Separation or Sectarianism?

By Dan Beaty

From the beginning, the serpent or Satan has continuously seduced humanity from the simplicity that is in Christ. One of his most subtle tricks is the use of exclusivity, or sectarianism. Few Christians in our day realize how limited and weakened we are by the powers that divide us from one another. And even fewer realize that this divisive principle is not from God at all, but is clearly pointed out by New Testament writers as one of the works of the flesh, along with murders, drunkenness, and witchcraft.

Here the deceiver plays on man's pride, convincing him that he is somehow special, possessing a greater level of wisdom, knowledge, revelation or holiness than others. While the Word of God plainly calls us to come apart, be separate, and press on to higher heights in God, we must recognize that faith and obedience to this call could never result in fleshly pride. In fact, the more one becomes conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and experiences the genuine presence and power of God, the humbler he or she becomes.

What then does separation unto God actually mean? We are told that Jesus was the epitome of holiness, and that He lived a life that was separate from sinners. But at the same time, we observe Him spending much of His time with sinners, eating and drinking with them. This of course, gave His opponents, the Pharisees, cause to accuse Him of being a sinner Himself.

Was Jesus separated from the world or not? If we believe the words of scripture at all, we must confess that this man who conversed with Roman soldiers and crooked tax collectors, was indeed the holiest man that ever lived. His purity and holiness is one in which we often have difficulty understanding. But simply put, He lived a life that was wholly devoted to the will of His heavenly Father, and filled with His infinite Love.

Can any of us imagine such devotion? Do we realize that He is actually calling us all to live and walk in that very same love?

Distinct, but not divided

In the famous prayer found in John 17, Jesus prayed that all of those who believed in Him would be one in Him, even as He and the Father were one. What separation! What wholeness! He also made provision for our sanctification, keeping us in the world but from the evil that dwells in it. The end result is to be a distinctiveness from the world as well as a visible unity among us that would clearly demonstrate to the world that Jesus came from God. The people of the world are to both know and believe in Him through us! And the most important and distinctive feature of His disciples was to be their love for one another.

Separated unto love

When my wife and I first came together, we knew our lives would be different from that time on. I gladly accepted the fact that there was to be no other woman in my life, as she resigned herself to having no other man in an intimate sense. We were separated unto love for one another. Many other friends and relatives would find importance in our lives, but no relationship could begin to compare with this one.

Marriages that do not have this quality of devotion and separation will drastically fall short of God's design. Likewise, our union in Christ must be solely based on His Love for us, and our response in love to Him. This common experience draws all believers together, while they express His love towards one another.

In fact, unity based on any other principle is actually the cause of much disunity in the body of Christ. How often do we separate from one another to join with others on the basis of a teaching or the individual giving the teaching. We sound somewhat like the Corinthians: "I am of Paul," "I am of Cephas," "I am of Apollos!" Then the most insidious of them all, "I am of Christ!" This suggests that others do not know Christ as we do. We have a "special" connection!

Beloved, Christ died for all. He purchased the entire church with His own blood! All of us who believe on Him through the words of the apostles, come under the prayer of the holy Son of God concerning our union in Him! We are one because of Jesus! Let us learn to acknowledge this truth in thought, word and deed!

Division or party spirit?

By now, someone is asking, "Did not Jesus Himself declare that He came to bring division? Yes, and the division He brought was obvious from the beginning. In fact He was the divisive issue. Since then, all of humanity has been divided into 2 groups. There are those who believe in Him, accepting His Lordship, and those who do not.

Among those who know Him there are a multitude of differences concerning how they understand Him and His purposes, yet they are all one in dedication and devotion unto Him. Because of Him, we can respect one another in spite of the differences. Even though we may be serving Him in different ways, and may find it difficult or even impossible to work with some as a team, His master plan will come together. We are His workmanship. May we gladly yield to the Hands of the Master Potter.

The party spirit is not when sincere and honest hearted brethren disagree on certain beliefs and practices. It is more about an attitude of heart. Job saw this revealed in some of his friends and told them: "Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!" (Job 12:2). Arrogance was never counted among the fruits of the Spirit. The only future for those with this attitude is to fall.

It can be difficult at times to find common ground on what we understand from the Scripture to be the absolutes, the essentials, and even what we define as sinful and unacceptable behavior. These issues understandably bring with them tensions that test our love for one another. They prove how vital it is for us to walk humbly with our God, trusting in His grace to heal all wounds.

Truth or Compromise?

In the world we find that compromise is often the lubrication that facilitates human accomplishment, but does this rule apply among citizens of a heavenly kingdom? Does God weaken His stance on certain issues, in order to obtain the cooperation of men? Let us again go back to the pattern Son, to observe the answer to this dilemma.

In Christ we see a powerful demonstration of uncompromising courage in the face of great opposition. Yet we can also see abundant grace and compassion for humans and their weaknesses. He loved righteousness and hated evil, but He directed His fierce, warrior spirit against the evil itself, not those who were bound by it. When He boldly confronted the scribes and Pharisees for their religious bigotry, could we dare say that this was not divine love in action? No we cannot. Jesus was filled with all of the fullness of God, Who IS LOVE. He could do nothing contrary to that love.

Very much in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus spoke the unvarnished Truth. He spoke it because He loves us all. Being the fullness of divine wisdom, He also possessed a balance that ministered grace to the hearers. He condemned no one. His mission was to set the captives free. If they needed their sins uncovered to accomplish this, He would expose the error. If they were prepared to receive kindness and healing, He offered these to them. No one could accuse the ultimate man of weakness and compromise. His courage and compassion were both of a heavenly nature, for His was the very Heart of God.

Christians have occasionally placed their idealism above their consciences, in order to find unity among themselves. This quasi-unity actually weakens our testimony to Christ in the world. I may put my arms around another brother and say I love him, but this is not unity. We must form honest and open relationships in which we can speak the truth in love. Then we can restore those who have fallen and build up the body of Christ with both comfort and correction.

If we disagree, we must be mature enough to recognize our differences. By denying there is a problem, and being fearful to deal with it, we give place for the enemy to work. When we compromise our convictions in order to preserve the peace, we reveal the weakness of our faith in the bond God has wrought between us. But by careful and respectful dialog, both sides can gain understanding and hope for reconciliation.

Who would be inspired to walk in the footsteps of Christ along side of one who is weak of character and fearful of the truth? We need more people in the body of Christ who are willing to lay down their lives for one another and for the righteousness of God!

But what if we do make a stand, and later find that we are wrong? These are possibilities, and they press us to walk closer with Jesus, listening to His Heart and Voice more intently. There is much more here at stake than our reputations. Jesus is building a church that is breaking down the gates of hell! Oh how our plans, schemes, desires and dreams are eclipsed by His glorious purpose for His people!

He will have a people who are powerful and at one with one another in Him! Let us surrender our very lives unto Him and become joined in heart, soul and spirit with His plan for us. Let us repent of the sin of sectarianism, and any other attitude we may harbor which might grieve His Heart. We are called to live in His heavenly sphere, to set our affections on things above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Here His wish becomes our passion, and His Love the reason for which we live!

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