The Nature of the True Church: Part 2

The main challenge to this vision of a holy church is the church’s own sinfulness…Luther’s understanding of the church as simul justus et peccatore, or “simultaneously justified and a sinner,” is helpful for describing the paradox of the church’s “now and not yet” struggle with sin. Luther’s perspective affirms the reality of the sin of the church, yet also allows that God’s sanctification is in fact at work and progressively enacting real change in the hearts, minds, and actions of those who allow the Holy Spirit’s work to continue unhindered in their lives; i.e. those who are working with and not against God’s plan of redemption for the world. The Holy Spirit, with and in spite of the sinfulness of humans, is leading the church to be remade from within into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, presenting all that we are as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God as an act of love and worship (Rom 12:1-2). (excerpted from James Tower’s blog Stretch Marks )

Perhaps Luther’s words “affirm the reality of the sin of the church,” but neither he nor those who have followed in his footsteps have demonstrated a church that has overcome the gates of hell. During certain seasons, the house built on the sand functions as well as any other. But storms will come, which reveal our foundation. In 1943, Lewis Benson wrote:

…the church is again facing a major crisis. This crisis has resulted from the church’s failure to remain firmly grounded on Truth while striving to adjust to a rapidly changing world. Now that evil forces are sweeping over the earth the church finds it difficult to prove that she is really able to prevail against the gates of hell…The church has become increasingly aware of what her work is in the world…Nevertheless, there remains a wide gulf between what the church knows she should be and what…she is.

The cause of this is to be found in the limitations that are inherent in both Protestantism and Catholicism. Catholicism places the ground of authority in the church…Protestantism tends to view the Bible as the final word of authority. (Prophetic Quakerism, in New Foundation publications, No. 5, The Truth Is Christ, 1981, p. 9)

Because the early Quakers also lived during a time of crisis, their response to crisis can be profitably compared to that of the 20th century church. Benson continued:

The Quakers went directly to the guiding light of the living Christ for their authority. (ibid. pp. 1-10)

So why bother about this? Why not adopt the “if it works for you, great” attitude?

Because if there is a power that can raise up a pure, undefiled people to stand as light, salt, and example of liberation from the gates of Hell, then the news of this power is of vital importance. Benson stated:

[The early Quakers] believed that they had rediscovered the only adequate foundation for Christian truth and, building on this foundation, they were enabled to carry forward to successful demonstration the pattern of Christian community which had been proclaimed and exhibited by the early church. (ibid. p.10)

In 1666, Isaac Penington wrote:

…What a miserable APOSTASY from the TRUTH hath overspread and covered the Earth for many Ages and Generations…

This was directed at both Catholics and those Protestants who

…had not waited on the Lord, for him, in his wisdom and power, to rear up his own building, but had ventured to build of themselves, and so had reared up Churches in the same spirit of error, darkness, and apostasy, which they seemed to depart from… (Concerning The Church or of The Church State Under the Gospel…, )

Edward Burrough demonstrated this apostasy and how to escape from it in his introduction to the Works of Fox, Vol. III.

It is…about seven years since the Lord raised us up in the north of England…what we were before in our religion, profession, and practices is well known…we were men of the strictest sect, and of the greatest zeal in the performance of outward righteousness, and went through and tried all sorts of teachers, and run from mountain to mountain, and from man to man, and from one form to another…And such we were…that sought the Lord, and desired the knowledge of his ways more than any thing beside…(Works of Fox, Vol. III, p.11)

This is a picture of the sincerity of much of Christianity today. But Burrough’s narrative marks a change, not just in procedure, but in the foundation from which all else flowed. The apostasy is from the life and power of God. Turning to the guiding light of Christ within, not sincerity, is the only antidote.

And after our long seeking the Lord appeared to us…First the Lord brought us…to know and understand, and see perfectly, that God had given to us, every one of us in particular, a light from himself shining in our hearts and consciences; which light, Christ his son, the saviour of the world, had lighted every man withal…(ibid. pp.11-12)

Where Catholic turned to the Pope and Protestant turned to the Bible to discern good and right from evil and wrong, the early Quakers experienced the light of Christ within reproving them for evil and teaching them how to walk in righteousness before God. This experience came with the power and authority to obey the command of God, which was lacking in their previous experience and lacking in both Catholicism and Protestantism in general. With this inward experience came the understanding of “all things concerning man and his redemption needful to know.” (ibid. p.12)

Then Burrough sums up all that was distinctive between the life of the early Quakers and that of the rest of Christendom.

And we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation. And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing. (ibid. pp.12-13)

Having described the foundation, Burrough described the building.

And so we ceased from the teachings of all men,…their words,…their worships,…their temples, and all their baptisms and churches; and we ceased from our own words, and professions, and practices in religion…And by this light of Christ in us were we led out of all false ways, and false preachings, and from false ministers, and we met together often, and waited upon the Lord in pure silence from our own words, and all men’s words, and hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and felt his word in our hearts, to burn up and beat down all that was contrary to God… (ibid. p.13)

There is a false church with false ministers, false preachings, and false ways. This church included those of the strictest sect, the greatest zeal in the performance of outward righteousness: things the light of Christ led the early Quakers out of.

And while waiting upon the Lord in silence…with our minds and hearts toward him, being staid in the light of Christ within us…we received often the pouring down of the spirit upon us…our hearts were made glad,…our tongues loosed, and our mouths opened…as the Lord gave us utterance…And to us hereby were the deep things of God revealed, and things unutterable were known and made manifest;…and then began we to sing praises to the Lord God Almighty, and to the Lamb for ever, who had redeemed us to God, and brought us out of the captivity and bondage of the world, and put an end to sin and death; and all this was by and through, and in the light of Christ within us. (ibid. p.13)

James Tower postulates a sinful church slowly being remade into the image of Christ: a process that seems never to bear fruit. Edward Burrough stated “After this manner was our birth or bringing forth” (ibid. p.14): a church made into the image of Christ from its inception.

The early Quakers demonstrated liberty from the gates of Hell. Today the church faces those same gates. Where the same strategies of liberation are used as portrayed by Catholicism and Protestantism, we will continue to see a church in captivity. However, anywhere people come to know and experience the light of Christ to teach them what is right and wrong and to empower them to live according to what is right, anywhere people turn to the power of the living Christ within them and to live by that same power (and by no other), there you will see the gates of hell shattered and lying in ruins. The distinction between these two churches is that the one is made free by the presence and activity of Christ ruling in and among those who will receive his enlightenment.

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The Nature of the True Church

The christians were called a “city set on a hill, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth;” but when they forsook the power of God, and their faith stood in words and men, and not in the power; then their walls fell down, though the power in itself stood; and they lost their hill, their saltness, and their shining. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.172)

…[Jesus] began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjonas, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hell shall not overpower it. (Matt. 16:13-18)

Much of the material of this post comes from a comment I left on James Tower’s blog post, Stretch Marks. Please read the original post if you want the full context. In that post James raises the question of the nature of the Church: Is it fraught with the frailties of fallen humans? Is it to be a body of holiness? or Is it a mixture of both? It is somewhat ironic that the council at Nicaea, A.D. 325, composed of a group of bickering and power-struggling people, pronounced the church to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

In this post, part 1 of 2, I want to look at the building blocks of a vision of the church that does not rest upon a foundation built by man’s effort. In the Matthew text, quoted above, Jesus told Simon “you are a rock” because he had received revelation from the Father in heaven. He continued to say “Upon this bedrock I will build my church.” My contention, and that of others, is that the bedrock, the foundation of the church, is revelation from the heavenly Father.

The church that Jesus builds has certain characteristics that distinguishes it from man made churches. Jesus’ church is liberated from the gates of death and darkness. His church is a city set on a hill, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth. Jesus admonished his disciples to be perfect as “your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.” These, and other characteristics, demonstrate to the world that this church is made up of children of the heavenly Father. (See Matt. chapter 5.) The man-made church is not a defensible city but is captivated by every passing fear and terror. It has neither light nor salt nor promise of liberation for this dark, unsavory, captivated world.

These distinctions indicate differences in the foundation. It makes a tremendous difference if the church is built upon the bedrock of revelation or upon the small rock of Peter. All Christendom are putting forth some effort to display the characteristics of Christ’s church. But if achieving these characteristics were possible by human effort, they would be commonplace. Instead we see statements like:

The main challenge to this vision of a holy church is the church’s own sinfulness…that is demonstrably real and must be accounted for. Luther’s understanding of the church as simul justus et peccatore, or “simultaneously justified and a sinner,” is helpful for describing the paradox of the church’s “now and not yet” struggle with sin… (Excerpted from James Tower’s blog post, Stretch Marks. See the link above.)

My definition of “sin” may not match James Tower’s usage, but here is how I am using the term throughout this post. Look at John the Baptist’s statement, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” I find it useful to see sin as a state of death within where God rightfully expects to find life. This condition is odious to him, a stench in his nostrils more offending than the smell of rotting flesh to us. This death came about and comes about when we listen to the voice of the serpent, the teacher of disobedience, rather than hearing the voice of God who would teach us to live. This inward death, i.e. turning away from the voice of God, is the overarching reason for all that we call “sins.”

Given this understanding, it makes sense that God’s primary condition to the covenant people in Exodus is:

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

The question, then, is “How are we to hear the voice of God?”

The answer to that question, and the antidote to this sin, is the subject of Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well,

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me to drink,” you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4:10)

This gift of God is the antidote to that uneraseable-by-man’s-efforts, inward death. On various occasions, God has outlined this gift:

  • I will raise up for them a prophet like [Moses] from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deut. 18:18-19)

    The Samaritan woman refers to this in John 4:25, “I know that Messiah is coming…when he comes he will tell us all things.” Jesus identifies himself as that one.

  • On the mount of transfiguration, God speaks saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” (Luke 9:35) again referring to Deut. 18:18-19.
  • In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses reminds the children of Israel how they were humbled and made to be hungry and were fed with manna so that they should know first hand that “man does not live by bread alone. But by every word proceeding from the mouth of God shall man live.”
  • Isaiah wrote of sins like crimson and scarlet becoming like wool and white as snow. By what mechanism is this accomplished? “Come, let us reason together,” says the Lord…”If you are willing and obedient…” (Isaiah 1:18-19)
  • Then there is Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones. The vision ends on this note: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves…And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you from your graves…And I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it says the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:11-14)
  • Jesus picked up this prophecy and reissued it in John 5:24-25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”
  • John 6:63, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit that gives life. The words I have spoken/am speaking to you, these are spirit and these are life.”

The antidote to death within is to hear the Word, Jesus Christ, as he speaks to us. Therefore, the mark of the church is the presence of the risen Lord in its midst speaking life to it, ordering it in the kingdom of life, feeding it with life, washing it in life, empowering it to live in life. Members of this church are those who will hear together (instead of stopping their ears), obey together, and together suffer the consequences of dwelling in life amidst the kingdom of the dead. This church is not sinful for it lives in the virtue of the life and power of the one who has taken away their death, bringing them to the state beyond that of Adam and Eve before the fall to sit down in Christ Jesus who never fell.

It is this fellowship of the living that makes an effective witness for God’s power rather than those who profess words that they can’t live up to.

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Spirituality: What Does That Mean?

I recently read a comment on another blog wherein the commentator maintained that Quakers are overly-spiritual, to put it nicely. This has gotten me wondering, not for the first time, just what do people mean by the related terms spirituality, spiritual, or spirit. I suspect that when some people use the term the more vague, the less defined the concept talked about, the more “spiritual” it is. For some, to talk about “the Spirit” is a means of avoiding talking about God or Jesus Christ. For some other people there is a sharp division, by trinitarian doctrine, between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Several years ago, I resolved to discover just what the writers of Scripture had in mind when they used the word “spirit.” I did not think any of the above meanings fit what I was reading. As you no doubt know, the words “spirit” and “breath” are interchangeable. In Genesis, God breathed into man the breath or spirit of life and man became a living being. So when reading Scripture, I often substitute “breath” when the various translations render the text as “spirit” because “breath” carries with it the connotation of that act of creation wherein we become living beings before God today. Thus my definition of spirit has to do with that resource that provides life, that which gives substance to an otherwise empty existence. This is exemplified by John 6:63 where Jesus tells the disciples, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit [breath] that gives life. The words I have spoken/am speaking, these are spirit [breath] and these are life.” (Notice the verb “have spoken/am speaking.” The Greek tense used here implies an action done in the past that continues on into the present.) This is not the only place that God’s speaking to us is connected with the term “spirit” or the concept of being made alive. Look at Proverbs 1:23

Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.

See Deuteronomy 8:3 where Moses tells the Israelites that God humbled them, let them be hungry, and fed them with manna so that they might come to know that

man does not live by bread alone. But by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God shall man live.

And then there is the prologue to the book of John.

In the beginning was the Word…in him was life and the life was the light of men…to as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become children of God [i.e. living beings]. (See John 1:1-13)

It is the Word that gives life, that is the source of life; it is the Word that is spirit. And it is this Word, this spirit, this breath that is poured out upon all flesh causing old men to dream dreams and young to have visions; causing servants and handmaids to prophesy. This breath that was breathed into man in the beginning comes to us as the Word made flesh dwelling among us. This Word is the intelligible Word of Life that raises up out of the grave all who will hear. (See Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, Ezekiel 37, and John 5:24-25 which refers back to Ezekiel 37)

So now apply this understanding to the oft quoted text:

The hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.(John 4:23-24)

Are we receiving the pouring forth of the Word made flesh as the foundation of our worship of God? Have we been raised up out of our grave by hearing the voice of the Son, the Word of God? Are we given dreams, visions, and prophesies because we know the Word to be poured upon our flesh? This is worship in spirit and is beyond the capacity of human beings separated from our Creator. Any attempt to gain proficiency in this practice by use of technique or other artifice is doomed to failure. If you would worship the Father in spirit and in truth, you must come to the relationship of hearing and obeying Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning, who is one with the Father.

Let us also look at another portion of scripture. Jesus said,

Where two or three are gathered together in my [authority], there am I in the midst of them. (John 18:20)

Jesus is there for particular purposes. He comes to us as our prophet to bring us the words of life and empower us to live by those words. He is among us as our living counselor that we may take counsel with God in all things. He is present as our shepherd to feed us in the pastures of life and lead us by the springs of living water. He comes among us a priest to cleanse us and present us spotless to the Father. When we know/experience Jesus fulfilling these offices in and among us, then our worship is in spirit and truth, then we have reason to worship the Father.

In his epistle #32, George Fox stated:

When your minds go forth from the pure spirit of God, and are drawn out from it, there the image of God comes to be lost, in those whose minds go out from the pure, to lust after that which is in the fall, which may appear like truth in the notion; in that nature, out of the truth, lodgeth the enchanter and sorcerer.

This is a powerful statement and warning to all. “When your minds go forth from that pure, creational breath/spirit/Word of God…” So, going forth, we pass from the image of God, the life that is the light of man, to lust after that which is in the fall. What is it that is in the fall? “You shall be as God!” If we listen to this line, we come to possess a notion of truth. But we don’t have the substance of truth. We have entered the domain of the enchanter and sorcerer who fabricate illusions of life. But the image of God, the life that makes one a child of God, is missing.

When Jesus said,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. (John 14:6)

He is not making a statement of exclusivity. He is offering life and reconciliation with the Father to all who will turn from their own efforts to provide salvation. Our efforts to save ourselves are yet another manifestation of “You shall be as God.” And no one, proclaiming themselves to be God, will ever come to the Father for that is not the way. Because Jesus is the Word who was in the beginning, in whom is the life that is the light of man, He is the way out of the fall to return to the Father. George Fox put it this way:

All who stumble at the light are without, and are not come to repentance, and so all who stumble at the light, stumble at the door, the door is known by the light which comes from Christ: and all who stumble at the light, stumble at the way; for Christ hath enlightened every one, that, with the light he might see the way (which is Christ) to the father. So all who stumble at the light, stumble at the scriptures, and know not the meaning of them…and all who stumble at the light, never knew hope which purifies, nor faith which purifies, nor the belief which overcomes the world…so all who stumble at the light, they are to be condemned with the light from the life of the prophets and apostles (which dwelt in the light) with the rude wicked world. And here every one shall witness his condemnation just, and see it just, with the light which shews him his evil deeds, and that Christ’s words are true, and to own his condemnation that hateth it; and they are the children of the light that love it, and believe in it, and with the light they see their deeds are wrought in God, to the praise of God, and joy, and comfort of themselves. (Works, Vol. IV, pp.25-26) [To read this in context of Fox’s complete essay, see his To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom.]

If you would truly be spiritual you must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Word made flesh who dwells among us (see John 1:14-18). You can’t be overly spiritual. You can’t overdose on dwelling in the pure spirit of God or of walking in the light of Christ that you may see the door and see the way to the Father and be made alive. Again quoting from Fox’s epistle #32:

So, dwell in the light, and wait upon God to have the image of God renewed; and all come to witness yourselves to be restored by Christ Jesus into the image of God, and to be made by him like to God, pure, holy, perfect, and righteous. This was witnessed, this is witnessed, and this will be witnessed measurably with thousands, who are growing up out of the fall, and coming up out of the grave. Let not the lust go out to any thing which is mortal, to be servant thereto; but mind the joining to the life. Here ye are kept in the image of God. Not but that ye may use the creatures lawfully, but being kept in the image of God, ye are kept as kings over all the creatures, and over the creation; here ye will see all things, and by whom they stand. (Works, Vol. VII, p. 38)

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The New Righteousness: Lewis Benson’s Moorestown Lecture No. 7

[Note: this post also appeared on the New Foundation Fellowship website.]

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…

Thus begins one of the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, and I suspect that most people can complete the sentence. While this is proclaimed throughout Christendom, seldom do you encounter any indication of how the “…for you shall be filled” portion is to come about. For the most part, it has become “one of those things that can’t be done in this lifetime.” There is more time and space devoted to explaining why we can’t be filled with righteousness, than true instruction on the way of righteousness.

