“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)

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.

Friends in Christ new Wordpress site now live.

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