First, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who contributed to yesterday’s discussion; it showed what this blog can be at its best – that is a genuinely ecumenical place where Christians of all varieties can, without insult or acrimony, discuss their experiences of the Faith and try to at least gain a level of mutual understanding. Naturally, large differences remain, and we’re hardly likely to solve the problems besetting Christendom for a millennium and a half here – but we can provide a template for how not to make the problems worse, as well as one showing how to discuss serious differences in a manner befitting those who claim the name of Christian. If one of the fruits of the Spirit is long-suffering, and another kindness, then yesterday’s discussion showed both; so thank you one and all.
The heart of the disagreement with Bosco (to whom special thanks are due) was expressed by Servus Fidelis here:
I don’t expect you to understand as your perspective does not seem to have any adherents among the Christians that have survived these 2000 years
By this, he meant Bosco’s references to being guided by the Spirit to know Christ and to know how to interpret his word and who was and was not a Christian. But perhaps we have, indeed, seen this sort of thing many times in Christian history. Is it not precisely what we see in St John’s letters?
St John had told his church that Jesus was the Word Incarnate, that Christ had come in the flesh. This was at the heart of the Christian message. Scholars tell us what we could deduce for ourselves, which is that John’s Church was what we might now call ‘charismatic’, and that it relied a great deal on the promptings of the Spirit. However, by the time John was writing his letters, a problem had arisen. Some of the brothers, inspired they said by the Spirit, denied that Jesus was the Christ come in the flesh. We can see this in John’s second epistle. Indeed, we see from the third epistle that a local elder, Diotrephes, was denying fellowship to John himself, and those who adhered to him. Here then was a man, brought to Christ by the Spirit through St John himself, who claimed that the Spirit taught him other than the word preached by St John. Who was right? John claimed he was Diotrephes claimed he was. How was this resolved? The short answer is that it wasn’t – the Johannine church went into schism. It is no wonder that Paul, Jude and Peter all warned, in their epistles, about the dangers of false teaching and dissent – as St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Galatians showed, even among the new saints, the works of the flesh – especially dissension – were to be found.
St Paul disclaimed any claim to novelty, saying that his teaching could be tested by reference to the oral and written traditions he had inherited, and this is the model adopted in the early church, as we can see from the writings of the early Fathers. No one denied – how could they? – that the Spirit inspired – but since there are many spirits in this world, some test was needed to see which spirit was inspiring the believer. This is the reason why Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans will quote from the ancient writings. We give our ancestors a vote, as the Orthodox put it. We do not suppose ourselves to be uniquely inspired, and we look to see what those who have lived and died in the faith before us have had to say. This does not preclude life in the Spirit, far from it, but it does provide some check on the tendency to tell even St John what Jesus really meant.
I should be most interested to know how our Evangelical brothers and sisters here deal with the question of how far their inspiration matches ‘the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.’