Don’t be ashamed of Christ

For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.
Luke 9:25-26

Some of you may have read a recent newspaper article in which it was stated that “The Quakers” are considering dropping any reference to the word “God” in their meetings, literature, publicity, etc.

As so often happens with newspaper articles, clarity and accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of brevity. In the context of the article, “The Quakers” refers only to the body in the UK properly known as Britain Yearly Meeting (that body also affects the title ‘The Religious Society of Friends in Britain’, as though claiming exclusivity to name and territory). BYM has inherited the organisation and property of the Society of Friends, though, for a long time, it has abandoned the Society’s faith and testimonies for ones based on worldly values. We know BYM folk to be well-meaning people, but being well-meaning is not enough. Indeed their well-meaning-ness has gained them the respect of the world – but what does that profit them if that respect is gained at the loss of their soul. Their organisation may continue to function, but it will never again live.

We take no pleasure in their failure. Their being named in the context of the article, however, means that those of us who are not associated with them but who bear the same outward name – “Quaker” – are obliged to work doubly hard to re-affirm that BYM does not speak for us, nor does it speak in the name of Quakerism, nor does it express the ground of our faith in Jesus Christ.

We do not have creeds that we recite, as the churches of the world do, but we do find unity in the statement our ancient friend George Fox made to the Governor of Barbados in 1671, as reproduced below.

“We own and believe in God, the only wise, omnipotent and everlasting God, the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, and the Preserver of all that he hath made; who is God over all, blessed for ever. And we own and believe in Jesus Christ his beloved and only begotten Son, in whom he is well pleased. And we own and believe that he was made a sacrifice for sin, who knew no sin, and that he was buried and rose again on the third day by the power of his Father, for our justification, and that he ascended up into heaven. This Jesus who was the foundation of the holy prophets and apostles, is our foundation and we believe there is no other foundation to be laid but that which is laid, even Christ Jesus who tasted death for every man, shed his blood for all men, is the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. We believe that he alone is our Redeemer and Saviour. Christ Jesus the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last. He is (as the Scriptures of Truth say of him) our wisdom, righteousness, justification, and redemption, neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. He rules in our hearts, by his law of love and life, and made us free from the law of sin and death. We have no life but by him, for he is the quickening Spirit, the second Adam. He is our Mediator who makes peace and reconciliation between God offended and us offending. He being the Oath of God, the new Covenant of Light, Life, Grace, and Peace, the author and finisher of our faith. This we say is that Lord Jesus Christ, whom we own to be our life and salvation.”

Advertisements

“Beware of Low-flying Bigots! “

The following article appeared in The Call in 2013
__________

Some sects of professing Christians maintain that no believer should go by any other name than ‘Christian’, because that is what the early Church knew themselves as, citing the Bible as their prime evidence for this. However, let us look at where this word appears in the Bible. It can be found in three places:

Acts 11:26And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” This Greco-Latin word Χριστιανός /Christianus was undoubtedly given to believers by the pagan population of Antioch, most likely as a dismissive term, and was not how they addressed or thought of each other and themselves.

Acts 26:28Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” From Paul’s audience with King Herod Agrippa and Roman Procurator Porcius Festus, we learn that the Rome-educated Agrippa, brought up in the Jewish faith, comes close to an intellectual, outward assent to the Apostles testimony that Christ fulfilled the Prophets. He uses the word common amongst outsiders – ‘Christian’ – but Paul does not use it. Rather, he distinguishes between the outward perception and the reality. “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day were both almost, and altogether such as I am…” (Acts 26:29) “Such as I am,” says Paul! Not one who may be outwardly labelled a ‘Christian’, but one who can say “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

1 Peter 4:16Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God…” The previous two usages of the word prepare the way for this. They are super-ficial, they do not show an understanding of what it meant to be a disciple, to be a member of the early Church, to be a ‘saint’. When a person suffered for being a ‘Christian’ he suffered not because anyone truly understood that to which he was bearing witness, but because of what they perceived him to be. Disloyal, a fanatic cultist, a bad citizen, a traitor to the Emperor, a blasphemer, a performer of erotic rites (‘love feasts’), an eater of flesh and drinker of blood, even a fire-raiser and an atheist. The early Church had a message of love and salvation, but many were deaf to it, hearing and seeing only the superficial ‘Christian’.

It has been claimed that the name was adopted by believers, maybe as a convenient identification, or maybe to take the sting out of it as a term of reproach. This is not unlikely, and the term ‘Christian’ is one with which most believers, including ourselves, are comfortable. Thus it came into being in the same way that 17th century disciples became known as ‘Quakers’ first as a term of abuse and then by adopting the name. But still, there is no more scriptural evidence to suggest that ‘Christian’ was divinely ordained than ‘Quaker’ was, save that providence may have led the way into each. In Peter’s time, each assembly of believers (and not the building in which they assembled) was known as a Church, and its congregation as ‘saints’. Peter himself called them “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…” (1 Peter 2:9)

By contrast, these days the term ‘Christian’ seems to be a very broad and liberal definition. Rather than insist on the nomenclature and criticise anyone who doesn’t, it behoves us to strive to be ‘as Paul was’, when he appeared before Festus and Agrippa.

