Reasons for the Peace Testimony

About a decade ago, I was curious about the reasons for the peace testimony and whether they had changed over time, and so I read a number of statements from different yearly meetings and other corporate bodies of Friends that had been written over the centuries. The list of excerpted reasons follows below.

This exercise came to mind when I read a Friend’s blog post titled “Why I am not a Progressive Quaker .” I shared this Friend’s dislike of “hyper-individualism which has led to the fragmentation of the Quaker tradition.” Having done this exercise, however, of listing different reasons for the peace testimony that had been given throughout Friends history, I placed the beginning of the problem of  loss of corporate unity further back in time than the heyday of Progressivism. Many of these excerpts from Friends corporate bodies–although still exhibiting group solidarity–put their reason for valuing peace elsewhere than a heeding of transcendent authority, that is to say, elsewhere than obedience to the living teacher of righteousness, Christ, which is the sine qua non of the original Quaker faith. This shift away from a hearing/obeying relationship with the Prince of Peace occurs long before the advent of individualism but, I think, led to it.

Tracking the motivation behind the peace witness, I saw that the loss of the transcendent basis of the faith could go unnoticed because, as many of these excerpts show, the secondary values of the faith tradition were still held, such as regard for Scripture, devotion to the historical Jesus as a model or example, or respect for Friends heritage. These secondary values motivated Friends to adhere to a peace witness; the original faith is given tribute but not manifested.

With the tradition’s loss of its transcendent reference, the move away from group solidarity into individualism would’ve been a natural sequence. After all, individual experience is real for everybody; thus–so the reasoning might go–everyone could be expected to agree to it as the ultimate authority.

Few of the excerpts below present the original basis of the peace witness that is evidenced in George Fox’s initial statement, which shows an immediate knowledge of the virtuous power lifting him out of the temptation to engage in war and strife. By contrast, many of the subsequent statements identify principles from Scriptures as the basis for rejecting war. Other excerpts show a peace witness based upon following Jesus’s commands as given in Scriptures, or following his example. For some, witness results from identification with  Friends of the past who were people of peace. Some find their witness validated by idealism, some pragmatic consideration, and some by sentiment.

I once asked an old Quaker minister whose life work had been the study of first- generation Friends when our Society had begun its spiritual decline. “Was it in the ’60s when so many peace activists came in; or earlier, in the nineteenth century with the Great Separation, or was it some other time?” I asked. Without missing a beat, he replied, “1691.”

Some Friends will know that 1691 was the year that Fox died. Now, we don’t have to harness our spiritual hopes to one dynamo of a human being, and Fox would be the first to say so. But we do need to find the spirit that enlivened Fox and gave rise to the Quaker movement and tradition.

 

Reasons for Peace Testimony, chronologically listed

1651 George Fox statement

  • I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars…I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.

1660 Peace Declaration

  • ‘He that taketh the sword shall perish with the sword.’
  • Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, therefore do not his servants fight, as he told Pilate…
  • The spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons…
  • Because the kingdom of Christ God will exalt, according to the promise, and cause it to grow and flourish in righteousness.
  • By the Word of God’s power and its effectual operation in the hearts of men, the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord…
  • Since we owned the truth of God; neither shall we ever do it, because it is contrary to the spirit of Christ, his doctrine, and the practice of his apostles…
  • [The] Lamb hath redeemed us from the unrighteous world, and we are not of it, but are heirs of a world in which there is no end and of a kingdom where no corruptible thing enters.

Barclay

  •  Whoever can reconcile this, “Resist not evil,” with “Resist violence by force”…may be supposed also to have found a way to reconcile God with the Devil etc…. it is impossible.

Letter from London YM 1744

  •  We entreat all…to be faithful to that ancient testimony, borne by us ever since we were a people…
  • We may demonstrate ourselves to be real followers of the Messiah…

Issued by (?) YM 1804,1805 (Napoleonic Wars)

  •  transcendent excellency of peace
  • Some people then must begin to fulfil the evangelical promise, and cease to learn war any more.
  • While any of us are professing to scruple war, they may be…inconsistent with that [Gospel] profession!
  • We can serve our country…nor more acceptably to him [God]…than by contributing …to increase the number of meek, humble, and self-denying Christians.

Epistle Issued by (?) YM 1854 (Crimean War)

  •  War is incompatible with the plain precepts of our Divine Lord and Lawgiver, and with the whole spirit and tenor of His Gospel…
  • [It is]the paramount allegiance which they owe unto Him who hath said “Love your enemies.”
  • His peace…will be won by those who follow him in repentance and willingness to forgive.

Richmond Declaration of Faith 1887

  • All war is utterly incompatible with the plain precepts of our divine Lord and Law-giver, and the whole spirit of His Gospel.
  • [It is] the allegiance they owe to Him who hath said, “Love your enemies”
  • Exigencies of civil government and social order may be met under the banner of the Prince of Peace, in strict conformity with His commands

Statement by New Zealand YM 1987

  •  No end could ever justify such means.
  • Everyone needs [vision of peace] to survive and flourish on a healthy, abundant earth.
  • There is that of God in every one which makes each person too precious to damage or destroy.
  • While someone lives there is always the hope of reaching that of God within.
  • We would rather suffer and die than inflict evil in order to save ourselves and what we hold dear.
  • The insane stockpiling of nuclear weapons could…destroy everyone and everything we value.
  • What we advocate is not uniquely Quaker but human and, we believe, the will of God.
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Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox: Introduction to “Restoring the Church of the Cross” (Eighth lecture)

The fellowship of the cross of Christ…is not of man, nor by man; for it is in the everlasting power of God; therefore, no longer do you keep in fellowship, but as you keep in the cross of Christ (Works, 8:67).

“Restoring the Church of the Cross” is the title of the eighth lecture in the series Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox given by Lewis Benson in 1982 at Moorestown (N.J.) Meeting. In this lecture, Benson explores the meaning and relevance of these theological terms: the cross of Christ; the Church, as fellowship of the cross; the righteousness that is given through Christ, and defines the community; and the consequent suffering entailed in bearing witness to the Truth in a world devoid of understanding.

People gather and come together for many different reasons, but the Church, as George Fox averred, was a coming together and fellowship of people who knew—understood through experience—the cross of Christ, and kept to it. Since the days of the apostles, the knowledge of the cross as the defining characteristic of the faith community had been lost, said Fox. This loss was called “the apostasy.”

Here began the apostasy…when they…apostatized from the true cross, the power of God, and from the true church (4:171). 

It was Fox’s mission to bring people out of the apostasy, to gather a people to Christ by the power of the gospel. Benson writes:

[Fox’s] gospel message that “Christ has come to teach his people himself” is a call to people to become disciples of Christ, to be taught the principles of God’s righteousness by him, and to come into a fellowship that learns together, obeys together, and suffers together.

First Friends had discovered the one thing needful: the living purveyor of righteousness. Without the coming of Christ to teach his people his righteousness, no valid claim to righteousness could be–or can be–made: neither the Old Testament law in the apostles’ days; nor the Bible’s prescriptions in the seventeenth century; nor the testimonies and self-edification of our own times. Christ, the Lord of righteousness, “is not of man nor by man.” Nor is the fellowship of Christ determined by man’s rubrics.

He that is in Christ, is at the end of the law, and the precepts, and the statutes, and the ordinances, and the commandments, and is in the substance, God’s righteousness (3:270).

