In Defense of Denominations

The Lord be with you

It is fashionable today to put down denominations. Some even make the false claim that Jesus never wanted to establish any sort of church at all (Matthew 16:18 clearly indicates this is a dumb idea). Others point to the fact that denominations are, what you might call, institutionally established differences of opinion to decry denominations. They overlook that differences have always existed (Why do you think those letters in the New Testament were written?). Some say “we all believe the same thing,” which is another deception. We don’t all believe the same thing. A very simple and obvious difference is baptism. In our church we baptize babies and believe God works faith in the child. Others absolutely will not baptize babies and believe baptism is a symbol only. There are other views as well. Such differences are not small or incidental. If the critics think they are then they are reflecting how superficial their understanding is.

When we ponder the Christian Faith and the words of the Bible, we are pondering things of eternal value, eternal weight, eternal significance. However, because we are all sinners, it is not surprising that we come to different conclusions. If Christians disagree concerning a specific teaching that does not mean the teaching is unimportant or secondary or anything like that. It means we are fallen church-christian-world-denominationscreatures. Even our reason was corrupted in the fall. So we disagree even on critical issues.

One thing Christians do tend to agree on is that we should be honest. A denominational label is simply a way to be honest. When someone walks through the doors of a church that has the word “Lutheran” over its doors, they should be able to find a Lutheran congregation, a congregation that subscribes to the Book of Concord as a faithful and accurate understanding of the Bible. If they don’t, then the sign is a lie. The same is true if the sign reads “Baptist.” If they are honest, then you will find a Baptist congregation. If I visited a Baptist congregation I would expect them to reject my baptism because I was baptized as an infant. If a Baptist visited a Lutheran congregation, they should expect their baptism to be accepted because Lutherans have no age limits on baptism. If you walked through those doors marked “Baptist” and found a Roman Catholic congregation, you would rightly believe the sign was a lie.

So, first and foremost, a denominational label is simply a convenient way to be honest, an easy way to convey what this particular congregation holds to be true and will teach. In this world where we sinners will disagree, such honesty and clarity is refreshing. When you factor in that we are speaking of things with eternal consequences, honesty becomes even more important.

There are other reasons why denominations are a good idea. For example, as a larger group of Christians, maybe one that even spans the globe, the believers can collectively do far more in the name of Jesus. Our denomination is constantly helping when tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, title waves, etc., hit around the world. When we support such efforts, the members of our congregation know the offerings go to the relief work and not to some slick advertising campaign or some overpaid CEO. They also know the funds will be used in a fashion that is in harmony with their beliefs, their morals, their ethics.

Denominations also make the training of pastors and other church workers easier and assure the congregations that the person in their pulpit, or whatever, is truly qualified. Denominations also assure that the congregations get quality material, like hymnals, Bible studies, etc. There are many other ways that denominations help in practical fashion.

So, while I know if we lived in a perfect world there would be no denominations, I also know we don’t live in a perfect world. For that we will have to wait for the Second Coming of Jesus. Until then, let us at least be honest about what we believe.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert