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.

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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.

What therefore God hath joined, let not man put asunder

(This article appeared in The Call in 2009)

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
John 2:1-10

At their recent annual convention the larger, liberal body which also takes the name ‘Friends’ gave its support to marriages between people of the same gender. At our Yearly Meeting, which happened a handful of weeks later, the subject did not even come up. You may ask why that was.

There is no doubt that the matter is a ‘hot’ social topic, one about which there is much pressure, and about which there is much public debate, with views for and against expressed forcefully by their proponents. How can something which is so much to the forefront of the public consciousness not be on the agenda of a church that reaches out to the world?

In the Apostle’s letter to the Romans we read: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2). The implication – no, the clear meaning – of this is that the Church, of which Jesus Christ is the living Head, is not conformed to the world, does not dance to the world’s tune, does not necessarily give priority to things which are high on the world’s agenda; on the contrary, the Church listens, with an open heart and mind, to the voice of the Shepherd, and lets him be its Guide, it’s Teacher, it’s King – the setter of it’s agenda, one could say.

The Lord may speak to the Church at the time the world calls ‘Christmas’, for example, and say: ‘Remember my death on the cross, and my resurrection’. Or he may speak to the Church at the time the world calls ‘Easter’ and say: ‘Remember my birth in the stable’. He may come amongst the assembled Church at times when the world mourns, and say: ‘Rejoice!’; or when the world rejoices he may say: ‘Mourn!’ At a time when the world agitates itself with such-and-such a matter, he may come amongst the assembled Church and calm them; and when the world is calm, he may stir up his Church.

Everything which the Church does in response to the Lord – even its expectant waiting upon his presence – preaches the gospel. Every last thing, small or large! This includes witnessing the marriage of two people, whom he has brought together. The witnessing is to be part of the preaching of the gospel, and the marriage itself is to be part of the preaching of the gospel.

An important message to the world on the subject of sexuality, marriage, and indeed of anything, is that no one – gay or straight – has any right to foist an agenda onto the Lord. No one, gay or straight, has a right to try shake God by the throat and say “I demand that you sanctify and justify me exactly as I am!” It doesn’t work like that. Someone who comes in pure fear of the Lord says, like the publican in the temple, “God be merciful to me a sinner”, giving his or her all to God – right down to those cherished socio-political agendas – willing to give up all, to die if necessary, to be crucified and risen with Christ. Nothing in any person, gay or straight, is to be hugged close and held back; God will have us totally, and anything held back becomes an idol!

There is a well-known text in scripture, at the head of this article: “What therefore God hath joined, let not man put asunder.” Friends, the facility with which ‘man’ puts asunder marriages, even those in which the couples have had solemn words spoken over them by a priest or by a civil functionary, is testimony to the fact that in the world God frequently does not join these people; equally, the loveless marriages which are endured on a point of ‘religious’ principle are a testimony to the same. Whilst we believe that ones word, once given, should be kept, we can see that humankind is a weak vessel, and human strength alone is not to be relied upon in such cases. Far from widening the ‘right’ for two people to come together by choice, it is the lot of the Church – perhaps – to narrow it, to bear witness that only a man and a woman truly joined by God are not to be put asunder; and by doing this, by bearing this witness faithfully, even if we do so at the expense of our own inclinations, opinions, and agendas, the Church preaches the Gospel.

Let this be added as a footnote and as a caveat. Friends in Christ, by our coming before the Lord in worship and in our daily lives, endeavour to give up all and become the Church. This is not ours by right, nor by desert, but by Grace alone. Do we fail? Of course we do, time and time again; but we are willing to throw ourselves on the Lord’s mercy time and time again. Once we felt led to witness the marriage of a couple, in hope and in trust. That marriage eventually failed. Did that failure preach the Gospel? Or was it perhaps a lesson given to us, so that we would learn first hand the feeling of our own weakness? Who can say?

What can be said is that such a circumstance has made us more willing to bow our heads and to accept humbly the agenda of our Ruler, the ever-present Lord Jesus Christ. It is him whom we preach – we are nothing, Christ is all.

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.”

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.

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