Jared Jenkins and I specifically discuss what a denomination is and what it is not in a podcast recorded for Salty Believer Unscripted. We also talk about the purpose of denominations and include some pros and cons. You can listen to that here.
Without getting into all the arguments of denominations (you can listen to a podcast on that above), I'd like to examine one way that a denomination might help fulfill Ephesians 4:11-16. This text reads,
And he gave apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, but craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (ESV).From this text, it would appear that the purpose of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. This is not necessarily to say that all the saints will enter a profession of full-time ministry or even some kind of formal bi-vocational ministry. But the saints must be equipped. And if the saints are to be equipped, the leaders should also be well equipped.
The local church is a great place for leaders to learn and grow, but it is not the only place. Seminary is a helpful resources for pastors to develop skills and understanding. Some denominations support seminaries. But what about those individuals who can't attend seminary? This is where the denomination can help.
If a denomination is the pooling together resources from a number of smaller local churches, it seems that a teacher from one local church could greatly help pastors from many local churches. This would allow a pastor with a seminary education to share his knowledge with others. The teacher would have the ability to equip other ministers and then together they could equip the saints. The role of the denomination then, should be to bring these people together.
And example can been seen in Salt Lake City among the Salt Lake Baptist Association. The SLBA has partnered with a seminary program of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary called Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD). At the very heart of this program is the desire to equip the saints. They call it the Utah School of Theology.
The Utah School of Theology offers very affordable diploma programs accredited by GGBTS. Upon the completion of the program, students receive a diploma backed by GGBTS; but along the way students receive a high quality education from seminary trained instructors. Some of the professors are even seasoned guys with PhDs who have taught at other seminaries. Applicants need not hold a bachelor's degree (unlike the seminary) and the courses are typically taught in the evenings.
It's my hope that as more denominations work toward equipping the saints rather than some of the other things they do, the beatings will subside. One way is to help train up the church leaders. And when the denominations focus on the right things, maybe the gospel will be advanced at a greater speed into the far depths of the world!