Sectarianism is a big problem in the religious world today. It is a manifestation of the fleshly, sensual side of man, and "those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Ga.5:19-21). The Lord's body must reject sectarianism, for by Divine design it includes all who have been saved (Ac.2:36-47). Nevertheless, there can be those within the body of Christ who reveal sectarian tendencies (Ac.15:5f). Therefore, it is needful for us to understand this issue.
Sectarianism "properly denotes a predilection either for a particular truth, or a perversion of one, generally with the expectation of personal advantage; hence, a division and the formation of a party or sect in contrast to the uniting power of 'the truth' held, in toto" (Vine). In other words, a particular doctrine(s) is elevated and emphasized as the sole basis for acceptability, with little regard for the rest of the truth, or for those who feel differently. The result is always division!
We read of sects in the Scriptures. There was the "sect of the Sadducees" (Ac.5:17), the "sect of the Pharisees" (Ac.15:5), and others. Each of these groups claimed to follow the same God, and the same Scriptures. Yet each was distinct, and had clear differences (cf. Ac.23:6-9). In modern times, a parallel is found in denominationalism, which is a synonym for sectarianism. Webster says that denominationalism is "the emphasizing of denominational differences to the point of being narrowly exclusive: sectarianism." Every denominational group shows "a predilection either for a particular truth, or a perversion of one." For example, Seventh Day Adventists show "a predilection" for the seventh day (while ignoring NT teaching on "the first day of the week," Ac.20:7); Baptists show "a predilection" for baptism by immersion (while ignoring its proper purpose, Ac.2:38); Pentecostal churches show "a predilection" for the Pentecostal experience of Acts 2 (while ignoring NT teaching that miracles would "cease," 1Cor.13:8-10). Such groups are condemned in Scripture because of their sectarianism (Ga.5:19-21; 1Cor.1:10-13).
Unfortunately, some Christians seem to believe that only the denominations are sectarian; or that, for some reason, it is acceptable when "we" are sectarian. That such is true is evident to anyone who knows the true situation with God's people. We have a wide variety of sects ranging from "ultra-liberal" to "ultra-conservative." We can literally "join the sect of our choice"! While many preach unity based upon God's word, they practice denominationalism.
For example, there is a sect which shows "a predilection" for "gospel," rather than "doctrine" (as if there was a distinction). This has the effect of including several sects, but excluding those who insist upon "the uniting power of 'the truth' held, in toto." Or, if such is not your taste, there are sects in which a whole host of "pet doctrines" are emphasized: no classes, no women teachers, no located preachers, and so forth. I do not say this to ridicule anyone's honestly-held convictions, but to stress the sin of forming sects which are built around these doctrines.
If I may, I would like to get even closer to home. Some among us seem to define a "sound" church as one with "no organ, no orphan's home, and no kitchen." This can become our own sectarian "list of essentials." The members may be materialistic, worldly, and indifferent, but at least they belong to the "right" church! Brethren, this is no less sectarian than the denominations! No, I am NOT saying that the above issues are unimportant; but let us never judge another's faithfulness only by issues that we deem important (cf. 2Cor.10:12). How can some of us smugly criticize our "liberal" brethren, while having a "beam in (our) own eye" (Mt.7:1-5)? Again, this does not excuse our brethren's sinful practices; but perhaps we should look in the mirror first!
What are the solutions to sectarianism? I suggest four: 1. Realize that no one is immune to sectarianism, and that each of us must endeavor to avoid it (1Cor.1:10; 1Pt.4:11; Ep.4:1-6). 2. Realize that no one truth is more important than another. We must seek to know and to do all truth to the best of our abilities (Mt.23:23-24; Jn.7:17; 8:31-32; 12:48). 3. Realize that each of us is fallible, and may well be deficient somewhere (Ps.19:12; 1Cor.4:4). No, this does not excuse sin; but it can humble us before we "look down our noses" at another (Lk.8:9-14; Ga.6:1). 4. Realize that "the Lord knows those who are His." He doesn’t need our help to recognize the faithful, so we need not concern ourselves with determining each individual's final destiny. Our job is to "depart from iniquity" and "contend for the faith" (2Tm.2:19; Jude 3).
Friends, God's church is not a sect. It contains ALL of his people, dedicated to seeking "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Are you a loyal subject in the kingdom of Christ? If not, why not become one (Ac.2:36-47)?