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Sectarianism

We approach this subject from the angle of the evident design of God and the great desire of the Lord Jesus Christ for the oneness (unity) of His people.

The Lord Jesus said to the woman at the well, "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father ... the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be His worshippers. God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4.22-24 R.V.M.).

The worship of the Samaritans was centred on Gerazim, and that of the Jews on Jerusalem. The former, God could not accept; the latter, though ordained by Him through Moses, had become so degenerate that He was about to reject it finally and substitute a simple, pure worship (not at Jerusalem merely) in spirit and truth -a balanced conception in outward expression as in inward condition and spirit.

In Jerusalem and Gerazim, the places of the true and the false worship of the past, we have something roughly analogous to the conflicting worship in the sects to-day, and what follows in this article, as well as the words quoted above, should be read in the light of this statement, as also of the fact of the earnest desire of the Lord for the oneness of His redeemed people. We cannot doubt that, as the omniscient God, He had complete foreknowledge of the trend of events up to and including our day, yea, even to the end of the age in which we live.

In John 17.6 the Lord Jesus referred to certain men as follows:

"whom Thou gavest Me out of the world ... they have kept Thy word..."; (verse 9) "I pray for them"; (verse 11) "these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name which Thou host given Me, that they may be one, even as we are" (verse 16); "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (verse 17). "Sanctify them in the truth: Thy word is truth" ; (verses 20-28) "Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on Me through their word that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be (one) in us: that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me ... that they may be one, even as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and lovest them, even as Thou lovest Me."

Here we have the great desire and prayer of the Lord Jesus that His disciples should be joined together visibly in a oneness, a unity such as was His with His Father. In this prayer we follow the ideas of communion, condition, oneness: but always in the truth, based upon God's word; keeping His word, thus being sanctified (set apart) in the truth; "in spirit and truth," always the balanced conception and pattern.

The divine purpose in this oneness is that it should be a convincing witness in the world-" that the world may know." Sectarianism is utterly inimical to this purpose as it gives a divided testimony. Foreseeing division through self-will and other causes the Lord prayed for the unity of His disciples for all time, for those who should believe on Him through the word of His apostles. This unity can only be found and maintained on the basis of God's word.

In Matthew 16.18 the Lord speaks of building His Church. This has reference to the Church, the Body of Christ, which is invulnerable and perfect, into which, in this age, all believers are baptized in one Spirit by the Lord Himself, and it is ours to rejoice in our common salvation and our common heritage in Christ.

In Matthew 18.15-20 the Lord makes His only other reference to "a church" or "the church," but such reference cannot be to the Church, the Body, for the company envisaged is far from being perfect or invulnerable. Here is seen, in prospect, a visible, local congregation or local assembly or church, in which the old weaknesses of the flesh are apparent. In such churches charges may be made, one against another. These can be investigated, evidence can be sifted, justice done and rule maintained; all on the foundation of the sole authority of the Lord Jesus and His apostles.

We read this passage and, at the same time, think of other groups of believers gathered on a different basis with as many different methods of investigating and settling disputes; some altogether setting aside the word of God and the all-authority of Christ and His apostles. Alas that such confusion exists!

Some scriptures bearing on this matter are as follow. In Matthew 28.18-20 we have the well-known commission given by the Lord to His apostles-all in line with His previous utterances and based upon His all-authority:

"Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the consummation of the age" (R.V. Mar.).

Necessarily, for the time was not yet ripe, references in the Gospels to the visible gathering of God's people are few, but when we come to the historical record of the church and churches of God in the Acts of the Apostles, and the exposition of fundamental principles in the Epistles, it is clear there was no doubt in the minds of the writers of those inspired letters that sects and sectarianism were foreseen and spoken against in no uncertain way. In other

words, the apostles prayed for the oneness of God's people, as did the Lord Jesus, and they wrought earnestly to that end.