There is a danger in adopting a name levelled slanderously at us. Nowadays the most frequent term used by outsiders is ‘bigot’. This is mainly due to our testimony with regard to a single issue. But our testimony is one of God’s love. “How can you claim to ‘love’ us,” ask our detractors, “If you do not agree with our self-image and with our socio-political agenda?” Hard as it may be for them to understand – we simply do! In the famous parable, the Samaritan simply sees a man beaten and left for dead by thieves and helps him. He never once asks the man who he is, what his ethnic heritage is, what his sexual orientation is, what his class or political beliefs are, what his religion is, whether he is an honest man or himself a thief. He simply helps him, and at his own risk.

That was one of Christ’s models for what a person who was ‘as Paul was’ would be like. His charity would be unthinking and unhesitating, informed by no bigotry. But there would nevertheless be things to which he could not, in all love, assent without shattering the peace of God in his conscience. To label this kind of person a ‘bigot’ is to redefine the word by bending it wholly out of shape. What part of a believer’s testimony to telling the truth would it be if we ever accepted this term as being divinely ordained for us, or even convenient to adopt?

Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way…  Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.  Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” (Matthew 5:22-26)

We put this question: For our righteousness to be greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees, how would we ‘agree’ with an adversary who has insulted us in this way? What canst thou say?

 

Be silent , O all flesh.

This article was first published in The Call in 2011.

__________

Dear Friends,

In the stillness and silence of the power of the Almighty dwell, which never varies, alters, nor changes, but preserveth over and out of all the changeable worships, religions, ministers, churches, teachings, principalities, and powers, with the power of God, which keepeth over all this, to the kingdom of Christ, that is everlasting.”

(George Fox, Epistle 201)

It is unlike us to lead on George Fox. Worthy though our ancient friend was, and though he was both an apostle of Christ in his time and an elder and apostle to us now by his writings, we do not preach George Fox. We preach Christ. We preach the same Christ that Fox preached.

George Fox never founded the practice of silent worship; in fact it could be said that far from founding it he found it! It was the practice of a group known as the Seekers, who came into being in the 1620s, probable influenced by the preaching of the brothers Walter, Thomas, and Bartholomew Legate. This group of people had come out of all the forms and hierarchies of established religion, broken, poor in spirit (that wonderful state in which one realises that nothing, even one’s standing in a church, even one’s piety, even one’s works, even one’s humility, is of any value to God and in realising that takes the first step heavenward; “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3), and knew that their only hope was Jesus Christ. Their silence was one of waiting and hope – “Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.” Zechariah 2:13. It was a silence and a hope that George Fox knew and recognised, and there is no better way to hear this than by his own testimony:

But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition; and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.

Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give Him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had been; that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall hinder it? and this I knew experimentally.

My desire after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the Scriptures that spoke of Christ and of God, yet I knew Him not, but by revelation, as He who hath the key did open, and as the Father of Life drew me to His Son by His Spirit. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see His love, which was endless and eternal, surpassing all the knowledge that men have in the natural state, or can obtain from history or books; and that love let me see myself, as I was without Him.” (GF, Journal, Ch1)

To meet in the silence of the flesh in those days was a matter of prophecy. It was prophecy to the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, before whom all things made by human invention are worthless. From that silence before the Lord all other things proceeded – prophesying, praying, preaching, teaching, singing – according to the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “All ye Friends, that wait in that which is pure in itself, which cannot lie, which doth not change, wait upon God, for God doth not change, and let all flesh be silent before the Lord, that the life may speak in all; then the mouth of the Lord is known, and God is exalted and glorified with his own work, which he brings forth.” (GF, Epistle 43).

Fox speaks of “them that are come to silent meetings… to feed there” (Epistle 131), meaning that such things as were broken and blessed by the Lord were to be had as spiritual sustenance at such meetings as observed the commandment “be silent , O all flesh”, but we know that early Quaker meetings, whilst ‘silent’ in that way were far from ‘quiet’ in another. The prophesying, praying, preaching, teaching, and singing all filled the air with sound.

Where does that find us today?

A Friend coined a word for religious proceedings which delighted the senses – he called it ‘religertainment’, a combination of the words ‘religion’ and ‘entertainment’. A second Friend replied with another coining – ‘religaxation’ – a combination of ‘religion’ and ‘relaxation’, by which he meant a meeting in which the silence does nothing more than soothe the senses. Each is a manifestation of the personalisation of religion. The disciples waited with ‘one accord’, taking the words from Acts 1:14 and 2:1.

We are a small and isolated people, our meetings are small and largely quiet. Perhaps that is meant to be so, perhaps we are keeping a particular, if small, candle of prophecy burning to let other professors of Christianity know that Jesus Christ is sufficient. Perhaps we are like a small number of soldiers ‘holding a line’ in the Lamb’s War. Our silence must therefore be the silence of all flesh, and if we are quiet that must be the outward testimony to the inward silence. It must be at the Lord’s command, and must be broken when we are commanded to speak, to prophesy, to preach, to pray, to teach, or to sing.

