What Is a Denomination?In "What Is a Denomination?  (Part 1)", we learned that simply giving a church a name, even if it is a "name" found in the Bible, makes it a denomination. Strictly speaking, this is the definition of a denomination. However, the concept of a denomination usually involves more than just selecting an exclusive name. You probably noticed that the 4th definition of a denomination is "a religious sect". From this we may infer that there are other traits of a denomination beyond just choosing a name.

Unlike the word denomination, the word sect does appear in the Bible; five times and all in the book of Acts. "Sect" is translated from the greek word "hairesis" (Strong's 139). Hairesis is used four other times in the New Testament and is translated as "heresy" or "heresies" or "factions" depending on which Bible translation you use. Thayer's Greek English Lexicon defines the word:

hairesis hah’-ee-res-is

1) act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city
2) choosing, choice
3) that which is chosen, a chosen course of thought and action; hence one's chosen opinion, tenet
4) a body of men separating themselves from others and following their own tenets (sect or party)
4a) of the Sadducees
4b) of the Pharisees
4c) of the Christians
5) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims

For the sake of being thorough, below is the dictionary's definition of the word sect.

sect [sekt], n,   1. a body of persons adhering to a particular religious faith; a religious denomination.
2. a group regarded as heretical or as deviating from a generally accepted religious tradition. 
3. (in the sociology of religion) a Christian denomination characterized by insistence on strict qualifications
for membership, as distinguished from the more inclusive groups called churches.   4. any group, party, or
faction united by a specific doctrine or under a doctrinal leader.

When you really boil it down, these definitions differ very little, if any. Therefore, we learn that a religious group can be a denomination even if it doesn't take a name. By becoming sectarian in attitude or behavior, a religious group can become a denomination. When Christians separate themselves from other Christians and follow their own set of beliefs, tenets, and opinions they have become a sect. A body of Christians that has strict qualifications for membership and/or align themselves by specific doctrines is a sect. So where does this leave those of us in the Churches of Christ?

Based on the above definitions, are we sectarian when...

  • The people in non-instrumental Churches of Christ will not fellowship those in the Christian Church where musical instruments are used?
  • The Christians in non-institutional Churches of Christ will by no means partner with others in the institutional Churches of Christ?
  • The brethren who use a single cup during the observance of the Lord's Supper will not commune with those who use multiple cups?
  • Those in congregations who do not have Bible classes will not associate with Christians in congregations who do have Bible classes?
  • We claim to be the entirety of the body of Christ to the exclusion of all other Christians?

Someone might point out that these factions are unavoidable when some refuse to do what is right. No doubt this is a valid point since Paul seems to make the same observation in 1 Corinthians 11:17-19. Nevertheless, he still condemned their divisiveness! How much effort do brethren put forth to study with one another when a potentially divisive issue arises? How often do we go above and beyond in love and patience to maintain unity? How often do we sincerely consider that we may be wrong and the other person right? Usually very little, if any, study takes place. Far more frequently we just question one another's motives and love of the truth and then go ahead and split with little or no sincere study. This is a sectarian attitude and is sinful.