Suffering for bearing witness to the Truth that comes from God and Christ is a well-known part of Quaker history, and Benson spends much of the latter part of this lecture discussing what precipitates suffering and how suffering for righteousness of Christ is distinct from other kinds of suffering. He writes:

Thus Fox is teaching that suffering, in the Christian sense, is for the sake of bearing a faithful testimony to the Truth that comes from God and Christ, and especially for the righteousness that comes from God and Christ.

Ample supporting quotations in this and other lectures of this series may mislead readers into thinking that Benson’s work is primarily a scholarly endeavor. Although he does present modern Friends with information and analysis of our Society’s beginning, his intent is not confined to presenting his scholarship. Benson had undergone the inward dying to self that results from a keen drive to have something solid on which to stand as one assumes inward maturity, as well as gazes out and navigates life with all its pitfalls. Benson, as many others, had discovered the life that Fox, too, had discovered. For both men, the purpose and direction of the remainder of their lives was set: to communicate and to challenge lost and fearful humanity, floundering in apostasy, to once again come to the great discovery: Christ in whom there is “no shadow, variableness, nor turning” (7:295).

 

This lecture can be found at the New Foundation Fellowship website at nffquaker.org, under the Resource tab under the listing of Lewis Benson’s writings: eighth lecture.

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The Inward Eclipse

This past Monday, the 21st, was the day of the solar eclipse, and verses from Mark came to mind:

But in those days, after that distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light; the stars will come falling from the sky, the celestial powers will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and he will send out the angels and gather his chosen from the four winds, from the farthest bounds of earth to the farthest bounds of heaven (13: 24-27).

The words are from Jesus to his disciples. Prompted by their admiration of impressive temple (and temporal) buildings, Jesus informs them that “Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (2). The theme throughout this discourse in Mark 13 is great destruction precedes the coming of the Lord, and Jesus drives the idea home with metaphor after metaphor.

Of course, as always, Jesus is talking about the inward condition/nature of human beings, not about the outward condition of nature.

What is it that must be eclipsed within? What inward light of nature must be witnessed as dark futility, as death, before the new creation, the Son of Man, comes and replaces that old creation of human nature?

I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

–          from “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot

The truth of our limitations is “hard and bitter agony for us” mortals, but choosing it over self-delusion leads to eternal life. It is the way, and when allowed daily to prevail, it will diminish us until the light of our nature – our hope and trust in our natural powers – is all but gone: “the celestial powers…shaken.” It is not the end, but only the end of the alienated condition: our nature eclipsed by the coming of the Son of Man. “And what I say unto you, I say unto all. Watch” (37).

Watch the light of nature undergo the eclipse…within.

 

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Preparation for Ministry

I have only been able to think of the New Foundation Fellowship as a group of people banded together to help and strengthen one another in the work; and I have only been able to think of the work as proclaiming the everlasting gospel preached by the apostles and George Fox.…The people who are traveling and speaking really need help. Team work is the name of the game. And so, ideally, the NFF is, or ought to be, a fellowship of people doing different kinds of work…all related to one steadying central purpose—to proclaim the everlasting gospel to the inhabitants of the earth and to build on the gospel foundation and to find fellowship in the work….But if New Foundation becomes something that draws attention to itself and invites speculation regarding a variety of possible future purposes and functions, then it will be time to remind ourselves that some very important work was done before the name New Foundation began to be used….There is much work to be done (Benson, A Personal Statement, 5/15/86).

In this paragraph, Lewis Benson identifies the purpose of New Foundation work to be the preaching of the gospel to as many new people as we can reach. Lewis was aware that New Foundation could become a religious organization with numerous purposes and activities, for example, teaching Friends history or theology, printing, publicizing and selling historical writings, or turning inward to endlessly examine and set standards for a proper spiritual stance. He was concerned that traveling to minister the gospel, which he saw as the principle and foremost function of New Foundation, could become a sideline, one of many worthwhile activities. Like Martha, New Foundation could become “careful and troubled about many things” and lose “the one thing needful.” According to Lewis, the one thing needful is to preach the Everlasting Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth; this is the work, whether or not the name New Foundation is associated with it.

Not all of us will be given this particular work to do, but that does not mean any can be excused from acknowledging and committing to this central purpose: to see the gospel preached. Though you may not be traveling to minister yourself, you still have an important role to play. As Lewis points out, this is team work.  So, this evening, in addition to describing preparation for ministry, I will also look at preparation for those not called to prophetic ministry, who yet can contribute to the transforming work of the gospel.

Before one prepares to minister, one must first discern whether or not one is called by God to do this particular work. It is not words, concepts, or doctrines that God calls a person to minister. The substance of gospel ministry is the eternal, creative power of the living, personal God. Words arise to lend form to and to purvey the power of God that is received and felt within. In and of themselves, words and concepts cannot conjure this power, nor can they describe it, if the power is not first inwardly felt. This power of God is the source, the beginning point of ministry and is identified by Fox as Christ. “I said if the power of God…spoke in man or woman it was Christ” (Journal, 96), and again, “who feels the power of Christ, feels Christ, for he is the power of God” (Works, 7:175).

The source of ministry is Christ, the power of God. The fruit or end purpose of true ministry is to bring people into liberty and freedom, into unity and fellowship in the Spirit. If, when hearing the gospel preached, people feel the Seed stirring in their hearts and then follow the implications of that quickening movement, their lives are radically transformed. In the following statement, Fox compares the effects of this enlivening ministry arising from the power of God to the effects of lifeless ministry that originates in man’s self-will:

For the ministry of Christ Jesus and his teaching bringeth into liberty and freedom; but the ministry that is of man and by man, and which stands in the will of man, bringeth into bondage, and under the shadow of death and darkness. And therefore none can be a minister of Christ Jesus but in the eternal Spirit, which was before the Scriptures were given forth; for if they have not his spirit, they are none of his. Though they may have his light to condemn them that hate it, yet they can never bring any into unity and fellowship in the Spirit, except they be in it (Journal, 17).

It is important to discern whether or not one is called to minister the gospel, for ministry that is of man and by man does not liberate man. It misleads people, or at the very least causes them to prejudge all ministry as useless or destructive.

Thus, the source of true ministry is the power of God, and the fruit of that ministry is the liberation of the captive human spirit. Between the source and the act stands the minister who loves the Light and cultivates the gift of spiritual discernment by faithfully assuming the daily cross. As the minister loves the Light, he will distinguish words that follow and adhere to the Spirit of God known within from those ideas that are of his own making; he will see the difference between the wheat and the chaff. Comparing words that are inspired with those that are self-willed, the minister begins to sense that speaking from one’s own will is clumsy and seldom accurate. Such words feel continuously disengaged from meaning and detached from authenticity. The minister never feels “whole and at ease in that condition” but in misery. He desires to live but cannot live authentically and so waits lifeless and blank, knowing it is only the giver of life who can make “a fruitful field out of the barren wilderness” of one’s soul.

We all have heard that Christ’s followers are an humble lot, and some would see humility as an aim to which one constantly and diligently aspires. Because the minister has sensed the clumsy inaccuracies of speaking from his own will, he knows humility intimately; he feels a continual absence of life in self-willed speech. Without sensing the standard of truth, the true foundation within, the minister feels confused, empty, and awkward.

The minister does not need to aspire to be humble; it is a constant condition that is obscured only by the flimsiest attempts at social convention, the ways of the world. He knows minute by minute his alienation from God and his naked spiritual state. Jesus’s statement is constantly before him: for without me ye can do nothing (Jn. 15:5b). The minister knows fear, that he can say nothing truly living, fully cogent, or significant in his own power, and consequently feels almost at every moment the discomfort of being in a world that values self-confidence and self-assertion, even at the price of self-delusion.

