By Ralph Mahoney and Dennis Corrigan
What is sectarianism? What causes it? And how does it work in the church to hinder God’s purposes? If we can answer these three questions we can bridge the walls that separate us in the church. To properly identify sectarianism we need first of all to consider what it is not.
IT IS NOT NECESSARILY DENOMINATIONALISM
To have an organizational or denominational structure, identity or name is not wrong. It is only when we allow denominational pride or organizational exclusivity to separate us from other believers that it becomes wrong.
We have moved into sectarianism when we assume a superior posture to others, feeling that we are “the select of the elect.”
We have to be careful that we don’t become like a Pharisee. The Pharisee stood in the temple and prayed this, “I thank thee God that I am not as other men..or even as this publican.” (Luke 18:9-14 NKJV) This Pharisee saw himself as spiritually superior to the sinful publican and stood and bragged in religious pride about it. He fell deep into the pit of sectarianism.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE SECTARIANISM WHEN YOU SEE IT
There are numerous illustrations in the Bible that illustrate the sectarian spirit.
DO THEY SAY “SHIBBOLETH?”
Judges 12:5&6, is a story about ancient Israel. Some of the people of Israel had refused to be identified with the battle of one of the other tribes. These two tribes of Israel confronted one another as a result. They were beginning to slay one another, even though they were brothers. The test of whether they lived or died was, “Say now SHIB-boleth.” If the respondent said “SIB-boleth” not pronouncing it correctly, he was seized and slain. Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim.
Sometimes in the body of Christ we “verbally murder” believers because they don’t embrace common understanding about doctrinal positions or sacraments.
Church history illustrates this: Two segments of the early church divided because they couldn’t agree about the wording of a certain creed. One group insisted it read, “The Holy Spirit which proceeded from the Father and the Son,” while the other was adamant about it reading, “from the Father and from the Son.”
Adding “from” divided the church. One group said “SHIB-boleth,”the other, “SIB-boleth,” and over this they broke fellowship. Such petty doctrinal differences should never be allowed to divide the church.
“HE DOES NOT FOLLOW WITH US”
We read in Luke 9:49, “And John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to hinder him because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him for he who is not against you is for you.” In this example Jesus’ disciples rejected a man who “didn’t follow them.” He wasn’t a part of their “group.”
I know a man who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit but was rejected by a conference of pastors because he had not been baptized in the Spirit in a church of their denomination. This type of sectarianism causes unbelievers to reject Christianity. They see these unkind and unloving attitudes and do not want to have anything to do with the Church.