“Beware of Low-flying Bigots! “

The following article appeared in The Call in 2013
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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?

 

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Be silent , O all flesh.

This article was first published in The Call in 2011.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

Neighbour

(This article appeared in The Call in 2009)

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Luke 10:25-37

The familiar Bible story printed here tells us a lot. Jesus is in the company of people who make a point of debating with him. The first speaker is described as a “lawyer”, meaning one well-versed in the Laws of Moses. The passage says that this lawyer wanted to challenge Jesus, to test his knowledge and integrity. Nevertheless the lawyer asks pertinent questions, important enough to record in Scripture as more than an example of Jesus outsmarting one of his adversaries.

During the time of Christ’s mortal ministry, anyone familiar with Scripture would have known the words “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself”. Again the evangelist gives the lawyer selfish motives for asking a follow-up question, but again it is pertinent – “Who is my neighbour?”Jesus then tells this famous story, of the man waylaid somewhere along the highway from Jerusalem to Jericho. He cuts his questioner to the quick, by citing two other learned and pious men – the priest and the Levite – as being ones who would not stop to help the unfortunate.

When help comes to the injured man, neither he nor his rescuer stops to wonder who the other is. It is almost irrelevant that the latter is a Samaritan, and that we only assume the former is a Jew (all Jesus says is that he is “a certain man”). All that the rescuer knows is that here is someone in need of his help; all that the victim knows is that he is being rescued.

The identity of the two is more relevant to the listeners, and in particular to the lawyer, for to an educated Jew like him, the rescuer might well have represented an anathema, a heretic, certainly someone ethnically dubious.

He was, in fact one of the Šāmĕrîm (שַמֶרִים) which literally means ‘the keepers of the Law’. To the Judaist of the 1st century, a Samaritan was unorthodox in his religion. To a Samaritan, his was the true observance of the Law, as his people were Israelites who had not been taken away to Babylon, but had remained in the Promised Land, and therefore their religion was untainted by foreign influence. Was there more to Christ’s choice than simply picking someone whom the lawyer might have despised? Was it because the rescuer, in having mercy on the thieves’ victim, was the one who had truly obeyed the Law?

But there is a point at the end of this episode that readers tend to ignore, a turning-round through a hundred and eighty degrees of how the story is usually intetpreted.

The lawyer asked “Who is my neighbour?”; Christ asks him “. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” The lawyer answers “He that shewed mercy on him”. Then Christ says: “Go, and do thou likewise”.

Do you see the shift? The lawyer had asked who was his neighbour. Christ asks who was the victim’s neighbour! Not only is the story here about how the we should behave to one in trouble, but also about how we should love the neighbour who helps us, no matter who that person is.

What is the equivalent of that Samaritan today? Someone gay? A Muslim? An atheist? Who? It doesn’t matter. There is a time and a place for speaking to such things, and that time and place is made known to us by the Lord. At other times we are instructed to love those who, for a reason maybe not known to them, obey the Law and show mercy to us. In such people there is obedience to the Law which is written on the hearts of humankind, obedience to the Light which enlightens all who come into the world. Such people, again at a time and in a place appointed by the Lord, are our neighbours, and we are bidden to love them as we love ourselves.

With how small a step might one such person, now our neighbour, be or become our enemy? There are those in the groups named above and from elsewhere who, at times past or present, have been challengers of the Church. But they too are loved by the Lord, who so loved the world. If we find one such – or many – coming to us as an enemy rather than as a neighbour, we are commanded to a different step of love: Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:43-45.

Lessons of love, Friends, may be the hardest lessons for anyone to learn; but to the Church – those who hear and obey the Voice of the Shepherd – they are essential.

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 First Motion

This article first appeared in The Call in 2007
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Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

A few years ago a Friend, dressed in a grey suit without any lapels, a white stock, and a broad-brimmed, grey hat, attended a meeting. It was not a regular meeting for worship, but rather a gathering that had been called to consider and discuss the Gospel message that had been entrusted by the Lord to George Fox and his generation of Friends. There were a couple of able and  knowledgeable speakers who gave a good account of this, of the theology behind it, and of their own faith.

Not all those attending received it well, although all listened with respect and patience. The gathering, though open to all-comers, was taking place at a liberal meeting-house where, these days, the Name of Jesus Christ is usually not spoken of, and when it is there can be a hostile reaction.

Half way through the day, there was a break for lunch. Trestle tables were pulled out, and bring-and-share fare set upon them. Thanks was returned, and the meal began.

While everyone was eating, the person sitting opposite the plain Friend asked him why he dressed that way. Make no mistake, this was a challenge; in liberal meetings there is a current of intellectualism, and therefore a love of debate. The Friend sensed this, paused, and asked the Lord what he should say. The Lord, true as ever to his promise, gave the Friend the necessary words.

He spoke one word – “Love”.

That one word, unexpected as the opening gambit of a debate, silenced the questioner, and gained the attention of everyone at the table. The Friend was not debating, he was bearing witness, speaking of what he knew. He went on somewhat thus:

“The Lord had shown me so much love, that I was moved to share it with others, and to share what I had experienced, and to show them how much I love God in return, how much I love them, how much he loves them. I found that I couldn’t do this if it was easy for me to submerge into the crowd. My everyday clothes were a kind of a camouflage, a temptation for me to fall back into my old ways, and become again what I was before I experienced God’s love, before I realized and acknowledged in my own heart how much he loved and loves me.

