The Joy Of Sects
Caesar once said “Divide and conquer.” But there is an even more sinister power in the world that knows how to unite and conquer.
Among the many values praised beyond all bounds of proportion in our day, one of them is unity. We get the idea that unity is so valuable that it is to be had at all costs, that there is no price too high to pay for it. But is it really the case that unity is categorically good, and that division categorically bad?
We live in a very complicated age, and this sends us looking for simple solutions. To be sure, we ought to try to make things as simple as possible, but not simpler than possible. For example, it has become a truism in our society that equality is good and inequality is bad. But if there is such a thing as an unjust inequality, is there not also such a thing as an unjust equality? And in the same way, if there are such things as bad divisions, are there not also such things as bad unions?
God unites, but he also divides. His attitude toward the natural family provides a good example of this, for although we should like to think of him as a uniter of people, he makes it clear that he is also a divider of people. In one passage he says: “What God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mk 10:9). In another passage, he says: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36).
The church is a spiritual family, and it has been broken asunder into many divisions. These include its three main branches: Orthodoxy, Romanism, and Protestantism (but the latter encompasses a bewildering variety of subdivisions, such as Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Anabaptists, Methodists, Charismatics, Pentecostals [and a newer branch, consisting of people called “Seekers”]). What’s a person to do? To join one of these bodies is to implicitly exclude all the others. But neither is it feasible to attempt rolling all of them into a single denomination, for there are too many matters about which they disagree.
Troy Christian Chapel is one of many churches that are both congregational and interdenominational. This means we are not under the authority of any larger institution, and also that we house within our walls believers taken from the whole spectrum of Christianity. Our traditional motto has always been: in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity (a quote from Marco Antonio de Dominis, a theologian who lived during the stormy days of the Protestant Reformation). By essentials we mean the historic faith of the church, as expressed in the words of the Apostles Creed, and in the words of the Bible. These essentials are sufficiently fixed to give us a stable identity, but also sufficiently flexible to encompass a wide range of believers. Division is not necessarily bad. Unity can be had in the midst of division. And there is a joy in knowing that the ultimate task of uniting the people of God is not going to be accomplished through the visible works of man, but through the invisible work of the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, we must always beware, lest the desire for unity tempt us to lose sight of those things that are essential. The Scriptures say that the nations of the world will one day be united under all that is anti-Christ. They also say that the spirit of anti-Christ is already in the world. May we have the courage to divide, and the wisdom to divide rightly.
Pastor Chad LewisJune 9, 2017