/ Nathan Eshelman

Schism: a Tearing of Christ's Body

Schism is a sinful tearing apart of the body of Christ. Schism is a dreadful and sinful thing as the body—even when reformation is the guise— is torn. Sadly, ministers, even converted ministers, are often those who call on the people of God to follow them into schism and end up causing harm to the cause of Christ and to his church.

The Apostle Paul heard of division from the house of Chloe and he condemns strongly that schism as being ungodly. I Corinthians 1:12-13 says,

For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or  “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Paul foresaw the divisions that were brewing and sharply admonished the church to not divide into camps: 


And the super spiritual—Jesus.

Schism is a tearing of the body of Christ and Paul sharply sends the corrective to avoid sinful division:


In Presbyterian history, James Durham, a Scottish preacher of the foremost ability and passion, wrote against scandal and schism. He saw the church dividing and called it out as sin: the church has “long since divided, sub-divided, weakened, disjointed and [been] broken.” His preaching and teaching against schism was, what he called, his “dying man’s testament to the Church of Scotland.” As the Westminster assembly’s Scottish commissioners left London following the beheading of Charles I, the work of unifying the Churches of Scotland, England, Ireland, began to crumble. The crumbling of the church led to greater crumbling—Durham understood that when disunity began, the church would further divide: Independents, Congregationalists, Erastians, Presbyterians—the fear was that the church would crumble and further schism would occur. His dying testament was that men—ministers—would humble themselves enough to keep the church unified.

Durham’s “dying testament” was that the church would repent of schism and ministers who led sheep into schism would repent and return to the shelter of Christ’s body.

Several sins, Durham would argue, are always present within churches that are born out of schism.


Schism makes carnal men, rather than spiritual men. When “heat, strife, and contention” are the womb out of which a schismatic church is born, its adherents will always be carnal. Born out of carnality, carnal things will be sought. Durham even interacts with those who disagree: “We will be spiritual. We will be different.” Durham unfolds the heart and shows that where “heat, strife, and contention” are, the Spirit of God is not.


Durham also shows the sinfulness of schism in that it “breeds alienation in affection.” Those that at one time had sweet fellowship and have been most intimate in companionship will now be listed among one’s enemies. This is sin as fellowship is broken and the body of Christ is maimed and bruised. Schismatic churches will always be churches that damage the body of Christ. They will always alienate themselves from parts of Christ's bride.

Breeds Jealousies

Schism also "breeds jealousies and suspicion of one another’s actions and intentions,” Durham says. Churches that are refuges for schismatics are churches that violate the ninth commandment by fostering suspicion and jealousies. From this churches need to repent. Schismatic leadership must man up and repent of damaging the people of God, and causing Christ’s little ones to put minister against minister, believer against believer, and friend against friend.

True presbyterians would follow the heart of Durham and refuse to participate in schism, and use the courts of the church to facilitate change rather than harm Jesus’s little ones. Durham’s work, “Concerning Scandal” is of great value to those who may be tempted to participate in schism at the request of a minister or a another disgruntled church member. Unity is the way of true presbyterianism. It is the way of true covenanters. 

Schism is the way of the ungodly.

Harms Little Ones

The Scriptures would hold ministers to a higher standard in opposing schism and churches bred by schismatics. Wilhelmus a’Brakel said that schism was a great sin because it offends the people of God and grieves the littles ones. He said, "The common folk among the godly are offended and grieved [because of schism], which is a great sin, and it grieves faithful ministers to the heart.”

Schism causes: 

Carnal men.
Alienates affections.
Breeds jealousies and suspicion.
Harms the little ones. 

Offends faithful ministers of the gospel.

So what should be done if schism is knocking at the door of your heart pretending to be a refuge for the people of God? a’Brakel says to run from schism and to be warned. God pours great judgment on the minister that causes schism in the body of Christ. He says in volume 2 of his Systematic Theology:

God generally imposes secret judgments upon those who absent themselves [through schism]. They become proud, opinionated, and despise the judgment of godly persons endowed with wisdom. They hold the congregation of God in contempt. They haughtily speak of great things, and come in a condition where they deem themselves beyond instruction, manifesting a pride against that which David prayed in Ps 19:13. God will afflict such with a special cross which they will have to endure for the remainder of their lives. He pours contempt upon them, causes their physical condition to deteriorate, and permits them to fall into sin….What a tragic judgment this is!

Schism is a dreadful error from which the people of God must repent. Repentance is not a gentle thing, but requires one to play the man and humble himself. Schism is no refuge for the people of God, but breeds spiritual pain and suffering, often in the name of reformation.

Avoid it. 

Come out of her, my people.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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