Apollos forwarded this extract from Studies in Scriptures, Volume 3, pages 181 to 187. In these pages, brother Russell reasons on the effects of sectarianism. As witnesses, we may read this superb example of clear, concise writing and think how well it applies to “false religion”, to “Christendom”. However, let us open our minds still further and read it without preconception. For it is a most sobering piece of reasoning, from one whom we consider to be our modern day founder.
Let such consider that we are now in the harvest time of separation, and remember our Lord’s expressed reason for calling us out of Babylon, namely, “that ye be not partakers of her sins.” Consider, again, why Babylon is so named. Evidently, because of her many errors of doctrine, which, mixed with a few elements of divine truth, make great confusion, and because of the mixed company brought together by the mixed truths and errors. And since they will hold the errors at a sacrifice of truth, the latter is made void, and often worse than meaningless. This sin, of holding and teaching error at the sacrifice of truth is one of which every sect of the Church nominal is guilty, without exception. Where is the sect which will assist you in diligently searching the Scriptures, to grow thereby in grace and in the knowledge of the truth? Where is the sect which will not hinder your growth, both by its doctrines and its usages? Where is the sect in which you can obey the Master’s words and let your light shine? We know of none.
If any of God’s children in these organizations do not realize their bondage, it is because they do not attempt to use their liberty, because they are asleep at their posts of duty, when they should be active stewards and faithful watchmen. (1 Thess. 5:5,6) Let them wake up and attempt to use the liberty they think they possess; let them show to their fellow-worshippers wherein their creeds fall short of the divine plan, wherein they diverge from it and run in direct opposition to it; let them show how Jesus Christ by the favor of God tasted death for every man; how this fact, and the blessings flowing from it, shall “in due time” be testified to every man; how in “the times of refreshing” the blessings of restitution shall flow to the whole human race. Let them show further the high calling of the Gospel Church, the rigid conditions of membership in that body, and the special mission of the Gospel age to take out this peculiar “people for his name,” which in due time is to be exalted and to reign with Christ. Those who will thus attempt to use their liberty to preach the good tidings in the synagogues of today will succeed either in converting whole congregations, or else in awakening a storm of opposition. They will surely cast you out of their synagogues, and separate you from their company, and say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for Christ’s sake. And, in so doing, doubtless, many will feel that they are doing God service. But, if thus faithful, you will be more than comforted in the precious promises of Isaiah 66:5 and Luke 6:22—”Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his Word: Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified [we do this for the Lord’s glory]: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.” “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy; for, behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.” But, “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you; for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
If all with whom you worship as a congregation are saints—if all are wheat, with no tares among them—you have met a most remarkable people, who will receive the harvest truths gladly. But if not, you must expect present truth to separate the tares from the wheat. And more, you must do your share in presenting these very truths which will accomplish the separation.
If you would be one of the overcoming saints, you must now be one of the “reapers” to thrust in the sickle of truth. If faithful to the Lord, worthy of the truth and worthy of joint-heirship with him in glory, you will rejoice to share with the Chief Reaper in the present harvest work—no matter how disposed you may be, naturally, to glide smoothly through the world.
If there are tares among the wheat in the congregation of which you are a member, as is always the case, much will depend upon which is in the majority. If the wheat preponderates, the truth, wisely and lovingly presented, will affect them favorably; and the tares will not long care to stay. But if the majority are tares—as nine-tenths or more generally are—the effect of the most careful and kind presentation of the harvest truth will be to awaken bitterness and strong opposition; and, if you persist in declaring the good tidings, and in exposing the long established errors, you will soon be “cast out” for the good of the sectarian cause, or have your liberties so restrained that you cannot let your light shine in that congregation. Your duty then is plain: Deliver your loving testimony to the goodness and wisdom of the Lord’s great plan of the ages, and, wisely and meekly giving your reasons, publicly withdraw from them.
There are various degrees of bondage among the different sects of Babylon—”Christendom.” Some who would indignantly resent the utter and absolute slavery of individual conscience and judgment, required by Romanism, are quite willing to be bound themselves, and anxious to get others bound, by the creeds and dogmas of one or another of the Protestant sects. True, their chains are lighter and longer than those of Rome and the Dark Ages. So far as it goes, this surely is good—reformation truly—a step in the right direction—toward full liberty—toward the condition of the Church in the apostolic times. But why wear human shackles at all? Why bind and limit our consciences at all? Why not stand fast in the full liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free? Why not reject all the efforts of fallible fellowmen to fetter conscience and hinder investigation?—not only the efforts of the remote past, of the Dark Ages, but the efforts of the various reformers of the more recent past? Why not conclude to be as was the apostolic Church?—free to grow in knowledge as well as in grace and love, as the Lord’s “due time” reveals his gracious plan more and more fully?
