A Historical Reflection on Certain Schisms, both Ancient and Modern

The Liturgist

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I am writing this post for the benefit of my friends @Berserk and @tampasteve and is also partially in response to a question asked by our friend @BobRyan

I grew up as a Methodist shortly after the merger with the Evangelical United Brethren and the creation of the United Methodist Church, although I attended a Lutheran parochial school (Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) as my friends @JM and @MarkRohfrietsch are aware. Only later did I become Congregationalist.

I really greatly enjoyed being a part of the Methodist church. This is why I am so upset about what is occurring in the UMC, where the progressives have, as far as I can tell, in violation of the Book of Discipline and the General Convention’s Traditional Plan adopted in 2018 simply pushed ahead with gay marriage in the US and set conditions intended to force conservative parishes to leave and join the Global Methodist Church in a manner that I consider to be extortionate, in that they required such churches to make a massive one time payment into the UMC pension fund and set a time limit. And to provide further impetus to make sure the more conservative parishes left, they threatened to force remaining parishes to be less conservative, and they fired a conservative presbyter.

It’s the most shocking and horrific case I have seen. It is the only case I am aware of where the pro-homosexual element took control of a denomination in an unethical manner. What the PCUSA did was the exact opposite: when a few years ago it decided to allow homosexuality, it did so in a manner that allowed individual parishes to opt out, it also allowed individual parishes to decide whether or not to remain in the denomination, via a plan of gracious dismissal, and furthermore, it sent representatives to those parishes to try to persuade them to remain, on the basis that their conservativism would be respected.

Likewise the ELCA embraced a similar policy.

In the case of the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church, dissenting congregations were free to leave, but some remained, even in the UCC. There is a group of around 70 UCC parishes, which operate under the banner of “Faithful and Welcoming”, which maintain scriptural teaching on human sexuality, but which also remain in the UCC. However it is difficult for them, and also the UCC recently, despite its membership continuing to fall, has become a magnet for left-wing churches from elsewhere, for example, the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, which had been a part of the homosexual Metropolitan Community Church, which is a liturgical church that was organized by homosexuals around 1968 or 1970, left, and joined the UCC, and also First Congregational in Los Angeles, whose progressive theology makes me particularly sad, since the church has two beautiful organs, each of which individually would be the largest church organs in the world, but they have two of them, basically, the two largest church organs in existence, and also a very good choir, and only went down a progressive rabbit hole in the past 25 years. Which is why they were Congregational but not UCC. However it was 30 years ago that the United Methodist Church was conservative, and the Church of England, very conservative, under Archbishop Carey, who I greatly admired.

Even the Episcopal Church, except in Los Angeles where Bishop Bruno as it turns out was corrupt, and he resigned in disgrace, because it emerged he was taking kickbacks from developers, and this is just a terrible scandal, but it is specific to the diocese of Los Angeles and the former bishop, has treated conservatives well, except for those who wanted to leave, which it fought in court. However, there are a number of conservative parishes in the Episcopal Church which are indistinguishable from Continuing Anglican parishes, both liturgically and in their beliefs, for example, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, which uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and is extremely traditional. My only real criticism of the Episcopal Church is that they spent $50 million on a lawsuit against the dioceses that were wanting to leave, only to lose when in the case of the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Diocese prevailed and was allowed to keep its real estate and become independent. My view is that the money would better have been spent on charity than on legal fees. Indeed the Episcopal Church actually became for a time a bit financially unstable at the national level; I recall they were discussing selling their headquarters building on Madison Avenue and also selling off some of the parkland surrounding the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. But at the national level, in most dioceses around the US, there are traditional Episcopal churches which are conservative, and there are entire dioceses which are conservative and traditional which have opted to remain, in the South and in the Rocky Mountains and in certain parts of the Midwest, and in rural areas, and they even have one remaining extremely conservative seminary, Nashotah House, which is also one of the best seminaries in the United States, along with Holy Trinity in Jordanville, New York, a monastery and seminary of ROCOR, St. Herman’s in Alaska, which is the main seminary for the Aleutian and other Native Alaskan tribes who were evangelized by St. Herman and St. Innocent in the 18th century and are part of the Orthodox Church in America, St. Joseph of Arimathea, a Continuing Anglican seminary in Oakland, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Jordanville, New York, which has for decades been the best Orthodox seminary in the world in terms of academics, St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary, which is another OCA seminary which also houses one of the two large OCA monasteries (the other being St. John Maximovitch Monastery in California), Concordia Lutheran Seminary, which is the main seminary of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and those churches in communion with it, such as the Lutheran Church of Canada, and the AALC (a smaller Lutheran church in the US), and various Lutheran churches abroad such as the Lutheran Church of Lithuania, and finally Pepperdine School of Divinity, which is the source of reason and professionalism in the Churches of Christ, which has some ministers who probably shouldn’t be ministers, but not the ones who are graduates of Pepperdine (most Churches of Christ do not have seminary-trained clergy).

