Elton Trueblood first popularized the term “postdenominational” in 1967. In an article appearing in Christianity Today, Trueblood stated, “If we are truly conscious of what time it is, one of the chief facts we must know is that, so far as the Christian religion is concerned, we are in a post-denominational age.” Forty-four years have passed since Trueblood made that statement and we still have our denominations.
The question today is not whether denominations exist. The question is: does anyone care?
I grew up reaping benefits of denominational life without realizing it. For example, my Sunday school literature and offering envelopes were produced by the denomination. The hymnals and pew Bibles were from the denomination. Most of the songs the choir sang were published and provided by the denomination. My pastor was educated by the denominational seminary. My youth pastor was being educated at a denominational Bible college. Most of my family members who went to college attended a liberal arts college supported by the denomination. I attended summer camps built and staffed by the denomination and youth events sponsored by the denomination. I learned about missions from missionaries supported by the denomination. While some of that has changed, much of it has not.
Twenty years ago, the young editor of a state Baptist paper, Al Mohler, Jr., wrote in the Christian Index, “American religion is experiencing a fundamental restructuring which will transform the landscape of the nation’s religious life. Virtually every religious denomination or body is engaged in a process of reorientation, reorganization, or focused on a search for identity.” Some things never change!
In fact, the reorientation of American religious life, and of Southern Baptist life, seems to be accelerating. Beginning with the reorganization of the International Mission Board, the advancement of the Great Commission Resurgence agenda at the national convention, state conventions, and even in many local Baptist associations, as well as a host of retirements marking the generational transition of leadership, and the shrinking financial commitments of local churches to the Cooperative Program, everything about denominational life seems to be influx.
I contend, however, that the greatest change we are experiencing is a lack of understanding of, and interest in, the Kingdom role of the denomination. Some see it as irrelevant. Some church leaders see it as financially competing with their local church agenda. Some simply refuse to exhibit the kind of loyalty required for denominational structures and ministries to thrive. Most remain uninformed regarding the partnership opportunities afforded by the denomination.
Given the reality that denominational structures within the Southern Baptist Convention still exist and are still trying desperately to serve our churches, what does all this mean for the Kentucky Baptist Convention?