Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Do denominations stifle innovation?

In his new book From the Ground Up: New Testament Foundations for the 21st Century Church (Kregel), Dallas Seminary professor J. Scott Horrell says that denominations still have value today, but that they may also be obstacles to some of the changes needed in local churches.

"To be sure, denominational traditions have made valuable contributions in areas of doctrine and practice. Nevertheless, as argued above, the New Testament is largely nonprescriptive regarding post-apostolic leadership beyond the local church. God's Word allows for organizational freedom within the parameters of a few New Testament absolutes. Denominational institutions, programs, models, liturgies, styles, hymnbooks, and literature will eventually be forgotten. History shows that so much of what has consumed enormous ecclesial effort and often large sums of money will sooner or later become obsolete. Though attitudes are changing, denominational leaders have too easily assumed that what they accomplish will continue for generations to come. Today, such an assumption can rarely be justified. Defending traditional forms and structures, some find themselves frustrated when younger leaders are not convinced that such externals are any longer meaningful.

"Other than the covenantal signs of baptism and the Lord's Supper, God did not design rites for the local church to perpetuate. Indeed, if the church is to express sound doctrine in new ways and experience the powerful functions that are central to its existence, it cannot be tied down to static forms. When a tradition becomes inefficient in accomplishing the purposes of God, it is necessary to change it or discard it altogether. Critical thinking is required in evaluating denominational goals, priorities, and politics in light of Scripture.

"Rather than repress innovation of new forms, denominations would do well to nourish biblical experimentation to discover more efficient and more relevant ways to fulfill God's purpose for the local church. Indeed, championing creative ecclesiology provides denominations themselves with future options for what their churches can become. Otherwise, the pattern of history is that denominations lose the essence of the church by trying to preserve their forms and traditions. When patterns and structures of the church are set in stone, when the shell becomes the absolute, the creative life within breathes its last." (Click here to learn more about the book From the Ground Up)

Ideas like this deserve some discussion. With so many denominations being rent asunder by worship wars and theological squabbles - conservative versus liberal, modern vs postmodern; maybe it is time to rethink the concept of denomination. Perhaps the idea of association has more merit. In it like-minded churches band together for mutual benefit, agreeing as Horrell says on broader biblical parameters for worship and practice, while maintaining the core of biblical truth. The mediums may change, as long as the message does not.

Such an approach would free up ministry dollars that to this point have been servicing bloated and out-of touch denominational agencies. It would put an end to the theological bickering that consumes too much of the time of leadership and free churches to explore how best they can in a given context share the gospel.

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