Over the past couple of millennia, one thing that has hurt the church has been schism. When a body of believers splits over doctrine, it appears to the world as though the church doesn’t know what it believes. There have been disagreements among men in the church almost since Jesus founded it.
When the church was quite young, Peter was given a vision of a blanket coming down from heaven filled with many animals, mostly animals that are considered unclean according to the law of Moses. He heard a voice telling him to arise, kill, and eat. He objected because no unclean flesh had ever passed his lips. The voice responded that he should not call “unclean” that which the Lord had made clean. This vision was repeated, and repeated again. Shortly afterward, he received a group of Gentiles, went with them, and Cornelius and his household, Gentiles all, were converted to Christianity. (Acts 10:9-48)
When Paul first came to know Jesus and began his ministry he made a pattern of beginning in each city by preaching to the Jews, and when they would not receive his word going on to preach to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:14-50 and others) Not long afterward there arose a controversy when “some men came down from Judea” teaching that you must be circumcised and follow the law of Moses to be saved. This caused no little consternation and so a council was held in Jerusalem to settle the matter. The Apostles and elders at the council determined that it was not necessary to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses for salvation. (Acts 15).
This didn’t end the matter though. Ever since, men have said that you must follow the Law of Moses to be saved, and even as his life was nearing its end Paul had to refute this heresy. After all, by works of the law shall no man be justified. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Not by works and not by ourselves. It is the free gift of God.
A couple of hundred years later Constantine had a vision–and as a result the Roman Catholic Church was born. Almost immediately the church was split as Rome and Byzantium split from one another. Fast forward another 1,200 years or so and we have the Protestant Reformation. Here, the controversy was once again over how a man is saved and under whose authority. The Roman Catholic Church held that the Pope was the ultimate authority on earth, that salvation was not by grace through faith alone, that works were required as well, and that if you hadn’t done enough to earn your way into heaven you must spend time in Purgatory (a thoroughly non-biblical concept by the way) to be purged of your sins before you could enter the Kingdom of God. The Protestants held that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone, according to the word of God alone, and to the glory of God alone.
A big difference. And worthy of schism. After all, the word of God, and the truth of the Gospel are the single most important issues of history. Tradition has its place in our worship, but we are not saved by tradition, nor are we held to tradition as the standard of behavior for our salvation. The Roman Catholic Church had gone so far as to refuse the word of God to their laity (another non-biblical concept by the way), declaring that only the Church could interpret the bible and persecuting those who tried to make it more accessible to the people.
The Apostles warned the church that “there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1) Jude reminds us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 5)
In this fashion, and sadly often to assuage the egos of men, the church has seen many schisms since. The most recent I can think of is happening to the United Methodists. The Methodists began with John Wesley who was a leader of the revival movement in the Church of England. Wesley didn’t seek schism, he sought to revive the faith within the Church of England. Yet the societies he founded on the idea (this is very simplified) that the church was meant to be evangelistic in nature, preaching to all and urging them to be reconciled to God were the beginnings of the Methodist Church. Now, though some Methodists still hold to the word of God, in the United States at least the majority of them no longer believe the bible to be the word of God, and teach a much more liberal so-called gospel permitting wanton sin, and the church is splitting up.
Things have gotten so bad in the church today that you can find a “church” that calls itself Christian that is accommodating to just about any beliefs you’d like. I read this morning that the majority of people in the United States today that call themselves “Christian” do not even believe the biblical Gospel. It’s truly sad.
Such are the results of schism.
And then, there’s anti-schism. For four years Good Shepherd Fellowship has been praying and working through a “pastor transition strategy” as our Pastor, Michael Pless, has been working towards retirement. For him this journey began on one of his private retreats two years earlier. Throughout the process door after door has closed in the way of this, yet we’ve continued to pray, even while membership and attendance at our church dropped off.
We were seeking a good preacher as a replacement for Pastor Mike. We were looking for a man who had a passion for the word of God, a passion for souls, a strong commitment to serve the Lord, who understands the culture here in Utah, especially in the Salt Lake Valley, someone who was not immature and just out of seminary, but someone well seasoned in the service of the Lord.
Even as we began the search, Another man had planted a church nearby. Bryan Catherman lived in the area, had a heart for God and his word, and for people. He (actually, the Lord through him) built up a church, mostly of younger people and, quite recently, they were looking for a new place to hold their meetings.
As God would have it, he had an answer to the prayers of both churches. Shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic began and things were getting locked-down, the leadership of both churches began considering a plan of unification. And today, August 9, 2020, both Pastors signed the proposal for unification, after the membership of both churches had overwhelmingly voted in favor. It’s the first step in a long process, but two faithful, god-fearing local churches have joined and become one.
I’m excited about that. You can learn more if you want at this page. Far better than a church splitting over petty differences, or over a major doctrinal issue is two churches, faithful to God, joining together to be even more, to bring glory to God.