Extra Resources: B 33 When should we divide?

Explanatory Notes

Chapter 1: Introduction

The three Episcopal churches referred to are All Saints’ (Long Beach), St James (Newport Beach) and St David’s (North Hollywood).

Chapter 3: Schism in the New Testament

The nine ‘literal’ instances of schizo in the gospels are the tearing of the curtain of the temple and splitting of the rocks (Matt 27.51 [twice]; Mark 15.38; Luke 23.45) the splitting of the heavens at the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1.10), Luke’s version of the new patch on an old garment saying (Luke 5.36 [twice]), the soldiers’ concern not to tear Jesus’ seamless tunic (John 19.24), and the disciples’ fishing net that wasn’t torn (John 21.11).

The use of hairesis in 1 Cor 11.18, as elsewhere in the NT (apart from 2 Pet 2.1), reminds us that before our English word came to be used of teachings, the Greek vocabulary referred to ‘sects’ or ‘groups’ (Acts 5.17; 15.5; 24.5,14; 26.5; 28.22; Gal 5.20).

‘Christ is the one who will ultimately do the separating (Matt 3.12; 7.21–23; 10.33; 25.31–46)...’. Some other texts from the gospels that speak of Christ, God or the angels separating people at the end include Matt 8.11f; Luke 6.46; 13.26f; 12.9; 13.28-30; and John 5.28f. The point I am seeking to emphasize is that the separation emphasized by Christ is effected by God who will judge us all.

‘Within the church this means treating people with the “charitable assumption” that their profession to belong to Christ is true...’. See R T France, ‘“Not One of Us”’, 80 (in the bibliography below).

Chapter 4: False Prophets and Teachers

On Romans 16.17-20

The meaning of the Greek word rendered ‘stumbling blocks’ here (skandala) is difficult to translate. It often connotes that which tempts one to spiritual ruin; see my article, ‘Stumbling block’ in G F Hawthorne, R P Martin, D G Reid (eds), Dictionary of Paul and his letters (Leicester: IVP, 1993) 918f.

On 2 Peter 2.1-22

‘Many scholars consider the detailed description to apply to contemporaries of the biblical author’; so eg R J Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary, vol 50 [Waco: Word, 1983] 243), whose reading of the text I largely follow in my discussion of this text.

On 2 John 10f

‘In context “this teaching” refers to the “teaching of Christ” (v 9), specifically the doctrine of the incarnation (v 7; cf 1 John 2.18ff; 4.1ff)’. In 2 John 7, the critical phrase is that which refers to the coming of Jesus Christ. The present tense of the Greek participle translated ‘has come’ in some versions (literally, ‘coming’) could refer to the return of Christ ‘in the flesh’, rather than the initial incarnation, but given 1 John 4.2, incarnation is more likely. The denial could also be that of a confession of Jesus as the Christ who came in the flesh or of Jesus Christ as the one who came in the flesh; so J Lieu, The Second and Third Epistles of John: History and Background (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1986) 81.

With reference to how this text applies today, R E Brown comments, ‘The problem is that almost every dispute in church history has been judged by one of the parties as involving an essential question, and that almost every drastic action has been justified as done for the sake of truth.’; The Epistles of John, The Anchor Bible, vol 30 (Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1982) 693. That is certainly true, but the fact that a passage has been misused (even greatly misused) should not invalidate its truth or its authority for the Church.

Chapter 5: Discipline in the New Testament

On Matthew 18

‘Matthew’s text addresses the question of one person’s sin against another (‘sins against you’)...’. Not all manuscripts read ‘you’ in Matt 18.15. A few ancient manuscripts omit the word, probably to conform the text to Luke 17.3.

‘In this way we imitate the shepherd of 18.10–14 who goes after the stray sheep.’ This point comes from W D Davies and D C Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St Matthew (ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991) II:178.

‘Real love loves enough to confront serious sin rather than to pretend it does not exist.’ For some Jewish parallels and background, see also Prov 3.12; 25.9f; 27.5f; Ecclesiasticus 19.13-20.2; Testament of Gad 6.3-5; and from Qumran scrolls: 1QS 5.24-6.1; CD 9.2-8; for detail, cf C S Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 453-455.

‘The basic principle of at least two warnings followed by a penalty is apparently unparalleled in ancient Judaism, although we meet it again in Titus 3.10f.’ So I H Marshall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999) 338f.

On 1 Corinthians 5

‘Whether they were intimidated by the man’s own wealth and influence is uncertain...’. It is unlikely that the Corinthians would have tolerated such behaviour by a person of little influence, given the universal stigma attached to incest.

On 1 Tim 1.19f

‘...the Hymenaeus of 2 Tim 2.17f (who denied the future resurrection and overturned the faith of some)...’. It should be remembered that the Corinthians’ denial of the resurrection to come (1 Cor 15) did not prompt Paul to excommunicate them; apparently Hymenaeus was quite influential and outspoken, publicly rejecting correction by Paul.