On that last point I would argue that seminary training should not be a requirement, because the Early Church did not actually have seminaries; rather they were invented in their present form by the Roman Catholics during the Counter-Reformation, but seminaries are a good idea, and I think most clergy should go through a seminary. Those who don’t should be instead personally tutored by a knowledgeable senior priest or bishop or monastic cleric, or should rise through the ranks from reader to subdeacon, to deacon, and then to presbyter, receiving incremental training for each office. Or otherwise, they should be trained in monasteries. The latter method was particularly effective in antiquity. Indeed Oxford and Cambridge were originally clusters of monasteries, like those one finds in Orthodoxy, in places like Mount Athos, or Meteora, or Valaam, or Tur Abdin.

However, for most clergy, in most churches, the seminary is the ideal format for training.

At any rate, what happened in the UMC is greatly distressing.

By the way @BobRyan a scenario where schism is justified is this - in that the schism itself is not justified, it is evil, but the traditional parishes being forced to leave the UMC are not guilty of schism, since the situation is such that they have been given a very strong incentive to leave, that being that they might no longer be able to operate as traditional parishes.

The UMC has closed conservative parishes before, for being conservative, something no one else has done (except for the disgraced former Episcopalian bishop of Los Angeles). One famous case is that of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Anchorage, which you can read about here: Concerned Methodists - St. Paul's UMC

Fortunately the people of that parish, who had paid for it to be built, paid for a new church to be rebuilt, and now exist as an independent Methodist church.

It is impossible to accuse churches in the Global Methodist Church or churches like Fairbanks of schism. Likewise, one cannot accuse the Eastern Orthodox of schism; they did not sever communion with the Roman Catholics, but were excommunicated. Nor can one accuse the Oriental Orthodox of schism, for the same thing happened to them at Chalcedon.

Some schisms have healed, most notably the Three Chapters Controversy, the Avignon Schism in the Roman Catholic Church, and in the 20th century, the canonical isolation of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR), which reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate and the rest of Holy Orthodoxy in 2007, a schism caused by the Soviets, and likewise another schism of Soviet design, between the two largest of the four autocephalous (ecclesiastically independent) Armenian Orthodox churches, the Catholicos of Holy Etchmaidzin and All Armenia, which found itself within Soviet territory when Armenia was annexed by the USSR, and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, which was created when the Armenians formed a second kingdom in the Middle Ages on the border of the Byzantine Empire (for a brief time there were two Armenian kingdoms, that of Armenia proper and that of Cilicia), and which had since been headquartered in Lebanon. However, the healing of schisms is difficult.
 

Berserk

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In the UMC matters or ordination and doctrine are determined by a quadrennial global conference. The progressives have pushed for gay ordination and gay marriage at every conference since 1973 and they have always been defeated because evangelicals are globally in the majority. but since the Covid epidemic, this conference has not met. If it had, conservatives would have the votes to prevent the huge sums required by the
U. S. progressives for evangelical disaffiliation. The great tragedy is that the evangelicals did not wait for this conference to convene and once again put the evangelicals in charge of ordination and marriage policy.
 
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MarkRohfrietsch

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There are similar rumblings in the Lutheran Church of Australia, with whom LCC has a long history of Altar and Pulpit fellowship; including sharing Seminary resources. There are indications that this fellowship may be coming to an end in the near future.
 
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The Liturgist

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There are similar rumblings in the Lutheran Church of Australia, with whom LCC has a long history of Altar and Pulpit fellowship; including sharing Seminary resources. There are indications that this fellowship may be coming to an end in the near future.

