Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Are you in a denomination?

This is a question I regularly get asked.

In a recent post I considered that newfrontiers was not a denomination and this was challenged by commenters.

Firstly - please consider my previous comments about Anglicans, Baptists, and Methodists before being concerned I am having a dig at anyone.

Secondly - several friends of mine from university days are Church leaders - Newfrontiers, Vineyard, Anglican etc.  I have seen those go the "denominational" route, and those within church movements, and have witnessed a difference in structure.

Thirdly - I was pointed to Webster's definition of a denomination in respect of newfrontiers

a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices
And I guess it is the "religious organisation" bit which is where people consider differences.  What is the actual organisation? The whole discussion always comes back to definitions.

I would consider denominations to include the Church of England, Methodists & URC amongst others.

I would consider Church movements to include Newfrontiers, Vineyard, Salt & Light, Ground Level, Plumbline and NCMI.

Wikipedia has a surprisingly interesting piece on this which says
"Nondenominational" (or "Non-denominational") Christian institutions are those not formally aligned with an established religious denomination, but are historically Protestant, or that remain otherwise officially autonomous. This, however, does not preclude an identifiable standard among such congregations. Nondenominational church congregations may establish a functional denomination by means of mutual recognition of or accountability to other congregations and leaders with commonly held doctrine, policy and worship without formalizing external direction or oversight in such matters. Some nondenominational churches explicitly reject the idea of a formalized denominational structure as a matter of principle, holding that each congregation is better off being autonomous.
 And guess what, Newfrontiers & Vineyard appear in the list of such groups.

The definition of formal denomination and functional denomination is probably most helpful.  Because when I say "we are not formally a denomination" others say "yes, but you are by function", and perhaps we are both right.

I have a few questions (not an exhaustive list, just where I see differences between me and some of my friends) regarding a Churches legal framework which would certainly help to decide how "formal" a denomination was.

1) Who owns the property / assets?
2) What legal rights / legal roles does the central organisation have and how are these enforced?

3) Does money have to be given centrally?
4) Who pays ministers?  Who provides pensions?
5) Does the central body own: property, educational establishments etc?
6) Is there a designated HQ?
7) Who sets policies and procedures for Churches?

8) How is church oversight apportioned?  Geography etc?

So if I answer those for my own Church the answers are

1) Our local charity
2) None
3) No
4) Our local charity, a private pension provider
5) No
6) No
7) No-one - likeminded Churches have affiliated
8) Relationally, voluntarily.  Often this links to geography because you get to know people locally

Friends of mine in other Churches reply in very different terms to almost all those questions.  There are strengths and weaknesses both models.  This is not a "look who is best" but rather a genuine attempt to show what I mean.

The mission of my independent Church is gathered into a bigger mission, with other similar Churches, which functionally looks like a denomination, but if we left newfrontiers (or ChristCentral) tomorrow all we would do in reality is change the logo on our literature, lose some valuable spiritual input, and miss many friends.

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