Someone called the church office the other day and asked about our church. Amidst the questions was one that asked if we were non-denominational. Evidently, in this person’s view, denominational membership or affiliation was a problem. That seems to be the case for many people and I can understand why. So often denominations represent fairly rigid structures of organization that seem to be more self-serving than Kingdom-serving. Over time, denominations easily become institutions that lose the sense of the vision that gave them birth. The work of God’s kingdom gets lost in human ambition and politics. This is a sad outcome of something born in the heart of God and established by the movement of His Spirit. So He moves on to raise up others who will carry the work of His kingdom forward.
But the problem is not with church denominations per se. Church denominations can also be used of God to carry the movement of God’s Spirit forward. As long as families of churches maintain a focus on the original vision that God gave to its founder or leader they can serve to provide structure and abundant resources for the accomplishment of God’s work. People and churches that are independent of denominations run the risk of becoming legalistic or cultic. The irony is that denominations usually begin small through the vision and ministry of one person who seems to have an enormous capacity for its development. They are virutally independent works at the beginning. The difference is that these independent ministries become major movements of God’s Spirit during particular periods of time.
I’ve been thinking about all of this in relation to the Denomination to which I belong, the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada. Now in retrospect, we can see how it developed as a genuine movement of God’s Spirit through the heart and mind of one man whom God obviously prepared for a major part in the development of His kingdom work. In a time of skepticism on one hand and fanaticism on the other, Albert Benjamin Simpson was able to strike a course that reflected an appropriate understanding and application of God’s Word.
The secret of Simpson’s vision was the presentation of Jesus Christ as the key to salvation, sanctification, healing, and mission. He believed strongly in the dynamic present ministry of the Holy Spirit through all the gifts mentioned in the Scriptures. But he felt the operation of the gifts should not be seen as ends in themselves; they should only operate in order to further the mission of Christ to establish His kingdom. The Four-fold Gospel, as it became known (Jesus — Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King), provided the balance between extreme views on life and ministry and served to propel the work of God’s Kingdom forward in powerful ways.
As long as the focus of denominations is biblically sound there is great value in the association of churches with one another in this way. The fellowship of churches along denominational lines can serve to effectively gather resources to move the vision forward while fostering meaningful accountability for individuals and large groups of believers. But denominations become restrictive and styfling to God’s work when they become proud and in-grown!