In his Moorestown Lecture #7, The New Righteousness, Lewis Benson explained how this righteousness came to be lost and what is required to regain it. He began his lecture by stating:

Fox taught that there were two major areas of loss that resulted from the eclipse of the everlasting gospel. One of these was the order and government of Christ in his church, which Fox called “gospel order.” The other great loss was the moral certainty and moral power that he called “righteousness”.

When Fox declared that “the righteousness hath been lost since the apostles’ days” (7:327), he was stating his belief that the Reformers of the 16th Century had separated salvation from righteousness. They had ascribed to Christ the power to save us from the consequences of sin, but not save us from captivity to sin. Thus he says that “there is a faith, which Christ is not the author of, and that faith giveth not the victory, nor purifieth the heart, neither do they in it please God” (8:56).

Fox believed that the primitive apostolic gospel he was preaching had the power to restore this lost righteousness, and that as people came to know Christ as their living prophet and teacher, they would be taught the principles of God’s righteousness and given power to obey. He declared that people should meet “in the name of Jesus, who is alive, and he, their living Prophet, Shepherd, and Bishop, is in the midst of them … He is… their righteousness” (BII:442).

This brings the adherent to the everlasting gospel into conflict with modern Christendom just as it brought the early Quakers into conflict with their contemporaries. This is a vital issue and not a mere fascination with history. Like Fox and the early Quakers, we are challenged to produce evidence that our position has any basis in Scripture. Benson devotes a substantial portion of this lecture showing the Biblical basis of Fox’s position on righteousness. He poses the question:

If this teaching is true, and Christ has indeed come to teach his people God’s righteousness and give them the power to obey, what is the basis of Fox’s complaint that “the righteousness hath been lost since the apostles’ days”?

Benson then outlines the positions of both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and their approaches to the problem of righteousness. And for these groups, righteousness is a problem. He goes on to state:

Thus when Fox says that “the righteousness hath been lost,” he is commenting on the failure of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity to bear witness to Christ as the one who fulfills the law, and who brings in a new covenant wherein men and women can be led and taught by him, and so fulfill God’s call for righteousness.

This new righteousness that comes from Christ does not smother the human spirit with a tyrannical code of morals, but it brings people to know “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” As Emil Brunner says, “Because the being of man is actually based upon man’s dependence upon God [and] upon the call of God which chooses him and gives him responsibility, his freedom is only complete where he remains in this dependence. Hence … the maximum of his dependence on God is at the same time the maximum of his freedom.” (Brunner, Man in Revolt, p. 263)

God’s call for a righteous, holy people is neither an impossibility laid upon us by an unreasonable taskmaster nor is it merely a mark, a high calling, toward which we are to strive, but are never intended to attain in this life. The everlasting gospel preached by Fox and the early Friends maintains the integrity of God’s righteous call and provides the way that enables mankind to answer that call.

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Something about the Scriptures of Truth

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 KJV)

This was Paul’s advice to Timothy. Today, this passage is used as justification to say that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, that it is inerrant and without contradiction. But if one even begins to think about this passage, things soon become a hopeless tangle. Imagine the following conversation:

“Is the 2 Timothy 3:14-17 passage authoritative and without error by virtue of being part of the Bible?”

“Absolutely!”

OK, then by virtue of the authority of this passage, it is only the Old Testament Scriptures that are given by inspiration of God, that are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. There were no New Testament scriptures, there was no Bible when Paul made that statement, so the 2 Timothy passage is not part of what you call the authoritative Word of God. Therefore the New Testament, as we now have it, does not fall under Paul’s admonition that it is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for…”

There is the tangle.

I once asked a Mexican student at Friends Bible College (now Barclay College) why the old versions of the Spanish language Bible had John 1:1 as “En el principio era el verbo…” (In the beginning was the verb…) while newer Spanish Bibles state “En el principio era la plabra…” (In the beginning was the word…) After thinking for a moment, he stated that they had made the change to make it clearer that the Bible is the Word of God.

For those who make the Bible, as the Word of God, the cornerstone of their faith, there is a lot at stake in declaring that it is the authority in the life of the Christian, that it is without error and without contradiction, and that there is no further inspiration. This is what underlies all the contention over evolution, creation, a young earth, and so on. At the root of the controversy is the question, “can I make the Bible a secure foundation on which to build my life?” Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus, the Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, could not maintain his belief in God in face of his discoveries that there were multiple, ancient manuscripts of the New Testament that did not agree. There was no way to establish which scrap of manuscript represented the inerrant Word of God.

