The intolerance to which I refer is the perceived Christian intolerance which has been unabated from various quarters from Christianity’s inception. The charge, with its fear, raises its voice from time to time to claim Apostolic Christianity is overly “narrow.” This is an unfounded fear or perhaps one is really outside the bounds. Then the person who is charging intolerance is the one who is intolerant of True belief. We should carefully examine ourselves to see if we are in line with The Faith. This examination should not just occur before taking the Lord’s Supper. In another post I will write about this self-examination issue further and what The Lord’s Supper is speaking about regarding this issue. Stay tuned, most Christian Communities have very fuzzy ideas as to the purpose and observance of this ordinance. Here is Larry Hurtado’s post which deals with the biblical issues succinctly expositing exactly what John the Apostle says:
In the discussion following the first of his Croall Lectures in New College yesterday, Professor Werner Jeanrond referred to the “Johannine Community” as a group in which he wouldn’t feel comfortable, perceiving it to have been a rather narrow and intolerant group. It was an off-hand remark during the question period, not at all a focus of his lecture. And he didn’t expand on it or illustrate what he meant. But it did set me wondering about the matter.
Now, to be sure, the NT writings typically linked to a “Johannine community” of early Christians (Gospel of John and Epistles of John) certainly reflect an exclusivist stance. In all of these texts, Jesus is the singular and ultimate expression of God’s purposes, and anyone who denies Jesus’ significance is referred to as benighted. That is, these writings (along with the other NT writings and a good many more early Christian texts) make allegiance to Jesus requisite for a right relationship with God. In short, these texts espouse a rather straightforwardly Christian faith-stance in very particularist terms.
But I had the feeling that Jeanrond was asserting some more narrow stance or attitude, perhaps a kind of sectarian intolerance for any Christian diversity. Whatever he may have meant, I’ll note some texts that suggest to me a somewhat more positive view of those reflected in these writings.
The writing known as “1 John” is probably the clearest evidence of a specific group of early Christians that might comprise “Johannine Christianity.” 1 John reflects some kind of schism in this group, and this seems to have been the occasion for the author to have composed this writing. It bears noting, however, that this schism was apparently produced by certain members of the group leaving those addressed in this writing. Those now outside the group weren’t expelled, but abandoned the group: “They went out from us” (2:19). So, if there was any narrowness, or sectarian action, it appears more to have characterized these secessionists, not the circle addressed in 1 John.
To be sure, the author characterizes these secessionists in pretty strong terms. He effectively accuses them of being “antichrists” (2:18), because (as the authors sees the matter) they deny that “Jesus is the Christ” (2:22), and so “deny the Son,” thereby also denying “the Father” (2:22-23). They appear to advocate some teachings that the author regards as unacceptably revisionist. They claim special insight for their views, and may have chosen to secede from the “Johannine” circle when their claims and new teachings were not accepted.
The author also characterizes their succession as their abandonment of the necessary love for fellow believers, which seems to be reflected in the repeated emphasis on fraternal love as a requisite expression of authentic faith (e.g., 3:10-18; 4:7-12). So, these secessionists are portrayed as false prophets (4:1-6), who would “deceive” other believers (their teachings portrayed as some sort of major revisionist view of Jesus in particular that departed from the tradition advocated by the author), and also as failing to exhibit the fraternal love that is to be expected of believers.
These secessionists may have seen themselves as having a superior insight or version of beliefs, and may have found the apparent reluctance of other believers to accede to their claims as a just basis for breaking fellowship with them. But the observation I reiterate is that they weren’t apparently expelled; they walked away on their own. They apparently considered the differences with the other believers important enough to separate themselves. If so, it is they who were acting in a narrow and sectarian manner, not the circle to whom 1 John was addressed.
Granted, the little writing known as 2 John warns recipients (“the elect lady and her children” v. 1) about “deceivers” accused of denying that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (v. 7), urging that they should not be entertained and given a platform to spread their teaching (vv. 10-11). Some may see this as narrow-minded, but others may see it simply as a concern to guard the religious integrity of the group from those with seriously dissonant aims.
Obviously, the characterization of “Johannine Christianity” would require much more than this blog posting. The “Johannine” writings surely reflect strong efforts at religious-group “boundary maintenance,” and they express affirmations of what is presented as the tradition of the group(s) addressed. But perhaps, just perhaps, Johannine Christianity wasn’t quite as narrow and uncomfortable as Professor Jeanrond seemed to fear.