‘...so that they might be taught (paideuesthai, often used of discipline)’; see 1 Cor 11.32; 2 Tim 2.25; Heb 12.6f,10; Rev 3.19; frequently in the Septuagint (eg Deut 8.5).

On Titus 3.10f

‘...the response is admonition (nouthesia, a word connoting pastoral concern)’; so I H Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 337f.

On Discipline and Judging

‘Jesus’ teaching most likely contrasts the practice of those Pharisees who so often passed judgment on the behaviour of others (Matt 9.10-13; 12.1-8; Luke 7.39; 15.1f; 18.9-14.’ So Davies and Allison, Matthew I:668.

I do not intend to imply in this chapter (or in the booklet as a whole) that the Anglican Church does not administer discipline on a local or diocesan level. Anglicanism has well-established procedures for dealing with individual leaders whose lives reflect the need for corrective discipline. More often than not, these cases are dealt with quietly, and away from the hype of media publicity. We are less effective however in demonstrating the resolve to pursue appropriate discipline in the case of bishops whose public pronouncements clearly contradict the teaching and practice of the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and we lack the structures and means to exercise discipline between the provinces of Anglicanism.

Chapter 6: Why is Unity So Important?

‘It is not a philosophy or ideology for isolated individuals’. The point here is not to deny the value of the tradition of withdrawal for spiritual growth (eg silent retreats, and the discipline of hermits), but that such a practice is normally only temporary with a view ultimately to strengthening others and not simply oneself.

For an eloquent elaboration of the point that Jesus and Paul both died for the unity of the Church, see E Radner’s translation of a quotation from Jean-Jacques von Allmen in Radner’s The End of the Church, p 5 n 2 (found in the bibliography below).

The example of the tower of Babel as an ungodly, disobedient unity was suggested by John Woodhouse in Unity that Helps and Unity that Hinders, p 5.

‘But a weakness of Protestant ecclesiology has always been its emphasis on the individual’s freedom to interpret the Bible at the expense of interpretative discernment by the wider global community of the faith to which we belong in the Spirit.’ See for example the discussion in Radner.

Chapter 7: Some Final Considerations

On Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians

‘Instead, he calls them all saints (literally, “holy ones”), and reiterates the fact that they have all been sanctified by God (1 Cor 1.2).’ Here the translation ‘called to be saints’ (NIV/RSV/NRSV) can unfortunately imply that they are not already holy and thus not already saints. The words ‘to be’ do not appear in the Greek text, and certainly not the idea ‘to become’. Paul regularly refers to his readers as ‘saints’ inasmuch as with their baptism they have already been sanctified and set apart as God’s own people, although as his children they are also in the process of a life of growing holiness and will ultimately be completely sanctified at the resurrection.

On my concluding remarks

The beatitudes do not say ‘Blessed are those who separate, for their churches shall grow’, but blessed are the peacemakers and the persecuted. Escape from persecution is a constant temptation for the church, but it is not the way of the cross. Jesus called us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, but he said nothing about separating from those who persecute us.

Commitment to unity doesn't mean that we should give up on holiness, self-denial, transformation, church discipline, etc that are essential for those who wish to see the God of the bible. It does mean that when people are arrogant instead of mourning at perverse behaviour (as were the Corinthians in 1 Cor 5.2,6), we are no more called to separate from them than Paul was from his wayward congregation.

I am ashamed of ECUSA’s flagrant arrogance (or at best, ignorance) in the face of the united testimony of the rest of the Anglican Communion (apart from the ACC) together with the advice of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic wings of the faith. But it makes me wish all the more that somehow evangelical/orthodox members of the Episcopal church can get a vision for slowly getting sensible, compassionate, biblical lay people on committees in dioceses as well as saving souls. It’s not an either/or; we should be encouraging our people to go out and be Christian lawyers, politicians and media people. Regardless of what the national church decides (as long as it isn't compelling people to err), following Christ in the Anglican Church means hanging in there with stubborn, tough love and a compassion that no one can deny. People today think grace means letting people do whatever they want; we need to help them see that God's surprising grace transforms our understanding and leads us out of the downward spiral of Romans 1.

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Other biblical texts that could relate to schism, separation and discipline

Matt 5.13; Mark 9.50; Luke 14.34f. The warning against salt losing its taste and becoming unseasonable is essentially a call for watchfulness; there is nothing about separation in the context.

Matt 5.17-20. Whatever Jesus is referring to by ‘these commandments’ (the OT? His own interpretation of it? etc), the warning against those who break a commandment and teach others to do so [false teachers?] are called least in the kingdom of heaven, but they are still in it.

Matt 7.6. Not giving what is holy to dogs or casting pearls before swine is difficult and commentators are divided. Didache 9.5 cites it with reference to the non-baptized receiving the Eucharist. It could mean ‘offer wisdom only to those willing to receive it,’ but it may well have meant originally meant something similar to Matt 15.26.

