Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I have, for all of my Christian life, considered myself non-denominational--maybe even un-denominational or anti-denominational. I still do, actually. I never believed (and I still don’t) that Jesus meant for his disciples to be divided up into this or that faction or “flavor” of Christianity.

What has evolved is my understanding of the word “denominationalism.” Contrary to popular usage in some religious circles, linguistically speaking, to denominate something doesn’t mean to divide it. Money isn’t divided into denominations, for instance. There isn’t a fixed amount of money that is divided up according to certain size bills.

It’s true that having varying denominations of money makes it easier to divide it up, hence the confusion over the meaning of this word. It would be difficult to divide up $20 without having access to smaller denominations of money. But the reason paper money is named is so that it can be uniquely identified. We need to distinguish between the value assigned to one bill and the value assigned to another, so we denominate them accordingly. The fact that dollar bills are named is what makes them denominations.

In fact, it might surprise you to know that the verb “to denominate” means “to name,” not “to divide.” Look it up in a dictionary and a thesaurus if you doubt me.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “I go to a non-denominational church, but we have a name.” Ah, my point exactly! That is as preposterous as quoting an unnamed source named Carl Rove, or making a food label that says “100% Real Chocolate Flavor!” If words have any meaning, it is impossible to be non-denominational and to assign a name for the church.

Admittedly, this is a tough concept to wrap our minds around. Rather than pretend I have the authoritative answer to the dilemma (I don’t), I’ll just encourage you to stop plowing around this stump. Give some serious thought to what it means to be un-denominational.

There is no doubt that denominating a church can have a tendency to create factions, because it is human nature for it to create a team mentality. It is also human nature to rally around your “home team.”

Let’s just be honest with ourselves. When we name our group, we are a denomination. When we insist on that name, we are a faction. The gravest danger of denominationalism is when it moves from being an innocent error borne of tradition into the realm of factionalism.

    Acts 4:11-13 - He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
There is only one name, one person in which salvation is found, and it is not a name some group of believers has adopted. The only name in which salvation is found is the name of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That, if we can fathom it in this divided world we live and worship in, is non-denominational Christianity.

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