It is often said, “Better heresy than schism.” The point is that, while heresy is always a mis-stating, mis-understanding, mis-representing of orthodox (in our case, Christian) teaching, it has always been present — to one degree or another — within the Church. However, since the Church is “indefectible” (meaning that God will preserve it ultimately from error, even if not at any given point in time — which would be “infallibility”) it is better to remain within the fellowship, standing for the truth, than to fracture Christ’s Body once again, making it all the more difficult to discern the truth together and to eventually get on with the mission Christ has given to the Church.
I have some sympathy with this position. While I do believe that the contributions of the Continental Reformers and the theological components of the English Reformation itself were a necessary correction to certain developments in medieval Catholicism, I continue to wonder if it would have been possible to bear patient, heroic, even sacrificial witness to those same truths within the context of the one (Western) Church. Politically, sociologically, it was probably impossible but, theologically, ideally, would it not have been preferable to the continual splintering of Christ’s Body which has been going on ever since?
Certainly, in the microcosm of The Episcopal Church today, I have great respect for the so-called “Windsor bishops” (Canterbury hates that self-designation and prefers “Camp Allen bishops”!) and others who absolutely refuse to compromise their theological convictions, are committed to remain “Windsor compliant” (meaning that they will live by the requests of the Windsor Report) and who yet remain loyal and supportive members of The Episcopal Church.
For surely, while there is much within The Episcopal Church with which they disagree — the ordination of gay and lesbian persons, the blessing of their committed unions, even overseas “interventions” into US dioceses — there must also be much with which they agree — the preaching in congregations all across this land of the Gospel of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ, the celebration of the Sacraments, the corporal acts of mercy, Episcopal Relief and Development, the United Thank Offering, monastic communities, even the Millenium Development Goals (as long as they are seen as examples of, and not identical with, Christian mission). And many, many more things.
No one — primate, bishop, priest, deacon, or committee — can force a conservative Episcopalian to compromise any of his or her deeply held theological positions. (Sadly, I’m not sure the reverse is true.) But conservative Episcopalians can remain within this Church, bear patient, heroic, and sacrificial witness to the truth as they understand it (as “progressive” Episcopalians have done in decades past) and trust God to “sort this out” over time.
I frankly do not believe that our disagreements today even rise to the level of “heresy.” We are not talking about creedal orthodoxy here but about matters of doctrine and discipline which are nonetheless important. But, even if we were talking about heresy, I’m not sure that schism is any better.