The great Philip Schaff had this to say about the Nicene and Chalcedonian age: “With the purest zeal for truth were mingled much of the odium and rabies theologorum, and the whole host of theological passions; which are the deepest and most bitter of passions, because religion is concerned with eternal interests.”
He got that right. I’ve seen depictions of a bishop of the time grabbing a fellow bishop’s beard and pulling hard enough to disfigure him.
Similar stuff goes on today. Factionalism and a sectarian spirit are rampant, among Jews on the one hand, and among Christians on the other. I wonder who the real winner is in dogfights of this kind.
Last time I checked, Jeremiah 35, in theory at least, is a part of scripture. It’s not one of the canonical Haftarot of the synagogue, so the chapter is not among the best-known in Judaism. It will be read on October 13th of this year by those who follow the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary, but of course, not many Christians keep this discipline.
Jeremiah 35 tells how God blessed the Rechabites through Jeremiah. The Rechabites were a group who knew themselves to have a specific calling within the context of all Israel. Like particular groups of ultra-orthodox Jews, and Seventh-Day Adventists and Nazarenes or Carmelites and Salesians among Christians, they adhered to practices peculiar to themselves by which they served God. Their practices, it is safe to say, were not without theological correlates, though they are not described.
God puts the Rechabites to the test through Jeremiah. Jeremiah offers them wine from which they know to abstain. They refuse. God then contrasts the Rechabites’ faithfulness to the charge they received from their founder with the unfaithfulness of the rest of Israel to the charge they received from their God.
Finally, God says he will cause tremendous evil to fall upon Israel because of their failure to respond to the call for transformation Jeremiah has been making, but he will ensure the survival of the Rechabites and the peculiar calling to which they are faithful.
(1) A careful reading of scripture reveals a considerable amount of attested diversity in terms of theology and practice. Jeremiah 35 is one example among many. On what grounds, therefore, do Jews treat each other as dirt because of like differences today? On what grounds, therefore, do Orthodox Christians refuse to share Divine Communion together because they have different ways of making the sign of the cross? On what grounds do Calvinists anathematize Arminians and vice-versa? On what grounds does the Catholic magisterium continue to treat the churches of the Reformation with less respect than God showed the Rechabites according to Jeremiah 35?
(2) According to Jeremiah 35, God honors the Rechabites for adhering to mitzvot (commandments) that were not received by Moses on Mt. Sinai. Perhaps Jews among themselves, the Orthodox among themselves, Protestants among themselves, Western Christians among themselves, might take a cue from this. Honor first; debate second.