In the current ministry environment, I'd be willing to argue that the concept of denominations is not only under-valued by the majority of Christians and churches, but there it is also something that many places view negatively. I'd like to challenge that idea because I believe that there is incredible value to denominations. I don't think denominations are without their flaws; in fact the fighting that happens within denominations is often the most brutal, unchristian behavior around. But even with the flaws, denominations are filled with a rich history of practices that have proven valuable for the leaders and members of them. Many of these things that I see as being valuable in denominations aren't unique to only churches that have "Lutheran" or "Baptist" or something of that sort in the name. But I do believe that denominations have done many of these notably well.
Denominations Have a Built in Network of Churches
Imagine you have someone from your church moving to a new state for a new job. Hopefully after being a part of your congregation, they have a desire to also be connected to a new home church as they make their move. And finding a new church can be difficult - will be people be speaking in tongues? what do they believe about communion? do they care when I was baptized?
The beauty of denominations is that it provides a great network of churches that fall in line when it comes to core theological beliefs. Having a network of places that have the same view on the teachings of the Bible can be very beneficial when thinking about where to worship. Now despite this network of churches that share beliefs, that doesn't guarantee that a church puts those beliefs into practice, that they have a good leader, or more simply that they are a healthy church. Denominations don't eliminate these issues, but they absolute help.
What's interesting is many churches have taken this concept and have even expanded it beyond having the same beliefs; there are many organizations that have partner/network churches that share beliefs, vision, and strategy. It's in a sense a modern take on the traditional approach to what denominations have long done.
Denominations Don't Hide Their Theological Leanings
One of my pet-peeves is when churches hide their theological leanings.
I really value when a church is clear about what they believe. When I listen to messages by Mark Driscoll or Matt Chandler, I greatly respect when leaders are unapologetic about how they interpret the scriptures. I don't necessarily agree with what they may teach about subjects like baptism, but I can appreciate that they are very clear about what they believe and why they believe it. I think denominations do this well. In the Lutheran world, I think our denomination (LCMS) specifically does a great job of saying clearly what we believe about the Bible.
Now on the other hand, we also have to be careful to not be like the Pharisees who seem to always have it all figured out and get caught up in legalism and miss out on following Jesus. There is always a danger that we are only concerned with orthodoxy and have no concern of orthopraxy. But to truly have an understanding of the scriptures, we can't have one without the other.
Denominations Have Systems of Training In Place
It seems like everyone these days gets ordained or is a pastor. Now absolutely we are all called to be pastors to each other as Christians. The biblical command to go and make disciples is not unique to church-workers and the idea of a full-time pastor isn't exactly found in the Acts 2 church. But regardless of what the role of pastor looks like in a given day and age, the Bible always sets high standards for Pastors/Elders in churches.
The beauty of denominations is that they have built systems that hold their pastors accountable; they expect certain things to be learned and to be taught. It is very dangerous when anybody can throw together a band and a motivational message and start a church. This doesn't mean that this can't happen in contexts where there is no denominational structure; there are a lot of healthy churches that have set up systems of accountability for leaders.
Denominations Have an Ability to Support Church Planters
One of the things I've recently heard about our denomination is the desire to support church planters. Church planting is an incredibly important job today, but it's extremely difficult. Imagine going out with no money, no building, no people, and trying to make something happen. And then couple that with the need to provide for your family, have a vision for what the church should look like, and work a full-time job to provide for your family.
In a denominational context, denominations have money to support church planters. A pastor can decide to plant a church and give his full time and attention to the reality of making it successful because his denomination is able to help financially. When denominations support church planters, the reality of being able to start new churches all over the world becomes just a little bit easier.
Photo Credit: Mindgraph