Now, before you become hopelessly tied into knots, look at what Jesus had to say to the Jews about the scriptures:

You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)

Jesus is stating that the overarching value of the Jewish scriptures is that they are a testimony pointing people to Himself. He says nothing about them being authoritative, being the Word of God, being inerrant, or being without contradiction. And neither did Paul.

The author of the book of John goes to some length to state that Jesus is the Word of God and to explain why that matters. He makes extensive use of this Old Testament testimony Jesus touched on in John 5. Look at the following examples:

Significance of Jesus Being the Word of God Old Testament Reference and Some Explanation
John 1 proclaims the Word is the creator in whom is the life that is the light of mankind. This light shines in all, but only those who will live by the light are given the power to become children of God (i.e. remade into His image). See the Genesis 1-3 account of Creation and the subsequent expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. In this story, mankind is happy and blessed only as long as they continue under the teaching of God. When they listen to the teaching of the serpent, they lose the image of God (the life and light) and can no longer remain in God’s garden.
  • John 3:31-36 is John the Baptist’s comparison between his own ministry and Jesus’, “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven…bears witness to what he has seen and heard…he whom God has sent utters the words of God…He who believes in the Son [i.e. hears his words and trusts them to the point of living by them] has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.”
  • In the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, she stated, “I know that when the Messiah comes, he will tell us all things.” to which Jesus responded, “I that speak to you am he.” (John 4:26-27)
These passages allude to Deuteronomy 18:15-19, which speaks of a prophet like Moses raised up by God to lead the people. God puts his words into the mouth of this prophet and all that God has spoken to him, the prophet declares to the people. The passage goes on to state that listening to and obeying the word of this prophet is mandatory.
In chapter 5, Jesus answers the question concerning, “Of what use is Jesus telling us all things?” He stated, “…he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life…the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”(John 5:24-25) Ezekiel 37 relates the incident of the prophet Ezekiel being brought to a valley filled with dry bones. God then asked him, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel is then commanded to issue a number of prophetic statements concerning those bones. Bone joins to bone, flesh covers them, and finally the breath comes into them and the valley is filled with living people. God then explains the vision to Ezekiel. “…these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves,…you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you from your graves,…I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live…then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:11-14) Jesus’ statements in John 5 relate to this vision and to the life granted by hearing the voice that calls us up out of our graves and establishes us as a living people in the kingdom of God here and now.

The life generated by hearing the voice of the Son brings with it the absolute knowledge “that I am the Lord, that I have spoken and I have done it.” This is a life that surpasses the natural, biological life as far as eternity exceeds temporal. The only way to partake of this life is to hear and follow the voice of the Son who calls us up out of our graves.

Chapter 6 contains a lengthy discussion about the bread of life. Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…”(John 6:53) “This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers ate manna, and are dead. He that eats this bread shall live for ever.” (John 6:58) Jesus later told the disciples, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken/am speaking to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) Because of these sayings, many disciples stopped following Jesus. He then asked the 12 if they were going to leave also? Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) Exodus 16 speaks of the manna God sent to feed the Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ summation of the history of the Israelites journey from Egypt to Canaan. In reference to manna, Moses said, “And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness…And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God shall man live.” (Deut. 8:3)

This passage from John also ties into the themes of the prophet like Moses and Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones.

In John 8, Jesus reiterates the major theme of the prologue, “…I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (verse 12) and “…He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world…I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” (verses 26,28) This section of John combines the theme from Deuteronomy 18:15-19 with themes picked up from Isaiah: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light and upon those dwelling in the shadow of death the light has shined. Why? Because “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”(Isaiah 9:6)

“I the LORD have called you [the Servant} in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)

“I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

In the Word of God is the life which is the light of mankind. This light and life, which come by hearing the Word, is the rightful inheritance of every human being, but that heritage lies desolate and abandoned by all who will not hear. The Servant’s calling is to restore these desolate heritages to their rightful owners by bringing them [the rightful owners] into the covenant of light and life. Thus Isaiah can say that the Servant is given for a covenant of the people and for a light of the Gentiles.

You can see from these few instances that the writer of John is not concerned about writing an authoritative book to be the inerrant guide for all who come after him. His intent, like the scriptures of the Old Covenant, is to point people to Jesus who is the only source of wisdom and guidance.

So why quote scripture?

Once I got beyond the elementary stuff of mathematics, it was exciting to learn the theorems and their corollaries that allowed me to prove logical, mathematical statements. The Adepts were those who knew the most theorems and could dance the intricate steps of logic to travel from the textbook statements of “Prove that…equals…” to being able to say “because of these manipulations we can establish our proof Q.E.D.”

