Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 28th, 2016 by Joel Watts

Shot through the heart… and schism’s to blame

schism

“I was smiling in this picture before I read the sorry pun in the title, Joel.” – John Wesley

So often, we hear the actions of the Progressives in The United Methodist Church defended and the charges of schism ridiculed because “they haven’t left.” Indeed, as often is the case, “schism” is defined as “enacting or favoring schism” while defining schism as a physical separation. This definition doesn’t work for a few reasons, notably because it is against our doctrinal standards.

Wesley sought to properly define schism in his New Testament notes and does so with his usual style.

That is, I believe it of some of you. It is plain, that by schisms is not meant any separation from the church, but uncharitable divisions in it. For the Corinthians continued to be one church, and notwithstanding all their strife and contention, there was no separation of any one party from the rest, with regard to external communion. And it is in the same sense that the word is used, ch. 1:10 and ch. 12:25 which are the only places in the New Testament besides this, where church schisms are mentioned. Therefore the indulging any temper contrary to this tender care of each other, is the true scriptural schism. This is therefore a quite different thing from that orderly separation from corrupt churches, which later ages have stigmatized as schism: and have made a pretence for the vilest cruelties, oppressions, and murders, that have troubled the Christian world. Both heresies and schisms are here mentioned in very near the same sense; unless by schisms be meant rather those inward animosities which occasion heresies; that is, outward divisions or parties. So that whilst one said, I am of Paul, another I am of Apollos, this implied both schism and heresy. So wonderfully have later ages distorted the words heresy and schism from their scriptural meaning. Heresy is not, in all the Bible, taken for “an error in fundamentals,” or in any thing else; nor schism, for any separation from the outward communion of others. Therefore both heresy and schism, in the modern sense of the words, are sins that the Scripture knows nothing of; but were invented merely to deprive mankind of the benefit of private judgment, and liberty of conscience.1

Schism, then, is not the physical separation of one part of the body from another, but the attitudes and behaviors of individuals within the body. I would interpret the contrary temper to be that attitude which stands against the group as a whole. If you read his Sermon, On Schism, in this light, then you will note that Wesley condemns parts of the group doing things in private judgment (his understanding of damnation in 1 Co 11). This public exercise of judgment is that meant to intentionally hurt the other part of the group, and in doing so, misfires and hurts the weak.

For Wesley, schism is not an external thing initially, but one that is in the heart. When you have separated yourself by heart and actions from the care of the group, i.e., covenant, then you are schism.

It undoubtedly means an alienation of affection in any of them toward their brethren; a division of heart, and parties springing therefrom, though they were still outwardly united together; though they still continued members of the same external society.2

So to all of those who have schismed the body, but remain,

  1.  John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Fourth American Edition.; New York: J. Soule and T. Mason, 1818), 445.
  2.  John Wesley, “Sermon 75,” Sermons, on Several Occasions (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999).
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

22 Responses to “Shot through the heart… and schism’s to blame”
  1. davenuckols says

    Given the definition put forward in this post, consider the “contary temper” arising from the ill-considered phrase “incompatible with Christian teaching” added to BoD in 1972. That has been the source of our conflict. That has set us on a path contrary to Christ’s commands such as to love each other and to make disciples of all.

    • I don’t consider it a contrary temper. Neither do the near exclusive majority of Christians who ever lived prior to 1972. Neither does the church in Africa, Asia, or Europe today. Neither does the majority of North American United Methodists who have reaffirmed and defended it for the continous 44 years since it’s enactment.
      But you do find it “contrary.” What should we do then? You being of a party that will not abide by it and I being of a party that will not abandon it? Ought we not consider how to part ways before the sparks of anger which are already being fanned into flames become a devastating wildfire? We might still have time to separate with some type of communion among us, but the desire to do even that much is growing faint.
      A point of the article: Proponents of schism are those that insist that divergent parties remain in a church. It’harm: It is an enemy of Charity. It replaces mutual affection with contentions and competitions.

