It is a question that one of our readers made to us recently, this being a premise to which he presumably arrived based on his own observations. By "Christian religious groups" he means, as explained by him, religious institutions calling themselves Christian, under various denominations, to which churches in various localities are affiliated.
The religious institutions appeared very early in the Christian era, with the union of two or more churches under one umbrella, entirely strange to the teaching and to the experience of the primitive churches. The more ancient ones, and still of much influence and power today, are those which began by calling themselves "catholic" or universal: the Roman and some Orthodox institutions, from which, during the Reformation, many others came out and multiplied. From the doctrinal point of view they vary a lot, from the apostate which are the largest and have substituted traditions and human dogmas for the Word of God, to those more dedicated to evangelism, to the study and teaching of the Bible, to whom we owe a lot including the translation and distribution of the Bible itself at accessible prices throughout the world.
The sects already began to appear in Corinth, where we read there was sectarianism within the church. To differentiate between themselves, each "schism" or "party" took upon itself the name of a leader: Paul, Apollos, Cephas or even Christ! Although severely condemned, these factions were necessary in order that the approved believers might be made manifest (1 Corinthians 11:19). In other words, by adopting a denomination to distinguish themselves, the sectarians withdraw from the believers who are faithful to the apostolic teaching, and these are recognised in this way. If we are among the approved, this is one of the best arguments against assuming another name than that which was originally given us: Christian. Another characteristic of the sects is exclusiveness: they only extend communion to their members and to those who think and meet just like they do. Sadly, this also happens among some Evangelical churches, denominational or not, making them easy prey of the Diotrephes among their members (3 John 9,10).
Both the religious institutions and the sects (which also end up becoming institutions), are characterised by having their own "rules of faith", fixing their doctrines and practices which must be observed by the churches submitted to them. It is practically impossible to abridge all the teachings of the Bible into a certain number of "rules of faith", therefore what is noticed is an emphasis of those points which mark and differentiate them from the others. Besides the "clash of personalities" between their leaders, these "rules of faith" are, probably, the origin of most of the hatred, contentions, jealousies and outbursts of wrath.
The Christian virtue translated as love in our language is not the same natural affection also called love: it is of Divine origin and is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the person who believes and receives Christ as his Lord and personal Saviour. In the original Greek the distinction is clear, for the words are different. For the Christian virtue the Greek word is agapao, used for:
describing the attitude of God towards His Son (John 17:26), towards humanity in general (John 3:16, Romans 5:8), and toward those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in particular (John 14:21).
indicating God's will to believers concerning their attitude towards each other, and to all (John 13:34, 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 16:14; 2 Peter 1:7).
expressing the essential nature of God (1 John 4:8).
We can only understand the Christian virtue by its effects, that is:
the love of God towards humanity revealed itself by the gift of His Son (1 John 4:9,10). It is obviously not the love of complacency, or affection, for it was not motivated by the merit of those which were its object (Romans 5:8);
it was expressed among men by means of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14; Ephesians 2:4; 3:19; 5:2);
it is expressed in the Christian as fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22): it has God as its first object, expressing itself firstly as implicit obedience to the commandments of His Son, which are from the beginning, that is, that we walk in this love (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:3-6; 5:3; 2 John 1:6). Selfishness is the denial of the Christian virtue. Christian love, addressed to the brethren or to persons in general, isn't moved by sentiment, it doesn't always follow natural inclinations, nor is it limited to the persons with whom some affinity is discovered. It "pleases the neighbour for his good, leading to edification" (Romans 15:2), and harms no-one (Romans 13:8-10); it looks for opportunities to "do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).
In short: resulting from the spontaneous Divine will, having as its only cause His interest in the well-being of humanity totally without merit, the love of God generates and gives growth to a reverent love of men and women towards Him, and a practical love towards others who are co-participants of this Divine love (not only those who belong to the same local congregation), and a desire to help others to find God.
Returning to the so-called Christian institutions, they cannot avoid preaching love to one's neighbour as it is known that love is the essence of Christian faith. But, as can also happen within independent assemblies, not all those who aggregate within them are born again of the Spirit enabling them to participate of the love of God. As they do not know the love of God, they only know human love with all its weaknesses.
The Bible teaches: "… The works of the flesh are evident, which are: … idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy … and the like, of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practise such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV).
An ungodly person, who still lives in sin, may join a local church, or an institution which calls itself Christian, and even take up a prominent position within it, and speak a lot about the love which he knows but without having the experience and conditions to practise the Divine love. This will reveal itself by the works of the flesh and by the absence of "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control" which is the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22,23 NKJV).
This should not surprise us. In the early times of the church, the apostle Paul said that he feared going to the church in Corinth lest, when he came, he did not find it as he wished, but found in it "contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits and tumults" and recommended "examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? -- unless indeed you are disqualified." (2 Corinthians 12:20, 13:5).
The divine love generated in us results from the love which we have for Christ: "These things I command you, that you love one another." (John 15:17 NKJV). Like all spiritual gifts, it needs to be practised, and we have many exhortations to do so. Human nature, which militates in us against the Spirit, tries to intervene with arguments like: difference of opinion concerning doctrines and practices which are not explicit in the Bible, belonging to different congregations, attitudes which we do not approve of, etc. We should fight against these temptations of the flesh, practising the gift of love which comes from God.