by Chris Ritter

I ran across a brief but meaty post on church unity by Douglas Wilson, a self-described “Chestertonian Calvinist.”  Responding to Peter Leithart’s  The End of Protestantism,  Wilson raises up a biblical model of addressing schism with discipline.  Here are four quotes my beloved United Methodist tribe would be wise to consider:

  1. Unity is not the antidote to division.

…Scripture teaches us to attack divisiveness with discipline. We don’t answer division with unity; we answer division with discipline. Divisiveness and heresy need to be addressed in local congregations every bit as much as adultery and embezzlement do. And when we separate from a schismatic, we are not being schismatic. We are not doing the same thing he is doing. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10).

2. Rejecting error is the path toward catholicity.

And there is another kind of future unity that we are supposed to grow up into (Eph. 4:13), when we finally arrive at the perfect man, in the unity of the faith. When we have arrived there, it will have been because we have rejected various winds of doctrine, the sleight of mind, and the cunning craftiness of false teachers (Eph. 4:14). In other words, in order to grow up into the truth, we have to reject the liars. And we do so while speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Identifying and rejecting the liars, the divisive, the sectarians, and the schismatics is therefore the path to catholicity.

3. Passivity and tolerance run counter to genuine church unity.

When we say that we can discipline for heresy and schism when we are more unified, we are missing the fact that when we are more unified, there is far less need to do so. If failure to discipline schism and heresy gets us to the point of greater unity, why don’t we continue to do nothing so that we can have even greater unity than that? But unity does not promote godly discipline. Godly discipline promotes unity.

4. Someone is always being disciplined… the church or the schismatics.

And this reveals something about the nature of discipline. Whether you discipline or not, you are always disciplining. This is because discipline is inescapable. To discipline the wolves is to protect the sheep. To not discipline the wolves is to discipline the sheep. As we wait for a unified church, we will find ourselves disciplining someone in the meantime. It will therefore either be the heretics, or the churches that discipline heretics.