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Friday, March 16, 2012

what is a denomination?

Barry Ensign-George has written a thoughtful article entitled, "What Does it Mean to be a Denomination?"  As I was reading it I looked at the word, 'denomination,' to think about it's usage in everyday language.  Many people I know (often even within the church) use the word 'religion' to (incorrectly) describe the differences between Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, etc... - as in "I'm Methodist, but she is the Baptist religion."  All that is to say, 'denomination' does not have widespread usage, much less is it understood.  So Barry's post is a welcome explanation and invitation to consider this terminology.

The only mainstream usage of the word that I could think of is do describe different denominations of money.  20-dollar bills are said to be a different denomination than 5-dollar bills.  As I was about to move on to breakfast, I had the thought that many in the church and world probably think in those terms more than in the carefully thought-out terms in the article above. 

For example, some faulty but overheard commentary, translated into the currency analogy:

  • "It's all money, but we're more of a $20 denomination than a $5 denomination (or that very pedestrian $1 denomination over there)"
  • "Twenty $1's is worth as much as one $20.  Maybe that explains why there are more ______'s than ______'s"
  • "Oh that bunch over there? ...that's not real money (i.e. counterfeit)"
Not real encouraging to hear that kind of thinking, is it?  But I fear that's how many in and out of the church think of "denominations."

May we recapture the best of what it means to embody "distinctive ways of living out the Christian life" (Ensign-George) and let go of the mammon-mindset that is demonstrated in the kinds of comments named above!

1 comment:

Barry Ensign-George said...


Thanks for adding your thoughts. "What does it mean to be a denomination?" is not the only question we face, but I think our lack of conversation about how to answer it is a sign of uncertainty about who we are. Exploring answers is one way to gain some clarity, some useful self-understanding. So thanks for adding your thoughts to what I hope will be a helfpul conversation.


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