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Mike Pohlman Christian Blog and Commentary

In Defense of Denominations

According to a new study, Americans appear to be more loyal to their particular brand of toilet paper than their ecclesiastical denomination. The headline this morning caught my eye: "Study: Americans More Loyal to Charmin or Colgate Than to Church." From the article: 

According to a Phoenix-based research firm, 16 percent of Protestants say they would consider only one denomination, while 22 percent of them would use only one brand of toothpaste and 19 percent would use just one brand of bathroom tissue.

Experts say the findings may be more telling about Americans' views of the plethora of Protestant groups than how they choose between Quilted Northern and, say, Cottonelle.

The article quotes a professor at Syracuse University to help shed some light on why Charmin has our allegiance more than, say, our Baptist church:

Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, said at first blush the findings may indicate that "the United States worships at the church of consumption," but thinks there's more to the numbers than that.

"When you actually think about it for more than 10 seconds, none of this is all that surprising and I don't think it's actually bad," Thompson said.

He said the statistics demonstrate that some of the age-old rivalries between Protestant denominations have simply dissolved.

"Those distinctions, which seemed so important as the various Protestant churches were identifying and evolving ... are really not that important to the average churchgoer in the United States," Thompson said.

Now this is what concerns me: American Protestants don't seem to care much about theological distinctions.

While some doctrines are certainly not in the category of "essential," shouldn't we still care deeply about issues relating to baptism or communion or the Sabbath or worship music or church buildings or curriculumn or preaching method or a myriad of other aspects of one's ecclesiology?

This is not to deny the need for a measure of ecumenism today. There is much to learn from groups like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel. These movements are demonstrating how Protestants of many different stripes can cooperate while not undermining denominational distinctions.

My hope, however, is that American Protestants will once again care deeply about not only the essentials of the faith, but matters of secondary importance as well. (Please don't interpret this as mere legalism. I'm not thinking here about card playing, dancing, secular or Christian music, movies, etc. Again, I'm referring to one's doctrine of the church.) For when these things are properly [read: biblically] pursued and humbly embraced in a local fellowship they can help us live a more robust Christian life.