As I read it over several times, I kept hearing the question foisted on us by some Episcopal Church leaders: "What's worse, heresy (false teaching) or schism (fragmentation of the church)?"
Biblically speaking, both are bad. And leaders who set their people up for such a choice should resign or, in a healthy organization, be replaced.
First off, the Ephesians lesson tells us that Christ's work is "for his people" (4:7-8) and that the goal is for "the body" (the church, with Christ as its head) to "build itself up in love" (vv. 15-16).
Division in the body (schism) works against Christ's purpose. Unity is vital:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (vv. 1-6)
At the same time, false teaching at best retards and at worst destroys the body's growth toward "the fullness of Christ":
...until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ... (vv.13-15)
Heresy and schism both suffer from deficient love. Paul's great teaching on love in I Corinthians 13 shows us
- what schismatics lack: (love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...
- and what heretics lack: love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth...
I've been frustrated by and critical of the Archbishop of Canterbury's ponderous response to the Anglican mess in North America. Yet even with many questionable decisions at various points, his overall strategy of trying to keep the people together while framing a "Covenant" to affirm Christian truth reflects what Ephesians teaches.
But a "process", however well intended, must at some point produce the desired results - a vital church, unified in faith and representing Christ Himself. Leaders who are not bringing this forth in the church are not doing the work to which Christ called them, as Ephesians says:
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (vv.11-13)
Last week's airliner incident in New York is a good parable against which presumed church leaders should measure their actions. The pilot, the captain of the aircraft, made decisions to maximize the protection of the people aboard and on the ground. In adverse circumstances, he and his crew took actions that prevented ground casualties, saved the lives of the passengers, and positioned all for rapid rescue from danger.
And the captain was the last to leave the plane, setting his own security aside to discharge all his duties to others first.