No one really knows exactly how many Protestant denominations there are. I suppose it depends on who’s counting. Some say the number is in excess of 30,000. I think that’s unlikely and must include every “independent” bible church along with a growing number of virtual churches who happen to have a website or a mailing address. But whatever the number, it’s embarrassingly large. Large enough that critics may rightly charge Protestants with a lack of unity in their beliefs. And if Protestants can’t agree on their beliefs about church, how can they be so confident in their beliefs about God?
It comes down to “essential” beliefs vs “preferences”. It would be almost 400 years after The Resurrection; long before the Great Schism, The Reformation and the subsequent outbreak of Denominationalism; that the one and only church of that time could agree on the essentials of the faith and came up with the Apostles and Nicene Creed statements. These are probably as close to the essentials of the faith as we can get. Some churches still recite those creeds today. Why some churches do not is another matter.
For over a decade my wife and I have been attending a local Disciples of Christ church. She grew up in this denomination and I, being a recovering Baptist, followed her to the Disciples. The Disciples are considered a mainline denomination even though they are relatively new, forming out of the Restoration Movement of the early-mid 1800’s in the United States. But in 1906 the Church of Christ denomination was formed and broke away from the Disciples. The split is generally attributed to the use of musical instruments in worship. Today the Church of Christ is “a cappella” and the Disciples use musical instruments. But the underlying differences are really about liberal vs conservative views on Bible interpretation and authority. The Church of Christ is conservative and the Disciples have become increasingly liberal. However, some Disciples churches still tend to lean conservative and our church definitely fit in that category which suited us just fine. A nice blend of conservative doctrine and beliefs joined with traditional worship.
For at least the past 40 years mainline, traditional churches have experienced a significant decline in membership. Most of this can be attributed to mainline churches becoming more liberal and socially conscious at the expense of Biblical and traditional orthodoxy. In the meantime, fundamentalist evangelical churches have grown. With that growth most have embraced a more “seeker friendly” worship experience with contemporary music, casual/no dress codes and dynamic preachers. For the serious “seekers” they offer “small group” bible studies where the real “disciple-making” goes on.
This “not your grandparents' church” experience is working well enough and where matched up with bible-based messaging, churches are flourishing. Now even the old mainline churches are chasing the new ways of doing church. But lacking a meaningful, life changing message, they continue in decline. Sadly, in the race to change, traditions that hold meaning for many of us have been lost. As a result, some older Christians find themselves unchurched or churched unhappily out of habit or convenience or for the sake of friendships.
Our church has moved away from its Disciples roots and traditions. Attendance is up, baptisms are up, more young families are showing up. So it’s working. Praise God for that. But for those of us who feel deeply touched when the congregation is saying the Lord’s Prayer or singing the Doxology, going to church these days just isn’t the same. Nevertheless, our time is short, and God’s ways are not our ways. So, we will adjust and worship as best we can for as long as we can... wherever we can.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow….”