Acts 2.41 42 Here we have the divinely-inspired record of the conduct of the early disciples and here we have some of the "all things" into which He led the apostles after His resurrection. Faith in Christ, baptism of disciples, addition to those already together, stedfast continuance in the apostles' teaching (truth), the Fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers. "All together with one accord" is the recurring strain of all that follows and this is in line with the foregoing foundational truths. In this Fellowship, this divine unity, we see the outshining of the Spirit of Christ-so convincing in testimony that men marvelled, and "they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus," and also it was said of them: "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts 17. 6).

Ephesians 4.5 speaks of "One Lord," and "One Faith"-the faith once for all delivered unto the saints for which we are exhorted to "contend earnestly" (Jude 3), and in which the early churches "were strengthened" (Acts 16.5). Alas! after such a good beginning, the partisanship of man soon became apparent in "parties," "sects " and " heresies" (the root meaning is the same) -

In 1 Corinthians 3.8, 4 we read of" carnal" believers, those who were undeveloped and unbalanced, "for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and walk after the manner of men? For when one saith, I am of Paul': and another, I am of Apollos: are ye not men?". In regard to the sanctuary of God in the Spirit Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus that they were "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner stone" (Ephesians 2.20).

Paul's letters to Timothy reveal that "in latter times some shall depart from the faith," that "they will not endure the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts and will turn away their ears from the truth." He exhorts his true' child in faith to "hold the pattern of sound words" which he had heard from him (2 Timothy 1.13) and to commit to faithful men, competent to teach others, "the things thou hast heard from me" A further charge he gives in these words

" 0 Timothy guard that which is committed unto thee (Gr the deposit), turning away from the profane babblings and opposition of the knowledge which is falsely so called which some professing have erred concerning the faith" Another charge is given Timothy to "war the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience (again a lovely balance); which some having thrust from them made shipwreck concerning the faith: of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander" (1 Timothy 1.19, 20).

Paul wrote to Titus in similar strain: "A man that is heretical (factious) after a first and second admonition refuse (reject) ; knowing that such a one is perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned" (3 10, 11).

Peter also wrote warning words-" Among you also there shall be false teachers. who shall privily bring in destructive heresies

And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Peter 2.1, 2).

It is plain from the foregoing scriptures, and from others which might be quoted, that sectarianism is foreseen and is abhorrent to God and the Lord Jesus as well as to the apostles, and therefore it should be fearlessly opposed by the Lord's disciples.

2 Corinthians 13.5 calls upon saints to "Try your own selves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves."

It is clear that one Fellowship, one Community is provided for in this age agreeable to God's will. Therefore it should be evident that to have any fellowship with organizations of believers outside of this one thing of God is highly displeasing to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Father.

The following questions may arise in the minds of some:

a-Is it wrong to go occasionally to have a look at what genuine evangelists (born again men) are doing, whether in large gatherings or small?

b-If it is wrong, how is it that God is blessing such men in reaching many souls?

The writer suggests in reply:

a-That the end of what these men are doing does not tally with what was in the mind of Christ when He died and rose again, even that "all men should be saved, and come to the (full) knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2.4). They are careful about the first part only of this purpose. Generally they have no sense of responsibility further than bringing sinners to Christ (that sinners are saved we are indeed thankful) and they disregard the necessity for the saved ones to be baptized and brought together after the divine pattern in the New Testament.

b-" God willeth that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth." Of old time He purposed that all the nations of the earth should be blessed through the Jewish nation but they failed Him. Yet He cannot and never will be frustrated. So, today, because so few among His redeemed respond to the claims of the Lord Jesus and find themselves in the house of God, He, in His sovereignty, may use those outside the house for the salvation of men. His purpose must be accomplished . His will is sovereign.

This does not absolve those who are in God's house from responsibility in gospel testimony: indeed it rather increases it. The responsibility is theirs of praying and labouring for the salvation of all men, being kept clean and holy by the Spirit, that they may be used of Him to lead those saved to a knowledge of the truth.