Ministers hold to the awareness of their own ineptitude, first because it’s true, and second because they have come to know the promise fulfilled in them, that the real life and power does come from God. This daily cross, this mortification, is a necessary preamble to knowing God’s power and glory, just as Christ’s death and entombment preceded his resurrection to power and glory. Ministers die to themselves and wait to be resurrected to life in Christ. They seek God with their whole mind, heart, soul, and strength because they experience life and sustenance solely in Christ. For those who would say, “Come on now, life doesn’t have to be that hard,” the response is as Jesus said to Peter, “you savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Mt.16:23).

…said the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word (Isa. 66:2).

Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said to me, Say not, I am a child: for you shall go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.  Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.  See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant (Jer. 1:6-10).

Thus, to prepare to receive God’s Word is to love truth to such an extent that one cannot help but see one’s own poverty of spirit. This passage from Jeremiah shows the utter leveling of the minister’s ego; he knows he has nothing to say, that he is a child. Because the minister has discerned and accepted this, he, as an empty vehicle, is prepared to carry the Word of the Lord, for he is one who reveres His words.

The leveling that has already taken place in the minister’s heart must likewise occur outwardly in the world. The minister works to level the nations and the kingdoms, “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down.”  Then the building and the planting of the Lord can take place in the world, just as it has already taken place in the leveled ground of the minister’s heart. In chapter 13 of Mark, while the disciples admire the temple, Jesus tells them that all the fine buildings will be thrown down. He elaborates on the disorientation involving even the shaking of celestial powers, all of which precedes the coming of the Son of Man.

Because the minister points out the faulty foundation, because he pulls down and uproots what is meant for destruction, the minister is resented or feared. The minister, in all charity, is obligated to bring to light the carefully crafted delusions by which people are living. The sound of the voice, the Word, causes terror in those who fear for their worldly lives.

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid (Mt. 17:5b-6).

The people of God are resented by their worldly brothers, as Abel was resented and attacked by envious Cain. Today, ministers aren’t usually hanged, stoned, beaten, or incarcerated, but the violent emotions which provoked such behavior are as virulent today as they ever were, and the minister must remember the cause behind the emotional abuse he will endure. Because he disrupts comfortable delusions, he will be accused of being uncaring or negative. Because he claims that there is such a thing as Truth and that human beings can know and speak from it, he will be called arrogant or elite. Should his or any family member’s real or imagined behavior not stand up to social scrutiny, he will be discredited within the social group. Whatever has the potential for neutralizing the effect of the minister’s work will be used against him, because the minister strikes at the constructions which keep people from feeling their real poverty and nakedness, feeling their real need for God.

For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13).

It is the unwelcome work of the minister to see and say when life – symbolized by water in this passage – is poured away and wasted in that which is man-made and faulty, the hewn and cracked cisterns.

In the book of Revelation, an angel gives the evangelist a little book and tells him to eat it up; it will make his belly bitter, but it shall be in his mouth sweet as honey. After John has done as the angel commanded and found it to be just as he predicted – sweet as honey in his mouth and in his belly bitter – the angel then says to him: Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings (Rev. 10:9-11). One can expect unpleasant responses to one’s ministry; one can expect a bitter belly after the sweetness of ministering. And one must prophesy before many people, just as the angel in Revelation says, just as Lewis points out in the paragraph quoted at the beginning of this essay.

Benson defined the New Foundation Fellowship as “a fellowship of people doing different kinds of work that is all related to one steadying central purpose – to proclaim the everlasting gospel to the inhabitants of the earth and to build on the gospel foundation and to find fellowship in the work.” The work of the minister is to proclaim the gospel that people may experience the new and living way. Those with elders’ gifts can then build upon the gospel foundation by nurturing and encouraging the community in faith. Clerks, teachers, and administrators, the leaders of the community, are in a pivotal position between the minister and the community. Without the assistance of these leaders, the gospel proclamation will not move through and leaven the social group. Too often people gifted with leadership ability are more devoted to self-serving ends than to the gospel. Jesus’s harshest criticism is for these chiefs, leaders, and managers of the vineyard:

A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winevat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be our’s. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. And have you not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? (Mk. 12:1-12)

When the managers choose to work against the messengers, God puts the managers to death and gives the vineyard to others. When the elders choose to work against the ministers, the elders are already spiritually dead, and should they persist in idolizing power, they will remain so.

Though it is often the case, ministers and elders are not always at loggerheads. When a love for and commitment to the gospel is present in both elder and minister, they experience gospel fellowship, the third and final element mentioned by Lewis in describing what New Foundation ought to be. Gospel fellowship is not the same as a confluence of personal agendas. It is instead the love Jesus first received from the Father and then commanded his disciples to know and to have for one another. We, too, must first receive this same love from God. When this authentic love is received and manifested among disciples of Christ, it does appeal powerfully to people and draws them toward the Kingdom.

Preaching the gospel, supporting the work of the minister, building upon the gospel foundation,  all these different kinds of work first require an inclination of the heart and mind to love the truth. Opening to the truth, we are freed from self-serving delusions and prepared to receive the fulfillment of the promise, the Light of Christ. Only when Christ, the power of God, is received, can the gospel be ministered. Then can the elder nurture the minister and the community; then is gospel fellowship present and apparent among us. However, if the Light is hated and spurned because we’d rather not see the evil we do for the sake of worldly advantage, if we choose to remain in deceit which is contrary to the Light, there can be no real fellowship, no gospel order within our community, and the minister will depart to work elsewhere. Loving the truth is the preparation needed for each and everyone among us.

 

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In Him We Live, and Move, and Have Our Being

In the preface to Christianity and Civilisation, first delivered as Gifford Lectures in 1947, the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner sought “to formulate and to justify [his] conviction that only Christianity is capable of furnishing the basis of a civilisation which can rightly be described as human”(v). A civilization is largely determined by the prevailing answers that its various cultures give to basic questions about being, truth, time, man’s place in the universe, meaning, justice, freedom, and creativity, and these are the topics Brunner examines in Christianity and Civilisation. In his lecture “The Problem of Meaning,” he asserts:

Apart from the answer of the Christian Gospel…the most important solution of the problem of meaning within Western history is that of Greek philosophy(63).

Narrowing his exploration to these two worldviews, Brunner traces each of their origins and principles, and the effects of each upon Western civilization throughout historical periods and into our own modern time.

In this preface, Brunner speaks of his hesitancy to take on this work, feeling a disproportion between the topic and his “equipment for dealing with it,” as it is a vast subject requiring expertise in many areas. He commits himself to this labor, however, as he believes it to be a topic in urgent need of explication.

A feeling of urgency likewise compels me to look at these two prevailing Western worldviews, but within a greatly narrowed scope: one encounter between a minister of the Christian gospel and some Athenian philosophers: Paul’s sermon given in the middle of the first century on the Areopagus (Hill of Ares) to the Stoics and Epicureans, as recorded in Acts 17. This encounter is the earliest record of the Christian gospel confronting Greek humanism, and so Paul’s impressions, actions, and statements are worth close examination, as they provide inspired insight into the fundamental differences between these two worldviews, differences that were apparent to each of their proponents, but whose significance was fully understood only by the Apostle who, having been given Christ, the wisdom of God, had superseded the parameters of mind-bound philosophy. As George Fox said, “They that have Christ within have that which is above the heathen philosophies.”

