Hi. My church is talking about switching denominations. On paper it’s a pretty big switch theologically (essentially we’ll be switching from non-denominational to a traditionally charismatic denomination); the main difference being “second baptism” and speaking in tongues. I’m told our church will stay the same, that practically speaking, we won’t really notice much of a difference since the charismatic church really downplays that aspect, but it seems weird to me. I’m not sure what I think about it. What is the purpose of a denomination and how much emphasis should we put on it? There do seem to be some differences but the main beliefs of following the Bible and Jesus are the same. Not sure what to think. Help!
These are good questions. There is a rich history and tradition associated with each denomination. I am familiar with a number of charismatic denominations even the traditional one’s tend not to downplay the second baptism and tongue speaking. To summarize, Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929) and William Seymour (1870-1922) are credited as the originators of the modern Pentecostal movement. In 1906, they set up a church called the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. This church drew in hundreds of people who left “baptized by the Holy Spirit” having spoken in tongues. This movement emphasized the spiritual experience and refers to the event of speaking in tongues as “the second blessing.” The idea was that those who had this second blessing would achieve Christian perfection. In 1914 the Assemblies of God denomination formed as a result of the events that were taking place on Azusa Street. Most of these denominations today still argue that apart from a second baptism there is no hope of Christian perfection, and that baptism is accompanied with speaking in tongues.
That being said, I am not sure how the church will be able to continue to function the same. Even if many beliefs are left in place. That being said, let’s get to your questions.
Is a denominational change a big difference?
Typically it is. Each church should have a statement of belief. Most beliefs of any church are in line with the beliefs of the denomination with which the church is associated. So if a church switches denominations, it almost inevitably leads to the need to re-write the churches statement of belief. This statement includes the doctrinal position of the church on most areas of theology. It typically includes belief in the Trinity, God the Father, the Son, The Holy Spirit, the Bible, salvation, the return of Christ, and sometimes even statement about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Changing denominations also effects where the missions money will be sent, what income the church will receive from the denomination for ministry, and rules for ordaining ministers. It sometimes affects how a church does Bible study, and how a church is governed. Many denominations have rules in place to determine the way a church is allowed to make decisions. In some cases, it will also affect how a church may conduct worship services.
What is the purpose of a denomination?
A denomination is created to be a way for believers to work together with others who share the same values and interpretive approach to Scripture to accomplish more for the Kingdom of God. Many churches do not have the funds to support missionaries, but when a group of churches works together within a denomination, their combined giving can better support mission’s efforts and missionaries living in places where they cannot work. Additionally, denominations allow for groups of believers to create training institutions where ministers are taught how to effectively lead congregations. These institutions typically come in the form of seminaries and Bible colleges. Denominations frequently use funds from many churches to aid in the support of these institutions which train ministers doctrinally and practically for work in their churches.
How much emphasis should be placed on a churches denomination?
While denominations are important for understanding statements of belief, church governance, missions support, and theological training, most people in the church tend not to know much about what denominations really do. That being said, I am not sure that much emphasis should really be placed on the associated denomination (at least not vocally on a regular basis), but emphasis should be placed on the things for which the denomination stands. In other words, it is less important for members of a church to know that they are say Methodists or Baptists, and more important for members to know what the church believes about essential doctrines, missions goals, and how big decisions are made from within the church.
I hope these answer help. Each question could quickly become an entire series of posts, but the basics here should be enough to get you started in thinking through your own churches change.
If the church is serious about aligning with another group, I would consider asking the pastor the following questions:
Will our church be required to practice a different form of governance, if so what kind?
Is this change based on where our funds will go or what we expect to receive, if so, is that really a valid reason for aligning with a different group?
What kinds of ministry or missions work will we support by changing denominations?
Will our church be required to write a new doctrinal statement of belief? If so, what will have to change from the wording of our previous statement?
If you are at peace with the answers you receive then perhaps the move is a good thing. If not, perhaps your questions will give others something to think about.
Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Transformation Media Ministries, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for over 10 years. Scott is married and has three children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges in America every day.