Ironically, “denominational” is a word that is more likely to be used in non-denominational churches than in denominational churches. Its root has to do with division and so it means “that which is divided from the rest of Christianity by name, teaching, or practice.” Although this is the meaning of the word, it is used more loosely to refer to teachings, practices, and groups we do not agree with. This not only confuses the meaning of denominationalism, it leads to serious misunderstandings.
An independent church that is not trying to set up or maintain a particular kind of Christianity is not a denomination, regardless of whether its doctrine is true. The church in your community wearing a simple name like “_________ Church” is not a denomination, although it may believe and practice things that are not in God’s Word. We may not agree with it, but our problems have to do with something other than denominationalism.
Not all false teaching is denominational. A lot of false teaching exists in churches that believe, as we do, in the concept of simple, New Testament church organization. A failure to recognize this opens one up to the possibility of accepting false teaching because he has let his guard down in a non-denominational church.
A misunderstanding of this word can also lead to denominational thinking in so-called non-denominational churches. The right sign on the church lawn does not ensure that denominationalism is not being practiced inside the walls of the church building. The real question is not, “What is on the sign?” but, “Does this church teach and practice God’s Word, or does it teach and practice the religion of its forebears?” Of course, it is entirely possible that the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” but a church that is only following the footsteps of the generation before rather than those of the Savior may be guilty of denominationalism, and if it isn’t, it has based its hopes on the good fortune of being brought up by parents who were right rather than the Berean spirit of examining the Scriptures to see whether their practices were approved by God (Acts 17:11).
Much harm has come through the abuse of words. When we use an emotionally charged word like “denominational,” we had better know what it means.