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Denominations…do we need them?

Denominations…do we need them?

You may have heard the buzz that we are entering a “post-denominational” time in the church. Religious writers such as Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass have pointed out some of the ways that changes in the religious landscape have perhaps led us to a point where some of the long-standing divisions between denominations are fading away. This observation goes along with the ways that it seems that divisions within denominations have become heightened. So, where does this leave us? Are we moving to a more congregationally-oriented style of governance and ecclesiology? What might be the use of denominations in the 21st century?

Methodist minister, Ken Carter, who writes in his blog at argues in the following post that, indeed, the church, and members of the church need denominations. Do you agree?

why congregations need denominations

By Ken Carter at his blog,

I share these two experiences alongside a comment I came across years ago: every church and every member of the clergy, over a span of time, needs to belong to a denomination. I serve as a district superintendent, and I am aware of the church’s imperfections, and my own. I watch over 69 local churches and a few assorted institutions within our geographical boundaries, and we are at work on the development of a new church plant and the development of a missional church network. At any given time about 3-5 of these churches are in real crisis: they are in need of outside intervention, mediation, conflict resolution and spiritual guidance. A denomination, at its best, provides a framework for the protection of the clergy in a workplace and supervision of even the most powerful clergy leaders. In addition, a denomination works out the implications of a missional strategy in an area that is more nuanced than simply whatever the market can bear.

I share these experiences at a time when there is much rhetoric around moving energy, resources and attention to the local church. I love the local church. It is the basic context for the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world. At the same time, the local church will, on occasion, be stronger as it accomplishes mission that is beyond its own capacity, and as it is accountable to a wisdom that is outside its own day to day movements. Here the analogy of Ronald Heifitz of the dance and the balcony is helpful. Faithful congregations and clergy are engaged in the dance, the daily and weekly movements that, added together, shape parish life: worship, spiritual formation, pastoral care, local and global outreach, evangelism. A balcony perspective, in times of health and in times of crisis, will help the local church to sustain this activity. The absence of such a balcony perspective, in particular circumstances, can lead to chaos and a constricting of the movement of energy. A denomination, at its best, provides that balcony perspective: a person in authority who can intervene in a season of conflict, or a compelling and needed mission that can lift the vision of a community beyond itself.


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Elisabeth Brauza

Denominations are our connection with the larger Christian community, and our connection to our historical roots. They show us our place, and give us an ability to affect the world around us in a larger way than we could on our own.

(And for the record, I’m 31, Episcopalian and proud, with a lot of life left to live!)

Adam Wood

I think it’s better to talk, not about denominations, but about “traditions” and “organizations.”

This helps highlight what is so wonderful about the multitude of denominations (the varying approached to theology, worship, art, music, etc), while downplaying the factionalism and fighting which caused the Church to become so broken in the first place.

This also helps us understand our unity with, for example, the ACNA or the Reformed Episcopal Church. We should understand that members of those groups are (firstly) our brothers and sisters in Christ and (to my point) belong to the same Tradition (Anglicanism) that we do, even though they are members of a different organization.

This way of thinking might:


Help us understand the value that large, multinational ORGANIZATIONS can bring.


Reminding us that our TRADITIONS cannot be captured or monopolized by a committee, a council, or a set of canons and policies.


Teach us to realize that all who believe in Christ, regardless of tradition or organizational affiliation, are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and belong to Him, and to His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic CHURCH.

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