Having done some blog posts on Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, etc., let me add another term to the conversation – non-denominational. I suspect that some followers of this blog do not know that IRCC is non-denominational. A denomination (in the church world) is a larger church group in which all the congregations fall under some kind of central leadership. The denomination will generally be named for a founding leader (Lutheran, Wesleyan and so forth), a practice or governing distinctive (Episcopalian, Methodist and so forth) or an aspirational aim (Four-Square, Church of God and so forth). But the real point is – there is a headquarters somewhere from which rules and directives flow down to the congregations and to which money, in the form of dues, support of denominational mission’s initiatives, etc., flows back up the chain. How strictly the individual congregation is controlled by the denominational leadership varies. The denomination may legally own the facility in which the congregation meets – even if the congregation raised all the money for the facility themselves. The denomination may appoint ministers for the individual congregations, deciding how long the current minister(s) stay and who comes next. The denomination may determine key doctrinal/social positions – ruling on how the individual congregations should interpret the Scriptures, what the congregation’s stance on issues like gay marriage should be, etc. The denomination generally has a process for credentialing clergy. Most denominations maintain their own colleges or at least have an historic alliance with particular colleges and universities. Denominations provide key services – suggested (or mandated) salary levels, various insurance and pension programs, conflict resolution, legal advice and representation, etc.
Non-denominational congregations operate without such a central office. The non-denominational congregation is, so to speak, on its own. Some non-denominational congregations are one-offs – founded and maintained by an individual preacher or a small group of likeminded individuals. Other non-denominational congregations (like IRCC) are part of a movement – in our case, The Restoration Movement, born in the mid-1800s and now generally known as the ‘Christian Churches/Churches of Christ’. The Restoration Movement has also been called the ‘Stone/Campbell Movement’ remembering three preachers, Thomas and Alexander Campbell (father and son) and Barton W. Stone, any of which would be horrified to think a movement bore their name. The Campbells were originally Presbyterians but chafed at the denomination’s insistence that they could not offer communion to frontier believers from other denominations. Expelled by the Presbyterians – and later, couple of Baptist Associations, the Campbells set out to be just ‘Christians’. Stone was a likeminded revivalist – and there were others. Thus, in a fairly short time there rose a number of ‘Christian Churches’ in Virginia (West Virginia didn’t exist yet but there were ‘Christian Churches’ on that real-estate), Ohio, and Kentucky. There are many thousands of them now, in all 50 states and around the world. But there is still no central office.
Each Christian Church congregation finds its own ministers, the congregation deciding for itself who is qualified and how much to pay, etc. Over the years, the Christian Churches have created and maintained Bible Colleges but the process is decentralized. Some individual has a vision for a college. He has to make an appeal to individual congregations – one at a time – and if he sells them on the vision, they contribute support, send their young people to the college, and consider a degree from that college as valid. Missionary endeavors are supported in exactly the same fashion. Each congregation decides doctrinal questions on their own and there is no one to tell them they can’t arrive at any particular decision.
Some denominational friends have asked me questions like ‘Well, who controls the crazy preacher with wild hare ideas?’ or ‘Don’t all your congregations end up believing totally different things until there’s no point calling it a unified movement anymore?’
I can only say that as the Restoration Movement closes in on 200 years old, there is a remarkable amount of doctrinal unity and, in my experience, brotherly good will. I am as much of a doctrinal outlier as anyone – a historic premillinialist in a largely a millennial movement (If anyone has questions about what that means I’d be happy to take it up in another post.) and so far, so good.
Currently in America the non-denominational congregations (Restoration Movement and others) have two distinctives: 1. They tend to be more conservative than their denominational counterparts. 2. They have for the past two decades at least, experienced more growth than their denominational counterparts.
I fully realize my status as a biased party. I grew up in the non-denominational Christian Churches from the nursery on, graduated from a couple of those colleges that managed to sell their visions to enough congregations to flourish, and have ministered in the same non-denominational Christian Churches all my adult life – over 40 years now. Still, even as I recognize some of its weaknesses, I believe non-denominational is the way to go. I’ll think on whether to write more on that score, saying for the moment only that I have a high and brotherly regard for all who truly follow Christ – from whatever background.
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Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Pastor of Indian Run Christian Church