Through this exercise, I hope to introduce Friends to the claim (or to substantiate it, for those already familiar) that original prophetic, primitive Christianity differs from the precepts informing Liberal Quaker belief and practice today, based as they are upon suppositions whose roots lie in Greek metaphysics, and not prophetic faith. The one thing needful–discovered, proclaimed, and suffered for by early Friends, as well as the prophets and apostles before them–has been lost to our religious society, and I hope that those who share my concern for reclaiming prophetic Quaker faith–or who are willing to hear more of this matter–will later turn to Brunner’s lecture series for a more comprehensive treatment of the differences between these two worldviews: Gifford Lectures.

In the following paragraphs, which are taken from his lecture “Man in the Universe,” Brunner sets out the fundamental conception of Greek humanism; in the second paragraph, he presents the contrasting principle of Christian humanism:

[Greek humanism] Man discovers in himself that which distinguishes him from the animal and nature as a whole and elevates him above, the Nous or the Logos, that spiritual principle which underlies all specifically human activity and gives man’s work the character and content of human dignity. Now, this Nous or Logos is, at the same time, the principle which links mankind with the divine; the Logos is not merely the principle of human thought and meaningful action, but also that divine force which orders the world and makes it a Cosmos. It is the divine spark in human reason by which alone man emancipates himself from nature and places himself above it. It is that same divine spark in his reason in which he experiences the divinity of his innermost being….Just as the divine Logos permeates nature and orders it, so it also permeates and orders man. But in man this divine principle becomes conscious knowledge. It is in the recognition of himself as partaker in the divine Logos that man becomes conscious of his specific essence and value; his humanity is, at the same time, divinity. [Underlining is mine in this and other quoted passages.]

In Biblical revelation the continuum of primitive mind is disrupted in an entirely different manner….God is no more the immanent principle of the world, but its Lord and Creator. He, the Lord-creator, alone is divine….Man in spite of every thing he has and is, with his spiritual as well as natural powers, is not divine. He is a creature…Man alone is created in the image of God…And this imago dei is the principle of Christian humanism as distinguished from Greek….man’s being created in the image of God does not imply any kind of divine spiritual substance in man, but only his relation to God….Christian humanism therefore, as distinguished from the Greek, is of such a kind that the humane character of existence is not automatically a possession of man, but is dependent on his relation to God, and remains a matter of decision (77-79).

Some forms of false worship–idolatry–are easier to recognize than others: the lust and determination to secure social position and power; to indulge in animal sensuality; or to wield brute force are obvious signs of error. More difficult to discern are the indicators of a subtle idolatry in which natural human power is worshiped for its ability to orchestrate the good life, indicated by elevation of values and principles to highest prominence. Such idolatry is rarely challenged in Scripture, perhaps because it comes to the fore only when civic life is stable and free from grosser error. Paul’s sermon on the Areopagus is the earliest example of a challenge to this form idolatry, namely, a challenge to the proposition that divinity resides within human beings as a natural attribute.

Before beginning a verbatim account of Paul’s sermon, the scripture writer provides some background information about Paul’s situation in Athens: While waiting for two helpers to join him, Paul assesses the spiritual condition of the city and finds its idolatry distressing. He goes to the synagogue to reason with both Jews and Gentiles, and argues in the marketplace with whoever is willing. He preaches the gospel of Jesus and the resurrection, and the philosophers are privately critical and insulting, but curious to hear more. Then they all go to the Areopagus where Athenians regularly resort to hear the latest ideas, and Paul begins to preach:

Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you (Acts 17:22-23).

At the start of his sermon, Paul sets out a major difference between his faith and the condition of his hearers: Paul knows God, and the philosophers do not. The Athenians, by their own admission, claim God is “Unknown,” and therefore, by implication, unknowable. It is experiential knowledge of God that enables us to worship Him as He would be worshiped: in spirit and in truth. Jesus draws the connection between knowledge of God and true worship when he speaks to the Samaritan:

Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:22-24).

Unlike the Greeks who worship an “Unknown God,” Paul does know God, and is thus enabled to declare God’s work and humanity’s relation to Him. The following precepts in Paul’s sermon would have been foreign to the Athenians:

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things (24-25).

Paul contends that God is Creator and Lord, and thus the giver and ruler of life; man receives life and is subject to God’s power. He is not, as the Greeks would have it, a builder and maker of ideas (notional speculations) or buildings (temples) that house God; for God does not dwell in temples made with hands (made by man). Rather, it is God who acts and reveals himself to man. We wait upon him to move, like the Spirit upon the face of the waters. We wait upon the Lord; this is the way of prophetic Quaker worship.

And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us (26-27).

In saying that God has made “of one blood all the nations of men,” Paul identifies man’s condition as universal. What is the condition that is true for all people in all times and places? It is the felt need for God, not the possession of “that of God in every one,” but the need for God. A sense of alienation from God suffuses each human psyche, and leads to a search to overcome the corresponding anxiety that is felt by every person in every time and in every nation. God has decreed each person will feel his or her need for God, and, in feeling this need, should seek the Lord.

Idolatry corrupts the search. Some poor substitute for God is found, the soul assuaged, and the search stopped. Some item, some loyalty, some pleasure, some theory, some circumstance, some obligation, some obsession stands in for God, numbing or distracting man from his true feeling of need. God is ready to meet our need for Him, and when He reveals Himself, then, and only then, is our felt need truly met: life’s meaning and fulfillment is known.

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as, since, as also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring (28).

We are His “offspring,” a word denoting kinship, relationship. Says Brunner: “For man’s being created in the image of God does not imply any kind of divine spiritual substance in man, but only his relation to God“(78). We are separate from but related to God:

He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God (Jn. 1:11-12).

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent (Acts 17:29-30).

God has ever had a plan for humanity’s restoration, Paul avers. Now the time is come that a new thing is commanded: repentance. We are to repent of our attributing divinity to ourselves (“ye shall be as gods” [Gen. 3:5]); that is, repent of the claim “that of God” resides within, when God is yet unknown, yet unrevealed. God is not mocked. True authority, the author of our faith, suffers outside the gate of our habitation, and we must become subject to his enlarging jurisdiction. The world in the human heart is judged:

Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (31).

It is a foolish idea to the Greeks that a human being might be raised from the dead; it is beyond reason. For the Epicureans, death was the end of all things, and for the Stoics, death was followed by the soul being absorbed into that from which it sprang.

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:23).

Paul speaks beyond the Greeks understanding, beyond their reason. Through repentance we condemn to death the reprobate mind: having seen that our inward condition is inadequate to meet our felt need. It is a universal verdict of the universal judgment appointed by God. We are given to know the risen one, even Christ Jesus, who is ordained by God to judge and to speak to this condition, this fallen state. We are raised to life in unity with him that has been raised from the dead. Beyond our comprehension, our reason, beyond our philosophy, we are given to know the inward resurrection experientially.

In the final words of his sermon, Paul presents the most conclusive difference between Christian faith and the philosophical mysticism of the Greeks. It is a person we encounter in the risen Christ, and this person, Christ Jesus, becomes the foundation for our life. Impersonal mystical openings occur, but only foreshadow the subsequent restoration of personal relationship with God, drawing us to Christ, his Word. Lewis Benson states in his essay “Prophetic Quakerism”:

Wherever the philosophical type of mysticism has found expression within the limits of the Christian community, it has sought to reduce the saving Word of God addressed inwardly by the Voice of Jesus Christ to something less personal (The Truth is Christ, 16).

