Sectarianism: The charge we cannot deny

This Thanksgiving, as so often before, I was thankful for my neighbors, who cooked the dinner. All I had to bring was green beans. Any day I don’t have to cook is a true holiday.

The company was enjoyable, and when talk turned to politics — as it so easily can in November — the hostess shut things down in no uncertain terms and demanded a change of topic.

But sometime later the topic turned, innocently enough, to religion. One of the other guests simply asked what church I attend. I answered and, knowing he lives in the neighborhood, told him where it is. He knew the place, although he confessed to having no idea what it meant, exactly, to be a “Presbyterian.”

Well, that’s fine. A lot of Presbyterians don’t, either.

He said he was raised Roman Catholic but later joined a Pentecostal church. He wondered aloud, as so many of us often do, why we Christians cannot agree on our doctrine and therefore have so many denominations we can’t keep them all straight.

man and woman arguing

© Doruk Sikman – Fotolia.com

Our hostess, rather than shutting this topic down for a less sensitive one, launched into a scathing diatribe against sectarianism. She has apparently witnessed bitter attacks by members of one denomination against another a few too many times. “How can people who claim to follow a Lord of Love fight amongst themselves all the time?”

It’s a fair question, and one I’m at a loss to answer. After hypocrisy, sectarianism is the biggest fault the world sees in the church.

We were discussing the same topic recently in church officer training. Our pastors are working to ensure that those of us elected as elders and deacons can, at least, answer the question of what it means to be Presbyterian, even if we can’t answer the one about sectarianism.

We learned about what distinguishes Protestants from Roman Catholics, and what distinguishes Presbyterians from other Protestants, and finally we looked at what distinguishes some Presbyterian denominations from others. Because yes, even within Presbyterianism we’re divided, generally over who may be ordained. There are congregations in which I would not be permitted to be an elder.

At another point in our discussion, the pastor asked, “What is required for a person to be accepted into our congregation?”

Not wishing to be the Hermione Granger of Grace Covenant Presbyterian, I waited to see if anyone else would answer. Hearing none, I said, “Profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.”

(Two points for Ravenclaw.)

Despite all our differences, this is the thing that makes us who we are. We believe in one Lord. When we focus on our similarities instead of fighting over our differences, we accomplish great things. I’ve seen this in many places: The Christian Chamber of Commerce, American Christian Fiction Writers, The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network, Word Weavers, The Faith and Fantasy Alliance, Speculative Faith, The Anomaly, The Lost Genre Guild, and right here at NAF.

We may not agree about who may serve as elders, or how many sacraments there are, or whether the Spirit proceeds only from the Father or from the Father And The Son, but let’s not fight about these things. In a week’s time, we’ll be celebrating the Advent of our Lord. While the rest of the world breaks into fisticuffs over animatronic toys and marked-down gadgets, let the people of God show that we follow a Lord of Love.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

5 comments on “Sectarianism: The charge we cannot deny

  1. Beautiful, Kristen :).

  2. There are Christians who care very intensely about whether you’re one denomination or another, and won’t associate with you if you’re not their particular brand or flavor, but I think mostly we’re in a situation today, where so many people are ignorant of what the Bible teaches, let alone what their particular denomination adheres to as biblical practice, that it’s far more important that those of us who call ourselves by Christ’s name reach out to them with the Word of God, and seek to make disciples.

    I’m also very sure that God doesn’t care whether we’re one flavor of Christian or another either as long as we obey the Great Commission.

  3. […] The main objections we have to overcome are, “You Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites,” and “How can we believe you when you can’t even agree amongst yourselves?” […]

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