Non-denominational Christianity

Non-denominational Christianity

In Christianity, the term non-denominational refers to those churches that have not formally aligned themselves with an established denomination, or remain otherwise officially autonomous. This, however, does not preclude an identifiable standard among such congregations. Non-denominational congregations may establish a functional denomination by means of mutual recognition of or accountability to other congregations and leaders with commonly held doctrine, policy and worship without "formalizing" external direction or oversight in such matters. Some non-denominational churches explicitly reject the idea of a formalized denominational structure as a matter of principle, holding that each congregation must be .

Non-denominational is generally used to refer to one of two forms of independence: political or theological. That is, the independence may come about because of a religious disagreement or political disagreement. This causes some confusion in understanding. Some churches say they are non-denominational because they have no central headquarters (though they may have affiliations with other congregations.) Other churches say they are non-denominational because their belief structures are unique.

Members of non-denominational churches often consider themselves simply "Christians". However, the acceptance of any particular stance on a doctrine or practice (for example, on baptism), about which there is not general unanimity among churches or professing Christians, may be said to establish a de facto credal identity. In essence, this would mean that each non-denominational church forms its own unofficial "denomination" with a specific set of tenets as defined by the beliefs and practices of its own congregation.


Non-denominational Christian churches are almost exclusively derived from the Protestant movement, as a fundamental part of catholicism is visible organizational unity (Ecclesia militans or the body of the Church consisting of living members).

This is not to say that the visible unity of the Church was not an important doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers of the 16th century Magisterial Reformation believed that they were reforming the Catholic Church. Each of them took very seriously the charges of schism and innovation, denying these charges and maintaining that it was the medieval church that had left them. Because of this, the fundamental unity of the Catholic Church remained a very important doctrine in the churches of the Reformation. Dr. James Walker wrote in "The Theology of Theologians of Scotland":

Wherever the Protestant Reformation took place, the founders claimed that the result was not a new denomination but a reformation of a supposedly pre-existing "national" church.

Denominationalism was accelerated in the aftermath of the Westminster Assembly convened by the English Parliament to formulate a form of religion for the national churches of England and Scotland. In the debate between the two main parties present at the Assembly, the Presbyterians and the Independents, the Presbyterians were in favor of a form of church government that maintained the visible organizational unity of the Catholic Church while Independents, weary of the ecclesiastical tyranny they experienced under the Episcopal system, wished to organize the churches in a congregational way envisioning no legitimate authority of the church above the local congregation meeting at one time in a single place. Obviously these two parties were not reconciled and following the Assembly the Independents formed their own independent church. Thus instead of a united expression of the Church Catholic in England there were now two churches.

Protestant denominations spread and multiplied, especially in the United States, as Denominational confessional statements began to be used more to exclude than to include Christians with different doctrinal convictions Fact|date=May 2007. Each denomination maintains to differing degrees some form of organizational and visible unity with its member churches, albeit radically decentralized compared with the Catholic Church. Today, non-denominational churches, like the Independents at the Westminster Assembly, refuse to recognize any ecclesiastical authority above the local congregation and deny the visible unity of the Church (though not the unity of the invisible Church) despite the fact that the original denominations were formed by substantially the same ideology.

In the United States, the number of evangelical non-denominational churches (often included in the category of American Protestantism) has increased exponentially since the late 1950s Fact|date=April 2008. Many historians of American religion cite after-effects of the Scopes Trial and baby boomers, as well as the higher standard of living available in the United States, and the movement away from authority in American culture.

Other reasons for growth may include a desire to break from centuries-old extra-biblical traditions and focus on the life and teachings of Jesus. Some Christians feel that belonging to an established denomination can distract from the teachings of Christ with use rituals and traditions, many of which have their roots in pagan traditions.

Non-denominational churches range from "simple" [cite web|url=|title= Simple Churches: Q&A with ACU’s Kent Smith and Harding’s Marvin Crowson|date=2006-06-01|accessdate=2006-09-20] with only few members to "super" or "mega" churches of congregations of 1500+ attendees.

Common traits and tenets

While all non-denominational churches will differ to some degree, there are a number of aspects that are common to almost all of them.

Because they do not look to any human organization for doctrine, non-denominational churches generally claim the basic tenet of sola scriptura, that the Bible alone is the source of doctrinal authority. From this, a number of similar doctrinal points can be found across most non-denominational churches, such as those found in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed. Individual churches differ in terms of how literally they interpret various texts of the Bible.

Since most Christian non-denominational churches stemmed from the Protestant movement, almost all of them hold to the five solas, which are solus Christus, sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, and Soli deo gloria (solely to God be glory).

