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The Ethic of Eternal Schism

Mark Horne

copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

Remember, whatever sins are committed by those with whom you are in covenant are your sins as well. You need to fear the judgment of God if you continue to be part of this denomination.

I have recently discovered that the above rationalization is floating around cyberspace to justify breaking off from the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), an Evangelical denomination, because of a failure (real or imagined) not to live up to it’s commitment to the theology and practice of the Reformed Tradition. This has provoked some reflection on my part, especially since those articulating this justification are one’s with whom I might have thought I had much in common.

But now I wonder.

Interestingly, all of the men presenting this sort of thinking are quite opposed to easy divorce. They all articulate an ethic of marriage which requires a wife to stay in covenant with a husband committing a great many serious sins. They would never even consider telling a wife that she must leave a husband simply because the husband is an impenitent sinner and that means that she is under God’s judgment for those same sins unless she divorces him. Indeed, they would react to such an ethic in the strongest manner.

Another thought: doesn’t this principle mandate that all churches leave all denominations? If one must always disassociate with a denomination in order to not be guilty of a denomination’s sins, then is it not necessary to only join and remain part of a denomination in which there is no sin? To be blunt, the only outcome of this ethic in this life is independency, for before the resurrection there will always be sin in all human institutions, including all church denominations. This is ironic, since all the people articulating this principle claim to abhor independency.

One final observation: in calling for schism, the precedent of the Reformation in the sixteenth century and the conflict with liberalism earlier in the twentieth century are both cited. Yet, by their own words, the "sins" of the present denomination these men wish to leave are not remotely as serious as the precedents they cite. No one denies the inerrancy of the Bible and no one denies the Gospel. I don’t mean to say that a denomination can have no other distinctives, or that that it is wrong to be upset when such distinctives are denied. But do such things warrant schism in the body of Christ?

Indeed, much of the case made for schism is not even based on any wrongdoing in practice and worship. Rather, certain trends are cited as if possible wrongdoing in the future could ever justify present schism. No one justifies such a decision-making process. They simply declare the certainty of future liberalism or future apostasy or something else equally horrific, and assert that the alleged certainty about something that has not happened yet means we should pull out now.

copyright © 2000

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