In an age, long, long ago, before Christianity was legally recognised by the Roman Emperor, before there were church buildings and Christians met in homes and huddled outside after sundown on the Sunday when their work was finished; before dioceses existed with a bishop to oversee them, before there was a pope, before there was general acceptance of the Apostles Creed and what books were considered orthodox and complied into what we would now call, ‘The New Testament’; the fledgling early church relied on prophets, teachers, itinerant evangelists and the ‘memoirs of the apostles’ (the NT letters), which were read at their church services. A sense of orthodox ‘tradition’ guided local church leadership in their practice and doctrine (1 Cor 15:3; 2 Thess 2:15)
But it was a free for all religious world, with charismatic Christian leaders establishing their own churches. Often they broke away from a church which could trace its foundation to one of the apostles, or a second generation leader who had been instructed by that apostle (Heb 2:2-3). What was to be done when a group of Christians leaves an established church over a disagreement about who they believed Jesus Christ to be? How could a Christian identify a ‘true’ church from one which was heretical and had ‘dodgy’ practices and beliefs? Does it matter? Today, we face the same issue. What are we to believe? Is the church down the road part of the big ‘Church’ or just doing their own thing? Does the behaviour by people in any church tell us something about their beliefs? John believes it does. These issues are what the First Letter of John deals with.