Defining Non-Denominational Christianity
Whether you grew up in Christianity or not, you might get confused by the term ‘nondenominational Christian.’ Today, many churches out there refer to themselves as nondenominational or even interdenominational; however, what does this mean? This article will discuss what’s a non-denominational church, what these Christians believe in, and the history of non-denominational Christianity.
What Is Non-Denominational Christianity, and What Does It Mean?
Non-denominational Christianity has no connection with common denominations and mainline churches like Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian churches. So, a non-denominational Christian is a person who isn’t tied to any particular religious organization, hierarchy, or leadership. That doesn’t mean that nondenominational churches have no oversight–that would be tragic–but they aren’t locked to any specific denomination.
Christian denominations are large organizations with specific beliefs, identities, and traditions. For example, the larger organization might set directives on dogma, membership, and leadership in denominational Christianity. While in nondenominational churches, every church makes its own decisions on various aspects of church life.
Non-denominational Christianity first arose in the 20th Century. Although these churches are many across the globe, they first appeared in the United States. The reasons for establishing a particular non-denominational church largely depend on the ideas and circumstances of its founders.
Non-denominational churches often lean towards the title of “nondenominational” for several reasons. For instance, non-denominational Christianity might follow a particular sect or domination in its traditions and beliefs but differentiates from that denomination by having its own rules and not strictly adhering to the structure of the broader organization. This independence allows non-denominational Christianity to set themselves free from doctrinal and sometimes political alliances of particular denominations and establish a relaxed church structure.
With no traditional oversight from a particular sect or denomination’s leadership, the non-denominational church can adapt and adjust based on the desires and needs of its congregation and community and discard traditions they deem obsolete.
Some nondenominational churches mimic a mainline church but differ on a few key matters that deter them from becoming full members of the denomination. Using the word “non-denominational” allows other churches to reach a larger audience and attract believers with negative views of traditional religion or a little religious background.
Nondenominational Christianity is often an appealing option for members of mainline denominations who disagree with the church’s outlook on certain matters and with the Millennials and Gen-Z who dislike the formality of mainline churches and their rigid traditions and doctrine.
How Does Non-Denominational Christianity Differ From Christian Denominations?
A Christian denomination is a nonprofit organization of a broader religious institution, such as the United Methodist Church, Southern Baptist Church, Presbyterian Church, or Lutheran Church. These churches often have a set of core beliefs and customs established and shared by the broader organization.
Protestant denominations usually have shared worship practices, teachings, and leadership structures, and they often have organizational structures to help them stay connected to the broader denomination. Although churches within a denomination are more conservative or liberal, every church’s core depends on a standardized belief system.
Many Christian denominations have a hierarchy; the direction and leadership come from the top. The Bible offers insight into the structure of denominational churches, especially in the book of Acts, where the first establishment of churches and missionary journeys was recorded.
Non-denominational Christianity, on the other hand, is a religious organization that’s not affiliated with any specific sect or denomination. A non-denominational church is also called an independent church, even though it could be part of a broader movement like Protestantism or Evangelicalism.
Non-denominational churches aren’t affiliated with traditional denominations and don’t have a broad standpoint on theological issues. Instead, the primary focus of these churches is often on Biblical teachings, encouraging spiritual growth, love, and acceptance of all people.
Some Christians may prefer non-denominational churches because they emphasize spiritual growth and don’t have traditional denominational customs. In addition, church members appreciate the freedom to explore their religious beliefs without the pressure to conform to particular traditions.
Participating in nondenominational churches means church leaders don’t have to report to a denominational organization or adhere to specific rules.
The primary difference between denominational and non-denominational churches is that non-denominational churches aren’t associated with any specific denomination or religious sect. In contrast, denominational Christianity is part of a particular religious movement.
Non-denominational churches usually have less strict regulations than denominational ones, allowing them more religious flexibility and less oversight. Denominational churches offer security for their members if a “crook pastor” misleads their followers. Leadership in the church can step in to provide the needed legal help.
Nondenominational and denominational churches focus on Biblical teachings and emphasize the value of an authentic and direct relationship with God. Further, both church structures are based on Jesus Christ as the primary foundation, and the division in their core beliefs shouldn’t be viewed negatively.
