What schism means

Oct 6, 2018 by

On the UMC and the issue of schism, by Ben Witherington, Patheos.

[…] perhaps it would be useful to talk about what the term schism actually means, theologically and ethically speaking. First, a little historical perspective.

Denominationalism is a post-Reformation notion, largely conjured up by the Protestant movement. It is not a Biblical idea, nor will you find its equivalent in the literature of the early Church Fathers. And when there has been talk about schism in the early church (for instance when the Orthodox and Catholic traditions went their separate ways), the issues were mainly theological (the filioque clause), rather than ethical by and large.

Schism was, and is caused, when one group within a church decides that it can no longer adhere to the orthodoxy or orthopraxy that is the de facto official position of a church. On this showing, those who are advocates for gay marriage and the ordination of self-avowed, openly gay persons would be the persons creating the schism today in the UMC [United Methodist Church]. They simply refuse to accept what the Bible says about the nature of marriage and appropriate sexual behavior for various reasons, and as a result refuse to accept what the UMC Discipline says on these same matters.

Schism is not created in the Body of Christ when one individual or even one group of devout practicing Christians decides to leave a particular denomination and join another one or even form another ‘denomination’ within the body of Christ. Schism has to do with departing from the body of Christ writ large in some significant way.

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