What does non-denominational mean? What do non-denominational churches believe?
There are at least three common uses of the term non-denominational within Christian circles: a church-related activity, such as a worship service, that is aimed to be acceptable to all denominations, similar to "inter-denominational"; an association of churches that does not hold to a particular historical creed; or, finally, and most commonly, a church without a denominational affiliation. There has always been tension within the church about how to develop a leadership system that is sufficient to the church's needs and provides guidance regarding theological matters, yet allows each congregation to function according to the gifts, direction, and specific concerns of that group of Christians. While the Bible provides quite a few guidelines for how to structure a church's leadership, much is left up to our own ingenuity and situation.
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Occasionally, a number of different denominations will decide to have a joint service, start an outreach organization, or something similar. Usually, the term "inter-denominational" is used, but on occasion the group desires to remove all focus on denominational differences, and may choose to use "non-denominational" instead. This is also a common term when the government is including a religious aspect in an event or building.
There are a few groups of churches which consider themselves "associations" instead of "denominations," because the churches that make up these "associations" were originally independent and do not hold to any of the historical creeds (such as the Nicene Creed), counsels, or other historically developed forms. Also, these associations often have little, if any, power over each other except through the free choice to be part of the group or not. However, this is still a misuse of the term non-denominational, since the origins of the term "denomination" relates more closely with the present-day meaning of designation. It has become wide-spread enough that this meaning is passing into common usage, but it should not be confused with other definitions.
A "non-denominational church" which is independent creedally and authoritatively may be found to hold any combination of Christian beliefs. From anti-biblical cults to extremely solid, vibrant churches, and everything in-between, all may be found to claim the title "non-denominational." However, there is a sort of general reputation of non-denominational churches that is more common than others. Usually, a non-denominational church is congregational, or another independent model usually called "elder-led," which is as much as to say congregational, but the elder board has more decision-making power. Although they may not officially acknowledge one of the ancient creeds, the Nicene or Apostle's creed is commonly representative of their basic beliefs. Usually these churches have roots in the Baptist movement, but may be either traditional Arminian / free will in theology, or reformed / Calvinistic.
There are many excellent non-denominational churches operating today. No matter what church you may be considering attending, be prayerful and thoughtful throughout the process. Click here for suggestions regarding what to look for in a church.
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