Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is a New Church Denominationalism Emerging? Part 1

A New Denominationalism!

A few weeks ago I attended a two day conference at Northland a church distributed in longwood, FL. I was at a Dave Ramsey sponsored conference called Momentum. At the conference there were about 50 in attendance. It was truly a great conference. I was the only one there along with a layman from my church that was from a Church of the Nazarene. Many were from different denominations and many others from non-denominational ministries.

At lunch I meet a pastor from a local church that runs 1500 between two campuses (churches). He and I discovered we both had the same theological understanding of the scriptures (Wesleyan / Armenian). Earlier I asked someone working at the conference questions about the host pastor and found out he was Methodist in his earlier training days even though he was now an independent pastor of a church running around 10,000 distributed. When a denomination name is drop It becomes a source of identity or at least it use too.

While having lunch on the second day the other pastor and I spoke about what we believed and talked about the host church and its beliefs as much as we thought we knew. Since the host church was independent then the theological belief system about the church we presumed were initially determined by the senior pastor. At least in its original formative years we would assume.

After the conference the gentleman from my church and I decided we wanted to experience a worship service at Northland. We ended up attending their Monday night worship service and it was packed. As I sat there having never heard the pastor speak before or even read about what Northland believed I wondered why all these people came here and what drew them. Was it the music, the pastor, the location, the programs or a combination of several, or could it be doctrinal clarity?

I could not determine what their doctrine was by association with a denomination because they were independent. The message was biblically sound, but his style was very different( more teacher )from how I preach and it ended without a clear invitation. People were invited to pray up front, but no specific “place” to really connect and pray was defined. I never observed anyone carrying a bible to church and nobody looked in their own bible while the scriptures were being listed on the screens from what I could tell. Searching the scriptures was not encouraged or even time given for folks to follow along if they had their own bibles. The chairs were like those of a movie theater and there were no books or bibles anywhere accept in the bookstore for purchase. To give a donation, you had to do such on your own in the foyer by credit card, check or cash.

I felt comfortable as if was at a hotel or mall, but it never really felt like a church in so many other familiar ways that I am use to. It was not that I was against it, but it just felt like any other modern everyday cultural building so that it felt normal.

So I ask, is Church supposed to feel culturally normal? Some would say yes and others no. I see Jesus as someone who leads folks to be counter cultural in so many ways and since our culture is far less Christian than 50 or more years ago I got to wonder where we are headed as the church both theologically and practically in the developed world.

In days past denominations helped you identity who believed the same doctrines, had similar styles of worship, etc, etc. In this post modern society I am not sure those same rules apply anymore or at least less frequently now then in the past. I suppose with the internet many people can check out a church well before deciding to attend an actual service. A few years ago while on vacation our family was trying to decide where to attend a local church service. Since there were not any Nazarene churches close to us I began a search online. It was very hard to decide on a church since we were looking for a holiness theologically based church over style of worship or programs.

Most of the churches were either too far left denominationally (theologically) for us to want to attend, so I started searching for the non categorized churches (non denominational). I finally found one church that seemed interesting, but very little about their doctrine was listed. We ventured out and worshipped in a building that was a former theater turned into church. The worship music was good and the preacher was good. After the service they offered a free CD to visitors of the message. On the way out I introduced myself to the pastor and mentioned I was a pastor as well who was on vacation. When I asked him what his theological background was he refused to answer directly. He kept saying we are non denominational. I told him I understood that, but just wanted to know where he stood theologically as either Calvinist or Wesley Armenian or maybe something other.

He did not answer me directly and kept saying no doctrinal position on such. I thanked him and walked to the car. My wife and I spoke about how he took a position by not declaring one through his refusal to state what he believed. Doctrine is so crucial because eventually it does carry over in our belief system at some level of growth within the church life of any church.

It seems that the new denominationalism may very well be defined by who is biblical or not. Since emergent proponents seem to have slithered into churches of all denominations changing not only methodologies but also scripture meaning and theological understanding of the scriptures. It now becomes harder to find continuity through what denominations use to provide in sameness of doctrine, worship and even programs. Finding those who just simply believe the bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God alone seems to be a more important common denominator than what label the church has or the group it is associated with.

Part 1


  1. We have attended Northland for several years via the internet and podcasts. I very much enjoy Pastor Joel's preaching and find it to be true to his Methodist roots. However whenever there is a guest in the pulpit, more often than not his theological leanings would be described as Reformed. My cousin, who is a member of a non-denominational church, has commented that at their church there is a concerted effort to have theological diversity among the pastoral staff. I have concluded that it is normal for non-denominational churches to eschew theological labels and rather claim to be simply "biblically based" (and thus allow people of all theological backgrounds to feel "at home").

  2. rick,

    Thanks for the comment. I heard Joel and thought he had a good word. Is what you conclude as normal about eschewing theological labels and the claiming of simplicity of
    "biblical based" something you sense is healthy for believers as they grow in the Lord?