From a rent, clift, fissure; in its general acceptation it signifies division or separation; but is chiefly used in speaking of separations happening from diversity of opinions among people of the same religion and faith. All separations, however, must not, properly speaking, be considered as schisms.
Schism, says Mr. Arch. Hall, is, properly, a division among those who stand in one connection of fellowship: but where the difference is carried so far, that the parties concerned entirely break up all communion one with another, and go into distinct connections for obtaining the general ends of that religious fellowship which they once did, but now do not carry on and pursue with united endeavours, as one church joined in the bonds of individual society; where this is the case, it is undeniable there is something very different from schism: it is no longer a schism in, but a separation from, the body. Dr. Campbell supposes that the word schism in Scripture does not always signify open separation, but that men may be guilty of schism by such an alienation of affection from their brethren as violates the internal union subsisting in the hearts of Christians, though there be no error in doctrine, nor separation from communion. See 1 Cor. 3:3,4. 1 Cor. 12:24-26.
The great schism of the West is that which happened in the times of Clement VII. and Urban VI. which divided the church for forty or fifty years, and was at length ended by the election of Martin V. at the council of Constance.
The Romanists number thirty-four schisms in their church: they bestow the name English schism on the reformation of religion in this kingdom. Those of the church of England apply the term schism to the separation of the Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists, and Methodists.
“The sin of schism,” says the learned Blackstone, “as such, is by no means the object of temporal coercion and punishment.–If, through weakness of intellect, through misdirected piety, through perverseness and acerbity of temper, or through a prospect of secular advantage in herding with a party, men quarrel with the ecclesiatical establishment, the civil magistrate has nothing to do with it; unless their tenets and practice are such as threaten ruin or disturbance to the state. All persecution for diversity of opinions, however ridiculous and absurd they may be, is contrary to every principle of sound policy and civil freedom. The names and subordination of the clergy; the posture of devotion, the materials and colour of a minister’s garment, the joining in a known or unknown form of prayer, and other matters of the same kind, must be left to the option of every man’s private judgment.” The following have been proposed as remedies for schism. “1. Be disposed to support your brethren by all the friendly attentions in your power, speaking justly of their preaching and character. Never withhold these proofs of your brotherly love, unless they depart from the doctrines or spirit of the Gospel.–2. Discountenance the silly reports you may hear, to the injury of any of your brethren. Oppose backbiting and slander to the utmost.–3. whenever any brother is sinking in the esteem of his flock through their caprice, perverseness, or antinomianism, endeavour to hold up his hands and his heart in his work.–4. Never espouse the part of the factious schismatics, till you have heard your brother’s account of their conduct.– 5. In cases of an open separation, do not preach for separatists till it be evident that God is with them. Detest the thought of wounding a brother’s feelings through the contemptible influence of a party spirit; for through this abominable principle, schisms are sure to be multiplied.–6. Let the symptoms of disease in the patients, arouse the benevolent attention of the physicians. Let them check the froward, humble the proud, and warn the unruly; and many a schismatic distemper will receive timely cure.–7. Let elderly ministers and tutors of academics pay more attention to these things, in proportion as the disease may prevail; for much good may be accomplished by their influence.”
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.