Matt 10.13f; Mark 6.11; Luke 9.5; 10.10f. The sayings ‘If it [the house] is not worthy, let your peace return to you…If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town’ refer to the rejection of missionary preaching of the kingdom in the context of evangelism. The shaking of dust from the feet is a public demonstration that God’s messenger(s) will have nothing more to do with the place that refuses to heed their message, and they no longer bear any responsibility for their hearers’ fate. Although a principle could be derived her to support the view that one group of believers are no longer responsible for their brothers or sisters in Christ who utterly reject a call to repent, we do not have a case of the sayings being used in that way in the NT, where twice the saying is echoed in evangelistic contexts (Acts 13.51; 18.6). Two difficulties here are whether the dividing issue is the very heart of the gospel or a secondary matter, and whether the bonds established in Christ create a fundamentally different set of responsibilities.

Matt 12.30; Luke 11.23. Any use of the saying that whoever is not for us is against us needs to reckon with the contrasting (and more inclusive) saying that whoever is not against you is for you (Mark 9.38-41; Luke 9.49-50). The sayings have different contexts and points, as Dick France has clarified in ‘Not One of Us’.

Matt 18.7-9; cf Mark 9.43-48. Temptations to sin should be ‘cut off’ and not allowed to lead one to spiritual ruin. This hyperbolic saying is addressed to individuals, and calls for personal discipline. If read in the context of the preceding verses about those who put a stumbling block before little ones (read as disciples of Jesus) and in conjunction with Paul’s ‘body of Christ’ theology as a background it could be taken to advocate separating off individuals who are leading the body as a whole into sin.

Matt 21.12-13; Luke 19.45; John 2.14-16. Jesus’ expulsion of the money changers and sellers of pigeons from the temple could afford a parallel to the idea of removing from God’s temple, the Church those whose activities are utterly alien to its purpose. Although scholars differ as to the significance of Jesus’ action, I would argue that a basic concern here is for the purity/holiness of God’s place of worship, which for the Church is the very people in whom Christ dwells.

Acts 8.9-24. In the case of Simon the magician who believed, was baptized and yet sought to buy the power of the Spirit for his own purposes, we find Peter strongly rebuking him and urging repentance, but nothing is said about separation. Some have taken ‘no part or share in this’ in 8.21 to refer to excommunication (based on Deut 12.12), but the words probably refer to his specific request rather than the Christian faith.

Acts 15.36-41. The ‘sharp disagreement’ (15.39; the Greek word is the origin of our ‘paroxysm’) between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark led Paul and Barnabas to take different paths in their missionary work, but obviously did not mean that they no longer worshipped together or recognized each other as brothers in Christ. Although sometimes cited in discussions of separation, it has nothing to do with the issue of schism and discipline.

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Bibliography for Further Study

  • *Website: www.anglicancommunioninstitute.org Orthodox Anglicans committed to maintaining Anglican unity while not hesitating to critique destructive developments in ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada.
  • Bruce, Steve. A House Divided: Protestantism, Schism, and Secularization. London/New York: Routledge, 1990.
  • Forkman, G. The Limits of the Religious Community. Lund: Gleerup, 1972. A detailed scholarly study of discipline in ancient Judaism (including Qumran) and in the New Testament.
  • France, Dick. ‘“Not One of Us”: An Exposition of Mark 9.38-41.’ In To Proclaim Afresh: Evangelical Agenda for the Church, ed. Gordon Kuhrt, London: SPCK, 1995. 75-82. A thoughtful and helpful discussion of a difficult passage and of how we should treat one another with charity when we differ.
  • Gomez, Drexel W and Maurice W. Sinclair, eds. To Mend the Net. Anglican Faith and Order for Renewed Mission. The Ekklesia Society, 2001. On the need for discipline among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion.
  • Haslehurst, Richard Stafford Tyndale. Some Account of the Penitential Discipline of the Early Church in the First Four Centuries. London/New York: SPCK/ Macmillan, 1921. Older, succinct study from a Protestant perspective.
  • Radner, Ephraim. "The Absence of the Comforter: Scripture and the Divided Church." In Theological Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Brevard S. Childs, ed. Christopher Seitz, Kathryn Greene-McCreight and Brevard S. Childs. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
  • ________. The End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. An advanced work and not an easy read, but the first chapter is brilliant.
  • ________. Hope Among the Fragments. The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2004.
    Roetzel, C J. Judgment in the Community. Leiden: Brill, 1972.
  • Seitz, Christopher. 'on Being a Priest at a Difficult Time in the Church'. A message found in the appropriate link at www.seadinternational.com
  • Woodhouse, John. Unity that Helps and Unity that Hinders. Sheffield: Reform, no date. A conservative evangelical perspective.
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