Someone unused to Friends’ worship recently asked “Why are Friends not more exuberant?” He had been invited to the funeral of a Friend which took the form of a meeting for worship (albeit within the discipline of the liberal body where the name of Christ is rarely heard). He was surprised to find that no one spoke, and at last felt impelled himself to stand and speak about the deceased person. He left at the end somewhat dissatisfied, but perhaps he had not considered that it had been the Lord’s will that he and no one else should speak on that occasion. Who knows?

One last thing about the appeal to the senses in worship. When we are come at last to Jesus Christ and know his love and salvation, the whole world has a different feel and scent to it. It is fresh to our senses, fresh to our intelligence, as it is to be seen with the refreshment of our spirits. There is nothing amiss with what may be given in worship pleasing the sense or the intelligence, but only if that measure of pleasing is according to the Lord and not according to us. There is nothing wrong with singing or with ‘exuberance’ as long as it is in answer to the clear prompting of the Lord. It is not to be an end in itself, either to impress or please a visitor or to delight ourselves. If we sing the words of the Psalmist or of Whittier or of Wesley it should be because the Lord has given us those words to sing. Otherwise we are not in the same spirit as were the Psalmist or Whittier or Wesley when the Lord led them to write their words. Take heed however, Friends, that the prophecy we are given may not always delight us nor be agreeable to the world.

Therefore silence all flesh, and see your own ways be clean.” (GF, Epistle 47)

Putting your trust in princes

The following article was published in The Call in 2011.

__________

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Romans 13: 1-7

The above passage from Scripture is often quoted by those who insist that a Christian should be a law-abiding, quiescent citizen of wherever he or she lives. After all, the guidance which the passage gives is unequivocal.

Critics of this view object that it makes the reign of Adolf Hitler somehow ordained by God, and his waging of unjust wars of conquest, his persecution of political opponents and racial groups a ‘terror to the evil’ works. This is something which would be difficult for any intelligent person, believer or not, to accept – that Hitler was ‘a revenger to execute wrath on him that doeth evil’.

At the time of Hitler’s rise to power the German pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller, and many like him, initially supported Hitler because they shared his anti-communist beliefs. But when Hitler declared the state’s supremacy over religion Niemöller became the leader of a group of clergymen opposed to Nazism. In 1933 his group inserted a clause in their founding charter to the effect that any dismissal by the state of one of their pastors on the grounds of his having Jewish ancestry should be refused. By 1937 Niemöller was interred in a concentration camp and was not released until 1945.

These famous words against political apathy are ascribed to him: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” It is not certain where and when he first said those words; many people have offered other versions, but the words above are the ones that Niemöller himself claimed as his own.

These words of Niemöller’s are a world away from the quiescent citizenship in defense of which Romans 13 is most often cited. The deeds of many who have defied – one may even say ‘resisted’ – the laws of their countries are also a world away. These countries have included the most despotic and the most apparently democratic. Where their requirements and laws have been seen to run contrary to the commandments of Christ then Christians have stood against them, have refused to acquiesce, have demonstrably not rendered tribute, custom, fear, and honour.

The Apostles Peter and John were commanded by the High Priests Annas, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they replied: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20); yet surely these men who commanded them not to speak were higher powers of the Jewish church, and Peter and John were subject to them?

It is a common complaint, or indeed a matter of scorn in the mouths of those who do not believe, that one can prove anything with a Bible quotation, and that diametrically opposite viewpoints can be supported by Scriptural text. This is, of course, entirely true! The Bible has been used to excuse all manner of things, according to human wisdom.

But Scripture itself is not a product of human wisdom but of God’s. There are many professors of Christianity who hold that the only interpretation of Scripture allowable is what is plainly seen on the page, thus declaring that man’s wisdom which did not produce Scripture is the only wisdom that may interpret it. It is that viewpoint and no other, however, which gives rise to the criticism from others that the Bible may be used to support any argument. Paul may say one thing in Romans 13 – the Psalmist says “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” (Psalm 146:3).

Certainly there is a level at which Scripture is a simple and plain witness to those who have not yet had the baptism of the Holy Spirit. However there are things within Scripture – its apparent contradictions for one – which remain mysteries to human wisdom no matter how assiduous a study is made of them. In those cases it is necessary to acknowledge that as the Lord’s Holy Spirit made them mysteries then the same Holy Spirit alone can open those mysteries. To run ahead of the Holy Spirit in interpretation of Scripture is both to take away from it and to add to it, both of which are cursed in Revelation 22:18,19.

They that wait upon the Lord…

The following article was published in ‘The Call’ in 2010.
__________

And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. Matt 8:21,22

Readers, today is the day of your visitation. As you look at this page, you have come to a point in your lives where you have to make a choice. None of you is exempt from this – it applies to those of you who consider yourselves religious, as much as those of you who do not.

