29 March 2010

When did schism become a bad thing?

I am still involved in what is now being called the reconfiguration of Lutheranism in North America. It is now working out that there are three major parties involved in this. First, there is the ELCA, or, as I like to call it,The GBLC (Great Big Lutheran Church. And I have been calling it that from well before the current difficulties; the moniker was never intended to stand for anything else.)

Last summer, the GBLC made some decisions regarding the authority of Scripture in matters of sexuality that have very much upset many people. As a result of that, some of those people are looking to leave that church body. One of the groups some of them are looking to lead that departure is Lutheran CORE, and LCORE is forming something they are calling the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). It will come into existence later this year.

Others of us have been upset with the GBLC for some time. I personally think they departed from Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions in 1999 when they adopted the historic episcopate from the Episcopal Church. Those of us who are of that mind formed LCMC in 2001.

There is no real battle between the NALC and LCMC folks, because we have very different understandings of what the church is and how it functions best. The big fight is between the ELCA - who doesn't want to lose any property - and those who are trying to depart to one of these two groups. There are numerous sources for tracking this; one of the best is here.

With that as background, my comment:

One of the charges being leveled against those wanting to leave the ELCA, and against me and others who are trying to help them, is that we are the dreaded "schismatics!"

Consider this:
  • In Exodus 14:21, as Pharaoh's army arrives to kill the Israelites by the Red Sea, it says that, "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided." (ESV)
  • When Jesus was baptized, it says "And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove." (Mark 1:10 ESV)
  • When Jesus was crucified, "... the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two." (Luke 23:45 ESV) ( The same wording appears in Mark 15:38 and Matthew 27:51 to describe the same event.)
Each of those italicized words above is the same Greek word: schism. In each of these cases, schism is used to describe God at work. So when did schism become a bad thing?

Those who are convinced that this reconfiguration is a "schism" that they must oppose might do well to heed the advice of the Pharisee, Gamaliel: "I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" Acts 5:38-39 ESV

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