The Sects The Deepest Reason for the Existence of Sects
We have to see in the first place that in all the world there are really two religions. One is autosoterism, the religion which teaches that man can save himself. This religion will be visible in many forms. The other religion is Christianity, which expects salvation from God, and Him only. Because we are dealing with sects which have their origin in Protestantism, we have to go back to the Reformation.
The central issue at that time concerned grace. The Reformers believed that grace came only from God and that everything else stemmed from this grace. Sola Gratia. Faith, repentance, sanctification, love and hope, they were all things, which did not deserve any reward, because they came forth due to this grace. And therefore all man's work was never a reason for pride, but only for gratefulness toward God. Because grace was something given by God, it was the foundation of the assurance of salvation. But on the other hand man is shown to be the subject. In the important questions of life and death he has to be passive and cannot determine things himself.
Man has to surrender himself, trusting upon God and His Word; he has to do this completely, in faith. And this is the most difficult thing for man to do, for everyone of us tries to take his lot in his own hands.
Time and again people wanted to work out their own salvation or they tried to help God in His saving work. Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura and Sola Christo was not enough for them. They had to add something to it.
All this had several things as its result.
Man Tries to Master the Grace of God
All sects talk about grace, but if we listen very carefully, we find that they make additions to it. With them grace is not the free gift of God to undeserving sinners, but grace is bound to conditions and presuppositions.
Adventists say that you have to accept the message of Revelation 12:6-12 and sanctify the seventh day before you are a member of God's people.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that first of all you have to join the New World Society and engage in door-to-door witnessing before you have any guarantee that you will escape the slaughter of Armageddon.
Followers of Armstrong say that God's grace is bestowed on us because we have repented with a sincere desire to turn from our wicked ways of lawlessness.
All sects teach that it is really in the power of man to obtain this grace. Yes, they say that grace is a free gift, but man first has to do something before he qualifies for this free gift. And once he has done this, then God has to give this grace.
All this has several consequences for the practical life of the sect and for its theology.
The Reformed doctrine says that God calls man and that both man's answer and his works are due to the working of the Holy Spirit. But sectarians believe that the call is really issued by man, through his 'works' and that God's grace is the answer to man's call.
We see this for instance in the doctrine of the sacraments. They do not see them as actions by which God gives and man receives. No, man is a partner in it. Infant baptism, is rejected because a child cannot believe and faith has to be present before God can come with His grace.
Because man tries to master this grace, God has to follow the actions of man. The Holy Spirit is not seen as the sovereign God, who works when, where, and whatsoever He wills. When a Pentecostal evangelist holds a meeting, the Holy Spirit has to be present; He is the faithful follower of that evangelist. If a person receives the laying on of hands, then that person automatically receives the Holy Spirit.
Man wants to have assurance of salvation, and to trust completely upon the grace of God is too risky; therefore there exist a special office in a lot of sects. The task of this office bearer is to be the dispenser of grace; he stands between man and God. To be saved man has to obey this person. The office of all believers is either not confessed or it has disappeared for all practical purposes.
Followers of Armstrong are not permitted to come together except when a minister of the Radio Church of God is present. If no minister is available, they have to listen to the radio.
Many other examples could be given, but they all boil down to the attempt of binding the work of free grace.
Not all sects try to master the grace of God in the same measure; they are all different in degree. But as soon as the doctrine of free grace is left, man is thrown back upon his own works.
God is Robbed of His Glory
The doctrine of the Reformation was that the glory of God is first and foremost in all things. God is the Deus absconditus (the hidden God) who dwells in light unapproachable and who determines all things and does not have to give an account of His deeds to anyone. He is the Holy One. But this hidden God is also the Deus revelatus (the revealed God), the God who out of love offered His only begotten Son for this sinful world. He has revealed Himself in this Son Jesus Christ. This God is sovereign and there is an enormous distance between Him and us. He is the Creator and we are the creatures. This God gives grace as a free gift and also in this giving He is sovereign.
As soon as the sects try to master God's grace, they enter an area where God is sovereign. But this way they rob God of His glory and substitute the glory of the sect in its place.
The sect has power over grace, and whoever has this power, has power over the people. He can open and shut, bind and loosen. In many sects the leader or preacher has a terrible influence over his followers. This is one of the reasons for the submissiveness, the giving of tithes, the close connections. In its pretentions it often surpasses that of the pope in the Roman Catholic Church.
The more they try to master grace, the more they seize the power to determine the limits of salvation. Many sects claim that a person can be saved only when he is a member of their group. God will not save anyone outside it.
Therefore leaving the sect is the same as being erased out of the Book of Life.
Because God and His glory are not in the centre any more, God is not really seen as God. He is taken off his pedestal and put on a lower level. The Mormons say: "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become." Armstrong teaches that believers will be gods; God is their Father, but there will be no essential differences, between Him and the believers.
God is made into a partner of the sect. Their yea is God's yea and their no is God's no. They cannot imagine that God can think different. And that the sect would come under God's judgement is completely impossible.
As Israel boasted on its election as the people of God, so do the sects boast. But Amos said 9:7:
Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the Lord.
Due to this devaluation of God, they do not listen to God's voice. For the leaders of the sect have come in the place of God, and speak with His authority.
Christ and His Work are Devalued
In all sects we see that Christ is either put in the background or that His work is seen as less important.
The Pentecostals put more emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit than on that of Christ. Jehovah's Witnesses deny His eternal 'Godhead. The Grail Movement believes, that Abdrushin is just, as important as (if not more important than) Christ.
The Cross of Jesus is not seen in its value. All sects deny that a complete satisfaction took place there. Some sects deny Jesus’ work on the Cross, others do not see it in its significance for the sinner. This is mainly due to their view of sin. Sin is not seen as alienation from God, and man is not seen as totally corrupt and depraved. And when man is not so bad, the work of Christ becomes less important.
The Cross is no longer the foundation of the assurance of salvation. The sect has to put something else in its place.
They have an Extra-Scriptural Source of Authority
Sola Scriptura is not accepted by the sects either. Some have writings which they put on the same or a higher level than the Bible. The S.D.A.'s have the writings of Ellen G. White, the Mormons the book of Mormon, and the Christian Scientists use the writings of Mary Baker Eddy.
The sects which do not have another book, claim infallible interpretation for their leaders, making the Bible not its own interpreter.
God speaks through the mouth of the sect as He once spoke through the prophets.
Whenever the heart of Christianity is taken out of religion, a sect appears.
Sola Gratia! If we really believe this, we will not look down upon those who are in the power of the sects, but we are thankful to God for His grace and we believe that He by this grace can also free them from their bonds.