250px-Clemens_I The church father, Clement of Rome (died c. A. D. 90 to 100), intervened in a local congregational schism while serving as an early church overseer in the first century. Some historians believe that this same Clement was identified by Paul in Philippians 4:3. That may be. Later tradition saw Clement as the third pope, something that I do not believe is terribly clear in the record that we actually possess from the era in which he lived and died. In Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians (this congregation continued to fight and divide long after Paul was deceased) he urged the people of this troubled church to be distinguished by humility. His words are still moving and powerful. His purpose was to call out people who had rebelled against the authority of their presbyters.

Clement wrote that "we should be especially mindful of what the Lord Jesus taught us about meekness and long-suffering: Be merciful, and you will be shown mercy; forgive, and you will be forgiven; as you do, so will it be done to you; as you judge, so will you be judged; as you are kind, so will kindness be shown to you; whatever you measure out will be measured to you (see Luke 6:31-38)."

Christ, said Clement, belongs to those who are humble-minded, not to those who exalt themselves over His flock. He notes: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Scepter of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance although he might have done so, but rather in humility." Thus, "In the same way, let the whole Christian body be preserved in peace."

He urges that a "speedy end be put to this schism. He urges the flock to beg the Master to have mercy on them." The point is clear: schism is seen by Clement as a deadly sin and should be treated as such. I pray every day that a growing number of Christians will adopt this same attitude, which I take to be the very mind of Christ. This was holy Clement's view. He was clearly right.

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  1. Joel Miller July 19, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Couldn’t agree more on your conclusion. Thanks for posting.
    Though to a point earlier in the piece, I think sometimes we forget that tradition itself is evidence. It may not be incontrovertible, but it’s an important data point that Protestants are often too free with disposing.
    There are obvious historical reasons for why we do this, but I don’t think they’re defensible on those grounds.

  2. Chris Criminger July 19, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Hi John,
    I think this is a brilliant piece but too often, Evangelicals and Protestants have typically baptized some version that schism is just the way things are and is not really that bad!
    I am in the process of reading Malcolm Yarnell’s book “The Formation of Christian Doctrine.” Here is one of the best and few Evangelical expositions on a difficult topic of doctrinal development within history.
    Here is what Yarnell says concerning Christian unity from his Free Church perspective:
    “The dominical appeal to unity is understood as eschatological and spiritual rather than according to temporary and governmental concepts. Thus there is little imputus for visible union or shared ministries and sacraments among free churches . . . Most of the free churches recognize the universal church, but as it does not gather until the end of time, it is not the primary concern in contemporary history” (p.178).
    I find these invisible ecclesiologies are simply that—-invisible! They like separation and total autonomy way too much! I for one just find all this kind of contemporary theologizing way too dichotomizing and reductionistic.
    Why would we want to separate the visible from the visible? The spiritual from the real? The eschatological from the present? This whole pattern of dichotomous thinking does not reflect either the language much less the concepts the Scriptures depict for it’s readers.

  3. Chris Criminger July 19, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    PS – Nor will anyone ever hear Clement or any of the early church fathers speak about the church the way we do today!

  4. Jack Isaacson July 19, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    How will Christian unity be achieved if bloggers and those who comment continue to refer to believers as, Evangelical,
    Protestants, Roman Catholics, evangelical Christians?
    There has been recently in your blogs terms such as Protestant publications, Catholic authors. You wrote, Paul Thigpen, an evangelical convert to Roman Catholicism, wrote, “At the same time I want to encourage Catholic publications to feature more evangelical Protestants in print.”
    Will there come the day that these differences are dropped?

  5. Nick Morgan July 20, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    AMEN John!! Excellent post! As more and more Christians from all of the major Traditions learn to love one another and have fellowship with each other around the Person of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit may begin to grant us this reality.

  6. Anthony July 20, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I have been giving quite a bit of thought to the nature of the Church lately, and in doing so I realize that I have quite a bit of reading, praying and reflecting to do still, but just the same, one thing that is becoming apparent to me is that there is something wrong with the all too common distinction between the Church Universal and the Church Historical.
    Our understanding of the Church should be closely connected to our Christology, for indeed she is the body and bride of Christ, both designations of which imply an intimacy and close connection to Jesus. Jesus is fully human and fully God in complete union without loss of integrity to either of his natures. In short, Jesus is a fully historical human being, and he is transcendent, insofar as he is the Son of God. The Church, analogically is a part of this mystery of Christ, and so I would say that just as in Jesus, you don’t get at to the Church Universal but through the Church historical, the two realities must be identified with one another.
    Now, having said all this, I realize the key question is, “What or where is the Church Historical?” And, to that I respond, “I don’t know.” This is perhaps why schism is such a wretched sin.

  7. Chris Criminger July 21, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Anthony,
    The Eastern Orthodox say they know where the Church is (Eastern Orthodoxy) but not where it is not (the rest of us). I say the church is where Jesus is Lord and Savior which makes up many within Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the many varieties of Protestantism as well as non-denominational churches.

  8. Anthony July 21, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Chris – I like the expression from Eastern Orthodoxy. I have previously heard it, but it is nice to be reminded of this idea.
    The problem I have with your concept of the location or nature of the Church is that it continues to essentially be ahistorical. According to your concept, the Church is the totality of those who have positively responded to the Gospel and thereby have decided to follow Christ. Certainly the Church is at least that, but I sense that it is somehow more. For one thing, it was the Church, in response to various socio-historical forces, that collectively worked out the identity of Jesus and the nature of his ministry. This aspect of the Church’s existence can be seen as an unpacking and developing of the ministry that was nascent but fully present in the life of Jesus. On some level this means that the Gospel took its shape within the Church. Consequently, the Church cannot just be those who responded to the Gospel, since the Gospel itself emerged from the life of the Church. Having said this, I fully acknowledge that Jesus is the head of the Church, and that this taking shape of the Gospel happened under the ministry of the Spirit, yet this ministry of the Spirit happened within the historical life of the Church. In this sense it was an incarnational ministry (God working through historical human agency) and as I have said (or at least implied) the incarnation means that history is significant, both regarding who Jesus is, and by relationship, who/what the Church is.
    To draw a parallel from Islam to further illustrate my point, if, like in Islam, the Gospel was a copy of a book in heaven that came to earth through the agency of one prophet who recited the words he heard, then I suppose the Church would be like the Ummah (Faith Community) of Islam: an affiliation of all those who have responded to the positively to the message of the book. However, this is not how our Scriptures came into existence. Instead, our Scriptures emerged from God’s relationship to an historically existing community. Sure, God’s Spirit inspired particular people within that community to speak the words that gave shape to that community, but that community also shaped the people who were inspired by God’s Spirit.
    I realize that in all I have said so far I have probably raised more questions than provided solutions or insight, but as I said, I am responding to a problem that I know is there by have not quite yet identified.
    If you want to respond more, but don’t want to take up any more of John’s comment space you can write me directly at aj68velez@gmail.com. I would like to hear more from you.

  9. Marcus Murphy July 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Hi John,
    Paul wrote that we are to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Your article represents one of those efforts. Therefore, I have no doubt that your words are important to the Church and are pleasing to Christ.
    Keep up the great work in the Spirit of Christ.
    Marcus Murphy

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