It's been a good while since there was any sort of major split in the church. For the past 120 years the spirit of ecumenism has been prevalent as churches merged, and merged churches united. But recently there have been several hot issues that are finally breathing some theological debate back into the lives of normal Christians. The most significant of these is probably the issue of homosexuality in church leadership.
This week we have read about the split of some Episcopalian churches in Virgina - aligning themselves with the bishop of Nigeria, rather than their local U.S. bishop. Some are large, old (400 years!) churches. It is somewhat ironic that folks whose ancestors held slaves are now choosing to align their faith with an African bishop. But when the Spirit moves, big changes can follow.
All the churches in North America are wrestling with this issue - and have been for decades. Recently it even came into the so-called evangelical churches through the much publicized resignation/firing of Ted 'Art' Haggard in Colorado. The Presbyterian churches the Methodist churches, all are dealing with ministers who marry/bless same-sex relationships contrary to church rules. Somehow, there always seems to be something happen to let the issue drop into oblivion and things continue. These churches are living as 'two churches within one' because of the division on this and similar issues.
What it really comes down to is hermeneutics - Biblical interpretation. There are two issues:
1) Many post-moderns don't accept the authority of the Bible in their lives and any arguments from Scripture are null and void. For these folks, personal experience is the only thing that matters.
2) For those who still allow the Bible some position of authority, the issue is then one of interpretation. Strict post-modernism allows the reader to create meaning in the text, disallowing the author any claim to the meaning of a text.
But why would someone write anything without having a particular meaning to be gleaned from it? If I write a love letter to Susan, I want her to feel my love for her through reading. If I write a letter of complaint to a company, I want them to address the problem, based on the content of my letter. If I send a birthday card to a friend, I want them to know they are special - through the card. Humans don't just scribble words on a page and allow anyone free reign over the meaning. Perhaps it is a cliche, but it is true that the Bible is God's love letter to us. It is also his letter of complaint, his rule book, his guilty verdict, his not-guilty verdict, his wish list, etc.
There is a shakeup of all the mainline churches in North America coming. And it may come sooner rather than later. Things will come to a head and decisions will have to be made by every congregation and every church member. Each Christian will have to decide how he or she will interpret the Bible, if at all.