That seventeenth-century Friends understood the person of Jesus Christ to be inwardly revealed is apparent in George Fox’s most frequently used phrase that expressed the basic tenet of Quaker faith: “Christ is come to teach his people himself.” Christ is active: coming to us and teaching us as only a person can. The basic law of man’s being is to live by the Word of God. We must come into an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

The statements in Paul’s sermon on the Areopagus accord with Jesus’s and first Friends’ teachings, because every one of them spoke from the same source: the knowledge and power of God. As their source was the gospel, the power of God, there was unity in their understanding.

  • There is one God who is Creator and Lord. (25-26)
  • God has made all humanity to feel their need of him, for in relationship with him our being is completed and perfected. (26-28)
  • God is not like that which we can devise by thinking or making. (29)
  • It is time to repent and end the ignorance of idolatry. (30)
  • Each is to be judged in his spiritually deadened state and resurrected to life in Christ. (31-32)

In the face of last century’s Liberal Quaker communities turning away from prophetic faith and, in its stead, adopting a philosophy of values, Lewis Benson re-introduced the prophetic, primitive Christianity held forth by George Fox and other first Friends. Benson also discovered in the work of theologian Emil Brunner (referred to at the start of this paper) a worthy analysis of the progress and consequences of the loss of Christian understanding in history, its usurpation having begun in the alternative metaphysics of Greek philosophy.

The ground, root, and foundation of the Quakers’ faith…begins with belief in God who created all things out of nothing and who created man as a being with whom he could converse. Man is a being whose creator visits him and speaks to him, demanding a reply. Brunner says, “God has a different relation to man from what he has to other creatures….He has intercourse with man; He reveals His will to him and expects obedience and trust from him. It is not that man as he is in himself bears God’s likeness, but, rather, that man is designated for, and called to, a particular relation with God.”…The conversational relationship with God for which man was designated is essential to man’s life. When this relationship is broken, the ground of man’s life is broken and instead of life, he knows only death. When man is separated from the word that God speaks to him, then death and darkness overtake him….There is no coming out of darkness and death while man is alienated from God and does not listen to his word or fails to obey his command. This dialogic relationship to God is not a special religious consciousness but it is the basic law of man’s being (Catholic Quakerism, 13-14).

Benson, Brunner, early Friends, and the apostle Paul all find unity in the truth of prophetic Christian faith. The unity of their understanding witnesses to the universality of the God’s call to each person to come into a conversational relationship with Him, and furthermore, witnesses to the potential for each person to answer His call in righteousness.  In every century, place, and culture, there are those of us who have come to know experientially the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent, whom He raised from the dead, the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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That They All May Be One

In the summer of 1999, I had an opportunity to spend some time with a retired zoologist and his wife, Joseph and Elsa Pickvance, at their cottage in Birmingham, England. Although this professor’s livelihood had come from teaching and administrative work in the department of zoology at the University of Birmingham, his heart had been given throughout his long life to the study of George Fox and the early Quaker movement. Nearing the age of 90, he daily continued his investigation of their writings.

Having arrived at their home that summer evening and having enjoyed a pleasant supper, I listened as he spoke of the origin of his interest in seventeenth-century Friends and of their significance in the history of the human spirit. At one point in the conversation, his tone grew intense. I cannot recall his exact words but will give you the gist of what he said:

It must be that humanity is continuing to evolve. If it has taken four million years to progress from the first bipedal human-like creature, we can expect that it will take some time yet for us to reach our fulfillment.

He was expressing hope and anticipation, and it reminded me of others who, like him, have anticipated the change to come in our experience and understanding of what it is to be human and to be of the human race.

Tradition and the Way Forward

Among those who have anticipated such a transformation of humanity were first-generation Friends. They saw their mission to be the furtherance of this change, and so they traveled throughout their country and to far parts of the world in order to preach the Word, Christ, the power of God, for they believed that this preaching was the single essential act that would precipitate the needed transformation within the human heart. In this their mission, early Friends were in unity with the apostles of the first century. Like the apostles, they baptized with the holy Spirit through preaching the Word. Here Fox speaks of the apostle Peter in his ministry to a Roman centurion and his family:

And while Peter spoke to Cornelius’s family, the holy Spirit fell upon them who heard the Word that he preached (Acts 10:44). So the holy Spirit was given through the preaching of the Word, Christ, and the holy Spirit doth baptize them – through which baptism the wheat or seed of God is gathered into God’s garner [Works, 6:292]

Early Friends saw that the history of Israel was a history of humanity’s progress toward anew way of being, of becoming a people gathered into God’s garner. They drew heavilyfrom the Bible because it recorded the appearance and realization in history of the new way of being. For them the Bible was a sealed document which could be interpreted only by first experiencing the presence of God or Christ Within, which brought with it a radical shift of the locus of identity. From this inspired vantage point, a new and vital meaning could be distilled from stories, events and characters of the Bible.

There is a passage in George Fox’s Journal in which he enumerates the events recorded in Scripture that have shaped Hebrew history over the past four millennia. In this passage, he interprets this historical movement as a metaphor for the individual’s growth toward spiritual wholeness. In other words, the journey of a solitary inward soul is magnified onto the screen of the historical record. The salvation history of Israel is an archetype for the individual’s spiritual journey.

In this excerpt we may not catch the meaning of all the concepts, but throughout the passage, we can look for the metaphor that Fox finds. The metaphor is that spiritual growth is like a journey that proceeds through definite stages. Phrases like “entrance into,” “passed through,” “reaches through,” “prepares the way” indicate Fox sees spiritual development as linear, like a journey, moving from a point of lesser to a point of greater realization.

I saw death reigned over them from Adam to Moses, from the entrance into transgression till they came to the ministration of condemnation, which restrains people from sin that brings death. Then, when the ministration of Moses is passed through, the ministry of the prophets comes to be read and understood, which reaches through the figures, types and shadows unto John, the greatest prophet born of woman; whose ministration prepares the way of the Lord by bringing down the exalted mountains and making straight paths. And as this ministration is passed through, an entrance comes to be known into the everlasting kingdom [Journal, 31].

To understand Fox’s metaphoric analysis, we must know the stories to which he refers; the stories are set-ups for lessons that teach us the essentials of our inward existence. In the past two decades, scholars have come to recognize the central importance of the story in the scriptures. Listening to and letting the story work upon us is a very ancient and now newly legitimate approach to the Bible.

In his book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus J. Borg explores some of the key stories of the Bible for their spiritual significance. Delving below the surface of literal facts in a Bible story can bring to light useful information about our own human condition. Fox lamented the barren way Scriptures were read in his own day when he says:

I saw also how people read the Scriptures without a right sense of them, and without duly applying them to their own states [Journal, 31].

Three hundred years later, we see this same approach to the Bible; people are still reading it at a superficial, literal level. In this passage Borg discusses the Exodus story as it relates to our own human condition.

What is this story about? Most basically, it is a story of bondage, liberation, a journey, and a destination. It begins with the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt under the lordship of Pharaoh…for those enslaved it is a life of hard labor and groaning and meager rations, with enough to survive on, but not much more. The story then moves through the plagues and the liberation itself…Coming out from under the lordship of Pharaoh brings the people into the wilderness and sets them upon a journey that lasts for forty years, and the destination of the journey is the promised land, which symbolically is the place of God’s presence.

As a story about God and us, what is it saying? Our problem, according to this story, is that we live in Egypt, the land of bondage. We are slaves of an alien lord, the lord of Egypt, Pharaoh. It provocatively images the human condition as bondage, an image with both cultural-political and psychological-spiritual dimensions of meaning. It invites us to ask, “To what am I in bondage, and to what are we in bondage?”

