WHAT DOES NON-DENOMINATIONAL MEAN? WHAT DO NON-DENOMINATIONAL CHURCHES BELIEVE?
There are at least three specific uses of the word “non-denominational” within Christian circles: church-related practices, such as worship services, which are meant to be open to all sects, similar to “inter-denominational;” unions of churches which do not follow a single historical creed; or, ultimately, and most generally, churches without denominational affiliation. There has continuously been a tension within churches on how to develop a leadership system that is sufficient to meet the needs of churches -providing guidance on theological issues while allowing each congregation to function according to the gifts, directions and doctrine. While the Bible offers some instructions on how to organize the leadership of the church, much is left to our imagination and circumstance.
Occasionally, inter-denominational churches may agree to provide a shared service, start an outreach group, or something similar. Typically, the word “inter-denominational” is used, but on occasion, the party prefers to eliminate any emphasis on denominational discrepancies, and instead, they may prefer to use “non-denominational.”
There are a few groups of churches that consider themselves ‘associations’ rather than ‘denominations,’ because the churches that make up these ‘associations’ were originally independent and do not hold any of the historical creeds (such as Nicene Creed), councils, or other historically developed forms. Also, these associations usually have little (if any) power over each other, except through the free choice of whether or not to be part of such group. Nevertheless, this is also a misuse of the word “non-denominational” as the root of the word “denomination” is more closely related to the modern sense of the term. It has been popular enough that this interpretation is passed on to general use, but it should not be confused with other meanings.
Any combination of Christian beliefs can hold a “non-denominational church,” which is spiritually and authoritatively separate. From the anti-Biblical cults to the extremely solid, lively churches, and everything between them, all can be found to claim the title of “non-denominational.” Nevertheless, there is a kind of general image among non-denominational churches that is more common than others. Typically, a non-denominational church is a congregational church, or another separate form commonly referred to as “elder-led,” which is as much congregational. Still, the elder board has more decision-making power. Although they may not officially recognize any of the ancient creeds, like the Nicene or the Apostle’s creed are common representation of their fundamental beliefs. Typically these churches have origins in the Baptist movement, but they can either be conservative Arminian / free will in doctrine or reformed / Calvinistic.
There are several outstanding non-denominational churches in operation today. No matter what church you may consider attending, prayer and undiluted Bible doctrine is paramount.
MODERN GROWTH OF NON-DENOMINATIONAL CHURCHES
In recent history, the growth of non-denominational congregations has been remarkable. The number of Americans classifying their religion as non-denominational increased from less than 200,000 in 1990 to above 8 million by 2008.
Non-denominational Christians prefer to treat the Bible itself as their authority rather than the practices of a different church. While modern denominations have moved away from tradition, many have followed the Christian teachings of the Bible with the edicts or orders of the authorities in large churches.
Unconventional churches make the Christian’s choice of worship or perspective more adaptable. For example, some traditional denominations have become embroiled in social issues that promoted political ideology. So non-denominational Christians left for churches that eluded politics and they continued to pay attention to social issues.
WHY DO SOME CHURCHES CHOOSE TO BE NON-DENOMINATIONAL?
Although the answers can vary greatly, a key consideration is a freedom to direct the mission and teaching of the local church without intervention or influence from outside. If we look at the Bible, the evidence points to the church as self-governing and entirely answerable to God Himself. In the Book of Acts, where we learn of the first missionary journeys and the founding of many churches, there is no sign of a hierarchy of authority outside the local elders of the church. Many scholars refer to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as a denominational organization model, but it is not of that kind. The Gentiles were given the Gospel by the direct authority of the Holy Spirit, under the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. The churches founded on that first journey were left to the care of the elders of their ranks after Paul and Barnabas had instructed them. When the council was called in Jerusalem, it was not because of any question of organizational structure or control, but because of doctrinal questions about what salvation is all about. The apostles who had been commissioned explicitly by Jesus were the only ones who had the right to address the issue properly.
PROS & CONS OF NON-DENOMINATIONAL CHURCHES
PROS:Being independent congregations; thatis, non-denominational, churches can customize their beliefs and practices to whatever doctrine and creed they deem appropriate and just. This provides an opportunity to deviate from certain traditions of established denominations and to appeal to modern (or more classical) interpretations of Christianity. Theoretically, non-denominational churches could more easily adapt to an ever-changing world.
CONS: In comparison to larger established religions, non-denominational churches lack the resources or power required to create a viable and growing establishment. As the diversity of churches spread, confusion and misunderstanding between congregations could increase with an increasing number of theological interpretations and views. Boston University Theology Scholar Stephen Prothero claims that non-denominationalism avoids the key theological and moral problems that originally contributed to the separation of Christianity into sects under the mask of “Christian unity.”
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN NON-DENOMINATIONAL & BAPTIST CHURCHES
Non-denominational churches are increasingly becoming the largest Protestant Christian Group, while major denominations are declining. Non-denominational churches rank second in Protestantism in the United States and will soon be overtaken by the Southern Baptist Convention. This pattern is not without its pitfalls. Although there are no ways to establish a large generalization for any church group, it is fair to assume that there are major variations between these two groups.
