This is part 2 of a series of reflections about the journey of starting a church and leaving established, organizational, denominational religion. It’s a lot like unplugging from the matrix. (Read Part 1)
First, a quote from Dr. Russell D. Moore’s (SBTS) recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled, “Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone? Nondenominational churches are the fastest growing in the country.“
Are we witnessing the death of America’s Christian denominations? Studies conducted by secular and Christian organizations indicate that we are. Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion—Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. According to the Baylor Survey on Religion, nondenominational churches now represent the second largest group of Protestant churches in America, and they are also the fastest growing.
More and more Christians choose a church not on the basis of its denomination, but on the basis of more practical matters. Is the nursery easy to find? Do I like the music? Are there support groups for those grappling with addiction?
This trend is a natural extension of the American evangelical experiment. After all, evangelicalism is about the fundamental message of Christianity—the evangel, the gospel, literally the “good news” of God’s kingdom arriving in Jesus Christ—not about denomination building.
The post-World War II generation of evangelicals was responding to congregations filled with what they considered spiritual deadness. People belonged to a church, but they seemed to have no emotional experience of Christianity inside the building. Revivalists watched as denominational bureaucracies grew larger, and churches shifted from sending missionaries to preach around the world to producing white papers on issues like energy policy.
The revivalists wanted to get back to basics, to recover the centrality of a personal relationship with Jesus. “Being a member of a church doesn’t make you a Christian,” the ubiquitous evangelical pulpit cliché went, “any more than living in a garage makes you a car.” Thus these evangelical ministries tended not to talk about those issues that might divide their congregants. They avoided questions like: Who should be baptized and when? What does the Lord’s Supper mean? Should women be ordained? And so on.
Insiders and outsiders. It seems like most of the world can’t get beyond this idea that there are no more “insiders and outsiders.” Paul was trying to convince the church at Ephesus of this a long time ago:
As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board. ~Ephesians 3:4-6 (The Message)~
In denominational life there will always be insiders and outsiders. As much as churches try to be open, hospitable, welcoming, and gracious, there is still a point where company policy and nuance creates a boundary. It goes a step beyond merely trying to follow the path of Jesus. You have to subscribe to this brand to be in our group.
Reminds me of my last experience with a denominational/established church the Sunday before I announced my resignation. A member of the congregation was not satisfied with the song selections being made and casually reminded me that I was on the outside by asking me, “You’re not (X denomination) are you?” I guess not.