IVP - Addenda & Errata - Interdenominational or Nondenominational?

August 28, 2009

Interdenominational or Nondenominational?

Leave it to an editor to fuss over something like this. But in the never ending (but quirkily inconsistent) quest for accuracy I can get into a “corrective” mode when people use the terms interdenominational for nondenominational—or use them interchangeably. I recently found this interchangeable use in one of our books where I thought it least likely to occur. This reinforced my impression that perhaps I’m the only one bothered by this.

Let’s focus on home turf, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). Is it interdenominational or nondenominational? I want to argue that this parachurch organization is nondenominational. If we call it interdenominational, that would seem to mean that several or many denominations—as denominations—cooperate in this campus ministry organization. Well, it’s true enough that InterVarsity staff come from and are members of a variety of denominations (and some churches that would not claim to be denominational at all!). And often their respective churches support their work as well as that of IVCF more generally. But this support originates in the decisions of individuals within these denominations or by particular congregations. And frankly, some supporters’ denominations might not be happy to see their constituencies supporting IVCF, simply out of organizational interests (e.g., they might want them to support the denomination’s own campus ministry exclusively). So while it is true that there is an interdenominational mix in IVCF (as in numerous other evangelical parachurch organizations), IVCF is arguably not interdenominational in what strikes me as the proper sense of the word.

It is nondenominational. Your denominational allegiance (or lack of one) is not a determining factor in joining IVCF staff. You need to be able to sign wholeheartedly our doctrinal statement, support our values and mission, etc. Whether this puts you at odds with your own denominational affiliation is between you and your own denomination. At IVP we have quite a few denominations represented on our staff. We might kid each other about our denominations, but basically we leave the distinctives of our denominations at the door when we come to work. Or at least we try. Lord knows we try (most of the time).

Perhaps people avoid the term nondenominational because they think it connotes an aversion to or disregard for denominations. But is that how we use the term nonpartisan? For such an attitude I’d suggest a term such as antidenominational.

And if you insist on using interdenominational for an organization like IVCF, just what term will you use for those organizations that are truly and intentionally cooperative efforts by two or more denominations?

As I used to reason with our kids when they were growing up, “If you say you hate broccoli, what word are you going to use for something really disgusting, like boiled worms?” Hate more loudly, I guess.

For some reason I expect my recommendation on the usage of nondenominational and interdenominational to be heeded about as heartily as my advice to my kids. But the point remains. And I wish authors and editors would be more selective in their use of the terms.

And as Andy Le Peau commented on reading this blog, “If an editor can’t be curmudgeonly, what’s the value in being an editor?”

Posted by Dan Reid at August 28, 2009 12:32 PM Bookmark and Share


I think you are definitely correct about the meaning of “interdenominational,” and about the error of using it to designate organizations that are not intentionally facilitating a particular form of cooperation between denominations. To be genuinely interdenominational, I think that the board of an organization must include members appointed by and responsible to the denominations whom the organization intends to serve.

“Nondenominational” is a good term to describe organizations like IVF, many evangelical schools, missions etc.

I’ve heard it suggested that these are “transdenominational” but even that, though less misleading a term than “inter” is not accurate when speaking of parachurch organizations that have no formal authorization as an agency of denominations.

Of related terminological (and ecclsesiological) interest is something that dawned on me as I was engaged in a workshop at the “Believers Church Conference” last summer. It suddenly occurred to me that, from a believers church perspective, denominations are themselves parachurch organizations. I find that a very helpful perspective from which (as a Baptist) to think about the function and purpose of denominational structures. Unlike IVF, they have a clearly defined church constituency. They are genuinely “inter-church” organizations, in a way that IVF is not. But a denomination has, I think, no more or less biblical rationale for existence than IVF does. There are clear differences between denominational, interdenominational and nondenominational organizations, but all of them are equally parachurch structures, from the perspective of a believers church ecclesiology.

Comment by: Terry Tiessen at August 28, 2009 4:28 PM

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