Posted by: Bob Clark | August 25, 2009

A Non-Denominational Church

Just some very rough and random thoughts about something that has been on my mind —

The idea of a “non-denominational church” has always appealed to me. Congregational autonomy has always been attractive to me. Of course I realize that denominational structures can exist without any official paperwork. that is, a group of churches can be very denominational without the usual markers of a headquarters, common creed, and governing body. Journal editors and representatives of educational institutions can exert a denominational governing influence, all the while claiming to be “non-denominational.”

But lately I have been wrestling with a couple of things. First, I have been wondering if total independence is really the best way for congregations to relate to one another. Can there be autonomy and meaningful interaction?

Second, in an age where “non-denominational” is appealing to a whole lot of people, I have been struck by how a congregation that is truly autonomous and without denominational ties can be considered denominational because of the name on their sign while a congregation that is tied to a large denomination can claim to be non-denominational and market themselves as autonomous. This seems very strange to me.

Is total independence best?
Is it ethical to claim non-denominational status when there are “off the books” denominational structures?
Is it ethical to market yourself as non-denominational when you are in fact, denominationally affiliated?

These questions keep swirling through my mind.

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Responses

  1. Once your church is disfellowshipped by other churches in your off-the-books denominational structure, then you become autonomous and non-denominational of necessity. At least, it works for us.

  2. Well, I did all I could to keep you orthodox, but you found autonomy anyway!

  3. Question No. 1: Is total independence best?Of course it is! Indepedence requires responsibiity and personal responsibility is one of the hallmarks, if not the hallmark, of our response to God's great gift of love in Christ Jesus. So, insofar as church independence is a theological statement of conviction that the teachings, activities, and corporate religious decisions of a church have been led, directed, and supported by this specific group of believers as their response to the Lord, independence becomes a reflection of the reality of our own personal responsibility before the Lord- a personal responsibility He calls to anyway. Question No. 2: Is it ethical to claim non-denominational status when there are "off the books" denominational structures?Is any church truly isolated in its influences and influencers? Of course not! We are all part of a complex web of churches, schools, social groups, and even businesses that are all interdependent upon each other. Such relationships aren't quite denominational structures so much as practical realities. Therefore, what is not ethical is to deny that such institutions and relationships have no influence. Assertions of non-denominationalism (assuming that is a desired assertion to make) are probably made to clarify those relationships, not to discredit them. E.g. Assertions of non-denominatinalism serve to clarify that Church X is not authoritatively bound to University Y, not to deny that X finanicially and socially supports the work of Y. Question No. 3: Is it ethical to market yourself as non-denominational when you are in fact, denominationally affiliated?First, I'm not sure what "denominationally affiliated" means. Second, and I'm sure you will agree, it is never ethical to claim something as true if it is false. The larger question is whether another's perception that the church of Christ is a denomination requires that you correct it in the event that you do not consider the church of Christ to be a denomination. To attempt to convince everyone of your own beliefs/understandings on such things is folly. In the large sense, such a distinction doesn't matter. If you choose to understand church of Christ affiliations as non-denominational and another chooses to view them as quasi-denominational, it seems that it in no way affects the power of the Good News as Christ lives it in your church family. In sum, I think all we can do as a church is be clear (which at times requires less communication, not more). Clear on what we believe. Clear on why our beliefs are important to us. Clear on how accepting of others we wish to be when some of our beliefs are not shared. Clear on our understanding that no pastor, deacon, minister, or elder can substitute for the personal relationship the Lord calls us to. Great post, Bob.


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