The answer for most of us is “Many things.” We are in bondage to cultural messages about what we should be like and what we should pursue—messages about success, attractiveness, gender roles, the good life. We are in bondage to voices from our own past, and to addictions of various kinds.

The Pharaoh who holds us in bondage is inside of us as well as outside of us. Who is the Pharaoh within me who has me enslaved and who will not let me go? What instruments of fear and oppression does he use, this Pharaoh who tries everything to remain in control? What plagues must strike him? If the problem is bondage, the solution, of course, is liberation. In the story of the exodus itself, the liberation begins at night, in the darkness before dawn. It means leaving Egypt and the kingdom and dominion of Pharaoh. It involves passing through the sea to the other side, a passage from one kind of life to another. Liberation involves coming out from under the lordship of Pharaoh and the lordship of culture.

But liberation is not an end of the story. Rather, “the way out” leads to a journey through the wilderness. As a place beyond the domestication of culture, the wilderness is a place of fear and anxiety, where we erect one golden calf after another, and where we sometimes find ourselves longing for the security of Egypt…At least there was food in Egypt. But the wilderness is also a place where we are nourished by God, by water from the rock and bread from heaven. The journey lasts a long time—forty years…Its destination is life in the presence of God. Yet God is not simply the destination, but one who is known on the journey. It is a journeying toward God that is also with God.

Thus, as an epiphany of the human condition and the solution, the story of the exodus images the religious life as a journey from the life of bondage to life in the presence of God. Though we find ourselves in bondage to Pharaoh, it proclaims there is a way out. Through signs and wonders, through the great and mighty hand of God, God can liberate us, indeed wills our liberation, and yearns for our liberation, from life in bondage to culture to life as journeying with God [Borg, 124-125].

Borg refers to the Exodus story as one of three “macro-stories” at the heart of Scripture. These stories work at a deep level showing our sometimes unacknowledged experience of existence. We are held captives; we lack liberty. These stories point to liberation of the human spirit.

Like the other macro-stories of Scripture, this exodus story is painted with a broad brush; it presents a whole people in the throes of slavery, who then pass long years together in the wilderness. Applying this epic story to our own personal situation is necessary, according to Fox; this journey toward liberation is made singly and inwardly by each individual. The human condition is universal; at a deep level of our humanity, we all feel alone, confused, and out of control. The way out, the exodus, is available to us and that way out is found in the figurative message of the Scriptures. This line of progression, of growth and transformation can accommodate all people. We can move from spiritual slavery, alienation from God, and we can enter the Promised Land, that is, a dialogic relationship with God. That is God’s promise to our human race.

Preparing the Way: John the Baptist

I would like to focus on the liberation, the journey’s end, referred to in the Exodus story as the promised land and, in the quotation from Fox given earlier, as the entrance into the everlasting kingdom. Although I intend to look at Jesus who is in the kingdom, I will focus primarily on John the Baptist who immediately precedes Jesus, and thus prepares the way.

There is a narrative devise used in some stories of the Bible which consists of juxtaposing two like characters who differ from one another in some significant essential; this juxtaposition encourages the reader or hearer to compare two characters and so directs the reader’s attention to the significant idea through this discrepant element. Often the comparison is made between two men, usually brothers. As brothers have the same parents, and this suggests a similarity between them, whatever difference distinguishes them becomes that much more apparent.

Usually the older brother models the untransformed way of being, and the younger one embodies the transformed or more evolved state. Some examples of stories in which this narrative devise occurs are Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. In the New Testament, we see this devise borrowed a number of times by Jesus, a good storyteller. The story of the Prodigal Son is probably the most familiar to us, with its sullen older brother who never ventures forth from his conventional life. This same narrative devise is apparent in the close connection and comparison of John the Baptist and Jesus, who are not brothers but are still related; their mothers were cousins, Luke tells us.

Luke is the only writer to give us details of John’s birth. Stories of births in the Bible are a good place to get a concise indication of what the person’s life is to be. Luke tells us John’s parents (Zacharias, a priest, and Elizabeth, of the priestly line of Aaron) were righteous people. An angel came to Zacharias and tells him they will have a son who will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” [Luke 1:17b]. Zacharias is struck dumb because he doesn’t believe the angel and remains without his voice till John is born and named.

Six months later the same angel goes to Nazareth and this time speaks to a woman. The angel tells her that “that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” [v.35b]. Mary then goes to visit her cousin Elisabeth who carries John in her womb. Immediately upon hearing Mary’s greeting, Elisabeth feels the babe leap within. She’s filled with the Holy Ghost and says to Mary “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” [v.42] and calls her “the mother of my Lord” [v.43]. After a three month visit, Mary leaves for home. Elisabeth then gives birth and calls her son John, at which her neighbors are surprised as none of her kindred is so named, and then they ask voiceless Zacharias what his son’s name is to be. He writes as he cannot speak, “His name is John” [v.63]. Immediately, he regains his voice and praises God.

These are just a few of the many details Luke gives us in this long first chapter of his book. From these details we can glean much information about Jesus and John. They are alike, we are being told. The same angel informs one of each of their parents about their arrivals and the names by which they are to be called. Their mothers are cousins; their parents are righteous; their births are close in time. John’s and Jesus’ lives are intertwined from the start. Later, as their ministries unfold, John will understand and foreshadow Jesus’s work and death as no one else does in the gospel narratives. There is a connection, a similarity between them.

Yet there are differences. What distinguishes Jesus who is in the kingdom from John who is not? There are differences in their births. John’s father, Zacharias, is the father of John, though through much of the story, he’s without a voice. The paternal parentage is marginalized in both of these births. John’s father is mute throughout the pregnancy, and Jesus’s human paternity is absent altogether, this in a culture which was unrelentingly patriarchal. The father’s role is increasingly less pronounced because a son of God is born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God [Jn. 1:13]. A son of God is not bound by the cultural constraints of male hierarchy or by any other cultural dictates, and that is also true for a daughter of God.

John’s birth precedes Jesus’s by six months. He comes before and prepares the way; later one of the primary refrains of his ministry is “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” And finally, it is clear even to John’s mother that Jesus is the Lord, not John. A mother’s acknowledgement that another woman’s baby is to have precedence over her own is an impelling indication that Jesus has preference before John. In his later ministry John says as much when he asserts: He it is, who coming after me, is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose [Jn. 1:27].

Luke concludes the story of John’s early life with this final verse in chapter one:

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the wilderness till the day of his shewing to Israel [Lk. 1:80].

If we recall Marcus Borg’s account of the Exodus story with the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and also recall his statements about the wilderness, that it is a place beyond the domestication of culture, a place of freedom where God is encountered and known, we can form an understanding of who John becomes as he matures. Accordingly, we can see what qualities or characteristics accompany the person who is on the cusp of entering the kingdom. We want to know this, if we ourselves are seeking to enter.

John is free in the wilderness, unfettered by cultural norms. He wears camel skins for clothes and eats locusts and wild honey. He is outside the demands of conventional social life; Pharaoh can’t touch him. In his book Catholic Quakerism, Lewis Benson draws a profile of the “outsider” which John typifies.

The outsider finds a way of escape from the rigid patterns of civilized life by asserting his power of volition, and by deliberately choosing a pattern of life for himself that expresses his defiance of those social forces that are pressing men into a common mold. The outsider is therefore usually described as an existentialist [Benson, 71].

The outsider has been defined as one who is seeking for a religious solution to the problem of the meaning of existence without the help of the revealed religion of the Hebrew and Christian traditions. This means that he accepts, as part of the “givenness of life,” that there are no moral, social, or historical absolutes in it [Benson, 70].

