"THE BOOK OF ACTS" The Way Which They Call A Sect (24:14) INTRODUCTION 1. We live in a religiously divided world... a. There are various world religions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism) b. Each of those religions have many divisions within themselves c. Among so-called "Christianity" there are more than 38,000 denominations 2. New Testament Christians are opposed to denominationalism... a. Because Jesus prayed for unity among believers - Jn 17:20-23 b. Because Paul condemned religious division - 1Co 1:10-13 [Yet despite efforts to be simply Christians, non-denominational in any sense of the word, the world in which we live wants to define and categorize every group of Christians as a denomination. When we disdain denominationalism and yet are viewed as a denomination, what can we do? Perhaps we can learn from how the apostle Paul handled a similar situation in his day...] I. THE WAY WHICH THEY CALL A SECT A. THE SECT OF THE NAZARENES... 1. Paul was accused of being "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" - Ac 24:5 2. In the beginning, many Gentiles and Jews considered Christians a sect of Judaism 3. They were called "Nazarenes" by enemies because they followed Jesus of Nazareth 4. It was not a label the Christians used to describe themselves 5. They considered themselves the promised fulfillment of Judaism, not another branch of it B. DESIGNATIONS OF THE CHURCH... 1. Collectively, followers of Jesus Christ were called by various terms a. The church of Christ, the church of God - Ro 16:16; 1Co 1:2 b. The body of Christ, the kingdom of Christ - Ep 1:22,23; Col 1:13 c. The temple of God, the bride of Christ - 1Co 3:16; Re 19:7-8 -- Note that not one of these terms was used as some exclusive, official name 2. In the early days of the church, they were also known as people of "The Way" a. Saul of Tarsus persecuted those of "the Way" - Ac 9:2; 22:4 b. Others spoke evil of "the Way" - Ac 19:9 c. At Ephesus there was a riot about "the Way" - Ac 19:23 d. Paul confessed to worship God according to "the Way" - Ac 24:14 e. Felix the governor gained accurate knowledge about "the Way" - Ac 24:22 -- Likely called "The Way" because they followed Jesus as the Way - Jn 14:6 C. PAUL'S RESPONSE TO THE CHARGE... 1. It is interesting how Paul responded to being called a "sect" - Ac 24:5 2. He acknowledged that what his accusers called a sect was how he worshiped God - Ac 24:14 3. Yet he did not feel it necessary to explain to those with a sectarian mindset how he was not a member of a sect 4. Instead, he used the opportunity to confess his faith in the Scriptures and hope in God concerning the resurrection - Ac 24:14-16 5. In other words, he focused his response on the gospel of Christ, rather than on their misconceptions about Christians being a sect of Judaism [Perhaps Paul's response can offer guidance on how Christians who are non-denominational can respond to those who want to label us as a denomination...] II. THE WAY WHICH THEY CALL A DENOMINATION A. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST TODAY... 1. There are thousand of churches of Christ around the world - Ro 16:16 2. They are made up of disciples of Jesus, and are simply Christians - Ac 11:26 3. The congregations are autonomous and independent of one another - Ac 20:28; 1Pe 5:1-2 4. They abide in the apostles' doctrine, using the New Testament as their guide in matters of worship, work, and organization - Ac 2:42 5. Their goal is to abide in the doctrine of Christ, the faith once for all delivered to the saints - 2Jn 1:9; Jude 1:3 6. Yet many in denominational churches view such churches as simply another denomination; e.g., the "Church of Christ" denomination 7. This concerns many Christians, who do not want to be viewed as another denomination B. DESIGNATIONS OF THE CHURCH TODAY... 1. As indicated above there, there are various terms, not one exclusive name 2. The expression "Church of God" is scriptural, but not expedient a. Sadly, more than 200 denominations use the term "Church of God" b. Churches that use this expression are more than likely denominational 3. The expression "Church of Christ" has long been both scriptural and expedient a. It is often used by denominations to refer to the universal church b. Churches that use this expression are more than likely non-denominational 4. But more and more, "Church of Christ" is used in a denominational sense a. Certainly by those who are in a denomination themselves b. But also by churches of Christ who have adopted a denominational mindset 5. Thus today, many if not most say the "Church of Christ" is another denomination C. OUR RESPONSE TO THE CHARGE... 1. Some suggest churches use other designations to avoid being misunderstood a. E.g., having the church sign say "Christians Meet Here" b. E.g., identifying ourselves simply as "The Church" (cf. The Church at Birmingham) 2. Not that such would be unscriptural, but is it expedient? a. Like the sign of the fish in the first century, the term "Church of Christ" is still a more likely way to find New Testament churches b. How long before people viewed us the "Christians Meet Here" denomination, or "The Church" denomination? c. In a world with a denominational mind-set, it is virtually impossible not to be called or thought of as a denomination 3. Why not consider the response of Paul in our text? - Ac 24:14 a. He did not consider it necessary to explain how he was not a member of a sect b. Instead, he used the opportunity to proclaim his faith and hope in God c. In fact, do we ever find Paul or others preaching about the church in Acts? d. Instead, they proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ and the proper response e. Once people obeyed the gospel, they received instructions as to what they were now as members of the body of Christ (i.e., the church) - cf. Mt 28:20 f. It is in the epistles that Christians learned about the identity, the work, the worship, and the organization of the church CONCLUSION 1. Living in a world filled with people with a denominational mindset... a. We need not worry so much about them viewing us another denomination b. Changing names (scriptural or otherwise) is not likely to make much difference 2. Our concern should be proclaiming the gospel of Christ and the kingdom of God... a. Calling people to respond to the gospel by submitting to the rule of God in their lives b. Following up with apostolic teaching on the nature and design of the Lord's church c. Making sure we understand that what others may call a denomination is truly the fulfillment of what Jesus meant when He said "I will build My Church" - Mt 16:18 To paraphrase (actually, rephrase) the apostle Paul... "But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a denomination, so I serve Jesus Christ, believing all things which are written in the Old and New Testaments."