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      That is a false statement made by many. It is not the language at all as when it was added absolutely nothing changed. It is also worth noting that the language was added in response to those making all sorts of noise that the church was wrong on the subject to begin with and in response, in part, to a pastor who was defrocked for being what we now call a self avowed practicing homosexual before the language was added. You are not campaigning for removal of the language you are indeed wanting a change of the theology that has been present in the Methodist church as long as there has been one and which was, until the time of Kinsey, accepted as catholic (universal) belief. Let’s at least be honest about that.

    • The statement in the BOD speaks the truth: homosexual relations are incompatible with 2000+ years of Christian teaching/understanding and if you delve into our Jewish roots then the timeline goes even farther. Christianity trying to establish homosexuality as being ordained by God has absolutely no precedent prior to the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. If you truly feel you have some new enlightenment, I respect your right to your beliefs. Just please do the same for those that simply disagree with you.

  2. It is a little too late. But the conservatives should have been proactive, to expedite the situation, at the general conference. Now waiting for perhaps 4 more years. They may not have met yet, but the WCA has a perfect belief system to force the situation (and the votes from the African crew to seal the deal).

    Just introduce a modification to the BoD at the next conventions, to reflect the WCA beliefs (from their web site):

    “Biblical Authority
    The Bible itself is the sole and final source of all that we believe. It is the inspired and infallible Word of God that speaks with final authority concerning truth, morality, and the proper conduct of humanity.”

    I might be in the minority, but I still think the clear basis of the issue is “infallibility”. And with that, there cannot be (apparently), unity. The WCA is a subset of UMC, but it appears their beliefs have become a majority (worldwide) view. Nothing wrong with that. But, I will gladly part ways with the UMC if they adopt the word “infallible”, with no hard feelings. I’ve already done that with another “sect”. To bad they missed the opportunity at the last conference.

    • And inerrancy – but it seems people on both sides don’t like that word.

    • Tom McCann says

      ” the WCA has a perfect belief system to force the situation”

      I’m not sure what’s “perfect” about the WCA belief system. It’s already been announced that what’s on the website needs to be reworked. So we don’t actually know what that perfect system is.

      • I probably should have said perfect from their standpoint….infallible, if you will. Perfect, for expediting the exodus between Israel and Egypt. The conservatives should quit beating around the bush, and go directly to declaring infallibility their belief for the entire UMC. Otherwise, they are just playing a game.

    • So, if separation happens and the WCA becomes the new traditionalist denomination (which it seems set up for) then I suppose women will not be ordained and divorced and remarried clergy will not be allowed. The Bible is infallible/inerrant/perfect (in your own words). If you hold to one then you must hold to all, otherwise the Bible is no longer infallible/inerrant/perfect.

      • None of that is true, Gary.

        1.) the WCA is not set up to be a new denomination.

        2.) while some conservatives hold those positions, by no means is this the majority view. Period.

        • Joel,
          Just for reference, there are two Gary’s responding on your blog. The comment time-stamped July 29 at 8:00pm wasn’t from me. I like to discuss inerrancy and infallibility, but I don’t think I would ever accuse you or most of the people on this blog of believing in inerrancy unless they have said that is their position, which I know is not your position. And I would be the last one to expect the “remarry/divorce” or women clergy to be changed by any UMC people, even the most conservative.

          So, either it is a coincidence, or someone is trying to reply and look like me. If it happens again, I might add a more unique handle, or something.

          • Ah ha! I never paid attention to it before. But the little alien icons are unique for each individual. Technology is wonderful.

  3. Tom McCann says

    It is true that Wesley defined schism somewhat differently from the way it is commonly used today. To Wesley (supported by scripture) it meant a breaking down of heartfelt Christian love between groups of people in the same communion.
    But Wesley also talked about separation, which is the act of physically separating from an existing denomination. He gave us some very explicit rules for when it is appropriate, and when it is not.
    “But, setting aside this case, suppose the Church or society to which I am now united does not require me to do anything which the Scripture forbids, or to omit anything which the Scripture enjoins, it is then my indispensable duty to continue therein. And if I separate from it without any such necessity, I am just chargeable (whether I foresaw them or not) with all the evils consequent upon that separation.” (Sermon 75)

    Repeat – ” it is then my indispensable duty to continue therein”

    I do not believe that anything going on in the UMC today meets this high bar. I don’t know of any minister or layman who is being prevented from preaching the Gospel as they see fit. Nor do I know of any situation in which a minister or layperson is being required to perform a rite or sacrament that they don’t think is in accordance with the Gospel.

