Editorial: Learning From A Sad Schism

The decision by leaders in the Anglican Mission in the Americas to separate from the Church in Rwanda has “hit the beach” of Christianity with full force this week.  I am not capable of commenting on all the facets of the decision, but I do believe there is one lesson to be sorted out that bears directly upon spiritual formation.

Unfortunately, we become increasingly good at what we do.  As we act upon our dispositions, our ability to repeat our actions increases.  And, in the end, our practices can become more determinative than our principles.

Put simply, I mean to say that people who are disposed toward division, become better at engineering further division than they do at maintaining unity.  The same “drives” which bring about division in the first place rise up to repeat it later on.

We learn how to disagree more than agree.  We become more adept at setting up alternative systems than we are at renewing the one in need of repair.  We become better judges than friends.

We always find ways to avoid confronting this reality, but underneath all our magnanimous language, we often find that we have simply extended a pattern which already existed.

And when it comes to spiritual formation, we see that the pattern begins in the heart before it is ever enacted by the will.  Division means that some leave the table as “winners,” and that need to “win” (egotism) can raise its head later on when other things come on the scene.

Jesus’ prayer that we might “all be one” is more than an artificial or mechanical unity.  It is the coming together of multiple wills under the Lordship of one Will.   Apparently, Jesus knew this would be among the most difficult things Christians would ever have to do, and it also appears that the recent schism in the Anglican world is one more illustration to that effect.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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