Why So Many “Christian” Sects?
YOU may have wondered why, since there is only one Bible, there are so many religious denominations claiming to follow it. Some persons try to answer the question by saying, ‘All roads lead to the same place.’
But this saying is not true in actual life. Not all roads lead to the same city, particularly if some are at right angles to others and some are one-way roads in the opposite direction.
To anyone who examines Christendom’s religions it is obvious that the ‘roads’ of the various sects are at right angles or running directly opposite to one another. In fact, the differences are often so great that fights, even major wars, have taken place as a result of disputes as to doctrine or practice. Certainly in fighting and killing one another they are not one flock, nor are they helping one another to salvation.
UNITY MAINTAINED IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY
However, the history of the first-century Christian congregation is not one of a variety of sects vying with one another for members or for domination. The apostles did not say that people could believe in any way they chose, taking the ‘road’ they made for themselves, or follow their own favorite prominent men, and still be God’s true congregation. Christians were to be in union with and at peace with God and his Son Jesus Christ, as well as with one another. (2 Cor. 13:11) The apostle Paul wrote correcting the wrong view, which had caused sectarianism to raise its head in the congregation at Corinth. He argued:
“Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought. For the disclosure was made to me about you, my brothers, by those of the house of Chloe, that dissensions exist among you. What I mean is this, that each one of you says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘But I to Apollos,’ ‘But I to Cephas,’ ‘But I to Christ.’ The Christ exists divided. Paul was not impaled for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”—1 Cor. 1:10-13; compare Philippians 1:27.
What, then, happened to bring about the divisions of professed Christians into sects and denominations? Can we please God by allying ourselves with just any of them? Does the Bible help us to see how such sects began, and their destiny?
The answer to these questions is found in the words of the apostles. It is obvious from the Scriptures that sectarianism was making an effort to come forth during the days of the apostles, but the strong spirituality of the apostles and their close adherence to the principles taught by Christ held down this divisive effort. The apostles kept the congregations strong and unified. Nevertheless, they repeatedly warned of a split to come, an apostasy. Paul, in writing to the Thessalonian congregation, brought this to their attention. That congregation had mistakenly had the idea that the “day of Jehovah”—the day for his destruction of this world’s system of things—was immediately at hand. They thought that they would be relieved of the persecutions they were then undergoing and would receive their heavenly reward very soon.
The apostle therefore wrote them: “Let no one seduce you in any manner, because [that “day of Jehovah”] will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction.”—2 Thess. 2:3.
What is an “apostasy”? Is it a mere careless falling away or dropping off from Christian faith and practice? No. The word “apostasy” has a much stronger flavor. The Greek word used is defined as “a standing off from,” “a departing,” “a withdrawing.” Moffatt’s translation of the verb form at 1 Timothy 4:1 reads: “Certain people will rebel against the faith.”
And at 2 Thessalonians 2:3, above quoted, the apostle said (as translated in the Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible) that the “day of Jehovah” “cannot happen until the Great Revolt has taken place and the Rebel, the Lost One, has appeared.” The Revised Standard Version reads: “For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first.” Moffatt and The New English Bible also use the term “rebellion” in this text.
REBELLION AGAINST WHOM?
Against whom was this rebellion directed? Against certain individuals in authority in the church? Of course, in the apostles’ days, their authority was questioned by individuals trying to bring about a rebellion. But the rebellion was actually against God. For it challenged, not only authority, but also doctrine, and additionally it tried to bring disunity and division in God’s congregation. When anyone takes an unfaithful course, challenging Jehovah’s word or arrangement, he is ranging himself up against God. The description of this rebellious development makes it plain that it is against Jehovah God.
Is the rebellious one, the “man of lawlessness,” a literal man? No, for no one man could have lived over the long period of time that is embraced within the fulfillment of this prophecy. Quite in line with this explanation is the rendering of An American Translation that uses the expression “the embodiment of disobedience . . . who is doomed to destruction.”
This rebellious “one” is not called “The Antichrist,” though he turns out to be an antichrist, in harmony with the apostle John’s description at 1 John 2:18, 22. He denies the authority of the Father, Jehovah God, and it follows that he therefore denies Christ, God’s Son and anointed king. So he is really anti-God, a lawless one toward God. He is called the “son of destruction,” which means that he is doomed to destruction, extinction. This will come upon him in the “day of Jehovah.” He is to be fully revealed before that “day.”—Compare John 17:12.
WITH WHOM APOSTASY BEGAN
Where would the apostasy begin? The apostle Paul revealed this when he spoke to the elders of Ephesus on his last trip to Jerusalem. He warned them: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.”—Acts 20:28-30.
Later, the apostle Peter wrote to Christians, calling to their attention that there “came to be false prophets among the people [the Jewish nation], as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them . . . Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. Also, with covetousness they will exploit you with counterfeit words.”—2 Pet. 2:1-3.
Paul also apprised his co-worker Timothy of the apostasy to come. He exhorted Timothy with strong words as to proper conduct in the congregation, the high qualifications for overseers, the need for strong exhortation, the correction of wrongdoers and maintaining of pure Bible teaching. Paul warned: “The inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons.”—1 Tim. 4:1.
Since “elders” or “overseers” were the ones to whom the apostle spoke, saying, “from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things,” it is clear that the apostasy would be started by professed religious leaders of the Christian congregation, those ordained or appointed to “shepherd” the congregation of God. They would be “false teachers,” working to “draw away the disciples after themselves,” (making Christ’s disciples their own), thereby creating “destructive sects.” These would be “oppressive wolves,” who would not “treat the flock with tenderness.”—Acts 20:29, 30.
We can observe the religious leaders of Christendom and ask: Who have done and are today doing these same things? Who have, by their religious teachings, disowned the heavenly “owner that bought them”? What religious leaders have been guilty of “loose conduct,” and have condoned it among their flocks, so that “the way of the truth” has come to be “spoken of abusively”? What religious leaders have coveted the things that the people of their congregation possessed and then have ‘exploited them with counterfeit words’?
The spiritual and moral condition of the people in the lands called “Christendom” is evidence that such has been the case among the sectarian religious leaders. And because of their greedy, haughty, materialistic attitude and actions, they have brought the hatred of peoples in “pagan” lands not only upon themselves and their flocks, but also upon God’s Word, the Bible. For this they must answer to God.
By observing these facts it is clear why there are so many religious sects in Christendom. For our own safety and well-being we need to know the truth about them. This truth as to the position of Christendom’s leaders in the sight of God is revealed in the apostle Paul’s description of the “man of lawlessness.” A consideration of this description will help us to see the danger of the philosophy that ‘all roads lead to the same place.’ It will enable us to identify the “man of lawlessness” and his destiny. To this end, succeeding issues of The Watchtower will discuss the apostle’s words at 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12.