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The right kind of Sectarianism

This is quite a controversial title but I make no apology for it. If you type the word into Google or even ask for the meaning of it then you will often come up with statements which include the words discrimination, hatred or even prejudice. Yet we are called to know the Lord is bringing a separation as shown by familiar topics such as the sheep and the goats or the wheat and the tares. This is an important part of the message of salvation as shown in whom 1 Corinthians 1:2 says the letter is written too.

to the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called out with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.  1 Corinthians 1:2

The sanctified ones. In other words, all those who have accepted Christ as Saviour. Then 1 Corinthians 1:2 goes on to say all those in every place. So although this letter was written to Corinth, it wasn’t exclusively for them alone. It was a circular letter to be shared. Even though there are some items personal to Corinth church in this letter. Yet it would seem obvious to say that this is a letter to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, so why say it? Remember paper and ink aren’t cheap, every word is necessary and not artistic babble. Why is Paul saying it then? The answer is he is separating, dividing into sects

As the Jews separated themselves from the Christians; as the Corinthians separated themselves from the Jews; Paul is separating his audience in to those who have called on the name of the Lord and are sanctified and those who aren’t. Why, because this is the only separation there is. Saved and unsaved. We must remember there is a separation. the reason for this is who the letter is to. You cannot reprove the unsaved; there is only one message for them; the Gospel.

If we see these two as the only sects, those who believe and those who don't. then we can come to understand aright kind of sectarianism. However the word sectarianism is often used in political divisions which are masked with religious connotations and as such often involve violence. The church is not called to violence. The Lord went to the cross willingly and insisted that we too must take our own cross up in the same manner. We are called to live at peace and i remind of a scripture in Hebrews that I have used in previous blogs.

Follow peace with all, and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord; Hebrews 12:14

When we act with force or violence then it doesn't matter how right or elegant our position or argument is, all the world will see is the violence. The message is never heard when we act in such a manner. These are acts of hate which Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount is tantamount to murder. Friends if Christ can look upon His accusers, murderers and the indifferent from the cross and utter 'Father forgive them, they don't know what they do' then so should we. More importantly it tells us how to act towards the lost, whom mean us harm. that is they are lost and they aren't our enemy just victims of the lies of our real enemy, the devil. He is a father of lies who wishes that all will share in his fate of judgment and complete separation from God. These two divisions encompass large groups of people. Yet the divide is not ethnic, age related, divided by sex or by class/social status/wealth/lack of wealth. On one side it is those who have accepted the Grace of God and on the other those who have not. Those who have not includes other religions or lack of and also those who may claim Christ but they do not accept the Gospel of Grace as the only means of salvation. So yes there are those who may use the name of Jesus but they do not know Him. Paul taught not to have fellowship with those who preach any other gospel nor those who accept that we must develop a loving relationship with Christ. (Galatians 1:8, 1 Corinthians 16:22). Those who have accepted Christ as saviour can however mean those whom may think differently to us on other doctrinal points; may act differently in there worship; and as Revelation 2-3 show us may be struggling with their faith and relationship with the Lord

We are taught in Jesus message at the last supper to the disciples in John 13:34-35 that acting in love to one another is how the world will see we are Christs. Yet the message is love toward one another within the church. That doesn't mean we shouldn't love the lost only that this doesn't show Christ as there are plenty of non Christian groups being nice and loving. The reference is to each other in the church and not just each other in our own churches or denominations. The way we strength and support one another within the church is how the lost will see Jesus within us. For if the message of love cant be shared with our Spiritual family then why will the sceptical believe what we have to say.

Paul's opening to 1 Corinthians teaches us a great deal but it also sets the tone for the letter.

What is the reason Paul gives for sending the letter? Have a look at 1 Corinthians 1:11

For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brothers, by those of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 1 Corinthians 1:11

We don’t know who Chloe is, but her name means a tender shoot, she is probably a member of the church. A nice quick lesson we can pull out from using the meaning of Chloe's name is that it is the new shoots which see the issues first. How often have we got used to something carrying on not realising it as an issue till someone asks 'why'. It is at this stage we are challenged to kill the messenger or listen to the message. So what is Chloe's message, what is the issue? The answer Paul gives is contentions. The Greek word is 'eris' meaning a quarrel. Now the question for us as the reader is asking is Paul referring to just this quarrel about the sects developing within the church, expressed in chapter 1 or all of the various issues in 1 Corinthians? It is my assertion that it is this one, and then Paul uses it as an excuse to answer various other issues which other Corinthians have written to Paul about.

The issue Chloe has seen is found in verse 12-13, so what’s the error here? Obviously (given the title of the blog) it is about sects, sectarianism or even at best factionalism. Having shown that the two sects are believers and none believers but what is the church known for in the last 3 centuries? Its denominations. So are they wrong?

Firstly lets remember the that not all that calls itself Christian is of Christ. Those who preach another gospel or refuse to love the Lord in relationship but teach the opposite are not the bride but Babylon the false church. Yet the true church which do preach these things are often churches and denominations following the revelations of just a few men, is this factionalism or sectarianism? In essence it is, but remember back to the greeting of 1 Corinthians, is Paul against factionalism? No he shows us one, the saved and the unsaved.

