A strong aversion to the word “denomination”


Dr. Roger E. Olson, a Baptist minister and professor of theology at Baylor University, is currently updating and revising the Handbook of Denominations in the United States.

In a blog post regarding the work in progress, he makes a very interesting observation about the state of denominationalism in our country:

“One of the biggest surprises for me in this whole research project has been the adamant rejection of the word “denomination” by many leaders and members of denominations. For the handbook’s purposes, a “denomination” is any collective, network, of congregations (whatever they may call themselves) that has some identity. A denomination does not even have to have a headquarters, let alone a hierarchical structure, to be a denomination. For example, the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental) has always been included in the Handbook even though it has no headquarters or over-arching official, hierarchical structure of authority. Every Church of Christ is entirely autonomous, independent. But they know who they are-with some problems about boundaries. It is what I call a “centered set” rather than a “bounded set.” But even a centered set can be a denomination.

I have been taken a bit aback by the vehemence with which many leaders, pastors and members of denominations claim “We are not a ‘denomination’.” That is usually followed by something like “We are a fellowship” or “We are a movement.” There is in the U.S. today a strong aversion to the word “denomination.”

Olson then goes into a discussion of where he believes this aversion to the word “denomination” comes from. I invite you to read his post, and then return here and comment.