Are non-denominational baptisms valid? Click here to find out more.
What Are the Core Beliefs of Non-Denominational Christianity?
While the answer to this question will vary from church to church, non-denominational Christianity primarily believes that the Bible should guide the worship, teachings, and other parts of church life. Rather than adhering to beliefs set out by a broader organization, nondenominational Christian churches rely on the Bible to guide their dogma. The members of the church congregation, particularly church elders, lead church members into reflecting a notion that a church is a community of worshippers rather than a hierarchy.
That’s in contrast to denominational churches, most of which have unified doctrinal beliefs that aren’t necessarily rooted in the Bible. Instead, those doctrinal principles are created through significant annotation and interpretation of Bible scriptures and–occasionally–secular considerations. In non-denominational Christian churches, these doctrinal beliefs aren’t necessary and, often, can cause distraction from or overcomplicate God’s word.
Most denominational Christian churches also have structured hierarchical leadership led by a formal priest or pastor. While nondenominational Christian churches have pastors and elders who guide and help the church congregation in their relationships with God, and they believe some people have a special anointing to preach, their hierarchical structures are less formal, and the doors are always open to any believer who feels they have a calling to take part in church life.
Of course, many vital beliefs bind all nondenominational Christian churches in the Christian fellowship. The foundation of these is the belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God and an earthly incarnation of God, His crucifixion on the cross, resurrection from the tomb, and His prophesied second coming.
Nondenominational Christian churches share this belief with all other Christians. Another foundational belief is that the Bible is essentially God’s word literally and is perfect, with no need for additions and further explications of doctrine. Thus, as far as nondenominational churches are concerned, the Christian life must be rooted in Biblical principles, not dogma or rituals.
Further, in matters relating to cornerstone features of the Christian doctrine, like communion or the Eucharist, priesthood, and sacraments, such as baptism, marriage, and funeral practices, nondenominational Christian churches usually have a lot in common with non-episcopal Protestant churches, as dignified from the doctrines embraced by the American Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church, or Roman Catholic Church. In this context, nondenominational religious beliefs are often more simplified than traditional churches, emphasizing essential Biblical teachings at their core.
How Do Non-Denominational Christians Approach Bible Interpretation?
Typically, nondenominational Christian churches believe that the Bible is the exclusive authority that governs every aspect of the church, with Bible scriptures shaping their philosophies and beliefs. Also, they’re self-governing entities, with church elders often overseeing the church’s structure, organization, and customs. As a result, non-denominational churches focus more on Biblical doctrines than denominational traditions.
Click here to learn more about versions of the Bible.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Non-Denominational Churches?
There are many pros and cons of attending a non-denominational Christian church, including:
Since every independent congregation can decide on the church’s beliefs and practices, a non-denominational church can change and adapt to societal norms. When a belief becomes obsolete, the church can react and adjust appropriately to serve its congregants and community.
Addressing the congregation’s needs and desires without answering to an oversight leadership helps the church decide its path. This ensures the congregation has a chance to influence the development of their church. Also, it means that nondenominational churches are responsive and dynamic and have minimal chances of getting stuck in dogmatic practices that might not be relevant to the lives of church members.
Nondenominational churches can attract congregants from mainline churches who disagree with certain traditions and practices while remaining in the larger Christian church spectrum. Often, Christians raised in denominational churches maintain their beliefs in Jesus Christ and Biblical principles while conflicting with their church’s long-standing dogmas and rituals. However, by attending a non-denominational Christian church, they can worship outside traditions and practices they dislike and doubt.
Sadly, independent, nondenominational churches might not have the resources that larger organizations may have. These resources include leadership, financial contributions, teaching experience, notability, mentorship and support, and influence. These factors can help a congregation grow, become sustainable, and reach more prospective members.
