A denomination could simply be defined as a Christian organization with one specified leadership. It isn’t necessarily about theology. Two Christian movements with exactly the same theology would still be two denominations if they had different leaderships. This is important to remember. When we talk about being one as Jesus prayed that we would be (John 17), also known as ecumenicalism, this could be understood in several different ways: either that we should find unity in faith, love and practice, or that we should unite under the same leadership, forming one denomination. Ulf Ekman, the Swedish Pentecostal pastor who converted to the Catholic Church, seems to have the latter understanding of ecumenicalism since he often explain his decision by saying that he wanted to obey Jesus’ wish that all His disciples should be one.
For the same reason, many Christians are a bit fed up with new denominations, getting horrified when hearing that there are over 30 000 of them (which is an exaggeration), and at least here in Sweden we have had a trend the last 25 years where local churches as well as whole denominations unite and form the same organization under the same leadership.
In such a context it would perhaps sound weird – even dangerous – to promote a formation of a new denomination. Don’t we have too many already? It may be so that the Holy Spirit is doing something new and fresh to revive the body of Christ, but that should be channeled within the existing churches rather than becoming new ones. A church split is viewed as something intrinsically bad, always. Even Martin Luther wanted to reform the Catholic church rather than starting a new church, didn’t he?
I’m writing about the 1970’s Jesus movement now in my book project Ancient Miraculous Jesus Hippies. In the UK, the movement survived within the Jesus Fellowship Church, or the Jesus Army. In my country Sweden however, it didn’t survive, and the radicality of those involved cooled down to a large extent. When I visited the Jesus Army last year, they told me about friends of theirs in the Jesus movement that joined existing denominations like the Church of England, hoping to impact them radically. Instead, they were impacted by the Church, unradically.
“We believe that new wine needs new wineskins” (Mk 2:22), one Jesus Army leader told me.
I want to see a total restoration to the church of Acts, with miracles, evangelism, simplicity and community of goods. There are so many examples of Christian movements restoring the Biblical church – the Jesus Army being just one of them – and that’s the movement I want to belong to. I want to see Jesus churches that resurrect all of Pentecost in Sweden, Jerusalem, everywhere! And I pray that existing churches and denominations will reform. I eagerly hope that pastors and priests in the established churches will join the restoration reformation.
But they need a leading example. Just like the charismatic renewal was preceeded by independent Pentecostal churches, and the cell group movement was preceeded by house churches, I believe that independent Jesus churches need to show the way for the established church to follow. In some countries they may fit into an existing church structure. Sweden have been blessed with some denominations that encourage church planting and new expressions of discipling communities. But if the leaderships of the existing denominations hinders us from restoring the biblical church, we shouldn’t be afraid to be independent, submitting to Christ alone. He’s our only Pope.