I had a conversation with one of our members the other day. He had been attending some classes and even some worship at another church in our community. I was familiar with that church and the things that they teach, and have some significant theological disagreements with them. So, as tactfully as I could, I cautioned him to be careful and be aware of what they were teaching. His response was that I should not worry because they were “non-denominational” and “open to everyone.” He seemed to feel that this meant they would not be teaching anything with which I could possible disagree, or that would contradict the teachings of the denomination to which our church belongs.
The idea that non-denominational churches are some kind of theological neutral ground where they do not get involved in the theological disputes of mainline denominations is a prevalent one. It is also completely false. All “non-denominational” really means is that a church is not officially a part of a mainline denomination. And in some cases, it can mean as little as simply not using the name of the denomination of which they are really a part. In any case, all so-called non-denominational churches have a set of beliefs, doctrines, and practices just like any other church that has a denominational affiliation. And many times, those things fall right in line with an existing denomination or theological tradition (Reformed, Baptist, Charismatic, etc.).
The reasons that churches will choose to be non-denominational vary from church to church. For some, they may wish to avoid the baggage that comes with being associated with a well-known denomination, such as past scandals or controversial positions on the issues. For others, it may be a matter of outreach. They may feel like having a denominational affiliation would exclude some of the people they are trying to reach. For yet others it may be because they differ on a key issue that keeps them from being in full fellowship with the denomination. Whatever the reason is, one thing is clear. They are not theologically neutral.
So how can you tell what denomination or theological tradition of which a so-called non-denominational church is a part? There are two easy ways. The first is simply to look at where the pastor received his or her theological education. If they attended a Baptist seminary then you will most likely be receiving Baptist teachings. If they attended a Reformed seminary, you will most likely be receiving reformed teachings, and so on. The second is to take note of the theological language they use when preaching and teaching. For example, if they use the term “full Gospel” a lot, you will most likely be dealing with a charismatic type of church.
In the end, there can be absolutely nothing wrong with attending a non-denominational church. However, we need to realize there is nothing inherently more neutral (or more Biblical) about their theology simply because they deny a denominational affiliation. And it is always important that we remain aware of what any church that we attend believes, teaches, and confesses. That way we can always make sure we are growing in faith and knowledge of the Truth.