How to Choose a Denomination

There are almost no guidelines that are given to congregations that are leaving one denomination and beginning the process of affiliating with a new denomination. I have never read an article on how to do that. Some congregations are so focused on leaving a denomination that is heretical or trending in that direction that they just become independents. That is not a long-term solution for most congregations. There are a few congregations that can maintain dynamic, Scripture-based ministries as independents—but not many. If Independency was the correct form of church government, then how can you explain the importance of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15? The right of appeal to a larger group of elders is a fundamental element of true Scriptural church government. Without that right of appeal, there is the tendency towards tyranny in church government. That same tendency towards tyranny can and often does exist within denominations, but true Scriptural church government is to help mitigate that problem. So… what are the things that should be considered in choosing affiliation with a denomination?

First, choose a non-hierarchical denomination. Hierarchy is the enemy of theological purity and is the friend of ecclesiastical tyranny. Finding a denomination that is not hierarchical is not easy. Almost every denomination has tendencies towards hierarchy. If those hierarchical tendencies do not manifest anywhere else in the denomination, they will certainly be evident within the mission organizations. All General Assembly level mission organizations of all denominations operate in a hierarchical manner. The denomination might claim to be grass roots, but you learn differently when a candidate for the mission field shows up at your presbytery meeting and announces, “I have been approved by the General Assembly’s Mission Board to go to Rwanda as a missionary and I am here to be examined by this court.” What type of examination do you think will be given to that candidate? Will that presbytery have the courage to turn down a candidate that has already been approved by a committee of the highest court? I do not think so. In fact, I am not aware of any lower court that has ever done so. That scenario is true in almost every denomination. Also, no matter what the polity of the denomination is, those General Assembly level committees operate like they are episcopal dioceses. Pay very close attention to this particular issue. Hierarchy destroys denominations and is the enemy of the truth. The Scripture never intended for power to be concentrated in the hands of a few men who are for all intents and purposes unaccountable to the bodies that elected them. 

Second, choose a denomination that makes no claim to the property of the congregation in any manner. There are some denominations that blatantly claim ownership of the property of every congregation within it. Avoid those denominations like you would avoid the black plague. There are other denominations that are more subtle about local church property. Their forms of polity will, supposedly, allow a congregation to leave with their property if every hoop is jumped through in proper order. Here is a good question to ask those denominations: Can you please give us the names of five congregations that have left your denomination with their property? Then, do your due diligence and contact those churches to hear the story from the other side. One thing I can almost assure you is that there will be very few instances of churches leaving a denomination with their church property when there are hoops that have to be jumped through before doing so. One dissenting vote can often trigger the denomination to take possession of the church property. Be wise in this matter. If your congregation cannot retain sole possession and ownership of the church property under all circumstances, then just walk away. 

Third, choose a denomination that is true to its doctrinal standards. Too many times, denominations treat their doctrinal standards like they are mere suggestions. The treat the Scripture the same way. That is a recipe for disaster. Over time, those denominations allow exceptions to almost every doctrine of the Scripture. They conveniently ignore Jesus’ warning to His disciples: “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew16:6). The disciples at first thought that Jesus was speaking about bread, but they then realized He was warning them about the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The church has paid too little attention to the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. A couple of years ago I had a reputable conservative minister tell me that he would be happy to defend his reasons for remaining in a heretical denomination. I am still waiting on him to give those reasons. It is easier to make such a boast than it is to support that boast with Scriptural arguments. If he ever attempts to defend his position, I am ready with my response: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” It has been my observation over the years that ministers and congregations that remain in denominations that are going heterodox or heretical begin to compromise on little things. Then, they compromise on bigger things. The leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees works within them even when they are not aware of it.

Fourth, choose a denomination that does not allow neo-Marxism or LGBTQ+.  The leaven of both of those heresies is very deadly. During the days of the Soviet Union, Marxism was called “the worker’s paradise.” In modern America, this neo-Marxism should be called “the woker’s paradise.” That is not a typographical error. It is a play on the old slogan. People were expected to work in the old Soviet Union. In modern America, they expect to be paid for not working. In the Soviet Union, state security was more important than anything else and any action that was a threat to it was swiftly punished. In modern America, destroying the security of the nation is applauded; killing police is praised; rioting and looting are promoted; and, every deviant form of behavior is pushed by the government into the mainstream. This neo-Marxism is much worse than the old Marxism. It would be great if the visible church would speak with a united voice against what is happening, but the churches have adopted and promoted the very things that will lead to their complete demise. You might think that a denomination is safe if it only has a small minority of ministers or churches that are neo-Marxist and support LGBTQ+, but you are wrong. Choose another denomination unless you suffer from a death wish. 

Fifth, choose a denomination that is unashamedly evangelical and evangelistic. The church in Jerusalem was the mother church of first-century Christianity, but the church in Antioch became the spiritual center of first-century Christianity. When Peter baptized Gentiles without circumcising them first, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem called him in for questioning. About fifteen years later, they did the same thing to Paul over the same issue. The decision they made in Acts 15 was good, but there is no evidence that the church in Jerusalem ever really learned their lesson. What was the main difference between the two churches? The church at Antioch was evangelistic and mission-minded. That church aggressively took the gospel to the Gentiles in fulfillment of the parables Jesus spoke in the last week of His life before He was crucified. What about the church at Jerusalem? There were false brethren that came from Jerusalem that caused trouble for the converts in Galatia. Some of them were men of high reputation who contributed nothing to Paul’s labors (Galatians 2:6). Those false brethren were working against the gospel several years after the Council in Jerusalem. There is a lesson here. A church that is not unashamedly evangelical and evangelistic will do nothing for the gospel, but, instead, will oppose it. 

I am sure there are other things that could be considered in choosing a denomination, but if you follow these five things, you will not go very far wrong—if at all.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL 

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