The BIRTH OF CHRIST in the Heart

O Friend! Where dost thou dwell – in a palace of thine own making, or in a field of God’s? At what workest thou – many matters of great, worldly import, or at the simple tending of sheep, lest thy business should blind thee to the day of thy visitation? Has that day not come to thee, and has the glory of the Lord not shone round about thee with great light; has the Lord’s messenger not come to thee and spoken to thee in that light, and couldst thou see clearly in it that this was from the Lord?

Didst thou not fear, and did the Lord’s messenger not comfort thee in thy fear? Did the Lord’s messenger not then tell thee the good tidings of great joy, and proclaim Christ the Lord to thee? And didst thou not then see and hear the praise of the multitude of angels? Didst thou not say with them, glory to God in the highest; and didst thou accept peace and goodwill in thy heart?

Didst thou believe without question, and journey in thy heart to the City of David; not to a palace, but to the meanest place therein, the humblest place therein, a stable, where Caesar’s business did not reach? Didst thou witness therein, in the place prepared for him, the newly born Son of God, the Lord’s anointed? And, having  seen and  known all this in thy heart, hast thou now gone and made known abroad the saying that was told thee in thy heart, by all thou sayest and by all thy actions and conversations? And does the world wonder at the things to which thou bearest witness?

Thus begins Christ, with this birth, in the heart of whoever is prepared to receive him; whoever will make their hearts into fields and stables and mangers, will receive the King’s birth in them, so that they will live, or rather he will live in them, and of their hearts make a palace, a temple, a kingdom.

[a transcript from part of a message given by a Friend to a liberal meeting in Shrewsbury, in 9th Month 1995]

*

(c) Friends in Christ

We do not go in much for portraiture, finding it a vain practice. However neither do we shun it if it marks a special occasion or forms a record of a person or an event. The photograph opposite was found amongst some papers and is of our late friend Tony Back-Adams, who is remembered amongst us with fondness as a faithful and humble servant of Christ. His plain witness was often misunderstood and criticised by the outside world who, in their own pharisaism, accused him of being a Pharisee and an ‘outward Quaker’. Those who got to know him, however, knew his gentleness and forbearance, and that his appearance was a deep conviction and the result of following the clearest leadings of the Lord to be ‘seen’. He was never ashamed to say the name of Christ.

Baptism

(The following extract is from a lead article in The Call 1998/2)

For nearly three hundred and fifty years we have been repeatedly asked one question, amongst many: why is it that we do not baptize our folk with water?

Our questioners cite much biblical precedent for the practice, and claim, not without strength to their argument, that it is clear that the practice was widespread if not universal in the early Church, and has passed down in some form or other to every branch of Christendom – with ours as an exception.

As with all matters of doctrine and performance, we have to be ready to answer such questions. But have our answers become pat and glib? In a way, we must thank our constant questioners, for forcing us to reappraise our doctrine, review our practice, and – importantly – submit it in prayer to the Lord, to ask if we are right to maintain this witness. If we can truly give the same answer – under the same anointing of the Holy Spirit – as was given by our first generation, then all well and good; if not, if our answer has become formal and sectarian, then we deserve not to be heard.

For a moment, pay attention to some of the language used by our questioners, concerning water baptism: they speak variously of “sealing their faith” with it, of “sacrament”, of “ordinance”, and of “rite”. Without labouring this point, it has to be said that the application of such terms depends upon human invention, because they are not applied to water baptism anywhere in the New Testament.

In the mid seventeenth century, many of these terms were at the centre of bitter conflicts, even wars, as the various sects contended with each other as true Christianity. Persecution of Catholics by Protestants, Protestants by Catholics, and even Protestants by other Protestants, was rife!  (Some Groups, such as Quakers and our peaceloving friends the Anabaptists, suffered at the hands of both sides). Amongst their contention was who should be baptized – infants? youngsters? adults? – and how – sprinkling? pouring? immersion? Also how, if at all, did the bestowal of the Holy Spirit depend upon all these?

But in the midst of all this conflict about the superficial aspects of Christianity (with which the Devil was well pleased!), the Lord called and assembled our first generation, to be his people. He gave them his promised baptism with the Holy Ghost, and charged them to go out into the world and bear a strong and courageous testimony, by doing without water at all, to the efficacy, sufficiency, and truth of his baptism. In this, that generation were his prophets.

Reading it and quoting it in the same Spirit in which it was given forth, our first generation were more truly attentive to the Bible, and believed it more fully, than any “sect” of the time. They drew to others’ attention what was revealed in Scripture about baptism, and proved it by their lives.

But “can any man forbid water?” say our questioners, echoing Peter (Acts 10:47), the apostle to whom Christ first charged the feeding of his sheep. After all, Christ was baptized (Matthew 3:15) and his disciples baptised with water even though he did not (John 4:2), and there are many other such baptisms shown later in Scripture. Let this be clear: we forbid no one anything – the choice is theirs! Neither did our first generation ever coerce anyone to their way; they simply acted upon the immediate command of Christ. Neither is it claimed that water baptism was not known in the early Church; clearly it was.

There is not enough space here to compile an exhaustive exegesis to show the biblical soundness of this prophetic witness. Let it suffice for now to say that Christ’s promised baptism, to all and not just to his disciples, is with the Holy Ghost (John 1:33 inter alia); and that John was to decrease and Christ increase (John 3:30). There is witness borne to the bestowal of the Holy Spirit before , or without, the application of water (Acts 10:44), and of the application of water without the bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2,3). Peter, who firstly asked whether any man could forbid water to those (already) baptized with the Holy Spirit, later recalled and understood the promise of the one baptism of Jesus Christ  (Acts 11:16). There is also evidence in scripture of the earliest contention about baptism (1Corinthians 1:11-15), foreshadowing the bloody conflicts, into the midst of which our first generation stepped.

