Thursday, November 10, 2011

Churches, Sects & Christianity

I have had a discussion going on with two of the theological luminaries in the ranks of the like minded on Christian Marriage.

The idea of "Christian Marriage" is in fact made more interesting because there is no word for "marriage" in Hebrew, strictly speaking. There are descriptions of marriage, which is a relatively expensive linguistic way to go about naming something, particularly for a language as thrifty in the total sum of words it has, such as Hebrew.  In spite of that, Hebrew has no word for marriage per se.

Some might dispute this claim. I have found for instance the closest words for marriage are "Yabam (יִבֵּם)" (which is a word for "Levirate Marriage") and "Ba'al (בַּעַל)" which is a scary word because it invokes images of idol worship. Suffice it to say in the latter case, it means to "Lord" another person, namely the husband "Lording" the wife which is consistent with how Sarah described her husband Abraham, a description and state lauded in his letters by the Apostle Peter.

I'll leave the names of my fellow disputants out, but give a sense of the debate and my reply.

I am inclined to sweep aside references to the church as just individual bodies though I certainly would agree they do exist as individual bodies. My reasoning would go to the word study of "Ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία)" and beyond it.

Reliance on the term "Ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία)" and saying it is only directed at individual congregations falls quickly apart.  Ekklēsia is used several times in Ephesians 5 and also used in the Catholic denomination's favorite birthright verse in Matthew 16, by Christ. I would agree with my "monogamy only" brethren, that the use in Ephesians refers to the "Church Universal," or the perfected community of all believers (what a Calvinist would call the elect). This seems to be absolutely necessary in Matthew 16.

Leaning only on the word Ekklēsia also neglects the analogy of Revelation of the Bride. I try to eschew the use of the word "clearly," but in this case I think it applies. The "Bride (nymphē)" of Christ is clearly "the Church" as in "entire" or "all churches." In addition, this is a refined version of the Church, as we would believe there are wolves in the fold, thus there are some who might seem to be believers, but who are not. These persons do not benefit from membership in any local body, and are excluded at the time of the Judgement, consigned to hell.

One of my opponents (who is a friend by the way, a close one) claims that the usage of the term "Church," such as in "The Catholic Church," are improper. Such usages probably are. This is used as an argument that there can be no denominations but I continue to note that the early church is referred to by both those inside and out of it, as a "sect."  A sect to me is a denomination.

I haven't been claiming that a denomination is strictly a "Church." I do confuse the terms at times. This is very similar to the marriage debate in which it is regularly assumed that all male/female husband/wife relationships are marriage.

They're not.

There is concubinage in which wives and husbands are referred to by the same Hebrew words as are used to describe two espoused in marriage. A denomination (and I have stated this clearly at other times) is a "sect" of Christianity, not a "church." When pressed on this point I don't think I have ever come down on the side of the argument that a denomination IS a "church."

Nevertheless it is interesting that Presbyterians practice "sect-wide" assembly. I also refer to the Catholic denomination as The Catholic Church because they call themselves that. I think I hear everyone do that actually. My wife will tell you I regularly refer to Catholics as "the Catholic denomination" at home. I defend sects as a proper response to denominations sliding into bad doctrine.

The two men in this discussion with me make a similar argument, both implying or saying someone looks at a "genuine church" and makes a judgement call about their genuine nature. This to me is subjective. The letter of Paul to Titus gives us the nuts and bolts of how a genuine church comes to be. While I might agree that a church might (sort of) "fall from grace," it nevertheless has to come to be in a certain fashion and be led in a certain way.

Titus 1:

"For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee."

This is clear method. God the father, "The LORD," is over all. Christ is his only Apostle. The Apostles of Christ (of whom Paul is one) are sent to us. Paul appoints Titus. Titus is directed to appoint as he was appointed. We have no other method or precedent.

It can be argued that the Roman Catholic Church for instance, is a church no longer, but in my estimation, it cannot be argued that it was not a church in the past. If no longer a church, it's appointments are of no effect. However, in the past they were.

Some church must survive as genuine for elders to be ordained in every city as Paul appointed Titus. That authority is only shown to exist in one appointed by someone having a direct pipeline to Christ through the appointment of the elder, successively back to an Apostle of Christ, who is an Apostle of the LORD.

Christ is also baptised into ministry by a Levite. That Levite is shown to be ultimately blessed in Abraham as Hebrews tells us. All of this shows the setting up of office, occupied by human beings, who have authority based on it being bestowed to them by someone in office.

It sounds great to say that the hallmarks of a genuine church are this or that, but there is no basis for listening to a particular person, other than personal choice, when it comes to evaluating that church. No one has shown me how someone can declare they possess the authority, to make that judgment. Unless of course, it is by the method I have shown above.

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rkirkpatrick said...

The term "sect" in every instance I can think of was a description of messianic believers. It sets them apart from Jewish believers who did not accept that Jesus was the messiah.

Are there any sects in scripture that refer to devisions among Christians?

The Pharisee said...

In the early Church, among the gentiles, the only sects referred with precisely the same word to were heretical ones:

1st Corinthians 11:19 - "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."

Galatians 5:20 & 21 - "Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

The word for "heresies" or "heresy" is the same word as the one used for "sect." Paul though, continued to call himself a Pharisee, which was a "sect" in his usage. All of these are examples of sects. We know that there were those in the early church that were still called Pharisees and we know they were counted as believers, not heretics.

Acts 15:5 - "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."

The same word for sect and heresy is used in all these cases, but despite their wrong conclusion, the Pharisees in the above instance are said to "believe."

So yes, "Sect" is used in Christianity, unless you choose to count this as a division among Messianics. But in acknowledging Messianics, you acknowledge a division, or if you spoke Greek, a "αἵρεσις" (hairesis).

Though the word is not used, a division of this sort is set up right from the get go with the Gentile Believers and the Hebrew Believers.

Galations 2:8 - "For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles."

The disciple Ananias of Damascus was told the same about Paul in his vision when he was instructed to go to Paul and heal him.

If we were to "Score" sects, it would be clear that one above all others, would be the closest to the truth. The reasons to divide are various. To separate from heretical people, to separate because of a God Given division (Gentile and Jew) or I would assume, based on early Church behavior, over national lines. This for instance explains the Coptics.

Robert said...

On Church Unity

You present a real dichotomy in your understanding of "church". On the one hand,
you present a hierarchical structure that prevents heresies, on the other, a huge failure
of that structure as it continually producing more division, denominations, and sects.
For example the Presbyterians have split many times over the last decade over clear
Bible issues. So the structure that should have unified them instead became a venue to
spread heresies. So what happened to that?

Who is in charge of the Christian Church anyway? I thought it was Christ. Have I
missed something?

Whatever "church" has become by and large Christians missed the mark when it
comes to unity.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the
calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond
of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope
that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of
all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6

Let me just ask you a few questions about the modern church "pastor" when
compared to scripture:

Show me a man in the New Testament that preaches to the same congregation week
after week, month after month, and year after year. Show me a man in the New
Testament who is viewed as the head of a local church. Show me a man in the New
Testament that represents a local church to the world, to his city, and to the public.
Show me a man in the New Testament that marries the living and buries the dead.
Show me a man in the New Testament that officiates the Lord's Supper, or

I think, the "church" whatever it was supposed to be, has clearly drifted into
something unlike what the Bible presents.

God Bless,


P.S. Interestingly enough, I recently heard John MacArthur (the Protestant Pope and a
Calvinist) say, there is no such thing as apostolic succession. Interesting…