Because the five solas are the main tenets of the Protestant faith, many non-denominational churches are Protestant churches. However, some non-denominational groups reject this term for etymological reasons, stating that they are not protesting anything.

Many non-denominational churches can also be considered Evangelical, especially concerning how one may be saved. Often (though certainly not always), non-denominational churches are loosely Baptist in doctrine and often borrow from charismatic, Pentecostal, Calvinist or fundamentalist ideas and practices as well.

Outside of doctrinal areas, non-denominational churches are generally more accepting of people from various religious backgrounds and political views. Services are occasionally modeled after those of another denomination, but are also usually tailored to the preferences of the congregation, and can change drastically even from week to week.


The most basic criticism of non-denominationalism is the duality of its nature; while non-denominationalism may be a move toward a more ecumenical church body, it may be used as a marketing ploy. This may be as simple as "tricking" some Christians into attending a church or college that does not share their beliefs, or it may be as subtle as a church or college calling itself "nondenominational" simply to increase attendance or enrollment, focusing on that quantitative response rather than the quality of community or education. While this practice may have happened in rare instances, it is certainly not the norm and is quite rare. The criticism that "trickery" is required to increase attendance at non-denominational churches or colleges is negated by both the sheer numbers of people who are joining non-denominational churches at will and with full knowledge, as well as being evidenced by mere observation.

A main argument against non-denominationalism claims that the pastor or teacher at such a church often has no theological degree, and can become a leader of the church without any of the theological training, or even an undergraduate degree that large denominations generally require. A well-known example is Joel Osteen, the leader of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, who has no theological education at all, and has never studied at a seminary. [cite web
title=The Leaven of Lakewood
author=Liichow, Robert S.
] It should be noted, however, that the early apostles never required a seminary degree to teach or lead a church. For example, the apostle Paul was taught by other believers and claimed to have also been taught directly by the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus never required specific degrees or even specific levels of education in the leaders He chose, as exemplified by his selection of the 12 Apostles: fishermen, a tax collector, etc. [ I Corinthians 1:27] [The Holy Bible, Book of Acts,] However, the early apostles were immersed in the culture and language of the day and were familiar with the linguistic and scriptural traditions to which Jesus referred.

While this does not apply to every non-denominational church, those to which it does argue that maturity and knowledge are all that are required for leadership, not completing a course in seminary. Seminary study is a valuable supplement to the means of grace outlined by Paul, but it cannot provide a substitute for those biblical qualifications for church office.Fact|date=April 2008

Other critics maintain that there is no such thing as a truly "non-denominational" church, that all churches adhere to a core set of beliefs in some form, just as denominational churches do, even if those beliefs are not as formalized as a named denomination, and even if that church's adherents form a single congregation.Fact|date=April 2008 One defense against such a criticism is to argue that the basis of a "denomination" is the association with practices and beliefs as defined by human standards, whereas "non-denominational" groups do not adhere to any such practices or beliefs — their beliefs are strictly in adherence with divine mandates.Fact|date=April 2008 However, this may presuppose the standard of distinction addressed by the question: if their beliefs are not divine, then they in fact do adhere to human standards and denominational norms.


The following organizations and institutions label themselves as non-denominational:
*Open Bible Standard Churches — Pentecostal
*Open Brethren — non-charismatic, of UK origin
*Churches of Christ — associated with the Restoration Movement; known for sola scriptura, "a cappella" worship, and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
* Christian Churches - associated with the Restoration Movement, known for sola scriptura.
*Churches of Christ in Christian Union — offshoot of Church of Christ, also focusing on free-form worship and evangelism
*Newfrontiers — charismatic, of UK origin
*Sovereign Grace Ministries — identifies itself as "Reformed Charismatic"
*Household of Faith Community Churches — identify themselves as "Reformed in Doctrine, Charismatic in Ministry and Evangelical in Mission"
*Vineyard Movement — evangelical/charismatic
*Independent Fundamental Churches of America — association of conservative, independent churches
*International Circle of Faith - ICOF — Fellowship of Independent Churches
*Calvary Chapel — mildly charismatic, originating in California
*Gordon College (Massachusetts) — started by a Baptist church and once part of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
*chiläolten — evangelical movement
*Local churches — The local churches ( _zh. 地方教會) are a Christian movement influenced by the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and associated with the Living Stream Ministry publishing house. Its members see themselves as separate from other Christian groups, denominations, and movements, part of what they sometimes call "the Lord's recovery".

While in general, these groups will not have formal legal ties between individual congregations and consider themselves non-denominational, outsiders often describe them as denominations in and of themselves due to their close associations, equivalent doctrine, similar worship practices, and the ease of using one name to cover a larger group of churches.


ee also

*Broad church

External links

* [ Nondenominational Congregations Study]

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