FTC Indy Micro-Conference: Do denominations help or harm unity of the church?

Posted April 9, 2019 by T. Patrick Hudson

Midwestern Seminary partnered with 9Marks to host a For the Church Micro-Conference on April 1 during the Gospel Coalition Conference in Indianapolis.

As part of the event, a panel of four which included Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen, 9Marks Editorial Director Jonathan Leeman, Reformed Theological Seminary Chancellor & CEO Ligon Duncan, and Sam Allberry, author and speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, discussed the topic: “Denominations: Do they help or harm the unity of the Church?”

At the outset of the discussion, Allen, who moderated the panel, offered somewhat of a spoiler saying, “Done right, denominations help unify believers and followers of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Leeman noted that denominations could either help or harm church unity saying, “You want to balance conviction and cooperation.” He then showed the audience a paper outlining the 18 articles of his church’s statement of faith. Of those, 16 of the articles were traditionally historical and evangelical in nature while the other two were baptistic and congregational.

He added, “Most of what we believe is historically Christian and evangelical, which we share with many other churches. This is our subtle way to teach the church that we are Christian and evangelical. This is a healthy way of both teaching our convictions yet encouraging our cooperation.”

 Duncan began the session by defining what denominations are. He noted that denominations were “created to allow people to have deep convictions about what the Bible teaches without going to war with each other. While many today lament denominations as divisive, they were originally invented to protect freedom of conscience.”

Allen later introduced each panelists’ denominational affiliation with Duncan being Presbyterian, Allberry being Anglican, and Leeman being Baptist. Allen then went back in time and recalled his early impressions of his own Baptist denomination, and how there could be the possibility of cooperation with other denominations.

Allen noted how there were a variety of churches that teach a wide variety of things doctrinally. He also found to his shock and disappointment that even within the Baptist denomination there were churches that didn’t preach the gospel nor believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.

“As I dug more deeply into Christianity and church history, I realized that in virtually every denomination, there is a subset of people that we could label ‘evangelical.’ It was eye-opening and encouraging to know that there are Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc., that I have much more in common with because we all embraced the Scriptures, gospel, and Great Commission, than I did even with some of those who call themselves Baptist.”

Duncan added that there are core commitments that can unite evangelicals across denominational lines. These are profoundly theological and biblical commitments, and this is important to realize because this is one way our faithful, confessional denominational experience can actually draw us closer to other people who really care about what the Bible teaches.

“Even in the areas where we disagree,” Duncan said, “it can help us to appreciate the integrity and fidelity of someone, who while they love us, they are able to disagree with how church ought to be ordered.”

In other questions asked by Allen, panelists explained why they belonged to their respective denomination, and they also answered, “If you were not in your particular denomination, which would you belong to?”

Allberry explained that he might very well be Baptist if he lived in the United States due to a strong focus on the gospel and biblical inerrancy. However, within his particular context, he noted that geography may play a major factor and he might be Presbyterian.

“My reasoning for this answer is largely a geographical answer,” Allberry said. “I’d ask where the gospel-centered, Bible-teaching church in town? In many places, you don’t have a choice. It would be better to join a local church with these traits than to travel long distances to find a church that has my own denominational preferences and convictions.”

Following the lively panel interaction, Allen opened the discussion to involve questions from the audience, and then the event wrapped up with an interview between Leeman and Allberry. To learn more about the latter discussion, see David Roach’s Baptist Press article.

To view the micro-conference discussion panel in its entirety, click here.