According to Acts 14:23, Acts 20:17, I Timothy 4:14, I Timothy 5:17 and James 5:14, the church will be headed by a majority of traditional male elders. Although this is controversial, it has historically been the case in most Baptist churches throughout their history that either male pastors or a group of male elders occupy leadership position. Non-denominational churches differ greatly in this region. Typical non-denominational churches are often pastor-led rather than elder-led. They would also be much more likely to permit female ministers and elders than the Baptist churches. Flexibility in structure is seen by many as an advantage for the non-denominational group, especially as it grows.
Baptist churches, particularly the Southern Baptist tradition, tend towards a more standardized, almost “branded” structure. Much like going to the regular McDonald’s restaurant, walking to the Southern Baptist Church in any part of the country, you can find similarities in the realms of the order of worship, the length of service, the look and feel of the church and the duration of the sermon. Although this trend, particularly among the more seeker-sensitive (unbeliever / visitor-oriented) churches, is rapidly evolving, it is reasonable to generalize some similarities. By definition, non-denominational churches are defying classification in the field of worship. Many have embraced charismatic or searcher-sensitive styles, while some have become more introverted and less visitor-focused. Such features vary from church to church.
Many Baptist churches have very specific statements of faith. The Southern Baptist Convention has Baptist Faith and Word as a general guideline and has state and national supervisory conventions to work for cohesion and transparency. Non-denominational churches may generally have their declarations of faith, often personalized to the founding members or their chief pastor. Such versatility can make the group more culturally adaptable, but it can lead to doctrinal problems without a supervisory body.
ECONOMY OF SCALE
Baptist churches usually enjoy economies of scale. As a big, corporate group, they have considerable purchasing power when producing literature or sending missionaries. Non-denominational churches do not enjoy this privilege, even though some groups of such churches frequently pool their resources together to finance any project at hand.
Baptist churches have a strong history. Although this differs within hegemony and from church to church, Baptist churches are usually regarded as traditional. This practice can also have some negative baggage, such as the Southern Baptist Convention’s support for slavery in splitting the Northern Baptist church. Non-denomination Churches typically build a legacy locally or regionally based on individual “performance” in serving their communities and maintaining a strong congregation of thorough believers. Achieving success in this area will determine whether the church will survive or not.
EXAMPLES OF NON-DENOMINATIONAL CHURCHES
As described above, non-denominational churches are frequently founded by individual pastors or communities seeking a unique approach to Christian worship. Many others are set up to have a clear social advantage as an autonomous Christian organization. Here are some examples of autonomous churches and organizations with their goals and principles:
1. CHURCHES OF CHRIST: The distinct features of the Churches of Christ include receiving their faiths directly from the Bible, the members are baptized as adults, and the congregations are governed by a body of church elders. It is common among many religions, and members often participate in the weekly Eucharist or the celebration of communion. Some of the special traditions of this church are instrumental worship conducted solely through acapella congregational singing.
2. INDEPENDENT CHRISTIAN CHURCHES: These churches are similar to the churches of Christ, and use instruments in their instrumental worship services. Registered Christian churches typically embrace the core teachings of the Restoration Movement and believe in complete obedience to God.
3. ASSOCIATION FOR A MORE JUST SOCIETY:This is a type of non-denominational Christian organization. Their mission is to encourage others to “do justice” in their communities and to obey the biblical teachings on the matter. The Honduran-based group focuses on the battle for peace, public security, and anti-corruption in their region.
4. HOPE HAVEN:Thenon-denominational Christian organization that aims to support others, Hope Haven was founded in Iowa in 1964. The goal is to support people with disabilities. They offer vocational opportunities for people with hearing difficulties; they provide disabled individuals with adult living services, job support, mental wellbeing and rehabilitation, and religious programs.
Non-denominational Churches are increasingly formed as societies agree to build their churches, values, and traditions; however, they may be unique within the Christian faith.
DOES A NON-DENOMINATIONAL CHURCH NEED OTHER CHURCHES?
It may be the conviction of others, but it is not the example we find in the Scriptures. The Book of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament make it clear that the churches frequently interact with each other. When Paul and his companions made their missionary journeys, it was not uncommon for Christians to send letters to another church (Acts 18:27) or to welcome one another through their letters (Romans 16:16). Furthermore, when there was a great need, the churches worked interdependently to address the need (Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 8:4). The numerous New Testament churches, though autonomous, self-governing bodies, were certainly associated with communion and cooperative ministry, giving us an example to follow.
The measure of every religion gathering, whether within or outside Christianity, is not how it is organized or what its name is called, but how faithfully it adheres to the teachings of the Word of God. No church is inerrant since the churches are made up of individuals who are guilty of error. Even the apostles, with all the gifts that God gave them, were not without mistake. Paul reports in Galatians 2:11 that “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” Peter, the first apostle to preach the gospel to the Gentile, gave in to the pressure of the Judaizers to distinguish himself from the Gentile believers. Paul’s ability to challenge Peter was not based on his position as an apostle, but the revealed truth of the Word of God. Paul commended the believers in Berea (Acts 17:11) for testing his preaching against the Bible to find out whether he was telling them clear truth.
All believers ought to be like the Bereans, to test what we are taught against the Word of God and find out if it is. When our church is out of line with God’s Word, we must be ready and willing to search the scriptures to find out what God says and make corrections. If it is not corrected, we should search out a church that is obedient to God’s Word in its totality.