Benson goes on to say that George Fox is the “man who perhaps ought to be the patron saint of ‘outsiders.’” Here Fox describes his activity prior to his hearing the voice which spoke to his condition:

Now during all this time I was never joined in profession of religion with any, but gave myself to the Lord, having forsaken all evil company, and taken leave of father and mother and all other relations, and traveled up and down as a stranger in the earth, which way the Lord inclined my heart, taking a chamber to myself in the town where I came, and tarrying sometimes a month, sometimes more, sometimes less in a place. For I durst not stay long in any place, being afraid both of professor and profane, lest, being a tender young man, I should be hurt by conferring much with either. For which reason I kept myself much as a stranger, seeking heavenly wisdom and getting knowledge from the Lord, and was brought off from outward things to rely wholly on the Lord alone [Journal, 10].

What else is there to know of the outsider, the one who is not conformed to this world, the one who makes preparation for entering the kingdom? Isaiah gives us the original pictorial language to express the state of the outsider with his existential concern for right living in a world that appears absurd and without meaning.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever [Isa. 40:3-8].

As a type, John stands at the intermediate point between two ways of life—on the one hand, the secure but spiritually empty life of following the crowd’s obeisance to social or biological dictates, and on the other hand, the life lived in response to the authentic director of life, our Creator, and therefore life lived authentically. Between these two ways, the inauthentic conformity and the way of knowing God, is an emptiness that John in the wilderness typifies. He is not yet fully the being to come, but still only a voice, only a desire, only a will to be free. John’s asceticism, his separation from conventional life, his willingness to cast off all inauthenticity till nothing remains but a desire for wholeness distinguishes him. Pared down to unredeemed essentials, man is a voice solitary and crying out in the wilderness.

What did they expect to find when they went out into the wilderness? A man clothed in soft raiment [Lk. 7:25]? No, the wilderness is not soft. The people who come to John in the wilderness – and we construe this to mean the people who come to John’s inward state – undergo the emptiness of the desert where nothing can comfort or distract from the truth.

John’s baptism prepares the way, clears the space for the baptism which is to follow, that baptism with the holy Spirit. The same pattern of this two-step process, first the tearing down and clearing away to prepare space to build, can be found also in the apocalyptic chapters in the synoptic gospels; there must be a tearing down of the old structures before the new can arrive. John’s baptism is a cleansing removal of the old way. It is called in Mark a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

To repent is to want light more than darkness, even though that light compels us first, to see our deeds and ourselves for what we truly are, and second, to cast off that which obstructs our relationship with God. John calls us to level with ourselves, to level our mountainous egos and straighten out our crooked ways. God isn’t going to travel the distance to make his visit to us until we’ve prepared the way. We often see a comfortable, popular notion that God in his mercy and omnipotence can and will overcome any and all obstacles that we put in the path between Him and ourselves. The wisdom of our tradition is at variance with this popular, sin-enabling assumption. We need to prepare by choosing to see ourselves as we truly are; that is the judgment of the last day.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear [Isa. 59:1-2].

Baptism with the Holy Spirit

We have seen that there can be a variety of images in scripture to describe a single spiritual experience. The promised land, the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of heaven all describe the sought-after destination of knowing God’s presence. We see another phrase to describe the completion of the inward journey—Christ’s baptism with the holy Spirit for which John’s baptism has prepared the way. Says John in the book of Matthew:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire [Mt. 3:11-12].

The distinction between John’s water baptism and Christ’s baptism with fire and with the holy Ghost  is made in all four gospels and in Jesus’s first utterance in the book of Acts [Mk. 1:8, Lk. 3:16, Jn. 1:33, and Acts 1:4-5].

…commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

The importance given this distinction alerts us to look for the difference between the two baptisms. Unlike the repentance signified by John’s water baptism, the new and living way signified by Christ’s baptism with the holy Spirit is not within our human ability to effect. We do not decide if and when it is to occur; we can only prepare and then wait and watch. It is like vocal ministry within our meetings for worship. It is not planned beforehand, but instead, waited upon until the Word is received. Christ commands the apostles to wait for the promise of the Father before acting, before departing from Jerusalem to preach. “Watch” for the arrival of the Son of man says Jesus in the apocalyptic chapters in the gospels. There is no way that we can compel God to act; we can only prepare ourselves to receive, and then we wait.

Therefore, all wait patiently upon the Lord, whatsoever condition you be in; wait in the grace and truth that comes by Jesus, for if ye so do, there is a promise to you, and the Lord God will fulfill it in you. And blessed are all they indeed that do hunger and thirst after righteousness; they shall be satisfied with it. I have found it so, praised be the Lord who filleth with it, and satisfieth the desires of the hungry soul [Journal, 12-13].

If we do not yet know “the grace and truth that comes by Jesus,” to which Fox alludes, if we do not yet know the spirit in which we should wait upon the Lord, then we should ask ourselves: Is my soul hungry, or is it satiated? Hemingway once said that he needed to return to Africa in order “to work the fat off his soul.” If we feel depressed, bloated, or uncomfortable with our spiritual state, then we should look to John as our mentor, for John came neither eating nor drinking [Mt. 11:18]. If we hunger in our souls, we should go out to John in the wilderness, as many did, and learn the baptism of repentance.

The Promise Realized

The Quaker movement began with the discovery that God is with us, that we can hear and obey the will of our Creator, a will that is not our own—that we can enter the kingdom, the promised land, while we are yet here on earth and alive, and that we should seek this. Here is Fox’s powerful description of Life in unity with our Creator. Please note that he goes back to the Garden of Eden with his imagery – back to the beginning of the long journey to the promised land. Yet one more term for the journey’s destination is “the paradise of God.”

Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God.  All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell. The creation was opened to me, and it was showed me how all things had their names given them according to their nature and virtue…But I was immediately taken up in spirit, to see into another or more steadfast state than Adam’s in innocency, even into a state in Christ Jesus, that should never fall. And the Lord showed me that such as were faithful to him in the power and light of Christ, should come up into that state in which Adam was before he fell, in which the admirable works of the creation, and the virtues thereof, may be known, through the openings of that divine Word of wisdom and power by which they were made. Great things did the Lord lead me into, and wonderful depths were opened unto me, beyond what can by words be declared; but as people come into subjection to the spirit of God, and grow up in the image and power of the Almighty, they may receive the Word of wisdom, that opens all things, and come to know the hidden unity in the Eternal Being [Journal, 28-29].

We have here a description of the culminating, transcendent state toward which the Scriptures unswervingly have pointed us. All things were new, says Fox. This is a new state in which we feel Life in the Word, in which we sense the essence and power of things. We know them and can name them, as Adam could name the creatures, while he was yet in God’s image before the Fall [Gen. 2:19]. In the image and power of God where (ego/flesh has been crucified), we are given to know things for what they are, to know the truth that makes us free [Jn. 8:32]. To know reality as it is, apart from the distortions provoked by ego’s greed and fear, is the promise realized.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is [1 Jn. 3:2].

At that time we are anointed to preach the gospel. It is a call to preach deliverance to the captives of Pharaoh as well as those baptized solely of John. For as early Quaker minister Edward Burrough said: yea an absolute necessity was laid upon us, and wo [sic] unto us if we preached not the gospel [Works, 3:14].

