In Defense of Denominations


Over at Religion News Service, Trish Harrison Warren argues that the sexual misconduct by former Willow Creek Community Church pastor Bill Hybels should force evangelicals to rethink their commitment to denominations.  Here is a taste of her piece “Willow Creek’s crash shows why denominations still matter“:

Denominations, however imperfect, often have more robust accountability measures in place for their leaders (these measures do not rely on close friends or parishioners of the accused).

As merely one example, in my denomination, a bishop can “inhibit” a church leader from future ministry or an ecclesiastical court — comprising both ordained and lay members — can conduct a trial and decide to depose a clergy person altogether (more commonly known as being defrocked). His or her ordination would be revoked and there are systems in place to ensure he or she would never be a leader in any other Anglican church.  (If a leader is accused of a crime, he or she is also mandatorily reported to civil authorities for investigation.)

The point of church discipline is both to help bring the accused person to repentance and also to protect the larger, global church body from harm.

I wonder if the Willow Creek crisis signals a tacit end to nondenominationalism as a model for future church planting. Certainly, a conversation is brewing among evangelicals about the need for healthy institutions and older traditions as we navigate our future.

Clearly, there is a kind of denominationalism that is corrosive and corrupting. Likewise, institutionalism, the idolatry and self-protection of institutions, has produced massive evil. As allegations against several evangelical celebrity pastors came to light last summer, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing large-scale sexual abuse of children and a massive systematic cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church. It’s utterly apparent that denominations and ecclesial institutions will not rescue us from sin and abuse of power.

Read the entire piece here.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Denominations

  1. You’ve heard the one about “Non-denominational; you know, Fundamental Baptist with the labels painted over?”
    (Except here in SoCal it’s “Calvary Chapel” instead of “Fundamental Baptist”.)


  2. I realize that there s no perfect model for ecclesiastical governance and Mrs. Warren does a good job of briefly restating this fact. Strangely, however, she points to the value of tradition and roots while practically dismissing a key component of the Anglocatholic tradition; specifically, she bills herself as an “ordained priest.” This hardly comports with a central teaching of that particular tradition.

    I am no defender of the subjectively focused Willow Creek model and am not here to defend it; yet isn’t it equally wrong to claim to be a part of a long catholic ecclesiastical stream while concurrently ignoring one of the core requirements of that tradition?


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