The Spiritual Sickness of Sectarianism

One of the great tragedies among Christianity is, I believe, the spiritual sickness of sectarianism.  Sectarianism within Christianity is a adherence to a dogmatic creed of beliefs and practices while believing that any professing Christian failing to adhere to the same dogma is condemned and without salvation in Christ.

Such sectarianism is usually built on legalism and a fundamentalist approach to both God and scripture.  Everything pertaining to faith and being a Christian is, according to the sectarian, plainly taught in scripture in black and white fashion with little, if any, ambiguity.  God is a mechanical deity who saves and condemns solely on the basis of whether those who seek him follow the teachings of God in scripture which, for the sectarian, is always completely congruent with their particular dogma.  According to the sectarian, there is no grace from God for those who seek God in faith and yet error in some aspect.  For example, a person with faith but who holds a different view of baptism than that of the sectarian, is still without salvation.

Sectarianism is not just spiritually unhealthy, it also depends on the sin of arrogance and pride.  You see, the sectarian believes he or she has studied scripture and understood correctly that is necessary to be saved by God…God is a legalist and the sectarian has understood the scripture enough to legally be right and that is the basis of salvation.  The sectarian has never considered that it is they who might be in error and if you press the sectarian on this issue, they’ll typically respond with a repertoire of proof-texts ripped from scripture with little consideration to the context in order to defend themselves and posit their detractor as the one who is wrong.  And though the sectarian would never admit it, what sectarianism turns out to be is a subtle but sure way of self-reliance for salvation rather than genuine faith in God (e.g., the sectarian is saved because they know their right not because they trust God).

The prayer of Hezekiah during the celebration of the Passover in 2 Chronicles 30-13-24 is one passage that reaffirms why sectarianism will not hold water.  What strikes me is that many of the people who have been summoned to celebrate the Passover, have not been able to purify themselves “…Yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what is written” (v. 18, NIV)  Hezekiah’s response is to, unlike the typical sectarian, pray for them rather than condemn them.  So he pray’s for these people because they are people of faith…people whose hearts are set on God, seeking God.  Hezekiah’s prayer is for God to “pardon” (literally, “atone”) the people.  God’s response is told in v. 20, “And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”  So much for God being a mechanical deity who operates according to the rules of legalism rather than humble faith.

Sectarianism and grace cannot coexist.  Sectarianism and faith cannot coexist.  The former depends on our own self-assurance, while grace and faith depend upon God.  The problem with sectarianism is that at some point we all come to the realization that we fall short…woefully short.  Some learn what it means then to seek God’s grace by faith.  Unfortunately, others just give up seeking God.  That is why sectarianism is one of the great tragedies among Christianity.


6 responses to “The Spiritual Sickness of Sectarianism

  1. Until each of is is perfected in heart, there will always be a sickness in our religion, for from the sickness of our hearts come all those evil things.

    The error of sectarianism flows from a another font of error and that is the notion that the Lord came to found Christianity, and the sectarian error is a well-meaning but missing-the-mark to move back towards what Christ did come to do, and that is establish and build His Kingdom, in the founding of the Church. In the Church of Christ, the sectarian viewpoint was rooted in accurate reading of Scripture that Christ founded One Church, and there ought to be unity amongst God’s people, and even in matters of doctrine.

    There is also a mistaken motion of the soul, that believes that the idea of grace must necessarily give rise to a definition of the Church that is invisible, taking the proponent thereof to a sort of Monophysite ecclesiology, and that is another sort of error. I recognize it for I had held it so assiduously, for many years.

    When I was young in the Church of Christ, I held the sectarian view. In young adulthood I moved with the pendulum swing to the grace side of the equation, and I abandoned for a few decades any impulse to have an ecclesiology that was anything other than invisible, with the boundaries and members known only to God; I chose grace over ecclesiology; Spirit over the material Church. But this was and is a monophysite sort of response to the dilemma, having forced to reject one emphasis in Scripture to hold on to another. But it is a false dilemma, and it was only resolved in becoming Orthodox, which hold a doctrine of the visible Church , yet has a profound grasp on the mystery of grace and the workings of the Spirit and recognizes the evidences of the Spirit working profoundly outside of the boundaries that we know, and is comfortable with ‘mystery’ because of its historic Apophasis with respect to the Uncreated.
    Finally, it is inevitable that one’s Christian religion will manifest or devolve into a sort of rationalism, that draws its boundaries either too tightly or too narrowly, if there is not a robust tradition of prayer and the pursuit of Theosis in the life of the believer. As a great saint once said “He who prays is a theologian.” It is a Christian tragedy to be unacquainted with the monastic tradition of prayer and informed by it in one’s daily walk with God.

    Forgive me for all the failings of heart that will inevitably be expressed in this which I have offered to you, and pray for me that my soul might be saved.

  2. Pingback: The Error of Sectarianism « Kingdom Seeking

  3. Awesome word, brother! Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Pingback: The Spiritual Sickness of Sectarianism (via Kingdom Seeking) | Coffee Please

  5. Pingback: Christian Unity: God’s Work of Reconciliation « Kingdom Seeking

  6. Pingback: The Spiritual Sickness of Sectarianism « Jordan Willows Fellowship

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