Similiar to what happend in the UMC? That’s tragic… I guess ELCA/ELCIC will have a new communion partner down under…
 
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tampasteve

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We will see where the schism of the UMC leads. It seems most likely they [bless and do not curse][bless and do not curse][bless and do not curse][bless and do not curse] UMC will join closer in communion with the ELCA and TEC (The Episcopal Church). On the one hand I applaud this, unity is a good thing in these churches that have some different practices but largely agree theologically. On the other hand their union is based in part on the fact that they are shrinking pretty fast, combination TEC and ELCA churches have already been founded to help alleviate this shrinkage and pastoral issue.

But on the other hand the growth seen in the conservative breakaway churches seems to be directly tied to parishes leaving the liberal churches. For example the growth seen in the LCMS seems to be directly tied to people leaving the ELCA, not new congregants from outside Lutheranism. My church is a church that departed the UMC and is seeing growth that is organic, they have seen about a 10% growth over the year with sustained return of new members. They, however, are independent right now rather than going with the GMC. I wish their service was more traditional, but at least they have gone more conservative since departing the UMC.
 
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The Liturgist

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We will see where the schism of the UMC leads. It seems most likely they [bless and do not curse][bless and do not curse][bless and do not curse][bless and do not curse] UMC will join closer in communion with the ELCA and TEC (The Episcopal Church). On the one hand I applaud this, unity is a good thing in these churches that have some different practices but largely agree theologically. On the other hand their union is based in part on the fact that they are shrinking pretty fast, combination TEC and ELCA churches have already been founded to help alleviate this shrinkage and pastoral issue.

But on the other hand the growth seen in the conservative breakaway churches seems to be directly tied to parishes leaving the liberal churches. For example the growth seen in the LCMS seems to be directly tied to people leaving the ELCA, not new congregants from outside Lutheranism. My church is a church that departed the UMC and is seeing growth that is organic, they have seen about a 10% growth over the year with sustained return of new members. They, however, are independent right now rather than going with the GMC. I wish their service was more traditional, but at least they have gone more conservative since departing the UMC.

Organic growth is good, and it is happening in the three Eastern communions (EO, OO and the Assyrians) and in the non-schismatic, non-SSPX (which I understand is not technically schismatic) diocesan Traditional Latin Mass communities Pope Francis is trying to shut down.
 
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The Liturgist

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In the UMC matters or ordination and doctrine are determined by a quadrennial global conference. The progressives have pushed for gay ordination and gay marriage at every conference since 1973 and they have always been defeated because evangelicals are globally in the majority. but since the Covid epidemic, this conference has not met. If it had, conservatives would have the votes to prevent the huge sums required by the
U. S. progressives for evangelical disaffiliation. The great tragedy is that the evangelicals did not wait for this conference to convene and once again put the evangelicals in charge of ordination and marriage policy.

You mean because they have left rather than waiting for 2024?
 
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tampasteve

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Organic growth is good, and it is happening in the three Eastern communions (EO, OO and the Assyrians) and in the non-schismatic, non-SSPX (which I understand is not technically schismatic) diocesan Traditional Latin Mass communities Pope Francis is trying to shut down.
TLM communities are a mixed bag, broadly. I know there was a chapel near me that interestingly used a Eastern Catholic church, but they are not there any longer. The RCC diocese has a church in the metro that just does the TLM, so I think the SSPX kind of lost steam here due to that. I am not sure how fast or if that parish is growing, however. The local OO and EO communities seem to be growing, but mainly due to people moving/immigrants more than organic growth from converts.
 
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The Liturgist

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TLM communities are a mixed bag, broadly. I know there was a chapel near me that interestingly used a Eastern Catholic church, but they are not there any longer. The RCC diocese has a church in the metro that just does the TLM, so I think the SSPX kind of lost steam here due to that. I am not sure how fast or if that parish is growing, however. The local OO and EO communities seem to be growing, but mainly due to people moving/immigrants more than organic growth from converts.

The organic growth I am seeing in most of the EO and OO churches and the Assyrian Church of the East is due to reproduction: the most organic kind of growth. Their churches are in my area at least filled with children. The same is true of several TLM communities.

Which goes to show, if you can’t beat ‘em, marry someone and have as many children as God wills.
 
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Andrewn

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Which goes to show, if you can’t beat ‘em, marry someone and have as many children as God wills.
Do you know which Protestant denominations are growing in numbers? I think Pentecostals are, but I am not sure if this is true.
 
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