Monday, September 20, 2004

A nonsectarian sect?

With any plea for unity, there is always the danger that those who don't understand the Biblical basis for unity will set out to form a non-sectarian sect - or think that others are trying to do so. There is as much legitimacy in a non-sectarian sect as in a non-divisive division. The whole idea is profoundly self-contradictory.

But historically, this is what has happened when people have risen to the realization that Christian partisanship is wrong, but have not looked within themselves to see the root of the problem. It is much easier to look at everyone else as the problem and separate to form a party around a central theme, than it is to work together with those who don't agree with us. Separating from brethren is the road most traveled, and the one guaranteed to end in political camps among brothers. It is much more difficult, and a road largely untraveled, to actually have brotherly interaction with saints who understand the new testament "pattern" of assembly differently than we do.

We in the restoration movement have largely come to accept sectarianism as a necessary evil. "You have to draw the line somewhere" is what I hear most often. Well, maybe we don't. Drawing lines in the sand only tells us where we stand in relation to our brother, not to God, and therein is the problem. Doing so only puts us to the right or left of some other fallible person.

Drawing a line in the sand is only a practical response to what we perceive to be necessary, not a principled response based on the Word. We have come to the scriptures with a pre-formed view that we can't associate with certain people based on their misunderstanding of scripture. The logic goes thus: Erasing the line in the sand would cause us to have to admit them as brothers; therefore I must keep my line in the sand. But no one can find me any scripture where we are told to deny someone the right hand of fellowship who has been obedient to the gospel, remains in the shared faith of Jesus Christ, and refrains from moral depravity and schism. It can't be done.

I don't have infallible answers about how each matter of Christian association should be resolved. They are not easy questions to answer. I don't necessarily want to go down that road, either--but I must because I see the fundamental truth at the trailhead.

Whatever answers we arrive at, we ought to be praying hard for our patient and longsuffering God to be forbearing of any potential misunderstandings. We should also extend the same forbearing attitude toward our brothers who, with the intellect and measure of faith God has granted them, have arrived at a different understanding of things. Let's put things in perspective, and be less concerned with which side of a human-derived line we're on, and more concerned with the Rock upon which we all are wanting to stand.