Denominations happened during the Reformation in Europe. (By the way, Christianity was in other parts of the world at that time, but we do not have as much history about those churches.) Europe was a former area of the Roman Empire and was still under the control of the Church of Rome. The new types of churches that started (some came out of hiding) during this time broke away from the Church of Rome. At first, these were state-sponsored churches and all the citizens of the state were automatically members. Two examples are the Church of England and The Lutheran Church in several countries in Northern Europe and Northern Germany. The shedding of the Roman Empire model of the church had not been a total change.
Some of these state churches persecuted the budding free churches. Free churches (free of the state) were illegal. Therefore, they fled to the freedom of the English Colonies, mainly the newly opened North American colonies on the Atlantic Ocean. Denominationalism flourished in that setting.
In the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries in the United States, one reads about the theological debates between battling denominational luminaries. Pastors would debate one another on the correct interpretation of controversial doctrines of the Bible. Which denomination is right and which one is wrong? Denominationalism was in full bloom. However, the debates were also a great time of teaching and learning for those who attended or read about them.
In Christian America, the Bible was taught at school. The public school system was espoused and the brainchild of Christians. The Bible was totally welcome in public schools, too. It was welcomed and wanted there until America ceased to be Christian.
And so here we are in a time when denominationalism is on the wane. Why? Part of the reason is the death of Christian America. We are now a mission field. Korean Christians are being sent to America as missionaries. Americans are biblically illiterate and Christians are still using evangelism methods and church models built during the Christian Era of America. And using old strategies and processes are some of the reasons why denominationalism is dying.
The parachurch movement also aided in the breakdown of denominationalism. Parachurch organizations were born to fill in the gaps that were left by the churches during the transition from Christian America to Lost America. The Navigators, a parachurch group, started in the armed services, a place where churches couldn't (or perhaps wouldn't) go. Then other parachurch groups started. The effectiveness and obvious need of parachurch groups should have been a clue to the established Church, but instead, they were viewed as interlopers.
Churches were also neglecting to teach things as basic as personal evangelism during this transitional time. Organizations of Christians were formed to fill in what the churches were not doing. These groups were symptoms that something was wrong with the church's approach to evangelizing. "Come and Hear" was no longer effective. It was time for "Live it and then Share It" (see my previous blog post).
Another reason denominationalism is dying is the ubiquitousness of communication and information. It is easy to be exposed to other denominational services and teachings through television, books, magazines, and the internet. We hear their preachers online or on TV and are surprised to learn biblical truths. They aren't as nutty as we thought. Hearing teaching from another denomination and learning they were teaching truth softened attitudes toward one another. Non-denominational churches sprung into being.
We also broke down walls between denominations by meeting Christians of other denominations at work or a service club. We learned that they were a true brother or sister in Christ, but how could that be? They are from that other denomination. The only answer is that they also have heard some of the same truths we have heard and have believed. Billy Graham, his Crusades also a factor in breaking down denominational walls, was criticized for having other denominational pastors sit on the dais at a Crusade. Graham persisted.
Denominationalism was not just about doctrine for some denominations. It was also about structure. The Methodist denomination is also the Methodist Church. It was not many independent churches creating another independent denominational organization as the Baptists did. It is more like the Lutheran Church, Catholic Church, or even Bank of America--one bank with branch offices.
The Lutheran Church was not a state church in America, yet it kept some of the old Catholic structure's attributes. The Baptist denominational model, on the other hand, was different from the parachurch model at least one respect: it was set up to serve exclusively the churches of the Baptist denomination. Therefore, the parachurch groups were competition. The Baptist denomination was also a full-service organization, not offering just one or two specialty fields of service as the parachurch groups did. Nevertheless, the competitors were there, competing for the business of Baptist churches.
All these factors were and are working to break down the walls of denominationalism. What will be the future of denominationalism? I will throw out some suggestions as answers to that question:
--Denominations will become more like a business because they will have to compete in the Christian marketplace;
--They will have to begin to offer value-added services to their clients to stay in business;
--They will likely need to serve all Christians and churches of any denomination to be solvent, which will accelerate the death, or finish off, denominationalism.
The denominations that cannot make changes will continue to decline and, likely, die. ##
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