Nondenominational Christianity

Nondenominational Christianity (or non-denominational Christianity) consists of churches which typically distance themselves from the confessionalism or creedalism of other Christian communities by not formally aligning with a specific Protestant denomination. Often founded by individual pastors, they have little affiliation with historic denominations, but typically adhere to evangelical Protestantism, and are a type of Protestantism.

Worship service at Christ's Commission Fellowship Pasig, a nondenominational church, in 2014, in Pasig, Philippines

Worship service at Christ’s Commission Fellowship Pasig, a nondenominational church, in 2014, in Pasig, Philippines

History

The first non-denominational churches appeared in the United States in the course of the 20th century, in the form of independent churches.

Nondenominational and interdenominational missionary organizations, especially faith missions, grew in the second half of the 19th century, beginning with the Woman’s Union Missionary Society (incorporated in the United States in 1861) and the China Inland Mission (incorporated in Britain in 1865). Later-founded U.S. missionary groups included Christian and Missionary Alliance (1887), Evangelical Alliance Mission (1890), Sudan Interior Mission (1893), and the Africa Inland Mission (1895).

Nondenominational congregations experienced significant and continuous growth in the 21st century, particularly in the United States. If combined into a single group, nondenominational churches collectively would represented the third-largest Christian grouping in the United States in 2010, after the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention.

In Asia, especially in Singapore and Malaysia, these churches are also more numerous, since the 1990s.

Characteristics

Non-denominational churches are not affiliated with specifically denominational stream of evangelical movements, either by choice from their foundation or because they separated from their denomination of origin at some point their history. Like denominational congregations, nondenominational congregations vary in size, worship, and other characteristics. Although independent, many nondenominational congregations choose to affiliate with a broader network of congregations, such as IFCA International (formerly the Independent Fundamental Churches of America).

Nondenominational churches are recognizable from the evangelical movement, even though they are autonomous and have no other formal labels.

The movement is particularly visible in the megachurches.

The neo-charismatic churches often use the term nondenominational to define themselves.

Churches with a focus on seekers are more likely to identify themselves as non-denominational.

Criticism

Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero argues that nondenominationalism hides the fundamental theological and spiritual issues that initially drove the division of Christianity into denominations behind a veneer of “Christian unity”. He argues that nondenominationalism encourages a descent of Christianity—and indeed, all religions—into comfortable “general moralism” rather than being a focus for facing the complexities of churchgoers’ culture and spirituality. Prothero further argues that it also encourages ignorance of the Scriptures, lowering the overall religious literacy while increasing the potential for inter-religious misunderstandings and conflict.

Baptist ecumenical theologian Steven R. Harmon argues that “there’s really no such thing” as a nondenominational church, because “as soon as a supposedly non-denominational church has made decisions about what happens in worship, whom and how they will baptize, how and with what understanding they will celebrate holy communion, what they will teach, who their ministers will be and how they will be ordered, or how they relate to those churches, these decisions have placed the church within the stream of a specific type of denominational tradition.” Harmon argues that the cause of Christian unity is best served through denominational traditions, since each “has historical connections to the church’s catholicity … and we make progress toward unity when the denominations share their distinctive patterns of catholicity with one another.”

Presbyterian dogmatic theologian Amy Plantinga Pauw writes that Protestant non-denominational congregations “often seem to lack any acknowledgement of their debts and ties to larger church traditions” and argues that “for now, these non-denominational churches are living off the theological capital of more established Christian communities, including those of nondenominational Protestantism.” Pauw considers denominationalism to be a “unifying and conserving force in Christianity, nurturing and carrying forward distinctive theological traditions” (such as Wesleyanism being supported by Methodist denominations).

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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