Enduring unto the End

If we died with him, we shall live with him; if we endure, we shall reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are faithless, he keeps faith, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

These simple, beautiful lines are preceded by the Apostle’s guarantee: “Here are words you may trust.” It seems likely that he’s informing us that the words are inspired, and therefore trustworthy. In addition, the breadth and depth of understanding, expressed in so few words, is indicative of inspired authorship. So few words to speak of such a lengthy process, for the dying mentioned in the first line is slow and difficult, and, as a result, widely avoided. Nevertheless, the long inward process is laid out for us in the Scriptures’ apocalyptic passages; there we’re given words about what to expect: where we are going and Who will come to us in the end.

Each synoptic gospel contains an apocalyptic chapter; I prefer the one in the book of Mark because the language is concise, intense, and powerful. Chapter 13 begins with Jesus providing his disciples with an image and prediction of a destroyed temple. The disciples had been impressed with the buildings of their religion and said so, but Jesus tells them that “all will be thrown down”(2). Though he speaks of the culture’s dwelling space for God, he is referring to the inward dwelling place of our human spirits: our religious, philosophical, psychological, and cultural concepts in which we posit our understanding of self and world. These, Jesus says, will be thrown down.

Many of the chapter’s subsequent verses (7-20) describe destruction, turmoil, and distress: war, earthquakes, famine, betrayals, upheavals, family disruption, and fleeing one’s home and land. The significance of this imagery is two-fold: in one form or another, life’s distresses will be the lot of all; and secondly, this is not chosen but visited upon us, and endured. Personal trials are unique yet come universally to us all. It is as if Jesus, using poetic images, is giving an overview of life’s calamities, specific calamities that when conjointly listed imply the universality of loss and affliction. The line spoken by the Magi in Eliot’s poem summarizes it well: “A hard time we had of it” (“Journey of the Magi”).

This onslaught over time will, in truth, undermine confidence in all existential concepts, even those concepts of “self,” “God,” “love,” and “light.” All will be thrown down so that there’s not one stone left upon another to sustain one’s constructed image of life and self; this is one’s own personal inward suffering “such as never has been until now since the beginning of the world which God created”(20). Jesus tells us how we’re to handle it: we’re to endure to the end(13). To endure is to hold to the deep, wordless human insistence that truth must be honored, though it shakes to the ground every manmade notion of earth and heaven and leaves one feeling lost, without bearings. Such endurance during the temptation to despair is the material of Quaker journal writings and the experience of all true Christians.

Knowing the extreme suffering and despair of the inward process, the Cross within, Jesus warns us upfront to not be deceived and misled by those who come saying that they are the light of Christ:

Jesus began:”Take care that no one misleads you. Many will come claiming my name, and saying, ‘I am he’; and many will be misled by them”(5-6).

By making grand claims for themselves, such persons will mislead and foment a symbiotic relationship with any whose endurance has flagged and are ready to forfeit. A primary tactic of such is to manipulate by flattery, appealing to the ego of the willing victim by suggesting he’s already knowledgeable of God: in Paul’s words “saying that [his] resurrection has already taken place”(2 Tim. 2:18). Second, any check on this corrupt teaching will be denigrated as unworthy, thereby eliminating any standard for exposing the false gospel. The willing participant, in return, offers tribute in the form of loyalty and support, for he thinks himself released from his responsibility to endure, as Jesus has called him to do. This alliance upsets people’s faith, and so Jesus prominently places his warning against it at the start of his discourse. Early Friends admonished this dynamic when they saw it by recalling the prophet’s words: The priests bear rule by their means, and the people love to have it so.

The Son of man comes inwardly to those who “endure until to the end, [for] the same shall be saved”(13). Salvation is known by the inward coming of the Lord, “Then they will see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory”(26); his coming is known by the complete otherness of his person, for he is a person, neither solely a principle nor an essence. The coming of the Son of man is that which no person can effect by his own desire or aspiration or sacrifice; the coming of the Lord is out of our hands entirely, Jesus teaches. We do not know how to turn to the Son of man because we have no idea what he is inwardly, what to expect; his coming will not resemble in the slightest our human concepts of “light and love” or even our concepts of God. We know neither the substance nor the timing of this inward event: “But about that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son; only the Father”(32). It is entirely other, for our deliverance is the prerogative of our Creator, not of our creaturely aspiration.

We can reject this ancient wisdom of our tradition but do so at our peril: “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away”(31). A faithless turn to idolatry only destroys one’s chances of salvation; it in no way impacts the soteriological structure by which we are called to abide: endurance in the truth until the end.

If we are faithless, he keeps faith, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

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Called to Christ

[The following is based upon vocal ministry given at Germantown Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 1 Tenth month 2017.]

In his Journal George Fox spoke of three kinds of dreams:

For there were three sorts of dreams: for multitude of business sometimes caused dreams; and there were whisperings of Satan in man in the night-season; and there were speakings of God to man in dreams (Journal, ed. Nickalls, 9).

In dreams we may learn something of ourselves that lies hidden during waking hours. The dream state allows access to a deeper awareness of who we are and what we think and feel. The self is not covered and veiled but revealed, and we can apply insights from dreams to better understand and improve our lives. We welcome this truth about ourselves and would like to always live with a deep awareness of truth, for there is freedom and comfort in it. Jesus said the truth makes us free, and he also said that the Comforter is the Spirit of truth. There is freedom and comfort in truth.

Fox also spoke of the two kinds of messages that the first Friends gave to people. To those who had not yet come into knowledge of God, Friends preached repentance. For repentance is an intentional uncovering of the truth about the self: what it is that must be seen and then laid down. In repentance, one chooses the light of truth over obscurity. The other kind of message that Friends preached was to those who had already gone through this coming into self-knowledge and had been given to see themselves as they were, without the Lord. They had been open to the truth of themselves, and had discovered that the truth that is Christ soon after was revealed in them. 

To the world the apostles preached repentance, and to believe in Jesus Christ; and taught faith towards God. But to them who were redeemed out of the world, in whom the son of God was made manifest…preaching repentance and the doctrine of baptism was needless, in whom it was fulfilled, to and in such as were brought to God (Works, 7:143).

They who saw themselves as they were without the Lord already knew the value of repentance, as it had led to their entry into the way, into the truth, and into the life that is Christ. They were free men and women who knew the Comforter, the Spirit of truth. To these people, Friends preached Christ in them, because they were folks who sought to hear Christ, the Word, preached: it brought them to the living God; it was their life. 

Fox writes: “There is a time of preaching faith towards God; and there is a time to be brought to God” (Ep. 151). Whether we are in need of repentance or whether we are in the life of Christ, we are all human beings and must move forward from the position we are in. For it is to Christ that we are called: Christ in us the hope of glory. 

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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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