[Here we continue our reprint of Chapter 2 from Richard Baxter's classic tome A Christian Directory. This chapter consists of twenty directions to (as Mr. Baxter says) "young Christians or beginners in religion, for their establishment and safe proceeding."]--Ed.
Keep right apprehensions of the excellency of charity and unity among believers, and receive nothing hastily that is against them; especially take heed lest under pretence of their authority, their number, their soundness, or their holiness, you too much addict yourselves to any sect or party, to the withdrawing of your special love and just communion from other Christians, and turning your zeal to the interest of your party, with a neglect of the common interest of the church; but love a Christian as a Christian, and promote the unity and welfare of them all.
Use often to read and well consider the meaning and reason of those many urgent passages in Scripture, which exhort all Christians to unity and love, such as John 11:52; John 17:11, 21-23; I Cor. 3:10-17; I Cor. 12; II Cor. 11:13; I Thess. 5:12,13; Phil. 2:1-3; I Pet. 3:8; Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 1:10; I Cor. 3:3; I Cor. 11:18. And John 13:35; Rom. 12:9-10; Rom. 13:10; II Cor. 13:11; Gal. 5:6,13,22; Col. 1:4; I Thess. 4:9; I John 3:11,14,23; I John 4:7,11,16,19-21. Surely if the very life of godliness lay not much in unity and love, we should never have had such words spoken of it, as here you find. Love is to the soul, as our natural heat is to the body: whatever destroyeth it, destroyeth life; and therefore cannot be for our good. Be certain, that opinion, course, or motion, tends to death, that tends to abate your love to your brethren, much more which under pretence of zeal, provoketh you to hate and hurt them. To divide the body is to kill it or to maim it; dividing the essential, necessary parts, is killing it; cutting off any integral part, is maiming it. The first can never be an act of friendship, which is the worst that an enemy can do; the second is never an act of friendship, but when the cutting off a member which may be spared is of absolute necessity to the saving of the whole man, from the worse division between soul and body. By this judge what friends dividers are to the church, and how well they are accepted of God.
He that loveth any Christian aright, must needs love all that appear to him as Christians. And when malice will not suffer men to see Christianity in its profession, and credible appearance in another, this is as well contrary to Christian love, as hating him when you know him to be a true Christian. Censoriousness (not constrained by just evidence) is contrary to love, as well as hatred is.
There is a union and communion with Christians as such: this consisteth in having one God, one Head, one Spirit, one faith, one baptismal covenant, one rule of holy living, and in loving and praying for all, and doing good to as many as we can. This is a union and communion of mind, which we must hold with the [Christian] church through the world. And there is a bodily local union and communion, which consisteth in our joining in body, as well as mind, with particular congregations; and this, as we cannot hold it with all, nor with any congregation, but one at once; so we are not bound to hold it with any that will drive us from it, unless we will commit some sin: statedly we must hold it with the church which regularly we are joined to and live with; and occasionally we must hold it with all others, where we have a call and opportunity, who in the substance worship God according to His word, and force us not to sin in conformity to them. It is not schism to lament the sins of any church, or of all the churches in the world: the church on earth consists of sinners. It is not schism to refuse to be partaker in any sin of the purest church in the world: obedience to God is not schism. It is not schism that you join not bodily with those congregations where you dwell not, nor have any particular call to join with them; nor that you choose the purest and most edifying society, rather than ones less pure and profitable to you, supposing you are at liberty; nor that you hold not bodily communion with that church, that will not suffer you to do it, without sinning against God; nor that you join not with the purest churches, when you are called to abide with one less pure.
But it is worse than schism to separate from the universal church: to separate from its faith is apostasy to infidelity. To separate from it in some one or few essential articles, while you pretend to hold to Christ the Head, is heresy; to separate from it in Spirit, by refusing holiness, and not loving such as are truly holy, is damning ungodliness or wickedness; to differ from it by any error of judgment or life against the law of God is sin. To magnify any one church or party, so as to deny due love and communion to the rest, is schism. To limit all the church to your party, and deny all or any of the rest to be Christians, and parts of the universal church, is schism by a dangerous breach of charity; and this is the principal schism that I here admonish you to avoid. It is schism also to condemn unjustly any particular church, as no church; and it is schism to withdraw your bodily communion from a church that you were bound to hold that communion with, upon a false supposition that it is no church, or is not lawfully to be communicated with. And it is schism to make divisions or parties in a church, though you divide not from that church. Thus I have (briefly) told you what is schism.
