Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
We are all of Christ, Paul reminded the Corinthians. If only it were that easy. We know from the epistles of John that even during the lifetime of the Beloved disciple there were those who denied his testimony and preferred their own version of who Jesus was; if men would not believe St John, then we can hardly be surprised that we remain carnal enough to dispute amongst ourselves.
This is hard, because I am sure those whom St John labelled ‘antichrists’ were as convinced of their own sincerity and the rightness of their view as was St John. Who was to decide such a matter?
We can see that for St John it was his own eye witness testimony, and for St Paul it was the ‘traditions’ that he had received and handed on. But that has never been enough. There have been in all times and in all places the ‘Diotrephes’ figures, who, as St John put it ‘loves to have the preeminence among them’ and refused to accept even Apostolic authority. The print revolution and the widespread reading of the Bible did not make the situation easier; a Christendom which was then already badly fractures, continued to do so ad infinitum as everyone could find a verse to say that they were inspired personally. But it was,if one reads the scholars, and St John himself, just that reliance on the personal possession of the Holy Spirit which fractured even St John’s own church. If all such did what St Paul did, which was to submit their testimony to the traditions handed on within the church, it would be easier to know what spirit it was which inspired them, for there are many spirits and not all of God.
But that begs the obvious question – which church?
The temptations to syncretism in this situation are obvious. We act as though what divides us is of no importance and find what unites us – Christ. But what Christ is this? St John gives s some guidance:
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.
On this the Apostle is most insistent:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that[a] Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
As the many posts here on the Trinity have shown, even the process of establishing who Jesus is, what the relationship between Him and the Father and Spirit is, has caused bitter divisions. So syncretism is not a viable road; how can one have true fellowship with those who claim that Jesus and the Father are the same person, and say that when Jesus says He who has seen the Father have seen him, shows this to be so, when earlier, we are told that Jesus was with the Father in the beginning? That is the problem with individual interpretation of Scripture; we make ourselves infallible.
Trinitarian Christians seem to me to fit the Johannine bill. We all believe what the early Church established at Nicaea. That means we actually agree on who Christ is, so we really ought, if we bury our pride and humble ourselves, be able to say if we really are of Christ, we should be able to find better ways of talking to other Trinitarians.
There has been much use of the word ‘heretic’ in the comboxes here recently. If anyone were able to show me where this has helped the cause of Trinitarianism, I would be most interested. My own readings suggest it fractured the Church at Ephesus, Chalcedon and in 1054, leaving the way open for the horrors of Europe during the Reformation. Perhaps someone was brought to belief in Jesus because of that – but I doubt it. If one examines the examples used by atheists to show how bad Christianity has been for the world, they include all this stuff and none of the many good things our faith has done and still does.
If we cannot learn, then we will continue to perpetuate a situation which must be a scandal to God. We are, He knows, poor enough witnesses, but we could try a bit harder – surely?