The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is Sectarian Worship Acceptable to God?
WHAT comes to your mind when you hear the word “sect”? Groups of people in strange attire chanting and dancing on street corners? Hordes of devotees bowing before some mysterious guru figure? Horrifying stories about kidnapped or abused children? Or, perhaps, gruesome accounts of serial murders or mass suicides?
Regrettably, reports of this type do appear often, perhaps too often. The result is that, to most people, the word “sect” has come to be synonymous with what is strange, nontraditional, and perhaps menacing. For them, all religious groups that do not belong to the so-called established, mainstream churches are sects. Is such a view valid? And, more importantly, is that the Bible’s viewpoint?
What Is a Sect?
Interestingly, many Jews of the first century took just such a view of the followers of Jesus Christ, particularly of the apostle Paul. Because of his zealous preaching of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Jewish authorities accused Paul of being “a pestilent fellow and stirring up seditions among all the Jews throughout the inhabited earth and a spearhead of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5) The word “sect” is here translated from the Greek word haiʹre·sis, meaning “a choice,” that is, “the choice of an opinion contrary to that usually received.” Thus, a “sect” is a group or a body of people that chooses to follow a course or belief different from what is commonly accepted.
The Jewish religious leaders found the message preached by Paul and his fellow Christians contrary and upsetting. Thus, they branded them a sect. But were they right? Certainly not, for if we accept that line of reasoning as being valid, then we would have to say that Christianity as preached by Jesus the Nazarene and the apostle Paul was a sect!
Quite to the contrary, the Bible speaks of “the sect of the Pharisees” and the “sect of the Sadducees.” (Acts 15:5; 5:17) Why? Because they chose to follow a course or belief different from what the Bible teaches. Jesus pointed out their error when he said: “Adroitly you set aside the commandment of God in order to retain your tradition. . . . Thus you make the word of God invalid by your tradition.” (Mark 7:9, 13) Though they considered that they practiced the established, mainline religion, they formed the sects of those days.
Because of their fastidiously clinging to their own ideas of what is right, those self-righteous religious leaders rejected Jesus. Consequently, Jesus told them: “This is why I say to you, The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.”—Matthew 21:43.
Who Are the Sects Today?
Today, the term “sect” is used freely by religion writers, critics, and others, slinging it like a mud pie at whosoever offends their own brand of religious sensibility. But is that a sound basis for judging? Rather, would it not be best to follow the guideline Jesus provided and examine their “fruits”? He said: “By their fruits you will recognize them.”—Matthew 7:16.
By this criterion, many of the groups and movements we read about can indeed be called sects. Rather than producing “the fruitage of the spirit,” they have manifested in abundance “the works of the flesh,” which include “fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism,” and others. (Galatians 5:19-24) Many of these can rightly be considered cults, since they idolize certain charismatic leaders and follow their teachings instead of God’s Word, the Bible.
But what about the so-called mainline religions? Well, do they uphold the high standards of the Bible in matters of morals, or do they have their own ideas about them? (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) Do they love one another, which Jesus said is a mark of true discipleship, or are they swayed by nationalism and politics into slaughtering one another in times of war? (John 13:35) Do they champion the Bible as God’s inspired Word, as Jesus did, or do they label it as myth and uphold instead human philosophies and the God-dishonoring theory of evolution? (John 17:17) It is clear that, in spite of their “respectability,” the so-called mainstream religions are nothing but false sects masquerading as true Christianity.
What You Should Do
True Christianity is not a sect, nor does it exist in divisions. If you belong to a church, then it behooves you to examine carefully what your church teaches and what “fruits” its members produce. Are these wholly based on and in harmony with the Bible? Or could it be that your church has also chosen a course different from what the Bible teaches, thus making it a sect? A diligent study of the Bible is the only way to know for sure.
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The apostle Paul was accused of being “a spearhead of the sect of the Nazarenes”
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Does your church champion the Bible as God’s Word or label it as myth and legend?