The choice is this. You stand, as it were, at a fork in the road. In one direction is a broad, flower-strewn path, bordered by every delight and diversion you can think of, every reward of “success”, every lottery win, everything by which the world measures worthiness – but the distant horizon is dark. That is the path of selfishness, and down it stroll people who repeat, “I’m not such a bad sort, really. I’m not such a bad sort, really…”

In the other direction is a narrow path of no apparent beauty, just a steady climb. But on the horizon a light shines; and it seems to shine not only in the distance, but also it illuminates the path, so there is no mistaking where to put your feet. And it seems to call to you, it is familiar somehow, there is a light in your consciences which grows in answer to the light ahead. There is something terrible about the light, because at first all it seems to illuminate in you are things you would rather forget; but the more you look at the light, the more it seems to offer a way out of these things, a kind of cleansing.

Even now you can still refuse the call! You can still shrug off the familiar feeling, and jog merrily down the broad, easy, well-trod path, picking up gew-gaws as you walk ever closer to the darkened horizon.

The choice is yours!

This article is not an exhortation to join a sect, not even to join Friends in Christ if you are not already members. It is not a demand that you read the Bible (although that would be a very good idea!). It is a plea to you to fix your eyes on the light – it shines inside you, and it will never let you down! It is he who said, “I am the way, the truth, the life,” Jesus Christ, and he has come to meet you, spirit to spirit.

This article is not an invitation to come along to a chapel or mission on such-and-such street, not even to meetings of Friends in Christ if you do not already worship with us. It is a plea to you to wait in silence (that means to let your worldly concerns slip away from your thoughts), and let the light of Christ grow in you. You can do this anywhere, even in your own homes.

This article does not suggest that you “get religion” (religion means talking to God, or rather at him!), but that you accept the gift of faith (faith means listening to God!). The people who put this before you did not hand you an outward map to a meeting room, but an inward map – and only a rough one at that – to point to the narrow path and to the light.

People do all sorts of things with their lives – they join the rat-race, they play football, they take part in religious activities, and so on. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. The converse is true – they that do not wait upon the Lord, or wait upon some other thing or idea, shall not renew their strength.

Today is the day of your visitation. Today is the day of your choice. Today you stand at a fork in the road.

Some words on Gospel power

The following article was published in ‘The Call’ in 2010.
__________

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Matthew 5:13

An English Friend, in a note written after travelling in Gospel ministry in the United States in the 1990s, said:

“During my travels I saw many periodicals in Friends’ houses which were from mainstream evangelical sources; and though the writers may well have been honest and tender – and the Friends certainly were – the doctrines in those periodicals were in many cases those which the first generations of Friends had been led away from, as being built upon sand.

I was invited once to watch an evangelical preacher on television. What struck me more than anything was not his preaching nor his doctrine, of which I remember little, but his white shirt, his immaculately knotted necktie, his orthodontistry, his winning smile, his neat hairstyle, and so on. There might have been life in his work, but I couldn’t see it.

However, I also visited a place where youngsters with learning difficulties gathered. I call them youngsters because they were each reckoned to have a mental age of five, though they were in their teens and early twenties mostly. At one point they were doing what they called their ‘craft’, which entailed coulouring and cutting out pictures of biblical figures, and attaching tabs to make them stand upright. One young man – lanky, and I guess rather unprepossessing – suddenly announced to his immediate neighbours ‘I have Jesus in my heart’, and then went round his friends asking each one “Do you have Jesus in your heart?’ At each affirmative answer he smiled and chuckled with delight, so much so that I was struck deeply by this, and the words of our ancient friend George Fox were recalled to my mind – ‘What canst thou say?’ And also the scripture words ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise’.

Not many days after this episode, I was at present in a Meeting House for their business meeting. A concern was raised about reaching out to the local community, and ideas were expressed; it became like a brain-storming session, and less like a meeting in the Lord’s presence, and I began to feel very uneasy. I looked across to a good friend of mine, a faithful woman, and saw that she was deep in prayer.

Suddenly an elderly Friend rose. In his time he had been a greatly-gifted and recorded Gospel minister, but of late a stroke had quietened and weakened him, so that he did not often hold much conversation with folk, let alone speak in meeting. I do not recall the words that were given to him, but I do recall that they were powerful prophecy. When he sat down the meeting was quiet again, brought back under the Lord’s discipline, and business continued prayerfully.

On that occasion the words came to me ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’.

Great indeed is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness, and blessed is the LORD for letting me see such things. Small they may seem to those who go about in earthly greatness and splendour, but they are miracles.”

