just hoping this place doesn't go all Porpoise Driven.

DJP said...

Thanks, Frank. But everyone was pretty easy on me. It was fun!

Anonymous said...

lee n field:

I too am an EFCA'er, and have always found the EFCA 12 Points of Faith rather intentionally vague on most points, with a few very pointed points like the premillenial return, the authority of the local church to govern it's own affairs, etc. But after spending the past 17 yrs in two different EFCA churches, I've found that the doctrinal positions of the local leadership determines what the focus is. For example, I never have heard anyone asked about their eschatology. And the leadership of the church I am in now affirms the doctrines of grace and we teach and preach accordingly, while the previous EFCA church I was in (another city) was led by a strong Arminian sr pastor (Dallas grad). And I have served as Elder and teacher and occasional preacher in both.

Interestingly enough, the EFCA has drafted a new statement of faith comprised of ten points that are all centered on - go figure - the Gospel. And the references to eschatology are much more inclusive. Our church leadership team is working through the new SoF and in some cases determining clarifications for our own church body. I think this is a good thing to do, since the EFCA SoF is so broad that it's hard to declare what is orthodox teaching in any given EFCA church. Other than the Gospel, that is.

I have also served on EFCA district Board of Ministerial Standing, interviewing candidates for licensure and ordination. Have had occasions where a guy is already in a pastoral position, with doctrinal positions such that I/we would never allow him to teach or preach in our church (my sr pastors words here), but we could not deny him ordination because his positions fit within the SoF. Interesting.

DJP said...

When I was more conversant with the EFCA, there were signs of wobbling on the Biblical teaching concerning the rle of women in the church -- which is not specifically one of the 12 points. Where is that now?

Also, churches could have elders, but they had to be led by majority-vote.

Otherwise, the EFCA was unambiguously premillennial and baptistic. Accepting the Bible's teaching of the imminence of Christ's return was understood as implying pretrib rapture, though some were trying to ooze around that.

Anonymous said...


Here's a link to the latest draft of the new EFCA SoF - http://www.efca.org/about/media/sof_third_draft_revision.pdf

Note the lack of any specificicity on Christ's return, a major change from the previous statement. Also, as you noted, still nothing regarding the role of women in the church. Also as you noted, nothing regarding church polity other than that the church should consist of only believers. Hmmm...

I have never seen any wobbling in the EFCA churches I've been a part of or had dealings with (here in the Nebraska/Kansas district) in the area of women's roles. I am sure there are other places that it is occurring, though, given the wide diversity of individual churches under the EFCA umbrella.

Yeah, the elder/congregational rule thing is a real issue for EFCA churches. Having been chairmna of our elder team for several years, we dealt with trying to reconcile this approach with Biblical eldership. Over time we have put more leadership authority in the hands of the elders (as it should be) and put more focus on the responsibility of the members to be engaged in assuring qualified elders are affirmed. And only taking congregational votes on big stuff like calling pastors, buying land, etc. We talk about being elder-led and congregationally-ruled. Seems a bit of an oxymoron to me.

Anonymous said...

Stupid Blogger, chopped off the URL. Just go to:
and you can see the current 12-points and links to the new propsed draft SoF.

DJP said...

Note that clause in point 11 of the original: "every local church has the right, under Christ, to decide and govern its own affairs." I at first took it to mean that each church is autonomous, and can determine its own system of government (majority-rule, elder-rule, whatever).

I was told, however, in no uncertain terms, that it required that all EFCA's be majority-rule.

Unknown said...

I look at the stars, all similar, yet different. I look at snowflakes, all similar, yet different. I look at a forest, consisting of trees, again, all similar, yet different. Not to mention just about everything else in God's creation.
I kinda get the idea that God likes diversity. So why should He not allow diversity in His church? There must be unity in the plain & main things, but where God has not plainly stated something, such as "THOU SHALT USE THE CONGREGATIONAL FORM OF CHURCH GOVERNANCE!" then we have the freedom to figure it out on our own. (Note that I am NOT trying to start a "discussion" on the Proper Form of Church Governance, nor on Man's Choice vs. God's, I'm just trying to show that in some things perhaps God says "You figger it out -- it doesn't really matter to Me.")


annilee said...

Great post!

You'ld get a chuckle at our crowd here...many of us are "Baptist-like" in our beliefs but have started going to an Evangelical Presbyterian church. The Pastor jokes about how few Presbyterians there are at this church....but he still loves us - just probably wonders why we've all descended on him.

We've drifted in and out of different churches over the years (really BAD thing to do) and have been in and out of both denominational and independent churches,and even a home church, and a start up church. But interestingly, of the many conversations I've had with friends about what the perfect church would be - none even considered whether or not it should be in a denomination. The number one criteria we came up with was:

To just be able to TRUST that what the Pastor preached and what the church practiced was Biblically correct. To actually be able to hear a sermon and only worry about the "applying it to our lives" part and not the "ok, but does the Bible really say that" part. To not be constantly wondering if we were supporting error or crossing the line on some issue.

The church we're at now - I love the preaching....the church practice, however, has me tossing up my arms on one issue and just hoping I'm not supporting sin.

Now you really have me wondering if I shouldn't find out more about the denomination this church is in and how that affects this church.

Hmmm,... this is a very dangerous blog to read for those for those of us who are basically lazy - everytime I read something on this site I get convicted of something else I need to do, change, or look into further!