Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

The Sin of Sectarianism


Sectarianism is defined in various ways. One online dictionary lists factional and separatist as synonyms. Christianity has boundaries that we must uphold, but a sectarian is someone that sets up unnecessary boundaries. They purposefully separate themselves from others who faithfully profess the Christian faith.

There are parts of the Bible that are plain and simple, but there are other parts that are difficult to understand. This is apparent in Acts 8 when Philip encounters an Ethiopian Eunuch.

“Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?'” (Acts 8:30-31)

The Ethiopian Eunuch was a court official who could read. This means he had an advantage over most of the people in his day, and yet he needed assistance in understanding the Bible.

Our approach towards Scripture needs to be a humble one. We should always be striving for truth, but at the same time, we must recognize that there is the possibility that our understanding of a passage or doctrine might not be complete. Scripture is infallible, but our ability to interpret it is not. There are some beliefs for which we can be sure, but there are others for which we must be graceful to one another.

The sin of sectarianism is that it doesn’t allow room for grace. It lacks humility because it says I have everything right and there is no possibility of me being wrong. It seeks to divide rather than unite. It bases unity off of a person’s interpretation of a passage or passages rather than the foundations of the Christian faith.

Sectarianism is often associated with those on the right, but it is alive and well on both the right and the left. Sectarianism on the right often looks like legalism. The only way to be a “faithful Christian” is to agree with someone’s interpretation of various passages and doctrines. Disagreement on even one issue might mean expulsion.

Sectarianism on the left looks a little different, but at the core, it is the same. Rather than agreement on a variety of doctrines, sectarians on the left are looking for agreement on a few doctrines that are important to them. The main one of these doctrines is egalitarianism, but others sometimes include acceptance of the LGBTQ lifestyle, an open stance on immigration, etc. If you are not in agreement with one or more of these positions, then you are labeled abusive, hateful, oppressive, or something worse. They see no room in Christianity for a viewpoint that is different from their own. They claim to be tolerant, but they are only tolerant of people who are in agreement with them.

Sectarianism is contrary to the desire for unity that Jesus expresses in John 17. There are times when taking a stance on a particular issue is necessary. Christianity is not without boundaries. There are beliefs that place one outside of the faith, but sectarians go beyond what is clearly revealed in Scripture and make their interpretation a matter of fellowship. This behavior is divisive and should be called out for what it is for the sake of the unity of the church.

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