My List of “Approved Denominations”
by Roger Olson
November 6, 2012
Very frequently I receive e-mails from individuals (and some have asked here) for help finding a church. Often what they mean is–a denomination. I can hardly help them find a church in a geographical area I’m not familiar with (without spending a lot of time on the project). So I find it helpful to mention denominations to them–ones that I have reason to believe exist in their area.
So, here I am going to do what I have never done before and hope it is helpful to church seekers.
There are inherent risks in this, of course. First, I will inevitably omit some denominations because I don’t know enough about them. (Although I have been an unpaid consultant for the Handbook of Denominations in the United States and mentioned by the editor in the introduction. Denominations has long been a kind of hobby of mine.) Second, I may recommend a denomination that includes individual churches I would NOT recommend. Third, I may omit a denomination that includes very good individual churches that, if I knew about them, I would recommend. Fourth, in some cases I may be recommending a denomination based on their own information and it might not be completely reliable. I will do my best to work around those risks and avoid them, but I can’t guarantee anything.
What I suggest is that if a person reading my list is intrigued by a denomination, he or she look at its web site and ask the local church questions about doctrines, practices, etc. What I’m doing here is excluding many without naming them. Of course, that’s not to say that any denomination not named in my list is “bad.” It may just mean I don’t know enough about it to recommend it.
What are my criteria for inclusion?
First, the denomination has to be trinitarian. Second, it has to be broadly evangelical (and Protestant), not sectarian or rigidly fundamentalist, or primarily liberal (pluralistic, inclusive). Third, it has to be at least open to Arminians. That is, I will not recommend it if it is, as a denomination, confessionally Calvinist, such that an Arminian cannot teach or serve or hold office. Calvinists have other resources for finding a good church for them. There are numerous Calvinist bloggers who will be happy, I’m sure, to help them locate a good church. I know of few Arminian bloggers who are knowledgeable about denominations who will help those with an Arminian orientation find one. (I hear from such people often enough to know this to be the case!)
Please note: I am not including so-called “mainline Protestant” denominations here. These include some evangelical congregations, but they are not denominations I could say to an inquirer “Find a church of this denomination and it’s probably evangelical and friendly to Arminians.” Of course, if I know of an evangelical and Arminian-friendly congregation where the person lives I’ll recommend they check it out. Overall and in general, however, the so-called “mainline Protestant” denominations are not noted for being evangelical.
So here is my list, for what it’s worth:
Anabaptist and Quaker
Fellowship of Evangelical Churches, Mennonite Church, U.S.A., Missionary Church, Evangelical Friends International. (These I would recomend if the person inquiring was pacifist or seeking a “peace church” congregation to affiliate with. I would only recommend a Friends or Quaker church if the person could find some other way to participate in baptism and the Lord’s Supper.)
Brethren and Pietist
Brethren Church (Ashland), Brethren in Christ Church, Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Evangelical Congregational Church, Evangelical Covenant Church, Evangelical Free Church of America.
American Baptist Churches, U.S.A. (many are evangelical, and the denomination as a whole calls itself evangelical), Baptist General Convention of Texas, Conservative Baptist Association of America (CBAmerica), Baptist General Conference/Converge Worldwide, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (some are evangelical, some are more liberal), General Association of General Baptists, National Association of Free Will Baptists, National Baptist Convention (some are evangelical, some are more liberal), National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. (same as the NBC), North American Baptist Conference, Original Free Will Baptist Convention, United American Free Will Baptist Church.
African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Congregational Methodist Church, Evangelical Church of North America, Evangelical Methodist Church, The Salvation Army. (Note: I would only recommend The Salvation Army with the caveat that the person needs to find some way to participate in baptism and the Lord’s Supper.)
Holiness (these are mostly offshoots of the Methodist tradition)
The Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of Christ, Holiness, Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), Church of God (Holiness), Church of the Nazarene, Churches of Christ in Christian Union, Churches of God, General Conference (Winebrenner), The Free Methodist Church of North America, The Wesleyan Church.
Christian and Restorationist Churches (Stone-Campbellite Tradition)
Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, Christian Congregation, Inc.
Advent Christian Church General Conference, Grace Communion International (formerly the Worldwide Church of God).
Assemblies of God, International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies, Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), Church of God in Christ, Congregational Holiness Church, Elim Fellowship, Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God, Independent Assemblies of God, Fellowship of Christian Assemblies, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Open Bible Churches, Pentecostal Church of God, Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church, United Holy Church of God, Vineyard Churches International. (Note: I would only recommend one of these denominations if the person were seeking a Pentecostal-Charismatic type of church or were open to it.)
Now, a word about some other denominations and networks of churches
There may be some Lutheran churches that are open to Arminianism that are not liberal/inclusive. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of American includes some large, growing, very evangelical congregations such as Lutheran Church of Hope (West Des Moines, Iowa). Some are charismatic. Most of these are probably open to Arminians even though Arminianism is not historically part of the Lutheran theological tradition. Some conservative, evangelical Lutheran denominations that are not sectarian or fundamentalist that may be open to Arminians include The American Association of Lutheran Churches, The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America.
The United Methodist Church
This is a large, “mainline” denomination that includes many evangelical congregations such as The Woodlands United Methodist Church in suburban Houston, Texas. However, many UMC churches are liberal/inclusive. All Methodist churches and offshoots are open to Arminianism now that the Calvinist Methodist Church has merged into a Reformed denomination.
Congregational and Reformed Churches
Most are Calvinist in orientation and would not allow Arminians to teach or hold church offices. However, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, although not Arminian, is more open to Arminian sensibilities than other Presbyterian denominations. (The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. is a large, “mainline” denomination that is largely liberal/inclusivist but includes many evangelical congregations. Some of them may be open to Arminians, but, generally speaking, they adhere to the Westminister Confession of Faith which is contrary to Arminian belief.) The Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (CCCC) is evangelical and not as rigidly Calvinist as most Reformed churches.
Calvary Chapels are conservative, evangelical and, for the most part Arminian.
There are several relatively new Anglican and Episcopal denominations that are evangelical and amenable to Arminian theology. I am not familiar enough with any of them to name them here.
I have met and interacted with and worshiped with Seventh Day Adventists who are evangelical and Arminian. However, the SDA denomination is not usually considered “evangelical” in the historic American “movement” sense of the word. Nevertheless, I see it moving in that direction.
What about the Southern Baptist Convention?
It is the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. Among its churches one can find almost anything, but the overall drift of the denomination has been to the conservative side in recent decades. Most of its churches, however, are “mainstream” evangelical in terms of ethos. Some are fundamentalist; few are liberal. (Nearly all, if not all, of the liberal or progressive ones left the SBC to join one of the several offshoots such as the Alliance of Baptists.) Many are open to Arminians (so long as they do not oppose the “security of the believer”) although Arminianism is not a term widely embraced among Southern Baptists. The common Southern Baptist ethos is compatible with Arminianism, but there is a surge of Calvinism among its churches and in some of its seminaries. It is very difficult to generalize about “Southern Baptists,” so I don’t include the denomination in my list of “approved denominations.” My advice to inquirers about Southern Baptist churches is to check each one out individually and watch out for fundamentalism (e.g., elevation of secondary doctrines to dogmas) and Calvinism.
A note to potential commenters: I will not post comments that include negative comments about specific denominations by name. Feel free to argue that I have omitted one that fits my criteria.