Denominations As Pre-filtering … ?

As Susan, Carla, and I rode around Cullman tonight after dinner—Carla wanted to show off her new hometown—we discussed churches and denominations as pre-filters. [Well, they talked, and I sat in the backseat and thought about it. Getting a word in edgewise with those two? Well nigh impossible, folks.] “It’s so much easier, having a denomination as a starting point.”

While I certainly agree with them—come on, it’s not as if I looked outside the United Methodist Church when I moved to Huntsville and then Madison, now did I? ;)—I was reminded of something I’d read earlier today on Wesley Blog:

The paradox today is that biblically minded Congregationalists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Roman Catholics experience more genuine unity across organizational boundaries than they do within their own traditions. Many fail to recognize that Christ’s prayer for unity is indeed being answered, though the shape of that unity is not what we had imagined.

from Christianity Today, December 2005

I definitely find that this is true. As I’ve talked with Stephen, Misty, and Rick about their church—for some reason, it never comes up when I’m talking with Jessica—I find that there are a lot of things that I like about their congregation. We have unity over a lot of things, far more than your average UMC and Baptist church would see in the South. [I hesitate to call them a Southern Baptist church for a variety of reasons …] Honestly, I probably do indeed find more unity with them over a variety of things that I don’t find with other Methodists. The same is even true of many of my Presbyterian friends—we may not agree on much of the means, but we do agree on a fair amount of the ends.

Denominations are pre-filters, to be sure, but I fear that they’re becoming less so as the American Church continues to splinter. Of course, fractionalization is necessarily a given, and has always been there within the Church—it’s just more evident because the ability to communicate the dissent and disagreement is just so much easier today than even ten or twenty years ago. I’m curious to see if denominations will remain effective pre-filters—much in the same way that brand names mean things for franchising—or whether the Church will see the denominational system torn asunder.

I’m not even sure which way I want that to go, either; as a believer in episcopacy, I feel that denominations have the ability to ensure doctrinal unity, but presently there’s not an attitude of subservience within local congregations to hold to orthodoxy within denominational bounds. Funny … most of us Protestans likely stole that from the Baptists, who have likewise seen the Southern Baptist Convention try to graft an episcopacy on top of a local church-focused structure.

Funny how we steal from each other …