Yes, in many instances, and in the best of times, we can function without denominations. But we are not always at our best, taking into account our temptation to turn in upon ourselves (and the reformers defined sin in this way) and the complexity of creating and sustaining community. I am convinced that every church and every member of the clergy, over a span of time, needs to belong to a denomination.
Interesting post on Christian Century by Kenneth Carter on why congregations need denominations. I’m sympathetic to what he says. My own congregation doesn’t have a denomination, and is unlikely to ever have one again, after being mistreated by the hierarchy and leaving en masse. I think it’s healthy the way my own church has cultivated strong ties to a wide variety of congregations of various denominations in the area. We might even be well connected enough to have the help we would need from outside in times of conflict. That said, I think denominationalism or some other co-operation is something the church overall is poorer without.
In 1976 Rod Huron may have welcomed us into the Computer Age a little too soon… although it was very worrying that computers were already creating punchcards with fortune cookie messages.
Inside, many of the devotion titles use computer speak which resembles SMS speak three decades later – ‘ME FRST‘ and ‘M + F >> U’ and ‘SALV PRO’. The work, recently withdrawn from a theological library I’m familiar with, is illustrated with punchards, fake circuit diagrams and the like.
The Weekend Australian Magazine (Oct 1-2) featured a cover-story by Kate Legge on the conservative Adass Jews in Melbourne, a distinctive, largely self-contained Jewish community. Inevitably, the Amish were mentioned as a point of comparison, another distinctive religious community not wanting to embrace all of the technologies and assumptions of the 21st century – or even the 20th. For the Adass, adhering to strict dietary laws is paramount. The Sabbath is closely observed. Men do not touch women, even to shake their hand. They do not forbid contact with the outside world, but they live largely within their community.
Reading about the Adass brought out conflicting feelings in me, two ideologies which sometimes overlap and sometimes clash. One is a belief in the need for deep community; the other is a belief in the need for an authentic life.
It was in my teen years that I articulated a personal vision that pitted myself against the suburban world around me; I called it ‘calibanism’ then, after Miranda’s term in John Fowles’ The Collector (who in turn had got it from the character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest); it is similar to ‘boganism’. I was arrogant, ignorant and lonely then. I thought that the only authentic response to lowbrow culture and consumerism was an individualistic elitism. As my politics and faith became more left wing, I came to see the bogans or calibans of this world as at least partly victims of a system. I embraced the (not exclusively) Anabaptist conception of the church as a counter-cultural community. But even in my twenties, I was ambivalent about conforming to the norms and rules of a community.
I think our society has become so sadly fragmented and individualistic, losing much of the community involvement which gave our ancestors a sense of belonging and meaning. And yet I always place myself on the fringe of any system or community – too ready, perhaps, to see its compromises and faults, too unwilling to compromise on my own complicated code.