So what is schism? How does it fit with heresy? Part of my thoughts are at the moment centered on a little church in Northern California, Burney Presbyterian Church. The Sacramento Presbytery held a special meeting to vote on a motion to place an administrative commission over the Burney church. This is the motion:
With the determination of the Administrative Commission appointed to the Burney Presbyterian Church on February 28, 2015, determining that there is a schism pursuant to the Book of Order (G-4.0207), that the presbytery take immediate action and take original jurisdiction of the Burney church, and continue the relationship with the PC(USA) in all means of its ministries.
The first AC appointed to the church simply determined that they were in schism but were not allowed to act on their assumption. At the meeting, to the Presbytery’s credit, members of the church were allowed to speak. But commissioners were not offered the first AC’s report and so the only reason given to commissioners for stating the church was in schism was that several people, including two session members, did not wish to leave the PC (U.S.A) while the other four session members did. Most Burney church members want to leave and spoke out at the meeting.
The above means that in the Sacramento Presbytery if a church wants to leave the PC (U.S.A.) but a few members do not, the church could easily have an administrative commission placed over them.
During the debate about an amendment to the motion, I noticed that the parliamentarian kept pointing to a paper and stating that it was already there. It turns out this was to be the instructions for the new AC, but none of us had seen it. After a bit of protest the moderator read the instructions. I had trouble hearing her and later voted with those who wanted the instructions added to the motion. After reading them at home today I am sorry I voted yes, but the amendment failed anyway. Here are the instructions:
The Administrative Commission shall:
1. Confer with the members of the Burney Presbyterian Church to explain fully the process of resolving the discord within the congregation. Special attention is to be given to those members who have stopped attending yet wish to be faithful to the PCUSA.
2. Dissolve the Session of Burney Presbyterian Church.
3. Become the governing body of the Burney Presbyterian Church.
4. Assure the conduct of worship and the preaching of the Word on a weekly basis and assure that pastoral ministry and meeting financial obligations continue.
5. Identify accurately the members of the congregation who wish to be part of the PCUSA and those who do not want to be a part of the PCUSA.
6. Identify members of the congregation who are willing to accept necessary leadership roles and responsibilities for the ministry of the church; and, furthermore, give direction and supervision to these leaders.
7. Assess the viability of the Burney Presbyterian Church as a continuing congregation made up of those members desiring to remain in the PCUSA.
8. Explore ways of providing assistance, financial or otherwise, to facilitate the viability of the congregation should that be the course of action taken. Such exploration can include, but not be limited to, financial aid from the Presbytery, developing a mission strategy, exploring a “yoked” relationship with another PCUSA church, exploring a federated church arrangement with a church in correspondence with the PCUSA.
9. Facilitate the individual transfer of members who do not wish to be part of the PCUSA to a congregation of their choice and with whom the PCUSA has a corresponding relationship allowing transfer of members.
10. Carry out any other necessary actions to bring this matter to a final resolution.
And yes the motion to place an AC over the church passed.
So what does Calvin have to say about schism and heresy? Well for one, they are not the same. And for another, unity only exists within a body that holds to the essentials of the faith or “sound doctrine” as Calvin puts it. The PC (U.S.A.) has cast aside the authority of Scripture; even half of the denomination’s constitution is now in conflict with both scripture and our confessions. I have quoted Calvin on this just recently. I will do so again:
“The name of heretics and schismatics is applied to those who by dissenting from the Church destroy its communion. This communion is held together by two chains—viz. consent in sound doctrine and brotherly charity. Hence the distinction which Augustine makes between heretics and schismatics is, that the former corrupt the purity of the faith by false dogmas, whereas the latter sometimes, even while holding the same faith, break the bond of union (August, Lib. Quaest. In Evang. Matth.). But the thing to be observed is that this union of charity so depends on unity of faith, as to have in it its beginning, its end, in fine, its only rule.”
It is the PC (U.S.A.) that is causing schism because every church, elder and official that denies or twists scripture, denies the faith and breaks unity with the church universal. A great many, not all, in the denomination, have moved on and are now celebrating the vile sensuality of our fallen culture. Even the stated clerk. Schism has come slithering into the door of our churches by way of deceit, worldly pride and political correctness.
Peter speaks of those who speak arrogant words of vanity. He says they entice by “fleshly desires, by sensuality”—they live in error. Jude speaks of those who have, “crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” John speaks of those who fail to bring their sin to the Savior and his shed blood. (1John 1:5-9)
Yes, the denomination is experiencing schism but not by those departing to other reformed denominations but by those who have so torn apart the truths of scripture that they have left the faithful without a true home.