Sectarianism

May 2009

Dear brethren,

In the foreword to his book The Royal Law of Liberty brother Darwin Chandler said:

Nothing in Christendom is more shameful than our collective penchant for judging and condemning each other and for separating and dividing the body for which Jesus died. We cannot ‘get along’ with ourselves or with anyone else. A spirit of strife, contention and discord rules all of the church. In some cases this spirit is dramatically at work where saints bite and devour each other and are often consumed by each other. In the rest, it is there in less dramatic form yet still visible in the struggles we have with each other over innocuous issues, and in our insistence that we isolate ourselves in little parts of the kingdom and make our claims to being God’s ‘preferred group’.

Whether or not we admit it, and many don’t, and whether or not it is true, and I think it is, the party spirit as is characterized in this quote is a major criterion by which many other believers and unbelievers define and identify us. Indicate or mention that you are in some way associated with or belong to or are a member of a Church of Christ and what immediately pops into the minds of many of those not so arrayed with this denominations: “Oh, the church that thinks they are the only Christians.”

In fact, by our attitude and practice we have betrayed the ecumenical slogan of our spiritual forefathers of the early nineteenth century: “We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only.” We claim to be the only true Christians and we are not Christians only. We claim to be the spiritually elite, ignoring the serving nature of discipleship, resorting to legalism thus misconstruing relationality to God and one another, while authoritatively reducing the activities of God’s ordinances to perfunctory performances with the emphasis on the mechanics or methods. This is the party spirit, not being one in the Spirit.

The party spirit, sectarianism, is a work of the flesh. This in itself should cause us to examine ourselves to see if we are free from its presence individually and collectively. Unfortunately some of those who boast the most frequently and the loudest of their loyalty to Christ are beset by this fleshly work. Satan has deceived them into thinking that their spirit of debarring and dividing as a means or coercing and forcing others to assent to their opinions relative to “disputable matters” is a sign of faithfulness. Instead it could debar them from heaven.

Those imbued with the party spirit care more for authority than truth, both Jesus Christ who is the truth (John 14:6), and the factual written principles of the new covenant scriptures. They prefer their way to the example of Jesus Christ and they twist the scriptures to support their eisegesis.

Jesus confronted this spirit in the scribes and Pharisees. We’re told that many of the rulers believed in Jesus, but “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:24-43).

Pilate was a man who valued his authority more than he did the truth. He told the Jews, “I find no fault in Him at all.” (John 18:38). Yet he delivered Jesus to the Jews because he feared for his authority, position, and power. (John 19:8).

Satan wasted no time in infiltrating the early church with the carnality of the party spirit. We read of it in Corinth, in Galatia, in Rome. Then the beloved John tells us of Diotrephes of whom he said, “ who loves to have the preeminence” and did “not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” (3 John 9-10). Does that sound familiar? Right down to the present day individuals are blackballed and congregations excluded from activities and directories because they want to “receive the brethren.”

Brethren possessed with the party spirit think they know the truth as it is to be known. They confuse their interpretations with the written word. They think they have arrived and want no challenging or questioning of their views. They refuse to seriously re-examine. Their effort and money and time are primarily spent keeping brethren conformed to their views and proselyting believers to their party. They tend to be arbitrary, dogmatic, inconsistent, and at times even hateful. They don’t make distinctions between those with sincere hearts who seek to obey God despite different understandings relative to “disputable matters” and those who deliberately prefer their way to God’s. They reduce the way of salvation to a determinative system of church or religiosity rather than being an indicative, joyous response to the grace of God.

The aim of our spiritual forefathers at the beginning of the nineteenth century was “the restoration of a Christian and brotherly intercourse with one another.” It was Christ-centered – “Christ alone being the head, the center.” Two hundred years from when Thomas Campbell stated this in his “Declaration and Address” these objectives have not been realized although I have hope when I read such as the following:

We can be diverse without being divided. We can be united without being uniform. As church we can do what the world has not done. We can include without being insular. We can accept and affirm without acquiescing that absolutely anything goes. We can open our hearts without closing our minds, and open our minds without closing our hearts. We can accept humility without being humiliated. We can lose ourselves to a higher purpose without falling apart.

– Amy Lignitz Harken, “Things We Surely Believe” in the book One Church published by Leafwood.

Are we willing to “lose ourselves to a higher power” or do we prefer to continue in our sectarian ways? We have long and many times said, “Jesus is the answer”, but instead wanted and went our own way. What do we really believe, not “in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth”?

In Him,

J. James Albert

P.S. Dallas Burdette’s new book Old Texts Through New Eyes is now available from major sources or you can contact Dallas at dburdette21@charter.net. Not only should this book be read by all Bible students, but also it will serve as a valuable reference and resource book.

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