Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Origin of Schism

ONE POWERFUL ARGUEMENT against the separation of the PSW from the ABCUSA (and by extension, the regions and churches that would follow over the next few years) is that such an action is schismatic and unnecessary. It is schismatic in that it breaks the unity fellowship we have in Christ; it is deemed unnecessary because either the ABC is indeed reforming (as seen in the passage of the Indiana Inititive--at least in its skeletal form) or because the issue of homosexuality is such a peripheral issue that breaking fellowship over it seems peevish and well, homophopbic.

THE PROBLEM WITH THAT ANALYSIS is that it misses two critical points. The first is, as we have always said, the real issue isn't homosexuality. It's Biblical authority. Does Scripture speak to us even when it runs up against our current cultural preferences, or must it yield to the Zeitgeist of the moment?

THE SECOND PROBLEM is that this view fundamentally misunderstands the nature of schism. I am currently working through 1 John in my preaching (I write my sermons about two months ahead). The ecclesiastical situation that John writes to is that a section of the church has asserted that they are more advanced than "common" believers. (What we have here is Gnosticism in its earliest forms.) The holders of false doctrine (and false practice) are the schismatics. As a matter of fact, the fact that they have perverted the apostolic teaching makes them schismatics.

SCHISM DOES NOT ORIGINATE in an action to separate. Was Luther a schismatic? No, the Roman church was the schismatic; Luther was the one groping his way back to Biblical orthodoxy. The same could be said for generations of believers sincerely making their way, as best they know, to the robust soul-satisfying richness of the testimony of Scripture.

SO, SHOULD PSW separate, are they--are we, since in am in the PSW--schismatics? I say no; schism in the ABC goes back generations to the embrace of false unbiblical and sub-biblical beliefs, values and practices. In manifold ways, none perhaps as bold or current as the address William Herzog gave to the Roger Williams Fellowship this past summer at the Denver Biennial. The theological perspective of Mr. Herzog--its arrogance, condesending attitude, its bold break with clear Biblical teaching disguised as "deeper knowledge" is remarkably similiar to the schismatics John grapples with in 1 John. We are not the schismatics: those at war with the manifest teaching of Scipture are.


Dan Troop said...

As one who was raised an American Baptist and converted to the Catholic Church nine years ago (after a 19 year stop in Anglicanism), I found your assertion that the "Roman" Church (do I detect a bit of the pejoritive in this particular use of "Roman"?) was the body in true schism at the time of the Reformation to be, well, amusing. The Catholic Church compiled the Sacred Scriptures, preserved them, copied them throughout the middle ages, and re-affirmed them in their entirety as inspired and inerrant at the Council of Trent in the 16th Century. One should also elaborate that the Fathers of Trent preserved what was handed to them, namely ALL 46 books of the Old Testament that had been part of the Canon (including the Deutero-Canonicals or so-called "Apocrapha") since the 5th Century. Nor did they attempt to remove books from the New Testament as Luther had mused about when he called the Epistle of St. James the "epistle of straw." That "faith without works is dead" business James insisted on just didn't fit into Luther's "re-visioning" of the Christian faith.

Luther was an unhappy, unstable man who was used by the German princes to get their hands on Church wealth and property. The Reformation, or what would more properly be called the Deformation, undermined the authority of Scripture itself by making every man his own interpreter of Scripture apart from any Sacred Tradition or Magisterial Teaching Authority. One result is what we are witnessing today, namely the destruction of mainline American Protestantism, including the ABC/USA and the Episcopal Church USA, over the issue of homosexuality. Other Protestant groups are in similar difficulty, and more will certainly follow.

I strongly commend you and your associates for recognizing the gravely sinful nature of homosexual acts, and I certainly don't blame you for wanting to seperate from the main body of American Baptists who seem to be feckless when dealing with the issue of human sexuality. More studies, more seminars, and more consultants will achieve nothing but another round of disappointment in your denomination's leadership, as well as a furthering of the homosexualist agenda in the ABC/USA. If you don't believe me, look at the Episcopal Church and their newly minted (no play on words intended) homosexual Bishop.

Protestant denominations have spent the last thirty-five years and who knows how much in the way of resources "studying" to death the issue of human sexuality, and one can hardly be faulted for suspecting that liberal denominational leadership was softening up the laity to eventually accept homosexual behavior as normal. While the Catholic Church certainly has struggled with this issue in a very different way, namely the sex scandals reported in the last several years in which 81% of victims were boys and targets of predatory homosexual priests, the teaching of the Church has remained clear and is stated succinctly in three paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2357-2359). No studies, no seminars, no listening sessions, no hurredly called meetings, just a few simple sentences that are the expressions of Tradition based on Scripture and natural law which assert the sinfulness of homosexual acts. It's important as a matter of explaination that the Church includes natural law in it's formulation, as well as "sexual complementarity" and the fact that homosexual acts are closed to the possibility of the gift of life, that is to say, procreation.

That one about procreation is the real kicker, since once the procreative and uniative aspects of the sexual union are seperated, sex for it's own sake closed to the transmission of new life becomes not just a norm, but THE norm. Pope Paul VI warned of just such a developement in his encyclical Humana Vitae, which re-affirmed the Church's ancient teaching on artificial contraception. I have long suspected that the root problem in Mainline Protestantism and it's struggle with the homosexual issue is at least in part the acceptance of artificial contraception, and I can assure you that I'm not alone in that suspicion.

It's simply not enough to say that homosexuality is wrong because the Bible tells me so. As the Catechism points out, homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." They are wrong because that is not the way men and women, who are created in the image and likeness of God, are put together, and anyone with even a rudimentary knowlege of human anatomy should understand that. They were wrong before a word of Scripture was penned, and they would be wrong if the Bible had never been written. The Bible, and Sacred Tradition, simply reflect the reality of nature in teaching an obvious fact of life and natural law.

And intrestingly, the Catechism refers to homosexuality's "psychological genesis", not bothering to get trapped in the whole "gay gene" quagmire.

I think quoting Scripture is fine, but I think relying on "Sola Scriptura" is a dead end that unfortunately does not answer a lot of questions about a serious subject that not only is undermining mainline Protestantism, but threatens our culture as well. It is my fervent hope that the American Baptists of the Pacific Southwest ponder some of the above as they disentangle themselves from the the mess that has become the American Baptist Churches USA.

I hope you don't mind an "outsider's" observation on the goings on in the American Baptist Churches, and I wish you the best in your endeavors. God Bless.

Friar Tuck said...

The real issue isnt homosexuality, it is power. And trust.

Because although I agree with the conservative view on homosexuality, I know the conservative right in California wont stop until they can micromanage every theological thought of every pastor in the country.

And some pastor will say happy holidays instead of merry christmas and get fired.