“If the PCUSA is no longer a hospitable home for evangelical congregations, a reasonable option may be to depart, hopefully with mutual blessings,” Whitlock said.
“Schism,” said the Rev. Dr. Luder G. Whitlock Jr., “is separating from the organized church without just cause.” Quoting Irenicum, he said, “The true nature of schism is … an uncharitable, unjust, rash, violent breaking from the union with the church or members of it.”
Addressing the Fellowship of Presbyterians and ECO: a Covenanted Order of Evangelical Presbyterians during their Summer 2012 Gatherings in Colorado Springs (Aug. 19-21) and Atlanta (Aug. 22-24), Whitlock noted that “People moving out of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are being called schismatic – so, who are the schismatics?”
If schism is “breaking the bonds of the Lord’s Church,” he asked, then who is really responsible for the current fractures?
Whitlock approached the answer to that question by posing an important underlying one, “What then is the Church?” In answering he said that the Church “is comprised of those (in all places and ages) who trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” And then added that “there are only two kinds of people: Christians and non-Christians. Within those two kinds you can nice and mean, intelligent and stupid, but when you get down to it, you’re either in or you’re out. You believe and you’re a part of the Church or you don’t and you’re not.”
The identifying marks of those who are in, according to Whitlock, include:
- “The centrality of the Gospel as essential to salvation.
- “The personal imperative to share this Gospel with all non-believers.” Adding that “We want other people to have the transforming experience of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.”
- “The conviction that God’s Word is the final authority for what we believe and how we live.”
- “The spiritual life as an index to our relationship with God.” Adding that “holiness – a life that expresses a desire to please God in every way — is the way of the believer.”
Dealing the question of unity and division, Whitlock said, “Ultimately, we’re confessing that there is only one Church. We believe in the holy catholic Church– the Church universal. It is comprised of many parts: individuals, congregations, denominations, other Christian organizations. But it all starts with the individual – if you don’t believe, you’re not in.”
Quoting John 17:20ff and Ephesians 4:3ff, Whitlock emphasized the importance of unity and then quoted C.S. Lewis who said, “The mandate for unity is clear – its putting it into practice that is a different matter.”
Whitlock then embarked on a history lesson, saying, “Protestant dissenters in America regarded themselves as members of a family of related religious bodies called denominations. As such, they were heirs of a common faith. Denominations meant that you were subordinate to the Church, big C.” Quoting Timothy Smith, Whitlock added that denominationalism, thus conceived,” is the opposite of sectarianism: for it admits no claim to exclusive possession of saving truth.”