When does 'reformation' become schism?

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by Jon 316, Jul 2, 2010.

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  1. Jon 316

    Jon 316 Puritan Board Sophomore

    I have been reading The Presbyterian Churches by James Moffatt.

    Within it he traces the various splinter groups of presbyterianism.

    While I was reading/thinking the question/thought came to me.

    The early reformers believed

    1) Rome had become a false church

    If I understand this aright, this enabled them to justify the presence of theri new denomination (presbyterianism).

    However- many of the presbyterian splinter groups have split over other matters (and I don't think they would all see themselves as the one true church, or perhaps they do?).

    I guess my question is, have many presbyterian (and non presbyyterian) protestant churches made themselves sects by seperating themselves from their brethren over doctrinal and ecclesiastical issues?

    For Context (James Moffatt The Presbyterian Churches)

    "An old highlander, when his minister was speaking to him about the church, " exclaimed, "Eaglais! chan'eil ach bleighdean de dh'Eaglais againn" (Church" we only have splinters of a church). The significance of the old man's exclamation will be appreciated when we consider that, in a sparcely populated parish, he had before his eyes the sad spectacle of four different presbyterian churches, whose members could not unite in partaking together of what each believed to be the great sacrament of Christian fellowship".
  2. dudley

    dudley Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I am going to think and ponder on this..very good question


    I am going to think and ponder on this. I think you pose a very worthwhile question. I will also pray.

    I initially think that any Presbyterian church which adheres to the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation, the Protestant doctrine of Justification and the Reformed Confessions either Westminster Confession of faith , or /and the 3 forms of Unity and also the London Baptist Coinfession and the catechisms of the Presbyterian church, long and short are authentic Presbyterian congregations and not schismatic; if following in the light of the Reformers who broke from the utter corruptions of Roman Catholicism and papist teachings which transcend and run contrary to the Gospels.

    I think a congregation that professes the following basic beliefs are not schismatic with the Reformed faith and the Presbyterian fold and Presbyterianism.

    If they can say the following they are in my mind Presbyterian and true Reformed Protestants:

    I believe in the God of the Bible
    I believe that the bible is the inspired word of God
    I believe God is trinity, one God in three persons
    I believe Jesus Christ is very God of very God
    I believe that the Christ has come in the flesh
    I believe in the resurrection of the dead
    I believe in eternal judgment

    I believe in a heaven and a hell and that all who are elected by the saving grace of God and accept Jesus Christ as their Redeemer and thus are born again in Jesus Christ as believers of His Gospel and live the life of evangelizing his good news will be with his Father in Gods Kingdom of Heaven for all eternity.

    I believe in justification by faith alone.

    I sincerely receive and adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith /and or 3 forms of Unity and Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Presbyterian church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures and I submit to the teachings of the Presbyterian Protestant tenets and doctrine.

    I believe the Bible as the word of God and the only and final authority and path to salvation I submit in discipline to the doctrines of John Calvin and the Reformed Protestant theologians and the teachings of the Presbyterian Church in doctrine and life.

    I believe it is Christ alone who is salvation to our souls.

    I believe in the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, the authority of the Bible alone in all matters of faith and practice and that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

    I believe now as the Reformers who realized as they studied the Scriptures that the great central doctrine of the gospel was expressed in the comprehensive sentence, “Christ died for our sins.” The death of Christ was the great center from which the doctrine of salvation sprung.

    If the spit were over issues not relating to the authority of the scriptures but purely more political in nature then they were not schismatic. Even the interpretation of scriptural passage is difficult ground.

    I will pray and ponder this issue with you, please let me know even through personal messages here on the PB what you are thinking in regards to this issue. I have asked for you PB friend ship and contact. The church Reformed is always reforming. Even when I was a Roman catholic I understood that papal encyclicals were not infallible but only teachings for this time only, they can be changed as new light and knowledge become evident.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2010
  3. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    Again, you are reading your presuppositions into the Reformers. They didn't begin a new denomination - They saw themselves as reforming the church. Don't think of the church like a Romanist does. A Romanist asked a Protestant once, "where was your church before the Reformation?" to which the Protestant replied, "where was your face before you washed it this morning?"
  4. Glenn Ferrell

    Glenn Ferrell Puritan Board Junior

    Some situations leave the faithful no choice but to separate.

