This was the language the apostle Paul met when finally he arrived in Rome, under charges, awaiting his hearing before Caesar. Paul had called the chief of the Jews together (Acts 28:17), and made explanation as to the events that brought him thus to Rome, pointing out that he was in chains “for the hope of Israel” (28:20). The Jewish leadership pointed out to him that they had received no words there against him, and that they desired to hear from him, “for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against” (28:22).
In their use of sect, they no doubt were thinking in terms of the church of the Lord, and the way Paul had chosen in his rejection of Judaism, and saw in the Christian system merely a way of heresy broken off from Judaism itself. Such would naturally be the thoughts of Jews of that day, being far from Jerusalem, and knowing that the church of the Lord had its beginning in that city and on the day of Pentecost (2:1, 47).
More than merely the sect designation, these Jewish leaders admit that they have heard nothing of good concerning Paul’s current fellowship, and that the general feeling (and among the Jews) was that it “was everywhere spoken against.” It needs to be noted that Paul did not immediately apologize and then try to accommodate himself and the message to the think-so’s of men, so that they would then speak well of it all. He met with the leadership again (28:23), teaching them the truths of God in the powerful way characteristic of him, and administered them a stern rebuke when he saw hardness in their hearts (28:24-28).
He also made it plain to them that, regardless of how they had characterized the church, thinking of it as a sect, and thus not worth much consideration from them, teaching these truths amounted to teaching salvation. Thus, in their hardness and rejection, he promised to turn to the Gentiles and to take salvation to them (28:28). Luke tells us that Paul spent two full years there as he waited on Caesar’s pleasure, and all the while he preached the kingdom of God, and the Christ (28:30-31). It is of value to see that while some called the way a sect, still Paul preached on the way. Criticism or mockery does not occasion a change in the message or the power with which God wants it delivered.
Those in the kingdom today still hear the charge that we constitute a sect, or a denomination. Years ago a denominational preacher, upset at some things we had printed, in truth, concerning the very unique position the church of the Lord maintains in the religious world, said: “You are a denomination, and you have to be a denomination, whether you want to be or not!” Upon his leaving, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if such was so…that we would have to be exactly what the Lord and the apostles said we must not be? We’d have no chance of being saved, since we could not be all the Lord wanted of us, and in fact had to be what the Lord prayed against and taught against!” (John 17:20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10).
Men make the charge that the church of Jesus Christ is a sect or denomination simply due to (1) Ignorance or (2) Prejudice, or both. Ignorance among religious leaders is no new thing, as evidenced in Matthew 22:29. Prejudice among the same people is again no new thing, as evidenced by the Lord’s repeated rebuke of them in Matthew 23. In our present time, we find leaders (preachers, teachers, elders, etc.) who are buying the denominational line that the church is merely a denomination. Once convinced along these low lines, it is not surprising that among such people we find every denominational mark. We are delighted, though, that in believing the Word, obeying the Word, and living by the Word, the church of Jesus Christ exists, and that it is not sectarian and it is not denominational! If it is of the New Testament order, it would have to be free of all sectarian marks!