Yesterday’s response to James K. A. Smith’s piece on the state of theology left me needing to articulate some balancing comments.
I don’t think that denominations are entirely a waste of time and money. I don’t think you are being faithless to God if you are working within a denominational structure. I think that your work in the denomination has some tremendous potential to bear fruit for the King of the Kingdom.
Though old alliances may be dying in some quarters, denominations aren’t quite dead:
So what are denominations good for, if not for creating the contours to which our theologizing must conform? Here are a few thoughts:
They are excellent for pooling resources for mission. Many members of my family have been Southern Baptist missionaries. It was tremendous for them to be supported by the Foreign Mission Board without having to put their own money together. (If your denomination forces its missionaries to fund raise, shame on you.)
They also can be important means of manifesting the visible unity of the church. Although the proliferation of denominations is a clear sign of the church’s disunity, the fact that hundreds of thousands (or more) can unite, and come forward with visible shows of unity.
Denominations also play an important role in facilitating the theological education. Pooling financial resources should, in theory, enable denominations to see to it that their own ministerial candidates are trained without taking on a mountain of debt they can’t repay. (If your denomination doesn’t help lighten the financial burdens of seminary education, shame on you.)
It also seems that many of my friends who are pastors in denominations have strong, encouraging relationships with other pastors in their world. They find their annual meetings a time to reconnect with those friends and find encouragement in their labors. Pastors need deep relationships, and denominations can facilitate this.
Finally, just as no one person can be all that the body of Christ is and needs, neither can one particular church. Rich churches need poor churches; suburban churches need country churches; small churches need large churches. Now, I’d say that no one denomination has it all, either, but a denomination is a way to align that, if healthy, can enable a richer approximation of the body of Christ than a church that stands alone.
For those of you in denominational settings, what has been the benefit of that way of affiliating with and participating in the church?