Nondenominational Christian churches might struggle when there are disputes within the church, whether it’s about church operations or substantial clashes on church practices, rituals, and dogmas. If pastors within a nondenominational church disagree, the church may split into different factions because there’s no broader organizational structure to settle contentious matters in the congregation. The hope is that disputes can be resolved by reflecting on Biblical teachings, but differences in Bible interpretation are challenging to solve. Although this shows a laudable openness to dialogue and discussion among church elders, it can cause dissolution and a lack of unity at its extremes. Established Christian churches bypass such matters through a solid grounding in God’s word as a cornerstone document and a willingness to air out doctrinal differences and solve them as quickly as possible.
What Is the History of Non-Denominational Christianity?
Nondenominational Christian churches first cropped in the 18th century via the Stone-Campbell-Scott Movement. This movement was a part of the larger Restoration Movement, and its congregants popularly branded themselves as “Disciples of Christ” and “Christians.” Congregations in the nondenominational Christian church often call themselves Churches of Christ. Independent, nondenominational Christian churches have continued to appear in the United States even in the 21st century.
In the 21st century, nondenominational churches experienced substantial and continuous growth, especially in the United States. If combined into one group, nondenominational congregations jointly represented the third-largest Christian group in the US in 2010, after the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church. Today, non-denominational is now the largest segment of American Protestants.
In the late 18th century and early 19th century, Barton Warren Stone, who was a Presbyterian minister in Kentucky, and other Christian ministers started a plea to go back to a straightforward New Testament Christianity that referred to followers of Jesus Christ as “Christians.” Stone believed that Protestant Christian sects were a deviation from apostolic Christianity and were based on earthly ecclesiastical rituals. He had issues with the “Calvinist” doctrines of predestination, election, and reprobation, together with the Trinity doctrine.
Meanwhile, in the state of Pennsylvania, Alexander Campbell and Thomas Campbell were also trying to end sectarian names in Christianity. Additionally, they championed the “one Church of Jesus Christ” concept on earth and for Jesus Christ’s followers to be called “Disciples.” The Campbells aimed to unite Christians by eradicating artificial creeds and adopting the Biblical Scriptures alone. Church members in the Campbells were called “Campbellites,” and they were guided by the philosophy: “Speak where the Bible speaks and stay silent where the Bible is silent.”
Later, Walter Scott went to Scotland from New York to revive the New Testament Church. George Forrester, a member of the Scottish independent movement, motivated him. He went to the Campbell Christian churches and later became an evangelist. In three years, he attracted over 3,000 Christians to the movement. This movement was later referred to as the Stone-Campbell-Scott Movement.
These movements merged in the 19th century, bearing Protestant-free churches called the Stone-Campbell-Scott churches. These Christian churches were autonomous, independent, and concentrated on baptism by immersion, the New Testament, communion, and ecumenism.
A difference in stances between Christians in the Stone-Campbell-Scott churches caused division within the Movement. In 1906, the movement split into three groupings in North America, still using the terms “Disciples” and “Christians.” These groups include:
- Christian Church or Disciples of Christ
- Christian Churches or Churches of Christ
- Churches of Christ
The North American Christian churches are still in the World Convention, which comprises Stone-Campbell Christian churches in over 100 countries globally. In the United States, the Disciples of Christ is mainly restricted to 69 churches in Georgia.
How to Find the Right Non-Denominational Church
Recently, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people who aren’t affiliated with any specific Christian denomination. Many of these people are searching for a church to attend, while others are looking for a religious community to help them grow spiritually.
However, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to finding the best non-denominational Christian church near you, and it’s a unique process for everyone. The best way to find the right church is to research and ask around family and friends who might be attending nearby churches.
You also can look for the right church near you by searching on social media like Instagram and Facebook, using Google Maps, and asking family members and friends who live near you if they know of good churches in the area.
To find the right church, start by identifying the denomination you want your church to be. For instance, if you’re of the Catholic faith, it’s great to search for Catholic churches near your area because this denomination has more than one church in every location. Finding the right church is vital because it’s not just about the services and building but also about those who are part of it.
How Can Church.org Help?
Church.org is a non-denominational Christian website that provides many resources for Christians worldwide. So our site could be beneficial if you’re looking for the right non-denominational church, small group Bible studies, or other religious resources.
Our most popular feature is the verse-a-day notification, which sends Bible verses directly to your inbox. This simple feature can help you remain connected to God’s word and strengthen your spiritual life.