Are We a Sect?
Text: Acts 28:16-24
I. The Jews had difficulty understanding the church in its early days.
A. It was founded by a Jewish teacher from a small, remote town called Nazareth.
B. It began an flourished in their capital city, Jerusalem.
C. It taught heavily from the Law, though it added new doctrine that alarmed the scholars.
D. To many Jews it was a sect or division off of Judaism.
1. Acts 28:22 - People had heard of this sect as far away as Rome.
2. Acts 24:5,14 - Paul was accused of being a leader in this sect, but notice that Paul did not consider it a sect himself.
II. What is a sect?
A. Strong defines it as a choice, a party, or disunion.
B. Christianity is not a sect of Judaism, because it is not Jewish. Christians are from all nations. They taught that Judaism had ended and God had replaced it with a new, better religion.
C. Actually, the idea of being a sect is offensive. It implies that God accepts different brands of religion.
1. Christianity is not like laundry detergents, where one brand is as good as another, so long as the wash comes out white. Even among detergents, users have their favorites.
2. Jesus prayed that his followers would be one - John 17:20-21 - This would be the sign to the world of true believers.
3. Paul wanted no division among believers. They were to be of one mind. - I Corinthians 1:10
a. Division: a schism, a divide, a rent
4. Heresy (same word as sect) is a work of the flesh - Galatians 5:19-20
5. II Peter 2:1 - The mark of false teachers were their bring in destructive heresies.
III. Keeping a united fellowship is not easy
A. Ephesians 4:1-3 - We have to work to keep the unity.
1. It requires humility and gentleness on our part.
2. It requires longsuffering and bearing with others.
3. We all know that some of us require a LOT of forbearance for the sake of our unity.
B. But unity is hard to keep because the world has come to expect Christians to be divided.
1. There are the Baptist Christians, the Pentecostal Christians, the Evangelical Christians, the Catholic Christians, etc.
2. How many of you have been asked, “What kind of Christian are you?”
3. How many of you have answered, “I’m a member of the Church of Christ.”
4. Those of you who so answered have fallen into the same trap of sectarianism! As if Church of Christ’ers are a brand of Christian religion!
5. In an attempt to distinguish ourselves, we have divided ourselves!
C. The world sees a branch of Christianity as a collection of congregations that adhere to the same basic set of doctrine.
1. We fall into the same trap.
2. We expect all local congregations to be uniform in their teaching of doctrines we have deemed important.
a. We can tolerate a little bit of straying in some areas, but some issues, every group better tow the line.
b. The congregations that match our doctrines are called sound, those that are a little bit off are unsound.
c. Do you see the problem? We are determining whether a congregation is a part of the church, instead of discussing whether Christians are a part of the church.
3. One preacher was heard to say, “I know when the sign says ‘Church of Christ’ they’ll be teaching the truth inside.”
a. What a careless and foolish statement!
IV. Before we go further, let us examine what it means to be a Christian and to be a member of a local church.
A. When a person becomes a child of God, they are added to the church - Acts 2:47
1. Notice that it is the Lord who adds us to the church.
2. It means that as a child of God, we are in fellowship with our Creator - I John 1:1-4
3. The chart shows a Christian named Tom. We represent Tom with a oval to represent his whole life as a Christian. In other words, all the duties he performs because of his allegiance to Christ. This would include his life as an employee, a citizen, a husband, a father, and as a Christian working with other Christians in a local congregation.
4. The line going from Tom to Christ illustrates Tom’s fellowship with Christ and shows he is in the universal church.
B. Next we add another Christian, Sam.
1. Like Tom, Sam enjoys fellowship with Christ as represented by the line to Christ. Sam is also represented by a circle showing his sphere of activity in being aligned with Christ.
2. Notice that Sam’s circle overlaps Tom’s, showing these two Christians do certain things together. Perhaps they are in business together, or they have labored to teach someone the gospel together.
3. The fact that circles do not completely overlap shows that everything they do as Christians is not done together.
C. We now add another Christian, Joe, also represented by a circle.
1. While Joe’s circle is not completely aligned with Sam or Tom, all three share a common area of overlap.
2. Let us say for now that Sam, Tom, and Joe are part of a local congregation of Christians.
a. This area of common activity comes from common motives, their allegiance to Christ, and a pooling of common resources.
b. This is part of what makes a local congregation: It is a plurality of Christians banded together by common motives and a pooling of resources, to do collectively what the members of that local church agree God wants them to do together. - I Corinthians 11:18
D. Let’s look at another congregation
1. It too consists of a plurality of Christians, who, like the first congregation, may not agree on everything, but they are agreed on what they do collectively (teach the gospel, partake of the Lord’s Supper, contributing to the common treasury, etc.)
2. This second congregation shows that all of its members are not in fellowship with Christ.
a. This is like the fornicator in I Corinthians 5:1-5
b. He is an example where a local church made a mistake in controlling its fellowship, and had someone in its fellowship who was not a partner with God.
