By Lanny Smith
Sectarianism is a big problem in our religious world. It is a manifestation of the fleshly, sensual side of man, and “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). The Lord’s body is not to be sectarian, for it includes all who have been saved (Acts 2:36-47). Nevertheless, there can be those in that body who are sectarian (Acts 15:5f). Such being the case, it is needful for us to understand this issue.
A sect “properly denotes a predilection either for a particular truth, or a perversion of one, generally with the expectation of personal advantage; hence, a division and the formation of a party or sect in contrast to the uniting power of ‘the truth’ held, in toto ” (Vines). In other words, a particular doctrine(s) is elevated and emphasized as the sole basis for acceptability, with little regard for the rest of the truth, or for those who feel differently.
We read of sects in the Scriptures. There was the “sect of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17), the “sect of the Pharisees” (Acts 15:5), and others. Each of these groups was distinct, and each claimed to follow the same God, and the same Scriptures. In modern times, a parallel is found in denominationalism, which is a synonym for sectarianism. Webster says that denominationalism is “the emphasizing of denominational differences to the point of being narrowly exclusive: sectarianism.” Consider, for instance, these denominations: Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, Latter Day Saints, and Pentecostal. Each of these groups show “a predilection either for a particular truth, or a perversion of one.” Such groups are therefore condemned in Scripture (Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 1:10-13).
Unfortunately, some Christians seem to believe that only the denominations are sectarian, or for some reason, it’s acceptable when “we” are sectarian. That such is true is evident to anyone who knows the situation with God’s people. We have a wide variety of sects ranging from “ultra-liberal” to “ultra-conservative.” We can literally “join the sect of our choice”! While many preach unity based upon God’s word, they practice denominationalism.
There is, for example, a sect which shows “a predilection” for “gospel,” rather than “doctrine.” This has the effect of including several sects, but excluding those who insist upon “the uniting power of ‘the truth’ held, in toto.” Or, if such is not your taste, there are sects in which a whole host of “pet doctrines” are emphasized: no classes, no women teachers, no located preachers, and so forth. I do not say this to ridicule anyone’s convictions, but to stress the sin of forming sects built around these doctrines.
If I may, I would like to get even closer to home: some among us would seem to define a “sound” church as one with no organ, no orphan’s home, and no kitchen. This can become our own sectarian “list of essentials.” The members may be materialistic, worldly, and indifferent, but at least they belong to the “right” church! Brethren, this is no less sectarian than the denominations! I am not saying that the above issues are unimportant, but let us never judge another’s faithfulness only by issues that we deem important (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). How can some of us smugly criticize our “liberal” brethren, while having a “beam in (our) own eye” (Matt. 7:1-5)? Again, this is not said to excuse our brethren’s sinful practices, but rather to get us to look in the mirror first.
What are the solutions to sectarianism? I suggest four:
1. Realize that no one is immune to sectarianism, and that each of us must endeavor to avoid it (1 Cor. 1:10; 1 Pet. 4:11; Eph. 4:1-6).
2. Realize that no one truth is more important than another: we must seek to know and to do all truth to the best of our abilities (Matt. 23:23-24; Jn. 7:17; 8:31-32; 12:48).
3. Realize that each of us is fallible, and may well be deficient somewhere (Psa. 19:12; 1 Cor. 4:4). This does not excuse sin, but it can humble us before we look down our nose at another (Lk. 18:9-14; Gal. 6:1).
4. Realize that “the Lord knoweth them that are his.” We need not concern ourselves with determining each individual’s final destiny. Our job is to “depart from iniquity” and “contend for the faith” (2 Tim. 2:19; Jude 3).
Friends, God’s church is not a sect. It contains all of his people, dedicated to seeking “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Are you a loyal subject in the kingdom of Christ? If not, why not become one (Acts 2:36-47)?
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 11, p. 326
June 7, 1990