Importantly, the apostles constantly warned of accepting the shadow, the outward show, for the substance; and they constantly warned of false messengers, even in their time, that lead the Church astray. They were wise in so warning, for history has shown how the Church slipped very quickly into centuries of apostasy, during which not only did water baptism become an important ritual, but also all kinds of idols, days, seasons, rules and so on, which were not so much as hinted at in the New Testament, gained prominence.     Thus the situation as it stood in the seventeenth century came about, and thus the Lord called us to be a people, a prophetic people in the face of that situation.

But it is no longer the seventeenth century. Rightly, we can be challenged that refraining from something can become as legalistic as doing it. Indeed it can! There has been ample time for the non-use of water to become no more that a sectarian peculiarity – and can we claim that none of us fell into that snare? It is doubtful.

But equally, the old ways and notions persist, against which our first generation stood, and it is necessary (at Christ’s command and only at Christ’s command) to continue faithfully to stand against them.

“So,” objectors ask, “are you calling us false Christians?” Be sure that God will judge that – who is true and who is false – and all who think they stand should take heed lest they fall! Also be sure that if all or any one of us is commanded by the Lord to say “False Christian” to someone, then we shall say it as bravely as any apostle ever spoke. But it is not generally to any perceived falseness that we now draw your attention, but to God and Christ. There are many of our questioners and objectors who genuinely and sincerely love the Lord, and who strive to obey and please him; and indeed we know and feel that any sincere prayer, any turning of heart and mind to the Lord, any step taken towards him, is attended by a measure of grace. In all such things, the Lord holds his arms out to us, and calls, “Come”, and draws us closer to him, into worship in spirit and in truth.

But equally, worldly notions hold us fast, and the Devil whispers seductively in our ear, encouraging our satisfaction with what we already have, urging us to eat manna stored beyond its day, bolstering our self-righteousness.

So, sincere Christians – our dear questioners – it is to the inward witness we would point you. We, as much as you, have an obligation to search inwardly and see where Christ leads us; also to sit with our Bibles open and our hearts and minds at the Lord’s mercy, to let his Holy Spirit guide our reading.

For we know, and can testify today, that what really seals our faith is that same Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). We will not forbid you water, or anything; but there are those of us who were, for example, sprinkled as infants and thereby made not one whit better, who have since come to know the powerful, continuous, eternal baptism of Jesus Christ with the Holy Ghost and fire. There are those of us, moreover, who, in answer to our beliefs of the time, were immersed in water; and whatever we felt at that time, now and since have come to know the baptism of the Holy Ghost. And indeed there are those of us who have never known the touch of water, but nevertheless have come to know the one baptism of Jesus Christ.

So can we say that we, today, are the Lord’s prophets? Let us bring this constantly before Him, so that the testimony can be constantly renewed. Amen.

‘Queries and Advices’ (Book of Discipline)

We now have some more copies of our ‘Queries & Advices’ booklet, as drawn up by our yearly meeting for 1993. Although we have since then been led to lay down the structure of a ‘Yearly Meeting’ (as a body of constituent local Meetings), willing to take it up again if the Lord should lead us, we still hold an annual gathering under the name of a yearly meeting, and we also retain the ‘Queries & Advices’.

Please feel free to ask for a copy. They are free of charge, but we are always grateful to receive an envelope to accommodate an A5 booklet and a contribution towards postage.

Why Silent Worship?

Silent worship, open worship, listening prayer and unprogrammed meetings are all essentially terms for the same type of worship. It is a time that people meet together to listen to God and to hear His message through themselves and others… People generally gather together without saying much. For a while they may just sit, listening (praying) to God. If someone feels led, they may speak a short message or testimony, they may sing a song or request that a song be sung, or they could just read some Scripture aloud. Generally, though, most of the service is spent in silent listening…  Depending on how the Lord leads, there may be a few minutes of silent prayer, or several people may share what the Lord put on their hearts.

The Lord said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper (I Kings 19:11-12). If you want to hear God speak, most of the time He speaks with a still, small voice. We need to be listening to Him so that we can know His will in our lives.

Prayer is not a one-way channel. Prayer should be a combination of talking to God and listening. However, most Christians today have lost that idea. They look at prayer as a time to make requests to God and give him thanks for things he’s done for us. These are valid parts of a prayer; we just need to remember that it is very difficult for God to speak to us if we are the ones that are always talking.

When we have open worship as a corporate body, it allows us to strengthen each other by what God speaks through us. Open worship gives God a distinct opportunity to speak to multiple people though others’ testimonies and challenges. Open worship gives the opportunity for God to express Himself spontaneously, through whatever gift he may give the person delivering His message. These gifts could be in the form of songs, devotionals, testimonies, or even sermons.

Be sure to listen. God doesn’t usually want to yell to get your attention. He has given us the free will to choose whether or not to listen, and most of the time he will not force his message on us if we have not given ourselves to him.

from an article by Nathan James, written 2002
originally published in The Call 

A brief word of warning

A brief word of warning to those who get themselves into the seat of judgment in their own power.

There are those, even some who profess Christ but are none of his, who accuse us of many things. To them I say that you are false accusers (2 Timothy 3:3) and shall be cast down as Satan (Revelation 12:10) because you touch the apple of the Lord’s eye (Zechariah 2:8,9).

A friend to your souls, though an enemy to your untruth.
29th of 12th month 2011.

Friends in Christ new WordPress site now live.

This is just an introductory note to open our new site on WordPress.