By Harold Hancock
A sect exists because of a distinctive philosophy, doc trine, or worship practice. It promotes allegiance to the party and the tenets of the faction. It is “division . . . in contrast to the uniting power of truth” (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Pharisees and Sadducees are two sects spoken of in the Scriptures (Acts 15:5; 5:17). The Pharisees taught people to adhere stringently to their interpretations of the Law of Moses. The Sadducees said there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confessed both (Acts 23:8). Pharisees and Sadducees were segments and perversions of the Jewish religion.
The church was called a sect and was spoken against by its enemies and by some who misunderstood the nature and purpose of the church (Acts 24:5,14; 28:22). Tertullus was referring to the church when he said Paul was a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). But the church is not a sect. It is not a faction of the Jews nor anything else. It is all the saved, Jew and Gentile (Acts 2:47; Rom. 1:16). It is not heresy built on one or two peculiar points of dogma. It is the body of Christ and upholds all truth (Eph. 1:22,23; 1 Tim. 3:15). Paul never admitted the church to be a sect. He answered, “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy (a sect, hh), so worship I the God of my fathers” (Acts 24:14).
Calling the church a sect did not make the church a sect. Neither were early preachers required to cease to preach “Jesus of Nazareth ” nor to refuse converts from the region of Galilee near Nazareth because some people alluded to the church as the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 10:38; 22:8; 26:9). People’s distorted views and misconceptions of the church did not doom it to defeat or prevent it from growing. The church grew as the word of God increased (Acts 6:7). Truth will overpower the “prejudices” of honest people!
Denominations are religious sects (Webster’s New World Dictionary). Each denomination claims to be a part of Christendom and is separated from all other denominations by distinctive doctrines and names. Some think of the church of Christ as a denomination. It is not. The church opposes division and seeks to unite all in truth as the body of Christ. It is not a faction of the saved; it is the saved (Acts 2:47). It seeks no distinctive name but may be described by any scriptural appellation – church of Christ (Rom. 16:16), church of God (1 Cor. 1:2), church of the Lord (Acts 20:28, ASV), or church of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23). These are not proper names but phrases that tell whom the church belongs to and who make up the church.
I am sorry some today still perceive the church as a denomination or sect. Their delusion does not make the church a denomination. I do not believe preachers must cease to preach and talk about the “church of Christ” or that churches of Christ must remove their signs from in front of their buildings because some regard them as the “denomination of the Church of Christ.” These people will likely think “denomination!” no matter what phrase we use to describe the church and no matter what sign appears in front of our buildings. They will think “denomination!” until they learn the truth about the nature and purpose of the church.
Obey the truth and be added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:47); do not join a denomination. Take every opportunity to instruct people about Jesus and his church. Truth is the greatest weapon we have to fight false ideas (2 Cor. 10:4).
Teaching the truth is the way we dispel error.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 16, p. 491
August 16, 1990