I prayed. I asked God for guidance, and he led me to this witness. He led me to wear clothes which marked me out as different, as someone who did not share the world’s values. But they were not clothes which said ‘Look at me’, they were and are only a means to an end. And I thank God… and I thank thee friend…” (turning to the person who had first addressed him) “… for giving me this opportunity to speak of my experience.”

The Friend’s opportunity extended through that meal-time and for some time after. Everyone who heard stopped to listen, no one offered any objection, no one offered any counter-argument, no one objected to his speaking of God and Christ. The liberal folk set a great deal of store by “personal experience” and therefore could not speak against the Friend, because all that he said was from experience. And no one could speak against love!

William Penn said, “Love is the hardest Lesson in Christianity; but, for that reason, it should be most our care to learn it.”

John Woolman, describing his leading to travel amongst the Native American peoples, said, “Love was the first motion…”

Friends, do you understand God’s love to be at the root of everything you do and say? Do you know it to be the first motion – the most immediate and important driving force – in your life? When asked, what can you say? Are you children of God’s Light, and have you walked in that Light? And does what you say, and do –  everything you bear witness to by word or action – come inwardly from God, from what you know of him, from your experience of his love?

Fear not, little flock

This article first appeared in The Call in 2006.

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I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.”

Ezekiel 34:14-16

We are a small people, scattered throughout the UK and the wider world. Although spiritually we trace our existence back to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the waiting disciples in Jerusalem, through the centuries to the awakening of George Fox, through the assaults upon the Truth which were resisted by the likes of John Wilbur in America and John G Sargent in Britain, through the independent existence of the Friends meetings of Bournbrook and Fritchley, as a contemporary organisation we date from 1993, when our discipline was drafted.

Since then we have held our yearly and half-yearly meetings fairly consistently. Certainly since 1995 there has been at least one regular, local meeting for worship in Jesus’ name (Goshen, in Scotland). By the Lord’s grace we have survived; we have carried a small but still-burning lamp.

We have attracted to us, and brought to the feet of Jesus, many individuals who have found fellowship through The Call. We have provided a Friend in Finland with a certificate to say he is one of our number, thus enabling him to bear witness against military service, to the Glory of the Lord. We have welcomed a little worshiping community (Richland-Ashland Friends) into fellowship with us. In so many little ways, the Lord has let us serve Him. We praise His name.

One of the most difficult issues in our witness and theology, is the Apostasy. With love, we say that as much as the non-professing world is fallen, so professing Christendom has fallen away from the Truth, abandoned principle and experience in favour of institutionalism, liberalism and dry bibliolatry. This is a big claim, and it seems arrogant of a little body to make it.

A Friend, often quoted, said of the Church that it consisted solely of “those who hear and obey the voice of the Shepherd”. Do we hear His voice? And if we do, what do we say to those who challenge us that “it must be a poor and weak Gospel which makes so little inroad into the Apostate world”?

The witness of the Friend whose writing came before us recently was this: that Scripture itself tells of apostasy, from Genesis when Adam and Eve were disobedient and were expelled from Eden; through Exodus where the Children of Israel bowed before a golden calf; through all the books of Chronicles and Kings, where so-and-so “did evil in the sight of the Lord”; through the exhortations of the prophets to Israel to turn back to the Lord; to the books of the Evangelists who tell as much of those who did not believe in Jesus Christ as of those who did; through the letters of Paul and the other Apostles which exhort believers to keep the faith and to avoid false prophets and those who would cause a schism in the Church; right to the book of Revelation, which tells how humankind is finally winnowed as God’s creation is wound up.

Faced with that great witness we may, if we stand on God’s sure ground and speak what He gives us by His Holy Spirit, that the Scriptural history of apostasy continued until the present day. It afflicted and afflicts not only those who do not believe and do not profess to believe, but in a great part those who do!

To whom does it fall to call the world, and especially professing Christendom out of apostasy? The same body that is called upon to preach the Gospel – the only body that can preach the Gospel – the body whose very existence itself preaches the Gospel. The Church of Jesus Christ.

Are we that Church? God will judge that.

We do know that we feel His favour, that some of us have been led to labour in His name, to speak in answer to His urging, and above all to keep alive our little flock by feeding on Him, hoping that all has been according to His plan, His will, and to His glory. We seek none for ourselves.

The number of small meetings which independently come together to wait upon the Lord has been growing in the UK. Not all of these use our discipline, or call themselves by our name. Some folk use the conservative discipline of Ohio Yearly Meeting, others came together from and interest in the work of the New Foundation Fellowship. But they are all folk whom we know and love, people whom we visit, with whom we worship. They are, one and all, folk who have turned their backs on the apostasy of the world, as we have. We may not share a name, but we share the Name, above which there is no other.

There is much questioning amongst these independent meetings as to whether they should bond together, and be one recognised body. The Call does not pre-empt business carried out under the Lord’s ordering. However, we are sure that we will be called upon to bring before them the few loves and fishes that we have, to offer them in love, and to hope that the Lord will bless them, and feed us all with them.