Though many Christians cannot imagine the Christian life without denominations, an increasing number see them as things of the past. This latter group frequently views them as culturally-driven communities: “This church is dressier, that church is filled with societal elites, that church is for blue-collared folks, etc.” Therefore, why be a part of a denomination? Why not “just be a Christian”?
It’s important to recognize that divisions are not new but are the sad result of human sinfulness. Due to sin, men rejected Moses and caused division within Israel (Num. 16). After King Solomon, the kingdom split into two. God, then, judged the Northern Kingdom for developing new doctrines and practices. There were also various schools of interpretation at the time of Jesus, e.g., the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots. The earliest generations of the new covenant Church was fractured, as well. In the 6th century, many Western, Latin-speakers acted unilaterally to change an ecumenical creed. This appalled many of the Eastern, Greek-speakers and exacerbated divisions that were already taking place. This division was formalized in 1054. During the 16th century, the Protestants (Anglicans, Lutherans, and Reformed/Presbyterians) sought to reform the Western Church according to Scripture, which was a return to the practice of the Ancient Church, and they were kicked out of communion with the Pope. The minute we take a position on any doctrine – even if we say that a doctrine is unimportant! – we have either aligned ourselves with a church tradition or splintered the Church further by creating a new one. Claiming to be “non-denominational” doesn’t avoid this reality.
So, why are we part of a denomination (some in the URCNA prefer the term “federation”)? Well, we have interpreted the Bible and consciously reflected upon the various doctrinal traditions. In the end, we have concluded that the Reformed tradition is the most biblical, though we do not claim it’s the only biblical tradition. We have also concluded that the Church should manifest its spiritual oneness in a visible manner. We can’t talk about unity without acting in unity. Being independent of other churches and ordained leaders causes further division; it even gives occasion for sin since there is little to no accountability. Just like the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), our leaders gather to deliberate on doctrinal and moral controversies (cf. Prov. 11:14). This helps keep our sinful disposition in line and provides a later of protection from the abuse of power. Our denominational unity also serves as a step toward seeing Christ’s entire Church united, as we are actively seeking union with other like-minded churches and pray that this will continue in years to come.