    With the civil government in Scotland compelling judicatories of the church to ordain and install unqualified men as pastors, faithful churchmen had no choice but to separate from the Church of Scotland, forgoing the advantages of establishment, to continue as the Free Church of Scotland from 1843.

    In 1936, when J. Gresham Machen and others found themselves deposed from the ministry for faithfulness to Christ, the scriptures and the constitution of the church, they had no choice but to reorganize as a faithful continuing church in which they might proceed with Christ’s ministry, thus the OPC.

    In both these examples, who departed from Christ and his faithful followers?
  5. ADKing

    ADKing Puritan Board Junior

  6. Jon 316

    Jon 316 Puritan Board Sophomore

    1) Thats is simply a matter of perspective, Rome would see them as a new denomination

    2) Your point does not change the question. If it where a continuation of (or a reformation of the true church) the church and rome an apostate false church- the point is regarding the splinte churches of the reformation.

    The whole point of my question was 1) The reformers saw their schism as justified on the basis that Rome was a false church. Can every other presbyterian split make that claim.

    Also, I find your replies coming across slightly haughty and impatient. This is tiring.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2010
  7. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Some resources: Schism & Separatism | Naphtali Press

    These several sources answer your question from a Presbyterian perspective.

    The first paragraph from MacPherson's work:

  8. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    I think it's helpful to remember that church history is one of constant schism, rewritten after the fact. I was recently in a Greek Orthodox cathedral in which there was a chart of church history: it showed the Orthodox church as one huge tree trunk, with a big branch (Roman Catholicism) coming off it in the middle ages, with little branches (Lutheran and Reformed) coming off that, with thousands of little shoots coming off them. The point was clear - Orthodoxy is the "catholic" church.

    It's also a big lie. What is early church history other than a series of excommunications, counter-excommunications, banishments, recalls, councils, counter-councils, etc? With all the politics and episcopal corruption, it's amazing any theology at all came out of that period. There are numerous schisms during the early period. You have all the monophysite churches, the Donatists, the Novatians, the Celts, the Visigoths, etc. Some of them just got wiped out by Islam or eventually came into (or back into) communion with catholic Christianity. The same is true in the middle ages: there are Lombards, Lollards, Albigenses, Hussites, etc.

    The point is that church history is full of schism and dissent. What makes the Reformation unique is that by that time, European nations were sick of being dominated either by a church or an "empire." Europe was politically divided enough to make possible a more visible schism. The shape that the Reformation took, in producing permanently separated churches, is as much a political as a religious reality, just as the shape that late Antique Christianity took was due as much to Constantine and his successors as to established beliefs about polity and catholicity.
  9. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    An interesting and useful question.

    During one of the earliest OPC assemblies, they debated which version of the WCF to use -- they wanted to present themselves as the continuation of the true Presbyterian Church in the US -- but the clearest way to do so would have been to adopt the 1903 version which many believed was at worse, in error, and at best contained overly-vague statements. I also recall a discussion with (a then young seminarian) who was upset by the many branches of Presbyterianism, but who had to acknowledge that the proposed move of the OPC into the PCA would dilute the purity of the OPC.

    I don't know if there is a clear answer, since the question usually revolves around unity vs. purity. We can cling to the invisible church, carefully assembled by Christ's hand, and look forward to His return and the opportunity to worship in full unity and without distraction.
  10. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    I suppose I could respond with "that's a matter of perspective," but if challenging your presuppositions makes one "come across" as "slightly haughty and impatient," how does your critique, as such, escape the same charge?

    Church history is work, and it is tiring, and one's approach to history can very well shape one's conclusions. Your approach is one that has already waved, as it were, the white flag to Roman claims about the church. You are approaching history with a predisposed mindset, and that is what I have challenged.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 3, 2010
  11. P.F.

    P.F. Puritan Board Freshman

  12. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    I have thought like you in this area and the one you no doubt have the answer in what you have written. For even in the earliest splits from Rome the vast majority of people left over the Pope's belly vs. the doctrine of the RC church, In other words, politics. This may have some merit in that the rats jump ship sensing "something" is wrong without really knowing what exactly causing the ship to sink. Look how long it took the split to happen in the PCUSA. Essential doctrine is the first to be denied but is generally shown by a churches showing weakness in it moral convictions on matters that either bind or loose the congregants.
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