Benefits of Affiliating with a Denomination

Draft by Tim Voorhees.
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Apostle Paul exhorts Titus to put elders in every city of Crete (Titus 1:5). Paul emphasized that each elder must, "hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." (Titus 1:9). Given that Crete had approximately 100 cities, there would have been at least 100 elders capable of preaching sound doctrine. How did elders in this network support one another? The Westminster Divines provide answers to this question in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).

Chapter 31 of the WCF quotes Acts 15, Isaiah 43:23, 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 Chronicles 19:8, 2 Chronicles 29-30, Matthew 2:4, Proverbs 11:14, Ephesians 2:20, Acts 17:11, 1 Corinthians 2:5, 2 Corinthians 1:24, and Luke 12:3 to explain the relationship among elders. The example in Crete (an island with about 3,000 square miles) can be an excellent model for a typical county in America. A network of elders can unite together in synods (sometimes known as presbyteries or denominations) to form strong relationships. Here are 15 benefits related to elders ("presbyters") forming associations among the churches that they lead.

  1. Raise up Spirit-led leaders. Model to the community how the Presbyterian form of government overcomes the many common (and often serious) problems with Episcopalian and congregational forms of church government (seen at mega-churches and other churches that tend to have bylaws concentrating much power in one person and/or his family members). In contrast to the "top-down" leadership seen in churches run using business structures, show how congregation members can raise up Spirit-led ruling elders who support a Godly teaching elder (preacher).
  2. Affirm time-tested principles. Model to the community that the church does not selectively affirm and apply the chapters from the Westminster Standards. Affiliation with a presbytery shows commitment to the synods and councils that the Westminster Divines recommended to maintain the peace and purity of the faith. See, e.g., Chapter 31 of the WCF. These synods and councils are a key part of the church courts that the Book of Church Order advocates to help churches address judicial issues affecting members.
  3. Receive trustworthy support from other churches. Benefit from the oversight of other churches (within the presbytery and the general assembly.) These other groups of churches have trained elders and peacemakers who can promptly and effectively help resolve any conflicts that the local church cannot resolve on its own.
  4. Unite with other churches to prevent the darkness that often festers between churches. Benefit from the support of other local churches when shining light into darkness. For example, local churches can respect the discipline process of each other, such as when refusing to re-marry a spouse who left his/her spouse without Biblical grounds.
  5. Combine resources of multiple churches to address big problems in society. Extend the reach of local churches as they band together to work alongside governments and families to build upon time-tested models for church-based family, educational, economic, and judicial institutions (as pictured on the outer ring at the right). Local pastors can then have support when inspiring managers, lawyers, teachers, and parents within boardrooms, courtrooms, classrooms, and family rooms to uphold practical applications of doctrines depicted by the inner rings at the right.
  6. Hold to a consistent understanding of Scripture. Maintain a denominational "brand" that gives credibility and visibility to the local church.
  7. Attract new members by holding to distinctives. Receive steady referrals of new members from throughout the country as people from other churches in the denomination relocate and look for a new local church with denominational distinctives.
  8. Give resources. Serve other churches by making church resources and wisdom from successful local churches available to other churches in a presbytery.
  9. Receive resources. Benefit from denominational resources, such as colleges and missionary organizations.
  10. Foster more mature discussions about church associations. Engage members in an informed and edifying dialog about the benefits of denominational affiliation.
  11. Appeal to donors. Attract investors and donors, many of whom will be more likely to fund the church longer term if there are protections against liberals or legalists taking control of the property and using it for purposes contrary to the founders’ intent.
  12. Reflect unity. Display unity among elders by uniting them around time-tested truths regarding denominational affiliation.
  13. Develop a "Referral Network" to build a K-12 school. Churches within a presbytery, following well-developed models around the country, can preach sermons on Christian education and then encourage parents to support the presbytery's K-12 school. Working with a broad network of churches can help the school maintain a steady supply of new students and new donors.
  14. Access qualified back-up preachers. Easily access "pulpit supply" so that trained and qualified teaching elders can replace the lead pastor if he should be taken out of the picture because of unforeseen circumstances.
  15. Honor God and experience His blessings. Show that local church members believe in the power of God and the creative solutions from the Holy Spirit by overcoming problems that have kept too many churches from respecting what Scripture says about presbyters (elders) being united throughout a region.
  16. Maintain a consistent witness across the generations. Join with churches that have maintained faithful commitment to denominational confessions of faith across many generations while many non-denominational churches and non-confessional churches have lost momentum after the departure of the founding pastor.

Mature elders will know how to preach and lead according to the models in Titus, the other Pastoral Epistles, and the confessions of faith. Preaching can shine light into the darkness. When evil festers in the dark places between the churches, the prayers of multiple churches can strengthen each church that seeks to confront the darkness. As mature churches support one another, it is easier for each church to discipline the unrepentant and respect disciplinary judgments of other churches. While this mutual support has many benefits, the commitment to preaching, prayer, and church discipline affirms the means of grace. Such grace can be at the heart of sound doctrine and the source of all benefits summarized in the above bullet points.