A Taxonomy of Sectarianism …Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Books, Grace, Ministry, Monroe Hawley, Preaching, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Unity
One of the finest human beings known to me is Monroe Hawley. Monroe was a shaper of my thought long before I preached at Southside Church in Milwaukee where he was one of my shepherds (along with Wayne Alexander, Bruce Williams, and Al Gray). His books Redigging the Wells, The Focus of Our Faith, and Is Christ Divided? have blessed me immensely. I can honestly say that neither he nor I agree on every detail but a more gracious saint I have yet to meet. I mention Monroe because I took the time this weekend to reread his classic Is Christ Divided? in light of Todd Deaver’s Facing Our Failure. I do believe that Monroe is right about one fundamental point: a sectarian spirit is the deadly enemy of Christian unity.
Interestingly enough rejection of “sectarianism” is part and parcel of the rhetorical DNA of Stone-Campbell churches. But as we saw in our previous post, Barton Stone noted that many who denied being sectarian simply had become “anti-sectarian sectarians.” Perhaps this is because we miss classify sectarianism. Most in our non-denomination denomination would make a near equation of “false” doctrine and sectarianism. But, interestingly enough, this is a false teaching. And if it were correct many in our fellowship might have the label for they teach such things as: the Holy Spirit operates and/or indwells only through the written word; that a person must have more than faith to be biblically baptized; etc; etc; etc. But what is a sectarian spirit? Here is a taxonomy of this accursed evil … with a nod to Monroe.
1) We betray a sectarian spirit when we display a party (i.e. denominational) loyalty concerned with defending the status quo rather than in the well-being of the entire church of God. A person might say “I’m Church of Christ all the way” or “The Church of Christ teaches …” this is pure sectarianism.
2) We betray a sectarian spirit when we equate our fellowship of believers with the entire church of God or the kingdom itself. Some have a laundry list of issues by which they think they can identify the members of the family of God. The church is thus identified with a group of congregations of which he/she approves.
3) We betray a sectarian spirit when we think we have “arrived.” We and we alone have the real truth. To put it another way we believe we have a “corner on truth.” All we do is read, believe and obey the Bible. Everyone else either does not believe or they simply disobey. But to quote Monroe “it is the height of presumption and arrogance to assume that any group of people is exempt from the possibility of misinterpretation.” But it is this attitude that lies behind our “brotherhood” Diotrepheses who consider themselves the defenders of God’s church.
4) Finally we betray a sectarian spirit in harsh and judgmental attitudes towards others. This personality trait is among the first to be decried by Thomas Campbell in his legendary Declaration & Address. Judging another is a “daring usurpation of the throne of Christ” TC baldly declared. What right do we think we have to pontificate the destiny of any person when Michael the archangel of God himself refused to that to the Evil One himself (Jude 9).
There are at least three ungodly behaviors that are nourished by sectarianism. Perhaps they have been touched on in some way above but I want to lay them out explicitly. If what I have said is true above it seems that sectarianism itself breeds, like a virus, these other spiritual issues …
Sectarianism breeds name calling. Rather than deal with a person as simply a brother or sister in Christ we label him or her as liberal, legalist, pseudo-add adjective, progressive, conservative, anti, compromiser, modernist, apostate … and even spiritual retards. “We” even have found ways to justify this behavior!
Sectarianism breeds paranoia. Sectarianism is the original root for conspiracy theories. Dan Brown did not invent them … sectarianism birthed them! Sectarianism lives in fear (yes fear). It awaits rather nervously every new book, new professor, article and sees these things as threats. Thus paranoia breeds unique combat language like fight, contend, battle, even “gospel bullets.” This paranoid fear often borders on irrational. I say this not just as a contemporary observer among Churches of Christ but with a look at the sweep of our history.
Sectarianism breeds isolation. Isolation is the natural corollary to fear. We don’t want to be contaminated by foreign ideas, teachings or be associated with those not quite as loyal as ourselves. We do not need to study for we have the truth. We rather “defend” the truth. Other points of view are sort of like biblical leprosy … they are cut off and quarantined. This is carried out in brotherhood papers and lectureship resulting in a certain amount of inbreeding as we isolate ourselves from one not as sound as we imagine ourselves to be.
Sectarianism is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” issue. It is a spiritual disease that strikes anywhere, at anytime, if we are not on guard. Sectarianism is not simply believing something that is wrong. It is a matter of the heart that destroys our walk with Spirit.