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,