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The Identity of the Church

“But we think it right to hear from you what you think: for, as it respects this sect, we know that it is everywhere spoken against.”
(Acts 28:22)

The Lord stated, in Matthew 16:18; referring to the confession Peter had made: “On this rock I will build my church.” And so, in this series, the purpose will be to define and identify the community called “my church” by the Savior. This is clearly the same community styled “this sect” in the preceding text. The one used by Jesus in Mt. 16:18, is his name for the Kingdom of Heaven, and his way of speaking of “the assembly” (which has come to us translated by the Scottish/English word “church”). While in the opening verse, the word “sect” is the way men, not of that community, and who understood neither its origin nor its position; and who do not necessarily owe it any ill-will, identified it. This language comes from “the chief men of the Jews,” as we learn from Acts 28, verse 17. That which Jesus calls “my Church,” they called “this sect.” So, at this time, the “chief priest and leaders of the Jews” regarded the Church of Christ as a division that had arisen out of the Jewish faith, an unpopular sect or faction, and a bad one, at that, as it was “everywhere spoken against.”

For some simple linguistic background: This word “sect” is never used in a good sense in the New Testament; nor is the original word from which it derived. The English transliteration – Hairesis, from which we have the word “sect,” (according to W. E. Vine), occurs nine times in the New Testament. It is translated “sect” five times, and “heresies” four. We read of “damnable heresies” in 2 Pet. 2:1, and find heresies listed among “the works of the flesh,” by Paul in Gal. 5:20. There you will also find the statement added, in verse 21, that those who practice such things as heresies, “…shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Heresy is ranked with “lewdness, uncleanness, wantonness, idolatry, sorcery,” etc. etc. So, being in something which might be qualified or identified as a sect or (dare we say, a heresy) amounts to standing flatfooted against God and Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in the establishment of the Church of Christ (singular).

In the speech of Tertullus, accusing Paul (in Acts 24:5), he was charged with being a ringleader of the “sect” of the Nazarenes. In verse 14 of the same chapter, Paul responded by saying: “After the way which they call a sect, so do I worship the God of my fathers.” Here he does not “admit” the body of which they and he spoke was a sect, but only that it was called a sect. It is incorrect and unreasonable for Christians to speak of “Christian sects. ” There are no such things. It would be saying there are divisions within the Kingdom of Heaven or the Church. Doing so is inaccurate; and might cause some to sin, by believing or identifying the Church of Christ as just a division of the Kingdom of God, or a part of the wider body of Christ. The true church is not a part of anything else. But some of our religious friends may say that “all” churches or “denominations” are just parts of the body of Christ, and that the 5oo (or so) various pieces make up the whole of the “Body of Christ,” the “Universal Church of Christ” or the “Kingdom of God” (as was explored in previous posts).

(This part of this series is based upon a sermon by Benjamin Franklin)