Although we do not preach up George Fox, but rather Christ the Head of the Church, we do find GF’s writing to be truly prophetic and worth reading and repeating. These lines from Epistle 318: “And keep your testimony for your men and women’s meetings, in the power of God, by which you are gathered out of the apostasy, and over it, into the everlasting gospel order, as was in the apostles’ days. Which gospel is not of man; but by Christ, the spiritual man” are such, when we consider the wreck that has been made of gospel order in some places – even some places that claim our society’s name. Rather than seeking the wisdom that is of the world, let us hope to be more like that naïve youth, and like that elderly man – such as the world counts as nothing, but who are loved and blessed by the Lord, and who praise and serve him.

Amen.

Knowledge and Prophecy

(This article appeared in The Call in 2009)

For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.”
(Romans 10:2,3)

There is a religious organisation which goes from door to door in the UK and elsewhere. Very often it will be a man and wife on the doorstep, sometimes even with a child or two. They are sincere in their beliefs, and very well-meaning, and they are always very courteous to members of the households they visit.

At each house they offer a magazine, setting out their beliefs about God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. It is obvious from reading the articles in their magazine that their scholars have read and studied the Bible as well as any person could.

A recent issue had the following to say about the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Such powerful works or gifts of the spirit passed away with the death of Jesus and the apostles and any to whom they passed on the gifts. The apostle Paul wrote: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are [miraculously spoken] tongues, they will cease; whether there is [divinely revealed] knowledge, it shall be done away with.” (1  Corinthians 13:8) Why? Having accomplished their purpose – identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Christian congregation as favoured by God – such powerful works, including healing, are no longer needed; they are “done away with”. Still, Jesus’ miracles of healing have an important message for us today. If we pay attention to and exercise faith in what Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, we can look forward toward the time when the inspired prophecy will be fulfilled both spiritually and physically.

A faithful Friend, on reading the foregoing, commented as follows:

I am no theologian and am not clever enough to argue with anyone, but if we look at that sentence “Such powerful works or gifts of the spirit passed away with the death of Jesus and the apostles and any to whom they passed on the gifts”, may I ask who said so? Paul says they will pass away but I am not aware that he gave a date or even said it would happen shortly after his death. Is there anywhere in the New Testament that states these things were to pass away with the death of the apostles and their followers? If there is then please let me have the quotation. All I can see is an extension of scripture which has become a man-made theology as most extensions and modifications are. I have this “thing” about man-made doctrine and it does get me very angry I’m afraid. It is usually mixed in with just enough scriptures to make it sound plausible, like the prosperity teachings.

And so it seems to be. Like so many notions concerning Jesus Christ, that would make him decrease when Scripture says that he shall increase. People will say “Such-and-such a thing must have ceased, because I am a believer and do not experience it. Therefore I will find scripture to support this position, and make it a tenet of my beliefs.” Then, when another people come before them to prophesy, they say “Aha, this must be false, because we have proved it so!”

So, is there still prophecy and prophesying? The answer is that there is as much or as little as the Lord measures out – no more, no less – or a minister of the Gospel would rise to speak only out of his own knowledge and imaginings.

Is there still divinely-granted knowledge? The answer is that there is as much or as little as the Lord measures out – no more, no less – or a reader of the words which the Holy Spirit gave forth would have only the intellect of fallen humanity to rely on to open their meaning; there would be only blind guides, speaking and writing words which never spoke to the condition of the listener or reader.

Importantly, the Church would be a pale imitation of the Church set up by Christ, in Jerusalem, to be his Body. He would not be there amongst them, because they would have only the Bible and their ideas about it. He would stand at the door and knock, and his knocking would go unheard. They would not be gathered in his Name.

Are we immune from the temptation to set things up in place of Christ, and of denying his headship in favour of our own doctrine? Who could be? Since the Lord gathered us as a people we have seen the idol of self raised up many times, and notions and imagination seduce many people. Here is a passage from the Journal of John Churchman, dating from 1740

An elderly man asked us if we saw some posts to which he pointed, and added, the first meeting George Fox had on this side of Chesapeake Bay, was held in a tobacco house there, which was then new, and those posts were part of it. John Browning [Churchman’s companion] rode to them, and sat on his horse very quiet; and returning to us again with more speed than he went, I asked him what he saw amongst those old posts. He answered, “I would not have missed what I saw for five pounds, for I saw the root and ground of idolatry. Before I went, I thought perhaps I might have felt some secret virtue in the place where George Fox had stood and preached, whom I believe was a good man; but whilst I stood there, I was secretly informed, that if George was a good man, he was in heaven, and not there, and virtue is not to be communicated by dead things, whether posts, earth, or curious pictures, but by the power of God, who is the fountain of living virtue.”

Even the excellence of scripture can be a dead thing, because the scribes and Pharisees had scripture in abundance, and believed in the words which were written (or in their own interpretation). Jesus said to those of the old covenant, who sought to destroy him: “And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:38-40).

On BBC radio, a co-religionist of those whom Jesus warned said words to the effect that the Messiah was to usher in an era of brotherhood between men, and as there was today no brotherhood between men, it followed that Jesus was not the Messiah. Those who have the word abiding in them know different, and that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. It is no good for people to refuse him, and then say, “Because I feel no brotherhood towards my fellow man, there is no Prince of Peace”, any more than it is any good for those who refuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit to say that because they have no experience of them their doctrine shall be based on the non-existence of such things.

