While many people might take a look at the various Christian sects and find themselves wondering which one is right and why we can’t just all get along, is there anything postive to be said for the present reality of denominational proliferation? I would like to suggest that there is.
Each these denomination’s theological self-understanding contributes to our wider appreciation of who God is. Each church traditon tends to focus on or emphasize an aspect of the Gospel or the nature of God, and if that denomination or tradition were to disappear, we could lose a valuable emphasis that few others have picked up on. For example, Pentacostalism helps us appreciate that God is still active today and is a God who shows up in miraculous ways and wants to empower his people to live a life of victory — he is our dear and intimate friend; whereas high church traditions such as Catholicism and Anglicanism focus on worshipping God with proper awe and respect as one who is completely transcendent and other.
Then there are Baptist and certain other evangelical churches that focus on the power of Scripture and the importance of correct doctrine, whereas United Church groups don’t usually care too much about orthodox theology, but are committed to carrying out Jesus’ command to love and serve the poor. Mennonites stress the importance of peace-making and the injunction to be reconciled with all people as we attempt to show them how to be reconciled with God. And Emergent and Reformed Church traditions know how to understand and engage with contemporary culture, whereas the Amish show us the dangers of making friends, or being “of” with the world.
These are all good things and all part of God and the Gospel, and none are mutually exclusive. But it is impossible for any one denomination to encompass all the emphases and aspects of a perfectly rounded theology; none can portray and entirely complete and accurate sense of God, who lives outside of boxes and categories in any case, and so we need to hold each other in check. It is the natural human tendency to default to one side or the other of a cerain theological tension (free will versus predestination, pre- versus post-millenialism), but that is where Christian brothers and sisters who fall to the other side can come in and keep us in balance.
I doubt very much that there will be denominations in the new creation, but in the meanwhile, human nature being what it is, I suspect denominations will remain. But they needn’t perish, as long as we understand what their role is: if each is a piece of the whole, then, taken together, they point to who God is — what he has done, and what he is continuing to do. And therefore I have no problem saying that these traditions can be maintained, so long as they recognize their unique theological emphasis or contribution and then seek to learn from other faith traditions as well. We all have theological convictions and personal worship-style preferences, but no one denomination has the right to feel superior or as if they are “the only right ones.” Any value that denominationalims holds is predicated upon us willing to humbly learn from one another.