Why so many sects?
there so many sects in Christendom? Their number calls forth the
derision of unbelievers, and causes grief to the devout.
the apostles taught, Christianity began with a single "sect", which was
said to be "everywhere spoken against" (Acts 28:22). If the teachings
held by its members had remained exactly as they were given by the
first teachers, there is at least a chance that it would have continued
to be one "sect". But suppose that fresh doctrines are introduced, old
words are used to clothe new ideas, and an alien philosophy is combined
with the original teaching? Is it not clear that there will be a strain
between the new beliefs and the old? The way will be opened for all
kinds of combinations of ideas, and for any amount of ingenuity to
invent new theories to reconcile things which are in conflict. And as a
result, different groups will drift further and further apart until
they split into separate churches in perpetual disagreement with one
broadly and simply, that is very much what happened to Christianity.
The changes were coming even in the apostles' days, for we find Paul
strenuously opposing ideas which would have made the resurrection of
the dead unnecessary (1 Cor. 15:12-20). At the end of his life, Paul is
still combating those "who concerning the truth have erred, saying that
the resurrection is past already" (2 Tim. 2:18). There is a strong
probability, to put it no higher, that the only teaching which could
displace the belief in future resurrection is the Greek doctrine that
the soul is immortal, and therefore needs no raising from the grave. To
Paul this was a matter of acute concern, for its effects were
disastrous. It had "overthrown the faith of some", and as to the
future, he saw that it would "eat like a gangrene" (v. 17, R.V.).
some of his earliest letters Paul had said there would come a "falling
away", and even that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2
Thess. 2: 3, 7). He told the Ephesians, "Of your own selves shall men
arise, speaking perverse things" (Acts 20:30). In both his letters to
Timothy he writes of times when "some shall depart from the faith" (1
Tim. 4:1), and when "they will not endure sound doctrine", but will
turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables (2 Tim.
4:3- 4). Having "itching ears", he says, they will "heap to themselves
teachers" according to their own desires.
is Paul alone in this. Peter says, "There shall be false teachers among
you, who shall privily bring in damnable heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). The
letters of John, written in his extreme old age towards the end of the
first century, are very largely devoted to combating teaching which was
already prevalent. "Many false prophets (or teachers) are gone out into
the world", he says (1 John 4:1). "Many deceivers are entered into the
world" (2 John v. 7). He urges believers to put to the test those who
come to them as teachers (or in his own idiom, to "try the spirits");
and the only standard by which they can be tested is the Word which God
has already given through His Holy Spirit -- that is, Scripture.
in the apostles' day, when only the writings we now call the Old
Testament could be appealed to, the Jews at Berea were called "more
noble" because they "searched the scriptures daily" to see whether the
things they were told by Paul and Silas "were so" (Acts 17:11). And
when in earlier times Jews had sought to communicate with the dead by
practices like those of modern Spiritualism, Isaiah had pointed to the
only true source of inquiry: "Should not a people seek unto their God?
... To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to
this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:19-20).
"Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God
spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21).
are many sects because Christianity as a whole has gone astray from the
teaching of Christ. The greatest need of today is to return to the
early faith: and the only way to return is by the study of the