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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