It seems this term is evolving. That happens in the English language, and not always in a helpful way.
I come from a church tradition that has strived for unity among Christians [Stone/Campbell Restoration Movement]. We’ve had some embarrassing failures in pursuit of that admirable goal. Yet we still cherish the belief that we’re not the only Christians but Christians only.
We call ourselves non-denominational because we don’t identify with any specific historical denomination. Within our churches you’ll find believers who were formerly associated with every imaginable variation of Christianity, and others who never belong to any sort of church.
In most of this movement we have no formal denominational structure. No headquarters. No bishops. No lengthy creed to which everyone must subscribe. We have many thousands of congregations, linked by a loose network. When I say “we” that does denote some identity. I’ve told people that we’re sort of a denomination, but with a small “d.”
There have always been similar churches throughout Christian history, but not a movement on the scale we see among our independent churches.
Today, there are innumerable, mostly Evangelical, churches that also describe themselves as non-denominational. That’s fine, because they fit the definition.
Yet I’ve seen a trend develop where the term non-denominational is being used in a couple other contexts.
Some people who identify as Christian, but who are not or never have been associated with any specific church, are now calling themselves non-denominational. I suppose that’s technically true, but I personally feel they are cheating themselves by choosing to be unattached and supported. Perhaps by being off on their own they feel they are free and clear of any accountability, or community expectation, or responsibility for wellbeing of others.
I’ve also noticed that there are others, who may or may not be theists [someone who believes there is a God], who are now using the term in an even broader since. Instead of not wanting to be identified as a Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc, they don’t even want to be identified as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. They’ve heard the term non-denominational, and have decided they’ll use it. They may be among those who perhaps prefer to call themselves “spiritual not religious.” [See “Spiritual, But Not Religious?” 5.4.2019]
That seems to be an innovation for the term non-denominational. It’s as if they want to avoid the topic altogether, and not reveal anything about their faith system, or even if they have one.
I don’t know. I just find it sad. It’s as if they are distancing themselves from something that could be a great benefit for them and their families.
Perhaps there was some trauma in their past that made them gun-shy of any conversations about any faith. Maybe they know that the topic can be divisive, and since it’s not that important to them they would rather be coy. It could be that they truly just don’t know what they are missing, and don’t intend to find out.
They are handicapping themselves. The vast majority of people of faith, any faith, are sensitive and respectful and would never intentionally make things difficult for anyone.
Some people have always been reluctant to reveal how they feel, perhaps dreading expected reactions whether those fears are well-founded or not.
If that is the case some of them might be more open to exploring faith if people of faith did a better job of developing respectful caring relationships, so that the reluctant feel safe expressing how they feel.
Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis.
Copyright © 2021 by Dave Soucie. All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].