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Schism and the Sword of the Spirit - Bruce Atkinson

Schism and the Sword of the Spirit
Church Division is Sometimes Necessary

By Bruce Atkinson PhD
Special to Virtueonline
August 11, 2013

"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world." - Jesus prays for His disciples in John 17:4

Jesus said that His disciples are in the world but, like Him, are not "of" the world. This truth generalizes to all true believers today. Although we are spiritually "seated with Him in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 2:6), we certainly must deal with a hostile world which is constantly in our face. And when the world does not appear hostile and tries to befriend us, this is exactly the time when it is most dangerous. Because it is led by the great deceiver, the world will cleverly attempt to lull us to sleep or to fool us into going along with its program. Jesus taught that we could not serve two masters and He repeatedly said that the world would hate us (e.g., Matt 10:22, 24:9; Luke 21:17; John 15: 18-19, 17:4). James told us not to be friends with world because that would make us enemies of God (James 4:4). And as Paul made clear in Ephesians 6, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. So when our church sides with the world against the Word of God, what should we do?

It has been heard a number of times from liberal bishops in the Anglican Communion (especially in the Episcopal Church) that schism is worse than heresy. I once read where a liberal Anglican bishop repeated an old Roman Catholic maxim, calling schism "the worst of sins." The worst of sins? Although in general, schism is not desirable (unity is an important communal virtue in the Church), sometimes the divisions are not sin at all but are instead the will of God. God sometimes spreads the gospel in a process that reminds me of how an amoeba procreates - by division. Here is some of what the scriptures say in support of this view.

First recall Paul's reference to "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" in Ephesians 6 and note Hebrews 4:12: "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." With these references in mind which compare God's Word with a sword, now read Matthew 10 (vs. 34-36) where Jesus quotes the prophecy in Micah 7:6 about His messianic role: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'"

And you can be quite sure that if Christ deliberately uses His words to bring division to families, He also brings schisms to churches. This is because it is all or nothing with Christ. Either you totally believe in Christ and the Word of God and trustingly submit to His demands (all made in love, to protect our bodies and souls) or you are not His. This is how we can discern His sheep from the devil's goats. The sheep recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow closely. Jesus will eventually bring unity to His church (according His prayer in John 17), but only after all the divisions are completed. In the meantime, scripture provides a sharp edge that divides truth from error and divides those who promote truth from those who promote heresy.

Hear His parable of the weeds: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'

'An enemy did this,' he replied. The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'" (Matthew 13:24-30)

I suspect that the harvest is nearly over and the weeds are being tied in bundles (like the TEC bundle). "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17) Not that every member of TEC is a weed, but the majority of the top leaders most certainly are weeds. Otherwise they would either be protesting the heresies in a big way or have already left this apostate organization.

False shepherds are not well regarded in the heavenly realm. Speaking to His disciples of the Pharisee leaders who were offended by His words, Jesus said: "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." (Matt 15:13-14) "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble. Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come." (Matt 18:7) And earlier (Matt 7:15-16), Jesus warned: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them." See also 2 Peter 2:1 and Jude 1:12-13.

Others have written about this topic well enough that I must share some of my favorite quotes. Here are some pertinent thoughts from David Mills back in September, 2010 in a blog from the First Things website: "Back when I was an Episcopal activist, both liberals who were busy gutting the Episcopal Church of its traditional beliefs and conservatives who didn't want to challenge them were fond of intoning "Schism is worse than heresy." It was a little odd to hear this from members of a tradition that began in a break with the [Roman Catholic] Church of which it had been a part over what its leaders thought to be heresies.

"But the real problem with the claim was theological: that heresy is itself an act of schism. It is a break with the tradition, a rejection of what had been the shared and official belief, a willful refusal to remain in unity with one's brothers, a transfer of allegiance and obedience to a new and alien ideology.

"And it's a more fundamental schism than schism, so to speak. The man who believes that Jesus Christ is "God of God" etc. and the man who believes He was a notably god-conscious mortal are much farther apart than the man who believes the Nicene Creed and also that our Lord gave us the papacy and the man who believes the Nicene Creed and also that the Lord gave us presbyteral government.