The issue isn’t the factionalism per say, but the reason for the factionalism.

Why do you think they are claiming to be of one or another? The answer is superiority; this is a “who is the greatest” question. Paul was known as a brash and to the point man, an uncultured Jew in Greek eyes, but a learned teacher of the law in Jewish eyes. Apollos was an eloquent speaker, fervent and poetic in his speech. Which would you prefer to listen to? It’s not unfair to know who you learn best from, in the pulpit nor is it wrong for you to prefer them. Yet to actively pitch yourself into a faction behind your favourite preacher or teacher and against the others is the error. What they are actually trying to do to Paul, Apollos and Peter is they are trying to make them a king. What’s the problem with that, judges 9:1-24 shows us that once you do, then they kill each other off until one is left. This is the old issue in Israel, but who is our king? it is Christ. No leader should be put upon a pedestal, nor any teacher.

Of course you know this but this is what Paul outlines as his foundation before he even gets into the discussion. Have a look at 1 corinthians 1:4-9,

I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace of God given you in Jesus Christ,  that in everything you are enriched by Him, in all speech and in all knowledge;  even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you;  so that you come behind in no gift, waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He shall also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

who is it that gave all of these good gifts to the church? it is Christ and they are not for an exclusive group they are shared commonly amongst the people. Its not the factions that are wrong, it’s the intentions to make them rulers over ourselves, why would they do it?

Well when we read of Israel's second attempt at getting a king in 1 Samuel 8:4-7 we see the error. Asking for a king was the right move, if they asked for one as a conduit of the will of the Lord, just like the Lord had said in the Law, Deuteronomy 17:16-20. A King who studied the law in order to walk according to the will of the Lord, and thus not lead the people in His own whims, but be led according to the supreme Sovereign, the King of Kings, the one who instructs the leader, Christ. To show that asking for a king without this connection then they were in fact creating a position that would cause their own destruction. They were creating a monster. Hence why the Lord tells Samuel to warn the people exactly what the thing they were asking for would become. Which he does in 1 Samuel 8:10-18. Teaching that when you create a king to have your relationship for you then he will become a consumer of all your good, and he will have absolute power in which there is no power able to contend with him, and no force to stop his supreme consumption of all good things. The history of the kings, right up to Zedekiah, the last king, showed that this power given to the kings proves the old saying that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. From all this we may see very clearly, that the reason was, that Israel might learn from this, that royalty itself could never secure the salvation it expected, unless the occupant of the throne submitted altogether to the will of the Lord. Yet the law teaches us none of us ever will. As such having a teacher as your leader/king who has your relationship with God for you is a recipe to being led off a cliff. This is when sectarianism goes wrong, when Christ is not the king. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:12

But I say this, that every one of you says, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:12

Christ is not king He is in the mix of people you might follow. Just as Israel had done in asking for a king to be the conduit on their behalf and the person who will direct them, they relegate God to figure head. We worship the Lord; His name is over the church door; yet we do not let Him make the decisions but trust our sectarian leader. What is the evidence to us when we are making kings of our favourite teachers? when we have the wrong kind of sectarianism. When we see others within the church as our enemy because they think differently or there teacher is different. Yet, as said before, there is a division and we must learn to observe it.

However we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. This doesn't mean teachers are wrong nor are denominations. Yet we should be wary of those who wish to lord over us and not allow them to teach us. We should desire a relationship with Christ ourselves which is from understanding the word. The Lord set people who can help us with this and instructed us all in the Great commission to be teachers who teach the lost to become students of Jesus. What are we looking for in those who instruct us in the word. Paul now makes it clear of the caliber of people that the Lord has called to teach in verses 26-29, weak and foolish. Yet Paul is not weak or foolish, so you could ask is he just being self-deprecating and showing a false humility in order to seem different to one who lords it over other. Well what Paul is referring to is his calling in which he feels weak because his strengths, his credentials as listed in Philippians 3:5-6 don't help him in his current situation. What use is the Jewish background and education Paul has to a calling to preach to gentiles. The Greek and Roman world who have been brought up in a deistic culture, with immorality taught as a standard and is part of society. This is a life and a people which Paul had actively shunned his whole life and deliberately kept away from. Now Paul is no longer reliant on what are his skill base but upon God as the one whom is a conduit for the will of God through constant study of the word and the Lord. Not replacing the Lord but pointing people to Him as the bases of their salvation and relationship. Paul shows in this that its not what you were before you came to the cross is not what the Lord is wants from you. It is to use you in ways you haven’t thought of, to peoples you don’t know, you just have to be obedient. Through which the Lord gets the victory.

And it takes us back to the beginning, all the good gifts given to the church are given by Christ, including good teachers. Yet it is Christ who is the King. When He is then we follow this right kind of sectarianism. We know the sheep and the goats; we know the wheat and the tares; and we know the heart of God which is to win over that lost in peace to the grace of God bringing them into an intense and personal relationship with Christ