Any person can become like Thomas, refusing to believe Christ had risen until he could see and touch the wounds on the Master’s body. Some go further and make a virtue of it, and a doctrine. But we should say, with Paul, “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings.”

“Let your lives Preach”

(This article first appeared in The Call in 2008)

The title of this article is, of course, the words of our ancient Friend, George Fox.

We do not give GF’s words great prominence for one good reason – one of which GF himself would have approved. It is not him whom we preach, but Christ Jesus crucified, raised, living as the Head of the Church.

But GF is one of our respected fathers and mothers in the Lord, a faithful apostle unto death, and the man who first articulated the doctrines and testimonies to which we have been drawn by the Lord.

Fox’s words quoted above have, by a later generation, been deliberately and prominently misquoted. On a rock popularly called “Fox’s Pulpit”, up on Firbank Fell, in Northern England, a plaque has been fixed, bearing the false words – “Let your lives speak”. These words Fox did not say! His true words had a specific content and context.

They were addressed to the church, to the assembled and gathered people who heard and obeyed the voice of the Shepherd. Each of these four words had its own import, its own significance. Taken as a whole, they were a prophetic utterance as truthful and faithful today as they were when they were first spoken.

Let

Scripture says: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings.” (Thessalonians 5:19,20)

There is one God, who is the same to all, whose fire is, to the faithful, a refining and purifying fire, and, to the unfaithful, a consuming furnace. He is Light to all, and enlightens all, revealing and convicting of sin. To those who will turn their eyes to the Light, he is a guide and a way; to those who turn away, he continues a reproach and a condemnation. This Light is in all men, and is there to be regarded and heeded. But some – even those who profess – do not obey.

The word “Let” reminds us that we must co-operate, obey, submit, accept that reproach and conviction for our sins, turn our eyes to the Light. It takes our active participation. It takes our willingness to let the idol of self slip from our hands. It takes our reaching to take up the cross instead.

Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, reminds the church that no self-consciousness, no desire to submerge into the world and to fit in, is an excuse for ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and others, nor the clearest leadings to speak as directed by God. Hence the importance of GF’s first word in his famous phrase.

Your

This simple word is addressed to the church as a communal whole, and to each member individually. Each one is responsible for his or her own life, and the community for the community’s. the command of Christ, expressed simply here by GF, is direct to each one of us and to all.

Lives

This is an all encompassing word. Apologists for modern quietism say that this as-near-as forbids one from speaking out; but rather one should pursue only salvation by works, without faith. Let them read the letter of James, and see what that apostle witnesses about faith and works.

One’s life, and our lives as a church, includes everything we do – working, eating, sleeping, resting – yes, and speaking, and writing!

In Christ’s own words: Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) and tellingly, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32,33)

Oh what volumes these simple words say about remaining silent!

Preach

Preach what? What does the word mean?

What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27)

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.” (Matthew 24:14)

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature… And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” (Mark 16:15 and 20)

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.” (Romans 10:15)

Has ever anything been more clearly stated? By word and deed, the very existence of the church, its whole prophetic purpose to the world is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not to “speak” of worldly values, but to preach the Gospel.

So, friends, let your lives preach!

The commandments of Christ.

(The following address was found in the files of The Call and is reproduced here in edited form. The author’s name has not been recovered.)

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another

John 15:15-17

For a Christian to be humble is to yield ones self to God, to surrender one’s own will to God’s will, to let go of our ‘self ‘ and let the Lord work through us. It is not to be hiding from the world nor is it to be a cowering figure afraid to speak truth, for fear of reproach.

It is to live a life   filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and the strength of God, and to speak God’s truth as and when it is given us to speak regardless of what may be thought of it. This is not arrogance, it would only be so if we spoke from our own will instead of the Lord’s will. It is to be cleansed by Christ of our own selfishness and desires, to lead a simple life, unfettered by the world’s vanities, fashions, values, or agendas and to give our lives over to the will of the Lord: to act as the Lord leads us, to speak as the Lord bids us. To be humble is to be rid of ‘self’, to seek for nothing for ourselves, nor to gain anything other than what the Lord wills for us, for is it not written: He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

A simple life is an inner life, a life lived in the spirit, a life of spiritual poverty, desiring only to serve the Lord and to be content in this, to spend our life cleansing all that the Light of Christ holds up before us, all that lies within us which creates a barrier between ourselves and Christ. Humility is accepting that we need to change and to be changed, and to be emptied of all that opposes such change. For such change to occur we must be filled with the Love of God and the Holy Spirit. But how can we be filled when there is no space within us due to the accumulation of so much that keeps us from seeing God. The Lord cannot light up the temple if the temple is not a fit vessel. What is already full of sin must then  be emptied out as the light of Christ blazes up within us to do the work on each of us that needs to be done. To paraphrase early Friends, sin must be eradicated, Satan must be banished from our lives by the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Such a humility implies trust, a trust in the Lord, and acceptance of God’s grace. If we did not trust we would not be willing   to surrender ourselves to the Lord’s care, for to do so requires us to live a life of uncertainty as to where we will be led. Only trust or faith in the Lord enables us to embrace such a life.

