In the culture of post-denominationalism it is more profitable to be just Evangelical or even just Christian. Christians have come to believe that there is something wrong with belonging to a denomination. In some ways, this is certainly true: Non-believers take offence at all those names and more often than not, the animosities with which diverse Christian groups have dealt with each other throughout history has not done Christianity any good.
However, observing the results of non-denominationalism so far, some caveats are in place. The first that comes to mind is the evident watering down of the Christian message in an attempt to come up with a common denominator. Matters of „divergence“ are ignored, rather than explored. On the other side of this tendency is the fundamentalisation of the one’s own belief and refusing to interact with others up until a point where they consider and treat others as devils.
On a more pragmatic note, many Christians’ personal spiritualities have suffered, as they approach church life as “shopping around” for a church which will serve them best. This attitude has produced churches which concentrate on how to entertain potential members rather than how to be a church in a hurting world. Get a combination of all the above factors and you can see how the contemporary church suffers.
Denominationalism is not all bad
From this it seems to me that denominationalism of the church is not all bad. In fact we have profited from the denominations in the past and could do so in the future. Denominationalism has helped churches to point out to the important segments of their theological heritage and work on them by explaining them to the other denominations and to the world. Denominations have invited their members and others to sit it out with frustrating situations, to build a Christian character in the process of working it out in faith. As much as the modern world appreciates instant solutions and quick fixes, life is more often than not perseverance in hard circumstances. We must admit that church and faith were much more binding in the old days of denominationalism and the bonds between people in churches were stronger. I do agree that this is probably due to many factors, but belonging to a denomination has contributed to the ties.
While post-denominationalism has taught us about the need for unity, about what Jesus meant that “all should be one”, I am sceptical that unity can be achieved by downplaying the importance of differences. Unity must be achieved in the midst of diversity – by attempting to find serious and deeper ways of solving the tensions. Unity needs the living in faith that at some point we will all understand better and possibly re-evaluate our own denominational traditions not just to meet the other, but to wholeheartedly embrace them for the benefits of a hurting world. Not least, the world can observe and learn from that how unity is lived out in imperfect situations and diversity.
In a certain situation it may just be that hanging in there in one’s own tradition and persuasion in the midst of this difficult dialogue is the one thing that can show in time how a certain denominational emphases helps the other denominations.
There are several such things which I find in my own tradition, which have kept me proudly Baptist for more than three decades. I will try to explore some of them here.
This time I want to elaborate on the
BAPTISTS’ ANNOYING INSISTENCE ON THE ‘BOTTOM UP’ CHURCH
In the Baptist churches, everyone is equal. There are no “higher” positions and hierarchies. Those people and structures which seem as “high” are there to be first to serve, and they know it. It does happen on occasion that some Baptist leaders forget this and adopt hierarchical behaviours, but in truly Baptist surroundings they are soon shown their place. Every little lady has a vote and can speak her mind.
Among the Baptists, the main organisational unit is the local church, not a national or global hierarchy of elders. And in those local churches all the members are entitled to the freedom of conscience. Needless to say: they are all allowed (even encouraged) to read and interpret Scripture on their own for the sake of their lives and their communities. Being a theologian (albeit a Biblical scholar) I can imagine how this alone can make one freak out. Imagine the chaos of everyone having an opinion! There has to be someone to put their foot down, right? There has to be ONE person to end a dispute, or one professional to speak her/his mind for stuff to function?
Baptists acknowledge that there is – but He is not of this world. He is the one who has made us and before Him we are all different and equal. So we better find ways to work it out. That is called faith in God through Christ.
Interestingly, this is what the world is now also catching up on. Do you need hierarchical structures for success? Well, according to the newest state of things – apparently NOT.
I came across this TED talk by the amazing Linda Hill and there you have it laid out clearly and scientifically: the (baptistic) insistence on bottom up management seems to be the one single success trait of permanently innovating companies. What can be more important in a world where even change is changing rapidly?
Baptist have known all along and that is why they have advocated against a world of solo geniuses for a collective genius that emerges from the messy dealings with all the input you can get. That’s pretty baptistic, right?
You see what it means for our Women’s Department?
It is unimaginable, how one can manage all the impulses from all of you around the globe but – there is no way around this blessed c
haos of genius, God has placed in us, my dear sisters. I need you to act baptistic and speak up. Share your insights and stories. The Lord has put us and all our potential together for a time like this. All of our insights, experiences and ideas are needed if we want to be his good news to a hurting world.