The United Methodist News Service, dated October 13, 2016, featured an article: Schism Is a Failure of Love and Leadership by Bishop (ret.) Kenneth L. Carder. The complete article can be found here.
Bishop Carder is deeply disturbed by the turmoil within the United Methodist Church. He is very concerned that the church may end up in a schism, which he believes is not in the best interest of all concerned. Bishop Carder is not alone in his concern for the well being of the Christian community in general and the United Methodist Church in particular.
To support his hypothesis that a split within the church is a ‘transparent betrayal of the church’s nature and mission’, Bishop Carder quotes from John Wesley’s Sermon 75. The complete sermon can be found here. The particular quote used comes from Section II.1, one line of which I feel summarizes his point:
It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. . . . It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren.
Bishop Carder is quite earnest in his writing and provides much food for thought, but I am not in agreement with his conclusion. Certainly, I believe there is a failure of leadership in the church, but I don’t believe a schism will come about because of a failure to love. I believe a schism will come about if one group is successful in its attempt to make the sin of homosexual practices acceptable.
John Wesley did not take a schism within the church lightly, and he provides compelling words for rejection. John Wesley does address the single reason that he would support a schism in Section II.7 of Sermon 75, and he is very pointed with his reasoning:
. . . we were constrained to separate from that society, because we could not continue therein with a clear conscience; we could not continue without sin
. . . if this was the case, you could not be blamed for separating from that society
. . . suppose you could not remain . . . without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands
. . . Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” . . . I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul
. . . if I could not continue united to any smaller society . . . without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society
. . . the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, . . . would not lie upon me but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply
As John Wesley points out, a separation is not warranted over inconsequential issues such as whether or not your pastor is better than mine, or a fellow parishioner is committing adultery, or whether you take the Lord’s Supper before me. As he also points out, a separation is warranted when someone is forced to accept from pulpit, leadership, and church orthodoxy that a sin is acceptable.
John Wesley stated my position most succinctly when he said, “. . . if I could not continue united to any smaller society . . . without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society”.
Do I want the United Methodist Church to split? Certainly not! That is why I am staying the course and writing about my personal beliefs and why I hold them. I will continue on as a United Methodist unless such time occurs that ‘(I) could not continue therein with a clear conscience; (I) could not continue without sin.’
If the church should decide that the practice of homosexuality is acceptable then I will make my own personal schism because, as Wesley stated, “. . . the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, . . . would not lie upon me but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply”.
I agree that a schism will come because of a failure of leadership. If the church leaders acquiesce to those pushing a social agenda over God’s Commandments they will have failed in their duty by allowing ‘. . . something which the word of God forbids’.
I disagree that a schism will occur because of a failure to love. We are called as Christians to love our neighbor; we are not called to enable the pursuit of sin or speak falsely so that good feelings abound. Jesus spoke of this in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father never stopped loving his son even though the son made demands and left his father’s house. The father continued to love his son and showered him with love upon his return.
If a schism should happen I will feel sadness down to my very core, but I will not feel guilty. I will continue to love my neighbor, as God, in His infinite mercy, continues to love me.