News of Friends’ Meetings

The Meetings page has been updated to include details of a worshipping group of Friends in London.

Also worth mentioning is the Ripley Quaker Meeting in the Midlands, a thriving meeting of faithful Friends.

We are certain that the Lord will bless these groups of believers.

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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.

Sin no more

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

(John 8:3-11)

The familiar story above is known to us principally from John’s gospel, where it appears in the King James Bible and others. It does not appear in the Greek text of Vatican manuscript 1209, which is perhaps the most referred-to, but does appear in other Greek texts in that position. Some translations omit it entirely, others place the passage after John 7:36, others after John 21:24, others still insert it after Luke 21:38. It can be argued that it does not sit easily in these narratives anywhere, and is a record of an isolated incident.

Some gain-sayers who hold the whole of John’s gospel to be a hoax, written by Judaic detractors to counter the other gospels, and to discredit Christ (an astonishing claim in the first place!), cite the story as showing, simultaneously, his indecision and his collusion with the woman taken in adultery. These arguments come amid a jumble of dark non-sequiturs to numerous to mention; and present to us a John we do not recognise, and a Jesus we do not recognise from reading John!

Firstly, if the passage is rightly placed in Luke’s gospel, then the arguments against it as a piece of John’s writing must fall straight away. Again, if its non-appearance in the most referred-to early text is taken to mean it did not appear in scripture at all, then similarly it cannot be used to discredit John’s gospel as a whole. And even if it did, new scholarship has suggested that John’s gospel was written much earlier than at first supposed, which would throw doubt on the “intention” to counter the three synoptic gospels.

Let us take it on trust that the passage belongs where it is commonly found, and that John’s gospel occupies the accepted chronological place. We need have no fear of either assumption!

The Scribes and Pharisees are seen throughout the gospels trying to trap Jesus into saying something that they can use to condemn him, in breach of Mosaic law. In this incident he confounds them again – he traps them, not vice-versa – which hardly lends weight to the charge that this is a work designed to discredit him! They bring to him a woman who has been apprehended in the very act of committing adultery, and demand to know from him what should be done with her. What does Christ do in the face of this demand?

He acts as if he does not hear them, but bends down and writes on the ground! “As if he does not hear them” is only inferred in the text, the words having been added by translators to give clarity, but the inference is surely clear. This is the point at which gain-sayers say he is indecisive, playing for time whilst thinking of something to say. But we know Jesus to be the Christ, the One anointed with the Holy Spirit, and no word nor silence of his, no action or stillness, is without precise purpose. Each small thing is prophetic. By ignoring them, he is not playing for time; rather he is forcing them to wait upon him.

By writing on the ground, he is saying, “You are in the letter, but not in the Spirit!”

By writing on the ground, he is saying, “You are in Adam – Atham, the red earth – and in his fall.”

And when he has picked his moment he faces them and, without contradicting the law of Moses, simply says, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”, and then goes back to his writing upon the ground, as if they can have no more to say or do which would interest him on this occasion. He has put the matter squarely back on their shoulders, given the responsibility back to them. But in doing so, he has gone to the heart of each man’s being, his words have struck deep, illuminated the sin in the heart of each man there and forced each man to face it. One by one, starting with the most senior – who may have been supposed to have been the most respectable of them – they do nothing more than leave!

Jesus is left alone with the woman. He asks where are the men who condemned her? They are gone, and he says, “Neither do I condemn thee.” What? Is he letting her off? Does he feel that her sin was so trivial it can be ignored? Well, the gain-sayers may think that, but look what he says next:

Go, and sin no more.”

He clearly acknowledges that she has sinned. His words state that she should do so no more.

It is certain that the woman had been aware – or at least by then made aware – that she had committed a sin. It is written in Exodus 20:14 and in Deuteronomy 5:18, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” That hadn’t stopped her before! Only Christ – Χριστος, the Messiah, the One anointed by God’s Holy Spirit, the Power of God by which God brought to pass all that was ever brought to pass – had not only the knowledge of her sin, but also the right to judge her and to mete out punishment or mercy as he willed, and the authority both to command and to enable her to “sin no more

How far all this is from a crude attempt to blacken the name of Jesus! How true the reverse is, that this simple narrative shows his authority, power, gentleness, and wisdom. This we know, because we feel, working within and among us, the same authority, power, gentleness, and wisdom as are witnessed by Scripture.

(from The Call, 2005, issue 1)

A spirit to guard against

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

Acts 5:1-11

We read in the gospels how Jesus preached to a multitude in a desert place, and when the day was over, the disciples would have sent them back to their villages to buy what they needed for a meal. But Jesus told them to feed the crowd themselves. Between them they had five loaves and two fishes, which they knew did not even begin to be enough for the crowd. But when Christ blessed and broke the bread, the food was enough for everyone. Not only that, but when they gathered up the leftovers, there were twelve baskets full.

Christ shows us, by this miracle, that he feeds all those who gather in his Name; and not only that, but there is spiritual food in abundance for others too – the twelve baskets representing the twelve tribes of his people.

The food was provided by the disciples (the account by John says that a lad had the provisions). What if the spirit that, in later days, entered Ananias and Sapphira had entered some of the disciples? Maybe that spirit seems to be a rational one – “Oh I need to keep a little back for such-and-such a purpose, but the common purse will still be well provided for!” What if the Lord had only two loaves and one fish, would he still have been able to feed the five thousand? Of course. “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, and other verses). Likewise, the Church continued when the two liars had passed away.

But the spirit that entered them is still abroad in the world when, for reasons that may seem all too sensible at the time, people have their eye on some agenda, some arrangement, some way of doing things that may even seem right and holy to them; and when there is a multitude to feed, and as few as two disciples come forward with a loaf or a fish, the others are obstinate and refuse to share. But the Lord takes their meagre provisions, feeds the hungry, and gathers up the twelve baskets of leftovers. He feeds those who will come to him, those who will share.

The spirit that entered Ananias and Sapphira, however, is a murderous, wrecking spirit, which seeks to pull down the Church. Whoever does not gather with Christ, scatters abroad (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23).

This seems a hard lesson for us, but it is a necessary one. No matter what the reason may be that tempts someone to hold back and let others bring loaves and fishes for the Lord to bless and break, it is a false reason. It scatters abroad, while Christ gathers. This temptation must be resisted.

No matter what you strive to build, you labour in vain if the Lord does not build (Psalm 127:1). No matter how good and holy your own agenda seems to you, if you let others be the ones who come forward with the loaves and fishes, then the spirit that was in Ananias and Sapphira is surely within you.

Friends – guard against this.

(from The Call, 2008 issue 1)

The BIRTH OF CHRIST in the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

*

(c) Friends in Christ

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

Baptism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Queries and Advices’ (Book of Discipline)

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

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

Why Silent Worship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends in Christ new WordPress site now live.

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