A trust such as this is only possible with a great Love of God, who in turn loves all, and dwells within all, waiting for us to turn to his light and seek him out. We are called to love as God loves, open and accepting to and of ourselves and others, even our enemies. We are called to judge, (but not to condemn for that is the Lords right only) but only when we do so as a servant of the Lord, for if we judge on our own will then we judge as the world judges and we sin. When we judge in the Lords will we speak God’s truth and do the Lord’s work. To judge is the speak God’s truth to the world, it is not to condemn but simply to speak the truth. When we judge we act from a  knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, we know that something or someone is contravening God’s law and we are called to speak out. The act of turning to Christ in our lives is a judgement upon the world and its ways. For we are saying that the worlds ways are not the Lords ways, they are not The Truth, and we will not follow the way of error nay longer. So, to turn to Christ is to turn to the truth and speak this truth to the world and to ‘judge ‘ in that sense of the word.

For judgment through our own will is self righteousness and is not the Lord’s voice. It is always easier to see wrong doing in others than in  ourselves  this is why Christ admonishes us when he says to those who have not yet found their way to  God, “How can you say to your brother, Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye, when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

When we seek to address someone regarding a matter of concern we should do so whilst speaking from the Lord, otherwise we are hypocrites

Christ’s Love exemplified ultimately this love when he sacrificed himself to redeem the world and show us the way to God. His Love was for all, even those who condemned him – his enemies – how can we love less than this and still call ourselves His Friends or disciples!

His Love was so great he asked for those who condemned him to be forgiven, he did not ask for vengeance or judgement upon those people. This Love demands that we do like wise in loving one another and loving our enemies, and leaving condemnation to the Lord.

This Love is not an airy, superficial love, it does not imply that ‘anything goes’ as in the period of the 1960’s for example-do what you will was the prevailing belief, or today with quick fix man made religions/new age systems of belief. This love is a life changing powerful love, lived out and expressed in accordance with Scripture and guided by the Holy Spirit and It is the failure to live in this way that has brought the world to it’s present state, a disobedient people turned from God’s truth and destroying Gods creation.

The world chooses the delusion that needs will be satisfied in full by technology and science, yet the real need is ignored, spiritual need from which all others needs are truly met.

Love means caring about others, this means that Love may sometimes demand of us placing ourselves in the firing line or, giving a stern word or rebuke as the occasion demands, or be seen as politically incorrect by others/society. However, in the world today the emphasis is on individualism, and ‘individual rights’ and it runs counter to the societal norm for anyone to speak out in a way that is seen as diminishing this notion that  as individuals we can behave as we please and no one has a right to gainsay what we do or say. As Christ’s ‘Friends’ we may well be called to speak out on matters that contravene God’s laws regardless of what others think of this.

This type of individualism however runs counter to serving God, as this means pursuing one’s own way without God’s guidance and setting up modern forms of idolatry and false Gods – money, ambition, success, egoism, inappropriate use of and reliance on technology. The world has not changed much since the time of Christ except that there are fewer people of faith today than then. To paraphrase early Friends again, Satan still stalks the earth, evil is abroad in the world, and the Lamb’s war continues though his army seems fewer in numbers today.

The Gospel of Christ is probably even more necessary today than at any time in our history. If we see someone acting in a way as to cause harm to himself or others Love may demand us speak out – not in judgement but to point out the error in their conduct for the benefit of all concerned so that they do not cause harm through ignorance of what they are doing and its consequences. For example, a child putting its hand up to a pot of boiling water, the parent may shout at the child and grab its hand with force, causing the child to cry. But such an act is done with love, not seeking to distress or hurt the child, but to prevent the causing of serious harm. God loves us the same way, he may rebuke us, or deal us a strong lesson because he Loves us and wants to free us from sin and error which prevents us from coming closer to him.

God in turn demands of his people, that in obedience to his call, they rebuke and act to free others from sin and error in order to lead them closer to God. We are called to return blows with love, to the world this seems an odd response, but to do otherwise only perpetuates cycles of violence, retaliation which are forms of sin, and conflicts with Christian Love and Christ’s command to keep the commandments of Moses, and to Love one another, and forgive our enemies. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

If we are wronged we can speak out in response to the other party with Love but still speak with determination, resolution, and judgement (God’s Truth). We can speak the truth in our defence when someone wrongly accuses us of an offence as Christ did to the Pharisees and others, we can also be clearly determined in the nature our responses as when Christ drove the money lenders from the temple, which too was an act of Love. If our own lives are to be temples for the Lord to dwell in, they must be cleansed of all that stands in the way of the Lord touching our lives enabling the  in pouring of the Love of Christ. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” But we must first seek that spirit within us, turn to the light of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and clear away the debris that conceals it from us. We must cast out Satan from our lives as The Lord cast him out of Heaven.

