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Reformed churches-two things brought over from the papacy-namely, first, the idea of a self-perpetuating clerical caste possessing in their corporate capacity legislative and judicial authority over the church; and second, the centralization under a human headship of administrative functions, instead of that local autonomy which prevailed in the congregations of apostolic times. The doctrine of the power of the keys,” a power wielded by a clerical corporation with authority to prescribe the very manner and form of worshiping God and to require men to comply therewith or else exclude them from gospel privileges. That doctrine was accepted without question. It was the same power in principle as that which was wielded so terribly by Gregory VII in the papal church of the eleventh century.
MODERN SECTS Picture a keen observer living in the middle of the first century of our era. He travels about A mental
from place to place studying the picture
development, nature, and fruits of the recently established religious phenomenon
- Christianity. He observes the purity of its doctrines and the high moral standard exemplified in the lives of its adherents, and he inquires particularly concerning the secret of that mysterious bond which unites in one body and in one fellowship, sympathy, and love the entire society of believers in Jesus. He departs. After the lapse of long ages he returns near the beginning of the twentieth century, and lo, what is it that meets his astonished vision? The mournful spectacle of a divided Christendom; of rival sects compassing land and sea to make proselytes; of the spiritual alienation of those who, in reality, belong to the one divine family; of waste and inefficiency in methods of evangelical effort; not to mention the error, pride, and worldliness inherent in the gigantic ecclesiastical systems known as denominational churches. What a change!
It is useless to minimize the evils inherent in the sect system. Intelligent men the world over need not the services of an eye-specialist to see
clearly that there is something wrong with modern Christendom; that the sect system does not repInherent
resent the standard of primitive evils
Christianity, but that in reality the sect principle misrepresents the apostolic ideal as portrayed in the New Testament. We may as well face the facts honestly and seek for a remedy for this disease that has so long marred the beauty and corrupted the nature of the true Christian system.
I cheerfully admit that God has worked among his people in all ages in accordance with the degree of light and truth which they possessed. But I can not forget that the greatest revivals of evangelical religion have either taken place in spite of the sect system or among those who had just made their escape from the bondage of ecclesiastical despotism and had not as yet become very deeply affected by the sectarian principle. To what source, then, are we to trace sects? What is their cause?
A large proportion of the Christian world would reply without hesitation that the existence of the Alleged causes modern sects is due to these two of sect-making things: the principle of religious liberty and the limitations of human knowledge. Such an answer reveals a superficial view of the whole subject. Religious liberty among Christians existed in the primitive church before the rise of ecclesiastical tyranny over the conscience, and the masses of men in those days were at least as limited in knowledge as are we. Still, the church was one; it was not divided into rival and hostile sects. There was no need in those days of constructing churches to conform to the limited capacity of men's minds; for there was already in existence a church sufficiently catholic in its nature and spirit to accommodate all classes of minds, because there was in operation the power of the Spirit of God which revealed truth to men and thus enlightened their minds and brought them into harmony with the divine standard. Concerning the principle of religious liberty, I shall have more to say hereafter.
The natural limitations of human knowledge may account for difference of opinion, but more Human
than this is required to account limitations
for the entire system of organized sects such as we see it today. Millions of evangelical Christians possessing spiritual affinity and holding opinions no more divergent than often exist between members of the same sect, are, nevertheless, divided into independent, rival parties. Something else originated and now perpetuates that barrier between them.
When differences are fundamental and therefore unavoidable, they will become more pronounced under test than at any other time. If, during an epidemic, a physician believes that the method of treatment employed by another doctor