Very few truths have as much prominence in the new covenant scriptures as the unity of the saints. It is a point strongly urged by Jesus as noted in the Gospels and frequently enforced by the inspired writers of the Apostolical Epistles. Progress has been made in the last five or six decades as more and more are becoming attuned to the Spirit of God, but our divisions still exist because too many still do not understand the basis of unity and fellowship and refuse to admit or recognize their party spirit. Some still even manifest a sense of pride in being separated from those they call “brethren-in-error” and “digressives”.
Our unity is not a unity of conformity based upon agreement in select “disputable matters” relative to “five acts” of a Sunday morning assembly. Neither is it a unity of proximity. It is a unity of life in Christ. We are one because God had given us His life through His Son Jesus Christ. How glorious and wonderful that God has called us to share in this tremendous reality. We should be exceedingly thankful. The more that we manifest His Spirit within us, the more we will draw closer to Him and one another. This brings me to the primary sin that mitigates against our having and enjoying the unity of the Spirit.
Sectarianism is a sin of the first magnitude. It underlies all of our divisions which we have on the surface attributed to things such as false teaching, intellectual differences, not respecting the authority of God or His written word, etc. Let me give you just a partial list of things that sectarianism does to bring about and sustain divisions.
a.) It encroaches upon the Divine prerogative to establish the basis of fellowship and unity.
b.) It imposes upon the freedom and sacred rights of conscience brethren are to enjoy in Christ.
c.) For its own power and sake it will ruthlessly rend asunder ties of spiritual consanguinity.
d.) It makes antagonistic interests paramount.
e.) It assumes a legislative function, establishing a code of laws based upon private interpretation, often relative to the silence of the scriptures.
f.) It uses the biggest part of the believers’ energy, money, and time to establish and maintain the party.
g.) Perhaps the worst thing it does is that it arms infidelity with its most formidable weapon to attack Christianity.
Note this, especially readers who are critical of the Biblical concept of “unity in diversity”. Sectarianism does not lead to “unity of conformity”, but promotes and maintains and sustains diversity among Christians in relation to truth. This brings me to my next point.
2.) Dealing With Diversity
How have we dealt with diversity, and how do many still deal with it? The answer is in an unscriptural way, specifically manifesting heresy which is a work of the flesh. We have ignored the will of God to “receive one another, just as Christ received us”, preferring our own will rather than His and thus causing divisions, making our own laws, withdrawing fellowship, and forming parties upon the basis of our opinions.
For a people who have prided themselves upon their verbal opposition to creeds formulated by man we in the Churches of Christ are some of the most creed-defined and driven believers upon the face of this earth. We use them to differentiate ourselves from other believers and to establish membership in our party. They are the basis of our interpreting the Bible. Salvation is considered intellectual conformity to them. Faithful and true discipleship is regarded as defending and maintaining them.
We drive away conscientious, sincere believers because they will not conform. It has always struck me as strange that if we want to get others to see as we do, why isolate ourselves from them, maybe wedding them to their opinions, and making communication with them either problematic or non-existent. This same mentality makes it difficult to ask questions and dangerous to entertain doubts. It tends to prevent an increase of knowledge and understanding because it will not allow the mind to transcend the party platform. Anyone who does is looked upon suspiciously as having entered forbidden land. Sadly, the result is that too many rank and file believers become obsequious sheep bleating only what the authoritative party leaders want to hear. This now brings me to the last point of this letter.
3.) Sound Doctrine
The goal of the heretic is a unity of knowledge or opinions relative to the interpretations of the “disputable matters” that define his party. He refers to those who assent to and abide by these inferential truths as being of “sound doctrine”. This is interesting because “sound doctrine” when used in the new covenant scriptures refers not to agreement in opinions about “disputable matters,” but generally to Christian character and its effects.
This is very clear in Titus 2. The apostle Paul told Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine”, then delineates what he means by this. He takes people by their various ages and places in life and tells what befits sound doctrine for them. The older men are to be sober and patient, older women reverent and not slanderers, younger women to love their husbands and children and to be discreet homemakers, the young men to be sober-minded, etc. Read Titus, chapters two and three. At the end of chapter three he condemns the actions that are characteristic of the ramifications of our traditional interpretation and application of “sound doctrine”.
I understand the Greek phrase which is translated “sound doctrine” signifies “doctrine which imparts health”. Has our traditional interpretation and application of this phrase produced “health” in the body of Christ? Certainly not as our divisions attest! Has that same emphasis been conducive to converting people to Christ? No! Unbelievers aren’t coming to our meetings or sitting around waiting to hear what we think about cups, classes, instrumental music, the order of so-called “worship assemblies”, whether or not we clap in jubilation of our salvation, preterism, etc. They are looking at our attitude and lifestyle. Are we better human beings and kinder people who truly care about them, not because we are trying to increase our party’s numbers, but simply because God loves us and them? We have buried the gospel and its life-transforming effectiveness under mountains of less important peripheral issues.
The sectarian says that the unity we seek is one of conformity in knowledge of “disputable matters” and the bond is party zeal. This is contrary to the scriptures which say that love is to bind Christians together. Sectarianism is a denial of the efficacy of love which is to reign supreme in the hearts of saints.
J. James Albert