Thursday, January 17, 2008

Post-Denominational Age?

In a recent post I reproduced an article on Mormonism that I thought would be of interest. In that article, the author, Noah Feldman of the New York Times, states: “Our post-denominational age should be the perfect time for a Mormon to become president, or at least the Republican nominee.”

I want to focus on his use of the term “post-denominational age.” I believe in many respects we are in a post-denominational age. When mentioning to “denominations” I’ll be referring to Protestant denominations, such as Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Reformed, and others. Although we may be in or approaching a post-denominational age in Protestantism, there is still a large divide between the two major divisions of western Christianity: the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism. Those divisions run deep in the areas of loyalty to the pope, and matters of theology and practice, so we are not in a “post-denominational age” when it comes to the Roman Catholic-Protestant divide.

Denominations do continue to exist in Protestantism, but appear to be less relevant in a number of ways. For example, among the fastest growing churches are the so-called independent or non-denominational churches. There are many charitable or benevolent organizations that have denominational origins, but are now inter-denominational ministries. Today, people who grew up in a certain denomination think nothing of attending a church of a different denomination.

Moreover, I suspect most Protestants are either unaware or don’t particularly care about the theological uniqueness of any particular denomination. Many choose a church for reasons other than theology or denomination. More important to them are other considerations, such as location, youth programs, pastor, friends in that church, worship style, music program, special ministries that address their needs, Bible studies, etc.

The way things seem to be going, I suspect that the current denominations may eventually split along liberal-conservative lines. We are already seeing the Episcopal Church in the U.S. on the verge of dividing. After these splits have occurred, these new denominations may then re-form along conservative and liberal lines. So, for example, the liberal Episcopal Church, separated from its conservative Episcopal counterpart, could conceivably merge with the liberal Presbyterian Church, the liberal Methodist Church, or the liberal Lutheran Church. The conservative churches would do the same, resulting in several of new denominations formed out of the remnants of the former ones. The good news is that these newly-formed denominations should be less prone to internal strife (hopefully!) compared to the conservative-liberal struggles that are currently tearing churches apart.

I’m not saying that I see this as desirable, but I see it possibly happening if current trends continue.

No comments: