What are these?

Where would they be found?

The answer to these questions is simple:  they are people, people found everywhere.  By the former we refer to conformists and extremists, by the latter sectarianism and pharisaism.  Of course you could add an almost infinite number of terms to this list all of which end in -ist or -ism.

When you see that suffix on words it often means an exaggeration.  It is most likely for this reason that to some the word Calvinism is a distasteful choice of word as a label of Calvin’s teachings.  Some appreciate Calvin but not that -ism attached.

As church people we must have a constant guard against all of the -isms above.  They are ever-pressing evils; warnings must be sounded not only against all heresy but also against lapsing into strange slavery.  Nowadays, we as young people are contacting these words frequently both in newspaper and church paper.  The Daily tells us of the people much devoted in fighting a war against communism but who, in their enthusiasm, fall extremist.  While from the column of the religious weekly and monthly that term sectarianism stands out boldly as one to be feared, and shamed.  Without question all of us have read of it lately.  And finally, it would be absurd for the Christian to deny acquaintance with the word pharisaism when the pages of our Bible (especially the Gospels) give such a complete coverage of this most nauseating evil.

Let’s spend a little time with two:  sectarianism and pharisaism.

The word sect has been variously defined, in fact, each man really makes his own definition.  This is partly due to the character of this evil and partly to the bias of men; you see, many try to make a definition that fits somebody or group they have in mind.  Undoubtedly, the mark supreme of a sect is the humanistic tie.  A mere man means so much to such a group:  men follow, blindly follow, man!  And in all its features it is a one-man affair.  All must think as he, speak as he, act as he… and the least departure is serious transgression.  To disagree is to become a stranger to the clan.

This is interesting.  It is for this reason that the world has, and does, refer to religious people as sects.  To the worldling, it is a Christian who follows hard after one man, and to them that man is Jesus Christ.  But we would have the world know that we follow no mere man; we follow the Lord.  And the followers of the Lord are properly called Church and not Sect.

That the above related mark is the chief mark of a sect is apparent from simple survey.  There are commonly recognized sects in the church world.  To be somewhat specific, the Joseph Smith followers (Mormons) and the Mary Baker Eddy people (Christian Science) are continually so branded.  Even the liberal wing of the modern day church world hesitates not in designating the followers of John Calvin a sect.  But Calvinists loathe this, and rightfully.  Calvin’s heart and pen (and lips) served to bring into focus many gorgeous truths of God’s Word, his unique gift of God.  But the lips of the Chief Prophet we watch and His ways we follow, never that of any mere man.

Now a second obvious mark of a sect is her provincial tendencies.  She is distinctively distinct:  what she has is uniquely hers.  Bringing something in from “without” is a poisonous importation, while the smallest departure from expression and tradition is perpetrating a breach.  In the end, of course, such a people find themselves alone.  They are entirely cut loose from the church world and in that church world they no longer have an influence.

In this connection it is probably worthwhile to have a proper conception of separate existence.  Everyone recognizes denominational differences with the church world.  And we are on that ever-growing yet ever-declining denominational list; a list growing at times because of church splits, and then again declining because of church mergers.  Many denominations there are who not only exist but claim the right of separate existence.  A right, by the way, that is only justifiable when there is sufficient difference to warrant such.  Into this mammoth subject we will not enter.  Suffice it to say that many denominations in the church world is simply reality.  And let it be emphatically understood that belonging to one denomination does not mean:  (1) absolute separation from other Christians.  (2) nor does it mean that all other denominations are the false Church.  Any denomination who considers separate existence a complete separation from all others, and who concludes that an error in another denomination makes her the false Church, is nothing but sectarian.  She has hemmed herself in.

This is not to be interpreted as a frown on or disapproval of separate existence as such.  Separate existence, if legitimate, means survival in the real sense of the word.  How precious is the faith of our Reformed fathers!  Nor is the foregoing to be interpreted as a faint and cunning cry for merger, not in the least.  Nonetheless, as people of God, we must always maintain proper perspective of matters and positively preach a healthy conception of the Church of Christ.  Anyone interested in this subject would find Articles 27, 28 and 29 of our Belgic Confession very instructive.  Here we are taught the facts of the true Church.  Incidentally, she is called a holy congregation and of her we are told, “this holy Church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world…”  Never is she solely imbedded in one denomination.  And to her men are in duty bound to join themselves and support God’s Cause.  How explicit the Word of God is with respect to this beautiful congregation.  In Luke 13 our Lord was questioned concerning the number of the saved.  He concluded a priceless answer in this way:  “and they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.

Of course this is the church as organism, the true body of Christ.  It is an object of the Christian’s faith.  We are acquainted with the church as institute:  local congregations.  And these congregations, if they can truly be called Church, bear certain marks.  These marks are:  “…the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein…maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ…church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin…” Art. 29.  Other congregations which are not truly Church, also bear certain marks:  “…ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ.  Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word…relieth more upon men than upon Christ…” Art. 29.  Evidently then, over the length and breadth of the earth there is the church world with the true and false aspects of the Church.  Both progress.  The latter is rapidly developing into the second Beast of Revelation, which in due time, with the nations of the world, will become the gigantic antichristian kingdom.  In the former there is rejoicing even in struggle for she carries with her that great promise, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against thee.”

The point is this:  the separate existence of a denomination does not even suggest complete separation from all others, nor does it imply that all others are the false Church.  A denomination that so views things, so acts, either in actuality or by suggestion, is especially sectarian:  she will soon discover she is ALONE.  She will quickly be discovered because of her humanistic ties and provincial tendencies.

This is a pernicious-ism, worthy of all fear.

And there is pharisaism!

The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]

Continue reading

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

Continue reading

The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

Continue reading

Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

Continue reading

Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

Continue reading

Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

Continue reading

Tennessee Young People’s Retreat 2021

The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]

Continue reading