Of Schism
1 Corinthians 12:25-26
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.…

In general there can be no such thing as schism but in cases where there, is an obligation to unity and communion; so that in order to define the nature of it we must find out some centre of union which is common to all Christians.

1. As for uniformity of sentiment in matters of speculative belief, that can never be the common centre of Christian unity, because it is in the nature of things impossible. For in order to this, all mankind must have exactly the same strength of understanding, the same advantages, the same manner of education, the same passions, prejudices, and interests. Besides, if all Christians must concur in the same way of thinking about every controversy in religion, whose opinion shall prevail, and be made the public standard? Are the majority to decide for us? How shall we determine, without collecting the vote of every individual, who are the majority? Are the majority always in the right? Or must we, for the sake of uniformity, profess (believe we cannot) against truth and reason? Will not this make all religion dissimulation and hypocrisy? But if uniformity of opinion cannot be secured in this way, shall we not be governed by the most learned and pious Christians, who are neither influenced by irregular passion, nor swayed by criminal prejudice? I answer, that who are really the most learned and pious will be matter of endless dispute, and can never be certainly fixed. They are fallible as well as others; and have frequently maintained such principles as derogate highly from the honour of God, and are of vast disservice to religion. It appears then from what has been said, that to endeavour to bring all mankind to the same sentiments in matters of religious controversy is an absurd, romantic scheme, and represents religion as nothing else but outward formality, artifice, and craft. The same may be said of uniformity in external modes of worship and discipline, viz., that this, likewise, cannot be a necessary term of Christian communion. For it will be altogether as difficult to determine who are to settle external rites and ceremonies, and forms of Church-government, as articles of speculative belief. Besides, the lawfulness, expediency, or Divine authority of any particular form is as much a matter of private opinion as the truth or falsehood of doctrinal propositions; and therefore it is as natural to expect a variety of sentiments about it. Let me add to this, that a variety of sentiments in religion, while moderation and mutual charity are maintained, can do no hurt, whereas an attempt to introduce public uniformity has been a constant source of schisms in the Church, and will infallibly keep alive a spirit of animosity. And finally, when there is a difference of opinions, and a variety of outward forms, this is just such a state of things as wise man would expect, if all were honest and impartial inquirers; whereas if one set of principles and the same scheme of worship were universally to prevail, it would not look like human nature; it would have nothing of the appearance of sincerity; and, consequently, must lead an indifferent spectator to conclude that religion was all complaisance, courtliness, and carnal policy, and did not spring from a conviction of the understanding, or a free deliberate choice.

2. I would make a few observations, relating to the nature and guilt of schism, and so conclude.

(1) It appears, that let there be ever so many differences amongst Christians, as long as mutual charity is preserved there cannot be the guilt of schism. A man that holds the common faith of the gospel, leads a holy life, behaves peaceably, and has charity for all, notwithstanding the little varieties by which they are distinguished from each other, does not differ from any church so far as it is formed on the essential principles of Christianity; but only takes that liberty of judging for himself which reason allows and revelation comfirms to him; a liberty to differ from fallible expositions of Scripture, from civil constitutions, or ecclesiastical ordinances of rather less authority.

(2) Differences among Christians are not only innocent while unity of affection is preserved, but there are many cases in which a separation from a particular church is absolutely necessary.

(3) None who are truly honest, who are not swayed by irregular passions, or vicious prejudices, but, upon a deliberate impartial inquiry, according to their capacity and advantages, think themselves obliged, in conscience, to dissent from their brethren; no such persons as these, I say, can possibly incur the guilt of schism. For this would be to make honesty itself a crime; and at the same time that we suppose it a man's duty to act according to the light and directions of his conscience, to reproach and condemn him for it. And shall not we treat involuntary errors with candour and humanity?

(James Foster.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

WEB: that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.

Membership of a Body
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