To the question about denominations changing, one could respond “much and in every way.” There is a decreasing denominational loyalty. There is an increasing post-denominationalism, probably related to our post-everything sort of impulse. There is a strong attraction based on affinity, e.g. theological affinity, church planting affinity, etc., more so than on denomination. This is not really news to anyone. All realize that denominations are changing and sentiments towards denominations are also changing.
This does not mean denominations are not important or that their usefulness is past. I know all would not agree with me. That will be a discussion at some future point. What is important in this discussion is to keep the main mission of denominations at the center, i.e. serving local churches, and then ask the question of how that can best be done. What is necessary is that a denomination does not simply do things because that is the way they were always done. That will not be helpful to serve churches.
One of the discussion questions is about geography. For us in the EFCA, the question about geography pertains to our district structure. To broaden this question, Christianity Today 56/6 (June 2012), 12, asked the following about denominational structure: “Should denominations be organized geographically?” A spectrum of responses is included between “yes” and “no.”
Carl Trueman, professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), answers in the affirmative.
Geographical proximity allows for more spiritual, emotional, pastoral support. When you cannot coexist spiritually with another church in the same denomination, functionally you probably have two denominations and it might be better simply to separate.
Al Molher, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and ordained in the SBC, is in the middle.
Ideally, churches of one denomination would share so much theological commonality that it would be quite natural for them to group themselves geographically. With the theological diversity and tension in many denominations today, that’s just no longer possible.
Paul Detterman, executive director of Presbyterians for Renewal, responds in the negative.
As theological diversity broadens among many denominations, theological affinity trumps geographic proximity as a catalyst for vision and ministry. Structures need to conform to this reality. Geographical organization belongs to a bygone era. We need to let it go.
Here are a few questions to ponder.
- Where would you fall in this spectrum? Why?
- What do you see as strengths and weaknesses of denominations today?
- What other questions would you raise about denominations?
- What is required for denominations to serve their local churches most effectively and fruitfully today?
- Are there ways denominations can/should partner with other denominations and/or affinity gatherings? How would this happen and what would be the intended outcome?
- What other questions need to be raised?