Since I have been thinking about essentials and unity I thought it would be fitting to post portions of John Wesley's sermon On Schisms. Certainly Wesley having had to wrestle with the call by many to separate from the Church of England would have some insightful things to say on the subject.
Wesley starts off his sermon trying to define the word schism landing on the following definition "A causeless separation from a body of living Christians". He based his sermon on three passages in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 1:10, 11:18, 12:24-25). Wesley than asks...
I shall be thankful to any one who will point to me any other place in the inspired writings, where this word “Schism” is to be found. I remember only these three.With the aid of computer linked lexicons and concordances (that were lacking in the 18th century) we can quickly find a few more verses , but the meaning still remains clear, divisions are destructive.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be destroyed. (Mark 2:21)Wesley warns us to be on guard against schisms...
It is evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christian, with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows could, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretences for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause; otherwise they would still hold the unity of he Spirit in the bound of peace. It is therefore contrary to all those commands of God, wherein brotherly love is enjoined: To that of St. Paul, “Let brotherly love continue:” — that of St. John, “My beloved children, love one another;” — and especially to that of our blessed Master, “This is my commandment, That ye love on another, as I have loved you” Yea, “By this,” saith he, “shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.”
...I will make the case my own: I am now, and have been from my youth, a member and a Minister of the Church of England: And I have do desire no design to separate from it, till my soul separates from my body. Yet if I was not permitted to remain therein without omitting what God requires me to do, it would then become meet and right, and my bounden duty, to separate form it without delay. To be more particular: I know God has committed to me a dispensation of the gospel; yea, and my own salvation depends upon preaching it: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” If then I could not remain in the Church without omitting this, without desisting from preaching the gospel I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul. In like manner, if I could not continue united to any smaller society, Church, or body of Christians, without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society. And in all these cases the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, would not lie upon it, would not lie upon me, but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply with. But, setting aside this case, suppose the Church or society to which I am now united does not require me to do anything which the Scripture forbids, or to omit anything which the Scripture enjoins, it is then my indispensable duty to continue therein. And if I separate from it without any such necessity, I am just chargeable (whether I foresaw them or not) with all the evils consequent upon that separation.
I have spoke the more explicitly upon this head, because it is so little understood; because so may of those who profess much religion, nay, and really enjoy a measure of it, have not the least conception of this matter, neither imagine such a separation to be any sin at all. They leave a Christian society with as much unconcern as they go out of one room into another. They give occasion to all this complicated mischief. and wipe their mouth, and say they have done no evil! Whereas they are justly chargeable, before God and man, both with an action that is evil in itself, and with all the evil consequences which may be expected to follow, to themselves, to their brethren, and to the world.