"So, yes, breaking up religious bodies is not, abstractly speaking, a good thing. But in many cases the body has already broken up - has been broken up by people who thought they could turn the institution to their own ends while retaining the loyalty (and the work and the money) of those who wanted it to be what it had been, and who were understandably slow or reluctant to see how fundamentally it had changed. Both sides are better off when everyone sees that and makes the appropriate institutional changes."

I believe that the 'appropriate institutional changes' include formalizing the already existing schism by actually leaving. Thus we have the formation of ACNA, and hopefully, a new GAFCON-originated Anglican Communion which will hold closely to its Jerusalem Declaration.

Here is a favorite quote by S. M. Hutchens in his editorial in Touchstone Magazine, May, 2004: "I do think that these churches, whatever their faults, can be saved... onlyby serious self-examination and reform, doing what must be done to correct the flaws in their histories, such as the Lord calls the churches in Asia in the prologue to the Book of Revelation to do. However, not all churches will submit themselves to God and His Word for correction. This means ... the division of churches is necessary for reform, so that those who are obedient can now find each other's fellowship, unencumbered by the burden of old lies. What evil calls the scandal of schism is, from the perspective of good, the removal of diseased tissue so the body might be healed."

And from an earlier time, yet quite up-to-date, we have the perspective of C.H. Spurgeon: "The preservation of a denominational association when it is powerless to discipline heretics cannot be justified on the grounds of the preservation of 'Christian unity.' It is error which breaks the unity of churches, and to remain in a denominational alignment which condones error is to support [theological] schism. . . Separation from such as connive at fundamental error ... is not [really] schism, but only what truth, and conscience, and God require of all who would be found faithful."

I must include among my quotes one from the Apostle Paul, whose letters, according to Peter, were scripture (2 Peter 3:15-18), thus revealing the mind of God about this issue: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people'. THEREFORE COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM AND BE SEPARATE, says the LORD." (2 Corinthians 6:14-17, my bold)

When there is no evidence of an apostate church having the least desire to reform itself, I strongly submit that codependently enabling it, even with indirect support through continued membership, is wrong. Given that all believers are God's little children (compared to Christ, we are quite immature), this warning of Jesus supports my claim: "If anyone causes one of these little ones-those who believe in me-to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6) The Lord highly values our protection from evil. This is an important aspect of the role of pastoral shepherds (clergy). When our church leaders become blind guides or wolves in sheep's clothing, or merely hired hands, we must become outraged and protest greatly, even as Jesus did when on earth (see Matt 23), and when that doesn't work, we are to separate ourselves, shake the dust off our shoes and move on. I have no sympathy for those who remain in such a church, not when better options exist.

The future does not look good for those who support an apostate church. The writer of the book of Hebrews does not mince words: "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." (Hebrews 6: 4-9)

Prior to our full separation from an apostate church, we are to engage in spiritual and ecclesiastic battle for traditional orthodoxy with whatever means God supplies. It is too late for The Episcopal Church to change, but this is addressed to believers in the Church of England and other Christian denominations: "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only God and our Lord Jesus Christ." (Jude 1:3-4, NKJV, see also the warnings in Titus and 2nd Peter)

I must end this essay on a positive note. True believers are to be encouraged, for God has empowered us to win this spiritual war: "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1: 3-4)

God has provided both divine armor and also the most potent weapon in the universe, the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6). And we have direct access to the Father in prayer and to the Lord Jesus Christ who intercedes for us. Jesus overcame the world (John 16:33) and through Him and in Him, we also are enabled to overcome: "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." (1 John 4: 4-6)

Who has the ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches?

Dr. Atkinson is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary with a doctorate in clinical psychology and an M.A. in theology. He is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Atlanta and also works as a clinical supervisor training Christian counselors for Richmont Graduate University. He is a founding member of Trinity Anglican Church (ACNA) in Douglasville, Georgia

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