The church splits on opinions and options
Students no longer have to claim a denomination to register for classes, despite demographic curiosity. | Cassidy Eldridge/THE CHIMES
Once, Biola University published data on the denominations represented in its student body. However, under new codes established by the university and enacted last semester, new students no longer have to claim a church allegiance.
A heated topic
Denominations have remained a heated topic in the church for centuries, beginning with 500 in 1800 and growing exponentially to 39,000 in 2008, according to ChurchRelevance.com. However, this is not the case in all parts of the world, especially those where the number of Christians is few in and of itself.
“[In the UK], there just aren’t that many Christians. So making a point about your distinctions and your differences — it still happens, but a lot of the time it’s just finding people who will name Jesus Christ as their lord and savior is a good enough thing to come across,” said Andrew Draycott, associate professor of theology.
Draycott elaborated on the plethora of denominations in the U.S. must be overwhelming for students, because it was for him moving here initially, since he was born in England and grew up in both Britain and Brazil.
“The proliferation of denominations has something to do with the strength of Christianity, then the vastness of the geography,” Draycott said. “Inasmuch as students are located in this part of the world, there’s so much opportunity and so much growth of churches outside of really formal denominational churches and really light denominational structures.”
Unity in the church
Requiring new enrollees to list their denomination prior to registration has been taken out of mandatory elements, but the issue of students claiming a church affiliation is an ever-growing issue.
“A majority of students would maybe understand themselves as nondenominational to inter-denominational. There’s quite a lot of that kind of ‘not totally specific,’” Draycott said.
Jackson McKay, senior intercultural studies major, grew up in a non-denominational church. As much as his beliefs coincide with the two churches in which he has been involved in his life, he stresses the need for unity in the church in the midst of disagreements. McKay has evangelized in several countries overseas, one of which is the African country of Ghana.
“In a place like Ghana, where church is less of a commodity and more of: ‘You have a church in your village, you have a church in your community,’ that’s where you go,” McKay said. “People focus moreso on denominational discrepancies rather than the potential for unity within all denominations, which is something. Being an ICS major and doing some missions in places less-churched, that’s not something they can afford to argue about… There’s less division because there’s less church.”
Along the lines of registration requirements, Michelle Reider, associate director of undergraduate freshman admissions elaborates on the mandatory statement of faith every Biola student must make upon enrollment.
“Biola is an inter-denominational Christian school and students write an essay articulating how they came to Christ and how they're growing in the faith. The way the student articulates their faith journey looks different with different denominations. Seeing the denomination gives admissions counselors context for who they are and how they may fit at Biola,” said Reider in an email statement.
Potential to harm
Furthermore, according to McKay, the multitude of denominations in the U.S. has the potential to harm rather than help the cause of Christianity and the mission to spread the gospel.
“We’ve created a culture of the commoditized church, and for better or for worse, honestly, that’s the culture we’re growing up in,” McKay said. “How do we handle that when we know that church is a commodity and that we have options as far as church goes? Is it going to divide us or allow us to share to more people because there’s more perspectives?”