Sunday, May 30, 2004

Church Politics...

I was very struck of late to read the Third Epistle of St. John.

It's only 15 verses long, but it says a huge amount about human nature. We, perhaps, are sometimes capitvated by the picture of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles - we imagine the community of believers living together in harmony, converts streaming to join them and the apostles working wonders through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sure, there are disagreements and St. Paul encounters more than his fair share of troubles, but it's hard not to draw unflattering comparisions with the Church of today.

St. John's Third Epistle should provide a corrective to this nostalgia. The Elder sends greetings to Gaius and bemoans the fact that he is unable to communicate directly to the local church due to the obstinacy and disobedience of Diotrephes, presumably a local Bishop or pastor. Diotrephes even refuses to provide hospitality to the elder's brethern and even tries to eject those who would provide such hospitality. So grave is the situation that the elder will not commit all his thoughts to paper!
Divisions, infighting, disobedience and a lack of charity - I'm sure that it's easy to identify these fruits of original sin in so many organizations today, and its a particular scandal to find them within the church.

It is customary to attribute the epistle to St. John the Evangelist, thus dating it within the first century AD. Modern scholarship suggests that it may instead be the work of one of his immediate sucessors of the 'Johannine School,' but still put a relatively early date on it, i.e. c.100AD. Somehow it seems easier to accept the latter - the idea of the Beloved Disciple being so shabbily treated by one of his daugher churches is most distasteful. Whatever the case, I am reminded of a priest who once commented that the church was only ever united for the 15 minutes after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Of course we shouldn't be downcast or (worse) fatalistic - whatever the shortcomings of Christ's somewhat motley flock on earth, today we remember that guided by His Spirit, nourished by His Word and sustained by His Sacraments the Church herself will be what she most fittingly is, His spotless bride.

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