But Scripture is not a textbook of theorems.

Look again at Paul’s admonition. He told Timothy that:

  1. [You] have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make [you] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
  2. All scripture is given by inspiration of God
  3. It is profitable for
    • doctrine
    • for reproof
    • for correction
    • for instruction in righteousness
  4. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Start by looking at statement #1 above speaking about the scriptures, “which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” It is not clear from the structure of the sentence whether the phrase “through faith which is in Christ Jesus” pertains to “make you wise” or to “salvation.” Try it both ways, “the scriptures are able to make you wise, through faith in Christ Jesus, unto salvation.” Or “the scriptures are able to make you wise unto salvation-through-faith-in-Christ-Jesus.” The first is in line with Jesus’ statement that the Scriptures point to Him as the source of life.

Return to my example from math. The mathematician is the one who understands how to apply all the theorems and corollaries, not the one who has memorized them and can only recite them back on the test. In like manner neither wisdom nor salvation are to be found in Scripture, nor is the ability to quote lengthy passages an indication of either. Both wisdom and salvation come through hearing the voice of Christ, believing what you hear, and living accordingly (i.e. “through faith which is in Christ Jesus”). Neither the mathematician nor the man of God are served by a blind knowledge of the discoveries and understanding of their predecessors nor is either group helped by ignorance of such material.

Can’t people come directly to the experience of following the voice of Christ without the scriptures? And if so, then what value can such ancient writings possibly have for one living in today’s world?

I am sure there are many who have never known the scriptures who come to hear and live by the voice of Christ. And the heart that is thus made alive can’t help but sing and rejoice when encountering the treasure of the testimony of those who have traveled the same path even though such events occurred some thousands of years ago. The path traveled by such a person today, even though our world is markedly different, is the same as that traveled by King David who could write, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul…”

The heart of the one made alive today can sing with Moses at the far edge of the Red Sea, “The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation…” (Exodus 15:2) Because we have known deliverance from an enemy as real as Pharoah’s army, we share in the Israelite’s experience. And we have come to know the Word to take up habitation within us.

Paul’s second statement is “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” I am not sure Paul would have considered the “begats” particularly inspiring. And what about the contradictions? Abraham believed God required him to sacrifice Isaac. Jeremiah states that child sacrifice never entered into God’s mind. Portions of the Old Testament portray the character of God as a great warrior, yet David is forbidden to build the temple because his hands are full of bloodshed. And Jesus (who told Phillip, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”) stated, “I am come to save men’s lives, not destroy them.”

Clearly, if all scripture is given by inspiration of God, then there is a marked progression in the authors’ understanding of God’s character and purpose in history. Jesus himself is the clearest portrayal in history of the Father. But we are left neither to the vagaries of translations and transcriptions nor the dimming revelations of ages past. In spite of the insistence by many that inspiration from God has ceased, we are called into that same inspiration to know God’s life breathed into us. The psalmist invites us to “O taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalms 34:8) We are called to the same life whereby we can say with John,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

We are to live in the same inspiration that brought forth the scriptures. George Fox said:

The Lord had said unto me, If but one man or woman were raised by his power, to stand and live in the same spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles round. For people had the scriptures, but were not in the same light, power, and spirit, which those were in who gave forth the scriptures: so they neither knew God, Christ, nor the scriptures aright; nor had they unity one with another, being out of the power and spirit of God. (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p. 138)

Paul’s third statement is: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…”

Turn again to the reply Jesus made to the Pharisees who sought life in the scriptures. Never were there more scrupulous quoters of scripture, more zealous teachers of doctrine, more adamant reprovers and correctors. Look at Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees depicted in Matthew 15:

Then some Pharisees, and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem, saying, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” and He answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your Father and Mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever shall say to his father or mother, “Anything of mine you might have been helped by has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.'” (Matt. 15:1-9)

How then are we to distinguish the command of God from the precepts of men? Scripture-quoting men and women promulgate the precepts of man all the time today while they think they are proclaiming God’s good news to the world. Take for example, the much used concept of forgiveness of sin. This is the cornerstone of the modern evangelist’s presentation of salvation and, for them, this concept has to do with taking care of the guilt of man’s sinning. It has nothing to do with the perfecting of man’s moral character. “Christian’s aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” is the buz phrase that pops up periodically. But, the Greek word we have translated “forgive” or “forgiven” has to do with removing the cause of man’s displeasing God. It is a word that implies the remaking of man’s moral character to be in alignment with the purpose of God, to make it perfect before Him. The ability to quote scripture does not prevent us from spreading the precepts of man.