The commandments of Christ all hinge around Love, which is many faceted, it can take the form of tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, rebuke, challenge, anger (it is fine to be angry so long as we express our anger in the Lord’s will ,without hate or malice). Christian Love is not a call to lay down and hide or to be weak willed, it calls us to stand up and be counted amongst God’s children and possibly receive ill responses from others for doing so, it can lead us to be in places and do things we feel uncomfortable with, but need to be done, the lives of the Apostles reflect this. Love calls us to practice in our daily lives the commandments of Christ and not to compromise them to accommodate the world or to ‘fit in’ with the world, or to adjust them to be politically correct and conform to the latest social and political agendas. Love will lead us to a more intimate relationship with our Lord and Saviour, to find great joy even in our tribulations, and to a deeper more meaningful love for life and all creation.

My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.

Proverbs 3:1-8

My Lord and My God

(reproduced from a lead article in The Call, issue 2004/2)

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.” [John 20:6,7]

The world of religious relics is a mysterious and controversial one, and has been so for many centuries. One of the most famous relics is lodged in Turin, and purports to be an ancient burial shroud. When tests upon this cloth revealed what appeared to be the image of a bearded man with bloody marks on his body and head as if from scourging and a crown of thorns, wounds on his hands and feet as if from crucifixion, and a wound in his side as if from a spear-thrust, there was much excitement. Was this, as Roman Catholic devotees claimed, the shroud which had wrapped Christ in His tomb?

When more tests, including carbon-dating, suggested that the artifact was no earlier than medieval, many people were not surprised. The middle ages were, it seems, awash with dubious relics – pigs’ bones masquerading as those of apostles, enough nails supposedly from the crucifixion to melt down and make a warehouse full of kettles, and so on. In the case of the Turin shroud, one could only marvel at the subtlety and ingenuity of the fake. Certainly the features of the man accorded with medieval ideas of Jesus’ face – bearded rather than the clean-shaven man of earlier icons – and that lent weight to the view that the shroud was bogus.

However, that was not the end of the story. Historical record showed that a box in Oviedo, in Spain, had been there several centuries before the now-established date of the Turin shroud. In that box was a small piece of cloth, said to have wrapped Christ’s head. When test were carried out of that piece of cloth, there were indications that the available DNA matched that retrieved from the shroud. The dating of the shroud was in doubt once more!

More detective work was done on the shroud – for example, how it must have been folded when it suffered water damage, which gave some clues as to how it had been stored. One of the more startling finds was some stitch-work in the shroud which was typical of that found only in 1st century Judea!

That is how things stand in what can only be considered a fascinating endeavour of religious archaeology. But what if it could be taken further? What if the archaeological equivalent of, say, Joseph of Arimathaea’s laundry-mark was found on the shroud, or a provenance for the Oviedo kerchief in the handwriting of the apostle Peter? Would that confer any kind of legitimacy on the current holder of either relic? Would either suddenly acquire miraculous properties? Would either prove what the Bible says about the death and resurrection of Jesus?

All of the above would be claimed – make no mistake about it – but the answer to the above questions is certainly “No”. Would there be, notwithstanding, and increase in religious fervour, attracting new devotees to the relics? Almost certainly yes!

But consider the apostle Thomas, who would not believe in the resurrection, until he had seen and touched Jesus. Upon seeing his risen master, he said, “My Lord and my God”. Jesus said to him, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” [John 20:28,29]. On one level, this is clearly a call to people to believe without any experiential evidence. But the nature of Thomas’ belief is astonishing, and the way it brings him to his knees before Christ is little understood.

One could arguably call Thomas the first Christian. He was totally overthrown by his experience. It went deeper than simply touching Jesus’ body – he himself was touched by something more profound than a mere physical experience, more convincing than a persuasion to intellectual belief. Thomas was the first believer truly to acknowledge Christ as the Word of God, who was with God and was God. What a stupendous thing for someone born and raised in Judaism to address Jesus thus. And Jesus does not rebuke him for that, knowing that the Truth has been revealed to Thomas. No one can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit [Phil 2:11].

Christ’s words do acknowledge Thomas’ belief, in all its spiritual depth. And, yes, they commend those who believed the accounts that Mary and Peter brought back from the garden, and those that come to believe now without physical proof. But they are also a call to the depth of belief that Thomas experienced, to calling out “My Lord and my God”! This is a realisation of the very thing that Jesus told his disciples: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9].

We are called by Christ to open ourselves to this deep, spiritual reality, in which we will know, by the Holy Spirit, that He is our “Lord and God”, by that very spiritual work in us that worked in Thomas. For those whom Christ gathers unto Himself in this way, there is no need to lay their hands, remotely, upon His wounds, by seeking a piece of cloth or some other relic – as there is no need for the light of sun or moon in the New Jerusalem. Blessed are those who, without such outward things, nevertheless come to the belief and faith of Thomas, and doubt no more.