Surely all know that whenever they join any of these human organizations, accepting its Confession of Faith as theirs, they bind themselves to believe neither more nor less than that creed expresses on the subject. If, in spite of the bondage thus voluntarily yielded to, they should think for themselves, and receive light from other sources, in advance of the light enjoyed by the sect they have joined, they must either prove untrue to the sect and to their covenant with it, to believe nothing contrary to its Confession, or else they must honestly cast aside and repudiate the Confession which they have outgrown, and come out of such a sect. To do this requires grace and costs some effort, disrupting, as it often does, pleasant associations, and exposing the honest truth-seeker to the silly charges of being a “traitor” to his sect, a “turncoat,” one “not established,” etc. When one joins a sect, his mind is supposed to be given up entirely to that sect, and henceforth not his own. The sect undertakes to decide for him what is truth and what is error; and he, to be a true, staunch, faithful member, must accept the decisions of his sect, future as well as past, on all religious matters, ignoring his own individual thought, and avoiding personal investigation, lest he grow in knowledge, and be lost as a member of such sect. This slavery of conscience to a sect and creed is often stated in so many words, when such a one declares that he “belongs” to such a sect.
These shackles of sectarianism, so far from being rightly esteemed as shackles and bonds, are esteemed and worn as ornaments, as badges of respect and marks of character. So far has the delusion gone, that many of God’s children would be ashamed to be known to be without some such chains—light or heavy in weight, long or short in the personal liberty granted. They are ashamed to say that they are not in bondage to any sect or creed, but “belong” to Christ only.
Hence it is that we sometimes see an honest, truth-hungry child of God gradually progressing from one denomination to another, as a child passes from class to class in a school. If he be in the Church of Rome, when his eyes are opened, he gets out of it, probably falling into some branch of the Methodist or Presbyterian systems. If here his desire for truth be not entirely quenched and his spiritual senses stupefied with the spirit of the world, you may a few years after find him in some of the branches of the Baptist system; and, if he still continues to grow in grace and knowledge and love of truth, and into an appreciation of the liberty wherewith Christ makes free, you may by and by find him outside of all human organizations, joined merely to the Lord and to his saints, bound only by the tender but strong ties of love and truth, like the early Church. 1 Cor. 6:15,17; Eph. 4:15,16
The feeling of uneasiness and insecurity, if not bound by the chains of some sect, is general. It is begotten of the false idea, first promulgated by Papacy, that membership in an earthly organization is essential, pleasing to the Lord and necessary to everlasting life. These earthly, humanly organized systems, so different from the simple, unfettered associations of the days of the apostles, are viewed involuntarily and almost unconsciously by Christian people as so many Heaven Insurance Companies, to some one of which money, time, respect, etc., must be paid regularly, to secure heavenly rest and peace after death. Acting on this false idea, people are almost as nervously anxious to be bound by another sect, if they step out of one, as they are if their policy of insurance has expired, to have it renewed in some respectable company.
But no earthly organization can grant a passport to heavenly glory. The most bigoted sectarian (aside from the Romanist) will not claim, even, that membership in his sect will secure heavenly glory. All are forced to admit that the true Church is the one whose record is kept in heaven, and not on earth. They deceive the people by claiming that it is needful to come to Christ through them—needful to become members of some sectarian body in order to become members of “the body of Christ,” the true Church. On the contrary, the Lord, while he has not refused any who came to him through sectarianism, and has turned no true seeker away empty, tells us that we need no such hindrances, but could much better have come to him direct. He cries, “Come unto me”; “take my yoke upon you, and learn of me”; “my yoke is easy and my burden is light, and ye shall find rest to your souls.” Would that we had given heed to his voice sooner. We would have avoided many of the heavy burdens of sectism, many of its bogs of despair, many of its doubting castles, its vanity fairs, its lions of worldly-mindedness, etc.
Many, however, born in the various sects, or transplanted in infancy or childhood, without questioning the systems, have grown free in heart, and unconsciously beyond the limits and bounds of the creeds they acknowledge by their profession and support with their means and influence. Few of these have recognized the advantages of full liberty, or the drawbacks of sectarian bondage. Nor was the full, complete separation enjoined until now, in the harvest time.
[Meleti: I had wanted to present the article without coloring whatever conclusions the reader might draw from it. However, I felt compelled to add the boldface to the one paragraph, because it seems to me that it hits very close to home. Please forgive this indulgence.]