Story: Interdenominational Christianity

The story of Christianity in New Zealand is not only that of denominations. Many people rarely attended church but thought of themselves as Christians. Christians and churches often cooperated – through necessity, or with a common purpose.

Story by Peter J. Lineham
Main image: Jesus March, 1972

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

Shared churches

In 19th century New Zealand, several Christian churches, or denominations, often built a church to share between them, as in many places their individual congregations were small. The different denominations, such as Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist, would take turns to run the church service.

Interdenominational organisations

There were several organisations, including the British and Foreign Bible Society, which raised money to distribute bibles and religious literature.

Interdenominational missions worked with Māori and provided help to the poor in cities and rural areas.

Social issues

Interdenominational organisations became involved in social causes, including:

  • temperance – campaigning against drinking or selling alcohol
  • pacifism
  • anti-abortion
  • anti-racism
  • overseas aid.

Youth work

Youth organisations with a Christian basis included Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Scouts, Guides, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

New Zealand state schools are secular, but from 1897 religious education programmes have been taught in some primary schools. Interdenominational organisations are active in schools and universities, and have become more diverse in recent years.

Ecumenism

Ecumenism is the movement to bring churches closer together. It was supported by leading Christians and saw interdenominational chaplains appointed to prisons, hospitals and universities. In 1941 the National Council of Churches (NCC) was founded by seven Protestant denominations. In 1989 it was replaced by the Council of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand, and included the Catholic Church. However, it closed in 2005 and attempts at organisational ecumenism have struggled since.

Evangelical Christianity

Evangelicalism is the movement to attract new followers through a personal, ‘born again’, experience of religion. Evangelists from overseas have visited New Zealand, including Billy Graham, from the US, who had large crowds at his meetings in 1959. Evangelical missionary work included Missions to Seamen and Open Air Campaigners.

Charismatic movement

The charismatic movement, which began in the 1960s, emphasised gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prophecy and healing. By the 21st century some of the largest churches in New Zealand were charismatic. These ‘mega churches’ had congregations of up to 5,000.

How to cite this page:

Peter J. Lineham, 'Interdenominational Christianity', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/interdenominational-christianity (accessed 25 September 2018)

Story by Peter J. Lineham, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 9 Aug 2018