E. But it is possible to have Christians who are in fellowship with Christ, but they are not yet connected to any local congregation
1. III John 9-10 - One who was wrongly excluded from a local church
a. Men make mistakes in controlling their fellowship, Christ does not.
2. Acts 9:26 - One who was temporarily separated from Christians due to moving.
3. Acts 8:39 - One who had not yet joined a band of Christians
4. These should be temporary conditions, but they do exist.
F. Here we is another congregation, but in this congregation the vast majority are not in fellowship with God.
1. Such was the case with Sardis - Revelation 3:1-4
2. Many churches today have a good reputation in man’s eyes, but Christ doesn’t recognize the vast majority of their members.
G. Finally, we there is a the great number of Christians who are partners with Christ, but are not in any local congregation.
1. I Thessalonians 4:14,17 - These are the dead in Christ.
2. They are still in Christ, but not a part of a local church.
H. Notice that the universal church is composed of individuals, not congregations.
1. These individuals have banded together to do the Lord’s work.
2. Such banding is required by God.
3. However, being a part of the local church is not an assurance that one is in fellowship with God
4. The universal church does not contain denominations
5. It has no working unit greater than a local church
6. No local church is under control of another church
I. Yet we judge people’s faithfulness by the group they are with
1. Notice in corrupt church in Thyatira - Revelation 2:18-26
a. They have allowed a false, woman teacher in their midst
b. She leading Christians to sexual sins and idolatry
c. Yet Christ tells the faithful to hold fast - Revelation 2:25, not to leave for a sound group.
2. Consistently, Christians in sinful groups are told to overcome, not to walk away.
3. This does not deny the fact that when a church has its candlestick removed that a faithful saint should continue worshiping there.
a. However, today we are far too quick to divide, to find some reason not to put up with others, too give up before Christ has done so.
b. Example, a faithful man whom I know, who has served as an elder in two different congregations, found himself moving to New Hampshire, where there were no congregation of like-minded brethren. Leon decided to seek out the mildest of those who use institutions for the Lord’s work and work with them. He labored there for almost a year, even teaching the adult Bible class, before a preacher at another congregation decided he had enough of Leon’s “corrupting” influence. He taught a slanderous lesson one day when Leon was out of town and demanded the congregation withdraw from Leon. When the congregation refused to discuss the issue with Leon, Leon then proceeded to start a congregation that taught the truth.
V. Despite our understanding of the church, we might still think of the church as a sect.
A. Increasingly, brethren look to a college to train men to preach
1. Something that no college has the business being in.
2. The gospel can be taught in schools - Acts 19:9
3. However, schools are not the training institution for preachers
4. It is preachers who are commanded to train preachers - II Timothy 2:2
B. We depend on published writings of brethren to keep us abreast of the latest departures from orthodoxy.
1. Leaning on the writings of men instead of welding the sword of the Spirit.
2. Sectarian thinking is found in writings of Christians back even to the early 1800's.
3. We practice and teach the things we have learned from others instead of what we have learned from God.
a. I’ve noticed many appeal to the writings of past Christians to justify their stand.
b. Seeing someone else’s reasoning is interesting, but it isn’t proof.
4. One Jewish doctor of the Law said, “This document must be correct, for the father of it’s writer was the son of the daughter of the head of the Yeshivah” (Sanhedrin).
a. Imagine that! It must be true because a trusted person said it.
b. Unfortunately, I hear brethren make the same argument.
C. Do we ask, “Is he faithful?” as a way to inquire about a person’s attendance at services?
1. But the question is really asking about his relationship with the Lord!
2. True, a Christian who neglects his duty to worship with the saints is unfaithful to Christ, but a unfaithful Christian may still regularly show up for services.
D. If you want to ask about someone’s spiritual status, we inquire “Is he a member of the church?” instead of asking, “Is he a Christian?”
1. A true Christian may be a member of the church in the universal sense, but he may not be a member of a local congregation at the moment.
2. When we ask “Are you a member of the church?”, we want to know which congregation they belong to. Better to ask which congregation they are from.
3. I understand where this comes from. People in the world use the term “Christian” far too loosely, making it hard to know what is meant.
E. Do you see how we slip into sectarian thinking? Yet, we bristle if anyone suggests our thinking is denominational!
F. “I was raised in the church” is sectarian
1. No one is raised in the church.
2. You may have been raised by Christian parents, but the only way to get in the body of Christ is through baptism - I Corinthians 12:13
3. You are not baptized into a local church.
4. Membership in a local church is by mutual consent, not baptism - Acts 9:26-28
VI. The problem is we think of the church as a group of congregations instead of a group of individuals.
A. The true body of Christ, all the redeemed of all ages, is a perfect body; the Lord himself determines who is a part of the church.
B. Local church membership is determined by fallible men
C. We fall into sectarian thinking because it is easier to go with the crowd than to think and speak precisely
1. Some traditions are not wrong, but when we build up traditions to the point that we never change them, we have supplanted God’s word.
2. We get to the point that any difference is uncomfortable.
D. We must be careful not to teach the teaching for doctrine the traditions of men - Matthew 15:9