    So using Wesley’s definitions: Is the UMC in a state of schism? Certainly. We have, in many cases, lost love and respect for our fellow members. Not all members have chosen up sides, but many have, and unfortunate remarks and actions have taken place. That is a deplorable situation, which must be corrected through mutual prayer and understanding.
    Have we reached a point of separation? Not in my view. If people feel like Wesley’s requirements for separation have been met, let’s hear about it.

    • Tom,

      I will have to discuss ever so gently on this part:

      I do not believe that anything going on in the UMC today meets this high bar. I don’t know of any minister or layman who is being prevented from preaching the Gospel as they see fit.

      If the progressives believe that inclusion is part of the Gospel, then they are going to be prohibited. So….

      • Tom McCann says

        What? Now we’re going to restrict what pastors can say from the pulpit?

        I once sat through a sermon in support of capital punishment. It is as close to getting up and walking out of church as I have ever been. But despite the fact that capital punishment is specifically proscribed by the UMC, the pastor was able to exxpres his opinion openly, without fear of retribution.

        If you’re saying that’s no longer the case, then you might indeed have separation on your hands.

        • Scott Fritzsche says

          In your example of capitol punishment, it is only in the social principles which are not binding thus he is indeed free to preach as he sees fit on the matter. With the matter of inclusion (or anything else contrary to Methodist doctrine) the matter is different. No, they should not be able to preach whatever they wish. Allowing that is a big part of what got us here.

          • Tom McCann says

            So this is not UMC doctrine? If not, why is it in the BoD?

            The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status,4 or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.5 In The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status or economic condition.6

  4. “So this is not UMC doctrine? If not, why is it in the BoD?”
    Since I am consistent on sanctity of life from conception to natural death, I regret to make a defense on this point, but…
    1) It used to be called the Book of Doctrine and Discipline but hasn’t for a long time. The UMC has no “enforceable” doctrine. Since the 1966 merger the JC has considered theological portions of our historic documents to be unchangeable, but not to be literally interpreted nor judicially applied. Since 1966 there have been maybe a dozen JC decisions regarding the Doctrinal Standards (though I don’t have them in front of me I bet 8 of the 12 or so have been in the last ten years) and almost every one (I can’t even think of an exception) has been to say that action X does not contradict the Doctrinal Standards. That’s because, unless it involves money, nothing is contrary to our Doctrinal Standards as far as the JC is concerned. So, because something is in the BoD does not make it doctrine and because it is doctrine does not make it discipline. Yeah, we’ve gotten that bad.
    2) Where something falls in the BoD does affect its ability to be “enforced.”Historic documents and Social Principles do not have the same affect as other parts of the discipline. That’s why the “incompatible clause” (originally only in the Social Principles, was latter placed also in the “duties of pastors” and “chargeable offenses.”
    3) Rules are different for elders vs. other clergy. A local pastor or candidate may well be discontinued for what they say in the pulpit. Their lack of commitment to Social Principles and Doctrinal Standards are reasons to terminate them. An elder, however, may commence a six month sermon series on how homosexuality is compatible with Christian faith (a theological question) without serious consequence.
    Ought it to be this way. I don’t think so, and we shouldn’t have to rely on judicial enforcement. We ought to be in covenant so that if the clear voice of the Church through GC is that we oppose capitol punishment (regardless of the section where it is found) then clergy ought to respect that. Also, a doctrine that is not to be literally interpreted nor judicially applied really isn’t a doctrine.

    • Apology. Read my own post. Should have said union of 1968. 1966 was last Methodist GC and when JC began (IMO) seriously differentiating administrative vs theological aspects of Doctrinal Standards in preparation for merger.

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