1. One pretence for schism is (usurped) authority, which some one church may claim to command others that owe them no subjection. Thus pride, which is the spirit of hell, having crept into the church of Christ, and animated to usurpations of lordship and dominion, and contending for superiority, hath caused the most dangerious schisms in the church, that it was ever infested with. The bishop of Rome (advantaged by the seat and constitution of that empire) having claimed the government of all the Christian world, condemneth all the churches that will not be his subjects; and so hath made himself the head of a sect, and of the most pernicious schisms that ever did rend the church of Christ; and the bishop of Constantinople, and too many more, have followed the same method in a lower degree, exalting themselves above their brethren, and giving them laws, and then condemning and persecuting them that obey them not. And when they have imposed upon other churches their own usurped authority and laws, they have laid the plot to call all men schismatics and sectaries, that own not their tyrannical usurpation, and that will not be schismatics and sectaries with them: and the cheat lieth in this, that they confound the churches' unity with their pretended authority, and schism with the refusal of subjection to them. If you will not take them for your lords, they cry out that you divide from the church (as if we could hold communion with no churches but those whose bishops we obey). Communion with other churches is maintained by faith and charity, and agreement in things necessary, without subjection to them. As we may hold all just communion with the churches in Armenia, Arabia, Russia, without subjection to their bishops; so may we with any other church besides that of which we are members. Division or schism is contrary to unity and concord, and not to a usurped government: though disobedience to the pastors which God hath set over us is a sin, and dividing from them is a schism. Both the pope and all the lower usurpers should do well first to show their commission from God to be our rulers, before they call it schism to refuse their government. If they had not made better advantage of fire and sword, than of Scripture and argument, the world would but have laughed them to scorn, when they had heard them say, "All are schismatics that will not be our subjects: our dominion and will shall be necessary to the unity of the church." The universal church indeed is one, united under one head and governor: but it is only Jesus Christ who is that head, and not any usurping vicar or vice-christ. The bishops of particular churches are his officers; but he hath deputed no vicar to his own office, as the universal head. Above all sects, take heed of this pernicious sect, who pretend their usurped authority for their schism, and have no way to promote their sect, but by calling all sectaries that will not be sectaries and subjects unto them.
2. Another pretence for schism is the numbers of the party... [Schismatics] say, "We are the most, and therefore you should yield to us"; [at times], by the sword they force the most to submit to them. But we answer them, "As many as they are, they are too few to be the universal church." The universal church, containing all true, professing Christians, is much more than they... I will be against dividing the body of Christ into any sects, rather than to be one of that sect or dividing party, which [claims to be] the greatest.
3. Another pretence for schism is the soundness or orthodoxness of a party. Almost all sects pretend that they are wiser and of sounder judgment than all the Christian world besides: yea, those that most palpably contradict the Scriptures,... and have no better reason why they so believe or do, but because others have so believed and done already.
But, (1.) the greatest pretenders to orthodoxness are not the most orthodox: (2.) and if they were, I can value them for that in which they excel, without abating my due respect to the rest of the church. (3.) For the whole church is orthodox in all the essentials of Christianity, or else they were not Christians: and I must love all that are Christians with that special love that is due to the members of Christ, though I must superadd such esteem for those that are a little wiser or better than others, as they deserve.
4. The fourth pretence for schism, is the holiness of the party that men adhere to. But this must make but a gradual difference, in our esteem and love to some Christians above others: if really they are most holy, I must love them most, and labour to be as holy as they; but I must not therefore unjustly deny communion, or due respect, to other Christians that are less holy; nor cleave to them as a sect or divided party, whom I esteem most holy. For the holiest are most charitable, and most against the divisions among Christians, and tenderest of their unity and peace.
The sum of this direction is: 1. Highly value Christian love and unity. 2. Love those most that are most holy, and be most familiar with them, for your own edification: and if you have your choice, hold local personal communion with the soundest, purest, and best qualified church. 3. But entertain not hastily any odd opinion of a divided party; or, if you do hold it as an opinion, lay not greater weight on it than there is a cause. 4. Own the best as best, but none as a divided sect; and espouse not their dividing interest. 5. Confine not your special love to a party, especially for agreeing in some opinions with you, but extend it to all the members of Christ. 6. Deny not local communion, when there is occasion for it, to any church that hath the substance of true worship, and forceth you not to sin. 7. Love them as true Christians and churches, even when they thus drive you from their communion.
It is a most dangerous thing to a young convert, to be ensnared in a sect: it will, before you are aware, possess you with a feverish, sinful zeal for the opinions and interest of that sect; it will make you bold in bitter invectives and censures, against those that differ from them; it will corrupt your church communion, and fill your very prayers with partiality and human passions; it will secretly bring malice, under the name of zeal, into your minds and words: in a word, it is a secret but deadly enemy to Christian love and peace. Let them that are wiser, and more orthodox and godly, than others, show it as the Holy Ghost directeth them:
"Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (James 3:13-18).