Today's Christians tend to fall into three camps (in my humble [but accurate] opinion ;~):
- Those who say things like "No creed but Christ" and "Doctrine Divides" (but in fact do have a doctrine, they just don't like the word. Most churches have a "Statement of Faith" even if they don't use the term "doctrine.")
- The "creedal" or "confessing" Christians" - such as the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, who say: "We are “confessing” because we warmly embrace the rich biblical teaching articulated in both great ecumenical creeds of the Church, and reformed confessions and catechisms. Further, we believe the Church must not only assent to her confessions but confess the gospel afresh in protest against the spirit of this age." Also see this link for ACWI's Statement of Faith and this one for samples of specific creeds, confessions and statements of faith.
- Those who don't really know what they believe. This is, I believe, the majority of those who would call themselves "evangelical" or "born again." (Even the term "evangelical" has lost meaning in the last few years, but that's another topic.) They have a very vague understanding of elementary Christian doctrine, but have never attempted to apply it to their daily lives and have never considered "theology" of any importance or interest. Many have taken part in an altar call, walked down an aisle, or raised a hand to "receive Jesus". . . but far too few have ever gone beyond that. (See Stephen Prothero's op-ed piece in the LA times, We Live in the Land of Biblical Idiots [sorry - link is no longer available], where he says "U.S. citizens know almost nothing about the Bible. Although most regard it as the word of God, few read it anymore. Even evangelicals from the Bible Belt seem more focused on loving Jesus than on learning what he had to say." FYI: Prothero also states on his website that "Most Americans cannot name one of the four Gospels.")
In an article I wrote last fall for Faith Talk magazine, I referenced a 2003 study of self-identified "born-again Christians" who apparently have no clue what it means to be a Christian; 91% don't have a Biblical worldview (email me for the article and more info.). In other words, they have been more influenced by the culture than by the Bible and the church. (A friend often says "If the church doesn't disciple the culture, the culture will disciple the church.") They haven't applied Biblical principles to their daily lives. Many have yet to make any effort to grow in their faith.
The folks in this last group are the ones most likely to move toward the non-denominational church because they don't know their theological identity; they don't have a theological base, a place to call home. Even some who identify themselves as Baptist or Charismatic or Methodist or whatever wear the label simply because it's the church closest to their home - not because they believe that denomination's doctrine most accurately reflects Biblical truth. To make matters worse, they don't know what makes a Baptist different from a Methodist or a Charismatic or a Presbyterian - and don't really care!
In contrast, the other two groups have an understanding of their beliefs; their doctrine is important to them. If a family moves to a new community, they'll look for a new church in the same denomination, not just one where they feel comfortable or with a big youth group. Some (many?) will look first for the same denomination they came from because of a couple of reasons:
- it's familiar
- transfer of membership is easy (since some denominations are more restrictive than others about receiving new members as transfers from other denominations.)
I would suspect that if that denomination isn't available, they'll often look for something with a similar doctrine.
So. . . .what are your thoughts on the growth of non-denominational churches? Is it a good thing for the body of Christ? Do they help to unify believers? Or do they tend to "dumb down" the average Christian by ignoring denominational distinctives?
Let the conversation continue.