A scalpel, a word, a schism

Vivisection: to cut apart a living thing.

One night, in the midst of the CRC’s Synod, I awoke with a word in my head. Vivisection. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this early morning revelation. Some folks dream lucidly, others sweat through nightmares. Me? Apparently I receive ten-dollar words.

It might be just the peculiarity of my own gray matter arrangement, though I’m leaving open the possibility that it also might be (literally) a word from the Lord, who, I suspect, has become quite annoyed at the way his people keep carving up his body.

Vivisection means to cut apart a living thing. It would seem the word has met the moment. Like most folks who are paying attention to Synodical deliberations about human sexuality, I don’t know what the months and years to come will bring. That said, it wouldn’t be foolish to place a bet in favour of a schism.

I wish it were not so. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Yet I’ve heard some folks make an attempt to spin an impending schism as something positive. They tell me a loving separation is possible, and the two sides can wish each other well, and then go about their separate business. Others say they don’t have the wherewithal for another extended quarrel, and so, in an effort to avoid further pain, argue that we should make the break now.

How can we sanctify schisms?

If only it were so simple. For one, “two sides” assumes a tidy binary that just isn’t there. Even in my own reflection on the complexities of human sexuality, I feel pulled in many directions at once, finding rest in one conclusion one day, and in another the next. So many others feel the same. And of course, a hastier move toward a schism might initially seem better in a pulling-a-bandaid-off kind of way, yet the pain still creates fissures through families and friendships, and will trickle down through the generations, too.

It is understandable, though, that we might think this way in an effort to sanctify our schismatic tendencies, as a way to paint over the shame and guilt we might feel about standing on this precipice yet again. Generally, I’m loathe to recommend wading around in shame and guilt, but on this score, I don’t think we feel them as intensely as we should.

The dictionary tells me that the noun form of my early morning word is vivisectionist. I didn’t know that until now, but I’m grateful to receive it, too, as now I have another name for our tribe. It’s who we are, isn’t it? The history of our little communion in the broader church catholic is lousy with schism after schism after schism. It seems every forty or sixty years we decide that we just can’t live with each other any longer, and that it’s time to cut this body into ever smaller parcels. Somehow we think this shows how deep and serious is our love for God and his word.

And so we stand here again, holding the scalpel over this living body. How conventional. How callous. How pitiable.


  • Brian Bork

    Brian Is CC’s Review Editor and a CRC chaplain at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.

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  1. Hi Brian,

    Seeing that you are CRC, it may be safe to assume that you are not RCA, PCUSA, UCC, or other. With that in mind, does that make you a schismatic, because you do not belong to those associations?

    Have you not already made choices not to associate in certain ways? And have not the people of those associations made the choice not to be associated with (in) the CRC?

    So, if you leave the CRC, perhaps because you have departed from historic (and current) CRC beliefs to join one of those associations, does that make you more or less schismatic, or just making a different choice for association more in line with how you actually believe? (I am not assuming your position, but merely painting a potential scenario.)

    Schism in the purest form of the term need not even mean an organizational separation, but can more basically refer to any division, rupture, or alienation within the body of Christ. To that extent, I would hope that you and the rest of the writers at CC could manage a few words of lament and rebuke for the minority in the CRC causing division, rupture, and alienation by defying church teaching and refusing to honor and submit to the judgment and authority of the church (as the office bearers and members of the CRC pledge to do, in one form or another).

    Instead of that, CC has almost exclusively impugned and maligned Synod 2022 and lent aid and comfort to the schismatics within the CRC. Yes, let’s mourn schism. But let’s not confuse the issue of who is causing schism here, and along the way perhaps CC could do some soul searching on how they are fomenting schism.

  2. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”
    Would you say that Martin Luther was schismatic when he uttered these words in refusing to submit to church authority?

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