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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?
We’ve all met these kinds of people, haven’t we:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3a, NIV)
Yeah, those worldly Christians who can only eat spiritual baby food. It’s comfortable to believe that Paul is talking about people that weren’t like me, that haven’t read the Bible as much as me and that are way more sinful than me, right? But what is it really that Paul is adressing?
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (3:3-6)
Oops. I’ve read this countless times, but today I realized that I’ve been a worldly baby for a very long time. I’ve put a lot of pride in human leaders and traditions – whether its John Wimber, Shane Claiborne, Anabaptism or something else.
And of course, I do think that they’re all more Biblical than, say, the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, but I have gotten more uncomfortable with identifying myself too much with one denomination or theological stream, because I see the Spirit moving in so many of them. Isn’t it ironic that many Protestant denominations have got their name from individuals – Calvinism, Lutheranism, Mennonitism – precisely what Paul warned us for! We should not focus on the gardeners, but the one who makes the church grow, God Himself.
That being said, leaders are of course not useless: (more…)