There are, gathered here on this blog, a wide variety of those who confess the name of Jesus as the name above all names; indeed, with our latest contributor, orthodoxgirl99, I think we now cover the whole Christian water-front, so to say. This is a joy, but can create problems. There at least one Catholic who used to comment here who who has refused to continue to do so because it has too ‘ecumenical’ a flavour. Our friend Bosco has written movingly of his own conversion experience, but, then rather spoils the effect by making insulting comments about ‘Cathols’; as a method of evangelisation, it leaves much to be desired. It may on may not be significant that the blog was founded by an Anglican, but that she, and the other two regular Anglican contributors have gone from here; my own view is that we have lost something by their absence.
But the very use of the words ‘Christian’ and ‘religion’ is anathema to some. Our long-time contributor and commentator, Bosco, seems to dislike both, asserting that all one needs to do it to knock on the door to be instantly saved. There is, it seems to me, some real spiritual danger in asserting this is the only way the Holy Spirit operates. In the first place, whilst the emotional intensity of that moment does last and deepen with some, there are those who, once the initial moment has passed, fall away. In the second place, it risks leaving those many Christians with whom the Spirit works in other ways, feeling as though they are somehow not ‘real’ followers of Jesus. Finally, it has a tendency to induce spiritual pride in some of the ‘saved’. To others it can, and often does, look as though the believer is saying they know they are saved and you aren’t. If there is a less helpful answer to the question ‘why isn’t God hearing me when I knock’ than ‘keep knocking’, I daresay someone knows it, but I am not sure anyone else wants to hear it.
How like the Corinthians we see in Paul’s first letter we are. Our various divisions (all historical) are stressed by us in contentious arguments – “I am of Cefas”, “I am of Luther”, “I am of the Spirit called” – and is this what Christ said? It was not Peter, nor Luther, nor ourself, whose blood redeems us all. Where there in envy, strife and division among us, we answer to Paul’s description of us as ‘carnal’ and as ‘acting like mere men’. There is no use a Catholic saying ‘you started it with your schism’, as I have heard Orthodox say the same thing. We all belong to Christ, who belongs to God. We are His servants, but do we act as though that were the case?
We know that the Spirit gives many gifts to the faithful, and it seems uncharitable and prideful to suppose that He does not appeal to each one of us according to those gifts. Perhaps those who are called to preaching and standing in harm’s way for the Gospel will respond better to the instantaneous call than those who are called to be teachers or stewards? Human diversity is one of the many gifts of God with which our selfish egos have a problem; but in diversity, Paul reminds the Corinthians, is unity in Christ.
This, surely, is why at this point in the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives vent to the great hymn of love, reminding them, and us, that whatever gift we have, nay, if we have all of them, and we lack love, then we are a ‘sounding brass or clanging cymbal’. Was anyone recognised as a follower of Jesus by their ability to beat down the other fellow in argument? Was anyone a good witness to the Crucified and Risen Lord by expressing his contempt for others? Faith and hope are splendid things, to have, but if we have not love for each other, what do we have? Some say that love for the brethren means only those who share your tradition, but it is hard to read the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan and extract that narrowness from them.
This seems to me a classic case of reading what we want into Scripture without taking its overall message of love into account. Paul is certainly not counselling the acceptance of immorality and sin among those who confessed Christ – quite the opposite, but as his comments about love and unity indicate, he was calling all who confess Christ’s name to renounce their carnality and to have unity in Christ. Our shared and divided histories make this hard for us, but it is our carnal natures which make it hardest, as it was for the Corinthians. If we truly put on the mind of Christ, and if we are truly mindful of Calvary and the empty tomb, then we do well to recall what Paul says about conduct which makes the weaker brethren stumble.
None of that is a call for some kind of syncretism. All the traditions of which I have been part have added hugely to my life as a Christian, and I should be much the poorer without what Anglicanism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism give me, and as one who has a much-loved son who is an Evangelical pastor, and another beloved son whose faith is of the same hue, I benefit greatly from that too. One advantage of having moved from one church to another is that it removes the fear and the misconceptions others have about them, without replacing those things with rose-tinted spectacles. If we are truly all of Christ, then we might bear in mind the words of St John which Jessica put on the masthead of this blog: ‘A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you … John 13:34’