Is denominationalism really dead?
May 2004



 
Denominationalism, n. A system of religious sects, each having their own schools; a class spirit.

In March, the Rev. Jim Smucker, a retired Conference Minister, expanded on his belief that "denominationalism" is an outdated concept. "I just feel it's not relevant," he said, "and I think the response of people financially and otherwise is saying this."

United Church News invited readers to provide short responses. Here's what you had to say:

Denominations are necessary

Denominationalism may be dead, but denominations are not. New ones are coming into being, maybe others ones are dying or already dead. They are changing, of course. I left the ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) because I thought its Northern California Region had abandoned its responsibility to the members of the People's Temple. The denomination owed it to them to protect them from a predatory pastor. Denominations are necessary because congregations and clergy have to have a framework of support and accountability in order not to be dangerous to the people in congregations.

Roger Ridgway
Pilgrim Congregational UCC
Mount Vernon, Wash.

Church provides a forum

In a spiritually more-mature world there would be no need for denominations. Until Christ returns, denominationalism is necessary and relevant. The UCC demonstrates Christ's love, compassion and inclusion. It provides a forum for social change and social justice. Many leaders and members of other denominational and nondenominational churches have succeeded in making religion faithlessly irrelevant. Many Americans today also choose to learn Buddhist philosophies. Even Buddhists have differing schools. Christianity and Buddhism both lead to an enlightened path for the eternal spirit. The UCC also strengthens the search for personal truth without the hindering use of empty self-righteous dogma and ceremony.

Larry Hayes
Church of the Open Arms UCC
Oklahoma City, Okla.

Early church a poor model

I truly wish it were so—"That they may all be one"—but I can't imagine what it would be like. The inter-denominational (and inter-congregational) politics are often simply dreadful. Unfortunately, we have the early church as our example. I certainly cannot stand the mega-church model. It seems so very impersonal to me. However, I do hope we can somehow urge tiny churches in big cities to merge [to become] much stronger and healthier congregations.

The Rev. Wayne T. Bradley
First Congregational UCC of Forest Glen
Chicago, Ill.

Non-traditional faith structures emerging

Although denominations may "bring together likeminded people into a structure that is manageable," they are no longer necessary for, relevant to, or preferable in, meeting the new demands of the 21st century for justice and peace. Present-day violence, global terrorism and war, and the overwhelming needs of the poverty stricken call for a concerted effort and a universal belief system that transcends the cooperative efforts of any number of denominations and/or religions with one another, separated at the core of their being from one another by outdated and limited creeds, which in fact pose the greatest hindrance to the resolution of our global problems. During the past couple of decades, non-denominational and non-traditional faith structures have emerged, which work to unite persons of all beliefs and religious persuasions into one body for the good of all mankind.

The Rev. Richard L. Adinolfi
Member, Skippack (Pa.) UCC

No standards of truth

Denominationalism is dying because we don't follow the gospels or the Bible any more. What we preach and follow is man's interpretation of the gospels and Bible. We have no standard truths as to what we believe. Hence we stand for everything and nothing at the same time.

Dan Wolfe
St. John's UCC
Chambersburg, Pa.

Confront our theological heritage

I believe the problem goes deeper than my friend, Jim Smucker, notes. A challenge for the future is to critically confront our theological heritage. Another is to acknowledge the truth of the church's diverse confessions. To abandon heritage is to abandon the saints. The great, martyred, Oscar Romero insisted that where the "church militant" is true to its vocation, it is always in dialogue with them. In other words, continuous, critical conversation with our mothers and fathers in faith is crucial. Engage them. Learn from them. Resist their errors. Take with seriousness the revolutionary truth to which they point us. We might discover we have yet something to learn.

The Rev. Frederick R. Trost
Retired Wisconsin Conference Minister

Structure is important

Denominations provide structures to train men and women and assist local churches find pastors who are relevant to their needs. All clergy and laity serving the UCC have available a strong health care program. We have many health and welfare institutions—hospitals, retirement homes, children's homes, etc. that are available and make a strong presence of a God who is active and working through its people to make a difference. The local church is the center of a great conversation that invites many who join the movements of the Holy Spirit. Personally, I celebrate our denomination and look to the future.

The Rev. Chuck Barnes
Florida Conference Minister Emeritus

Denominations ^ la carte

In place of our multitude of denominations I believe we will see two types of churches. There will be churches that believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God and that Jesus Christ is our only Lord and Savior. There will be churches that believe the Bible is the work of fallible men. If the Bible is the work of mere men, then we can pick and choose from it, cafeteria style, to suit our changing lifestyles.

Allison Miller
St. Peter's UCC
Yutan, Neb.

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