Those of you still with us will be familiar with our friend Bosco. Bosco is representative of a certain type of Christian who has imbibed, perhaps from discontented Catholics, perhaps from the internet, and certainly from both, ideas about the Catholic Church which, when examined, make little sense, but which, in the internet age, will spread despite that. Part of the problem here is education. Relatively little is taught in Western countries about the early years of Christianity, and there are even those who still think that the Protestant Reformation marked the first split in the Church.
We know a great deal about the early Church. One of the things we know is that most of the early preaching of the Gospel was by mouth. We know that from early on, Paul’s letters were kept and collections of them circulated; much the same happened with the Gospels. But no one in the early Church behaved like modern Protestants and declared that everything that was needful for salvation was to be found in the Bible. They could not have done so because there was no Bible. So, those Protestants who proceed this way are not, despite their claims to be doing so, behaving like early Christians.
There is a group is the early Church who did, indeed, declare personal inspiration by the Spirit, declaring that taught them all they needed to know. We can find these people in St John’s epistles – they were heretics like Diotephes, who refused to accept even the teachings of St John himself, because, they claimed, they had direct access to the Spirit. The problem was that whatever this Spirit was, it did not teach them as the Apostles had taught. We see the same problem in Paul’s epistles, and in those of Peter and Jude. It was for this reason that Apostolic testimony was so important in the early Church. There was nothing to stop a man declaring that the Spirit was in him and taught him that Jesus was not God, just a man, a good man, but not God. There was no arguing, as there is no arguing, with someone whose only argument is that he knows something because the Spirit in him told him.
The problem is that not all the Spirits in this world are of God; many are of the father of lies, who delights to use human arrogance to his own ends, even as he did with our first parents.
There is only one check on this assault from Satan, and that is the one St John and the Apostles and the early Church used; does what this Spirit is saying line up with what Jesus taught? Who is qualified to say? Well, Jesus founded a Church, and it is qualified to say. We might argue where this Church is: Orthodox would say it is with them, Catholics would say it is with them; but both proceed as the Apostles and the early Church did – that is they test what is taught against what has been taught from the beginning.
This test is one which some Protestants also apply. It is one which it is wise to apply. We are not so wise in our generation that we can ignore the wisdom of our ancestors. It is a peculiar, modern, and I fear rather American, habit to assume we are.