The gospel message of Life often will be ignored or resented by those to whom it is preached. It can be a threat to those who have not known this visitation or have not been faithful to the measure given to them. Some do shut the door and shutter the windows of their hearts, in order to enjoy without disturbance the worldly treasures they’ve accumulated and stored within. Those who bring this message will be unwelcome by many, as they have been unwelcome throughout history: scorned, abused, and even killed. Because this ministry shares a common vocabulary and regard for Scriptures with Protestant and Catholic forms of Christianity, it is especially convenient today to dismiss it within liberal Quaker communities, where little care is taken to discover the essentials of Quaker heritage, and there is instead a comfortable skimming along the surface of a well-meaning and self-satisfied humanism.

For example, we Quakers learn that there is a peace testimony but do not learn the ground and basis for that testimony. If our peace testimony is the outcome of a privileged, educated class that can secure its needs and wants without resorting to physical violence, then we have little to offer a less privileged world. On the other hand, if our peace testimony were to be the result of coming into and knowing that inward peace given by Christ, our sanctuary, to which we hold throughout any trial, then, as did the early Friends, we could impart this power to the world, which is in need of a way to overcome evil. In our present state, our claim to be peace-loving is belied by behavior occurring within many of our meeting communities. For relief, we must resort to those who are trained in conflict resolution, rather than the Prince of Peace whom we do not know or receive.

Unity in the Truth

The title of this essay is taken from the seventeenth chapter of John, in which Jesus prays to the Father shortly before he is taken by the soldiers. The religious powers of the day that have been threatened by the revolutionary power, which Jesus has displayed, will shortly arrange his death. In the final opportunity before his arrest, Jesus prays for the ones who have been given him by the Father, the ones who have known that he was sent by the Father.

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou has sent me [Jn. 17:16-21].

Becoming one in Christ is not a forfeiture of an individual’s integrity and bid for self-actualization. Look at the strong spokespeople for this discovery of Christ Within. The Apostle Paul, George Fox, Margaret Fell, William Dewsbury were all so very much individual in the way they conducted their lives that they could choose to separate themselves from the security of community life, as did Abraham, whose heirs in faith they were. Yet, they all were one in Christ, though separated by culture and millennia.

Now all loving the light, here no self can stand, but it is judged out with the light, and here all are in unity [Works, 7:61].

There are communities who claim to be in Christ and require conformity to man-made approximations of what they think that might entail. This is not the Quaker way, and first generation Quakers were vehemently opposed to this apostasy and ignorance among the so-called Christians of their day. They knew that all notions about God and Christ, and about religion must be shaken loose and removed before we can receive the kingdom that cannot be moved [He. 12:28].

This kingdom that cannot be moved is a dialogic relationship with God, which was foreseen by the prophets and the apostles. It would come to pass that God would pour out his spirit on all flesh, and all would prophesy [Joel 2:28]. Our Quaker heritage is the carrier of this understanding. If we are to be worthy of the name “Quaker,” we will learn a new way of being on the earth, and it will start with a fearless resolve to heed the truth, regardless of the consequences within our social group. We cannot serve both God and Mammon. It is up to us to choose the better thing. I conclude with Fox’s Epistle 194.

Dear Friends who have found the better part, and chosen the better thing, the one thing which lasteth forever, which is the ground of all true rejoicing and joy, in whom ye have all riches and life and blessings, and the immortal power, to be your crown and covering. And it may be, there will be a time of shearing and clipping; but the earth is the Lord’s, and fullness thereof. So, mind him to be your portion, and the seed Christ your all, and your life and fear not losing the fleece, for it will grow again. And keep your meetings in the name of him that never fell, which is above all the meetings of Adam’s sons and daughters in the fall. And keep in the fellowship in the gospel, which is the power of God, which was before the devil was; and this fellowship is above all the national fellowships in the fall of Adam. And keep in the worship of the Father in the spirit and in the truth, which the devil is out of, and in that ye will live in the truth and spirit in yourselves, and walk in unity in the same; and then ye are over all the will-worships in the fall of Adam, where they are in the strife about them. And who are come to the church in God, do see above all the churches of Adam in the fall, drove from God. And as the outward Jews suffered by the outward Egyptians and Babylonians, and they persecuted them and killed their children; so the spiritual Egyptians and mystery Babylon persecute and would kill the Jews in spirit, that worship God in the spirit, whose praise is of God, and not of man, and such have none from fallen men, but by them are persecuted. But all such go, as dumb before their shearers; for he that gave his back and his cheek to the smiters, overcame, and reigns, and hath the victory and the honour, who is Christ, the amen, the first and last, the top and corner stone; in him sit down, in life, and peace, and rest. So no more, but my love in the everlasting seed, the second Adam, that never fell nor changed, whose love is above all the love in Adam’s house in the fall.

 

 

 

 

 

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The New Ministry: an introduction to a lecture from Lewis Benson

First, they must be made alive by Christ, [who] is alive and liveth forevermore … and quickened by him, before they…can be ministers of the spirit, [and] be able to receive heavenly and spiritual things….So, all must be called by Christ…out of the world…and receive his power, spirit and grace and truth and faith [before] they can preach Christ…. They must see him and know him and hear his voice, and have spiritual things from him …and they must all receive their gifts from him for the work of their ministry….It is Jesus Christ that doth make and ordain…ministers by his power and spirit. (from “The Call to the Ministry,” a 1671 paper by George Fox)

“The New Ministry” is the title of  the sixth lecture in the series Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox given by Lewis Benson in 1982 at Moorestown (N.J.) Meeting. Having begun with some preliminary comments on the history of studies and efforts to rejuvenate vocal ministry since the mid-19th century as well as references to present-day, alternative interpretations of ministry work, Benson moves on to the lecture’s main purpose: “to explore the implications for us today of the Everlasting Gospel that Fox preached, and especially to learn how it may bring us closer to the practice and experience of a living ministry.”

Fox believed that the preaching and receiving of the everlasting gospel would lead to the recovery of all that had been lost since the apostles’ days. Benson states that it was recognized that “‘many through his [Fox’s] ministry were turned from darkness to light… for he did not preach himself but Jesus Christ.’ Fox declared that ‘the work of the ministry [is] to bring people to the knowledge of the son of God.'”

Benson expands on the nature of gospel ministry work. He briefly covers the qualifications of a gospel minister (seen in the opening quotation given above) and speaks of the different approaches required for ministering to different groups of people. Ministering to the world (“breaking up the clods”) is different from ministering to settled meetings (“keeping the sheep”). Whether threshing, plowing, or keeping the sheep, gospel ministers were intensely dedicated to their work. Meetings–both home and those visited–understood, valued, and supported prophetic, itinerant, non-professional ministers in their work, caring for their practical and personal needs.

One example of the latter is a recounting of an opportunity given Benson as a young minister, his receiving personal affirmation from a highly esteemed older minister. It was a memorable event for Benson that confirmed the weighty and wonderful calling he had been given.

Necessary to include in a talk on prophetic Quaker ministry is some discussion of its demise. Benson writes (in the early ’80s): “there are now very few who have knowledge from experience of the itinerant, prophetic, non-professional Quaker ministry. People have just never met a minister of the type that was characteristic of the Quaker ministry in the 18th or 19th centuries…We know about it only by hearsay.”

Benson ends this talk with an affirmation of gospel ministry’s power to enliven and restore the true beginning and purpose of the original Quaker movement, as well as that of the apostles, which is to turn people from darkness to light through preaching the Word of God. The talk concludes:

Now that the everlasting gospel is being preached once more, this will certainly lead to a better understanding of the ministry that belongs to this gospel and to the new covenant. The preaching of this gospel has begun to stimulate interest in the nature of Quaker ministry, and this is sure to be the case wherever the everlasting gospel is preached and received.

Benson’s lecture can be found here.

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