George Fox stated:

I saw the state of those, both priests and people, who, in reading the scriptures, cry out much against Cain, Esau, Judas, and other wicked men…but do not see the nature of Cain, of Esau, of Judas, and those others, in themselves. These said, it was they, they, they, that were the bad people; putting it off from themselves: but when some of these came, with the light and spirit of truth, to see into themselves, then they came to say, I, I, I, it is I myself, that have been the Ishmael, the Esau, &c. For then they saw the nature of wild Ishmael in themselves; the nature of Cain, Esau, Corah, Baalam, and of the son of perdition in themselves, sitting above all that is called God in them. So I saw, it was the fallen man that was got up into the scriptures, and was finding fault with those before mentioned… (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p.86)

Fox goes on to state:

…I saw also how people read the scriptures without a right sense of them, and without duly applying them to their own states. For when they read, that death reigned from Adam to Moses; that the law and the prophets were until John; and that the least in the kingdom is greater than John; they read these things without them, and applied them to others,…but they did not turn in to find the truth of these things in themselves.

Here Fox is outlining a process that must be gone through. First there is a sense of our deadness that begins with our “entrance into transgression” until we pass through the “ministration of condemnation,” which would restrain us from sin. This is the “ministration of Moses.” Then comes the ministry of the prophets, the greatest of which is John. For it is the ministry of John that reveals the mountain of sin and earthliness within us which must be brought down, the valley of our deadness raised up, and our rough and crooked nature made smooth and straight. Then, and only then, is the way prepared for the coming of the Lord and our entrance into the kingdom of God.

The key to profitably using and understanding the scriptures lies in this process. It is not something inherent in the Bible that a few enlightened teachers can pass on to the next generation of Adepts. It is not some hidden quality lying latent within the human psyche. In this same passage, Fox summed up by saying:

…I saw it was an easy matter to say, death reigned from Adam to Moses; and that the law and the prophets were until John; and that the least in the kingdom is greater than John; but none could know how death reigned from Adam to Moses, &c. but by the same holy spirit which Moses, the prophets, and John were in. They could not know the spiritual meaning of Moses, the prophets, and John’s words, nor see their path and travels, much less to see through them, and to the end of them into the kingdom, unless they had the spirit and light of Jesus; nor could they know the words of Christ and of his apostles without his spirit. But as man comes through by the spirit and power of God to Christ, (who fulfils the types, figures, shadows, promises, and prophecies that were of him,) and is led by the holy ghost into the truth and substance of the scriptures, sitting down in him who is the author and end of them, then are they read and understood with profit and great delight. [emphasis mine] (Works of Fox, 1831, Vol. I, pp 88-89)

There are two extremes prevalent in today’s thinking: One amounts to ancestor worship in that if it was said by the ancients, it must be right and holy. The other amounts of repudiation of anything older than our generation in that anything coming from someone not of my generation just does not apply to me. Neither of these extremes nor some middle ground will suffice. It is only this experience Fox wrote about in the last quote above that will perfect the man of God and furnish him unto all good works. It is the infusion of the breath of God, the Word, that brings man to completeness and makes him able to do the work of God.

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The Belief that Overcomes the World

Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5)

In the 1600s, Thomas Loe preached a sermon on the 1 John 5:1-5 text stating, “There is a faith that overcomes the world and there is a faith that is overcome by the world. Which is yours?” The 1 John 5 text also suggests the same comparison for belief, i.e. there is a belief that overcomes the world and a belief that is overcome by the world.

So what is the distinction between these two “beliefs?”

One might say that the belief overcome by the world is shallow. But the distinction is not in “depth”. Perhaps we could say that the belief overcome by the world does not result in the appropriate action. After all the book of James goes into how we demonstrate our faith by our actions. But again the distinction is more than works.

The tell-tale distinction between these two beliefs is that the belief that overcomes the world rises from a living, covenantal relationship between you and Jesus.

When you look in the New Testament Scriptures, you find a lot of iterations of the word, “belief” or “believe.” But the meaning of the Greek words can vary considerably. For example the King James Version of John 3:36 contains “believeth” [believes] twice, each of which has a very different meaning. It reads,

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

The meaning of the Greek word we translate as “believe” in the first instance of John 3:36, (also in John 3:16, in 1 John 5:5, and in many other places in the New Testament Scriptures) has a greater meaning than the usual “believe.” That Greek word imparts the sense of “to put in trust with.” The second iteration of “believeth” in John 3:36 means disobey. When you take out a Certificate of Deposit with a bank, you have put your money in trust with the bank. You have entered into an agreement to entrust to them the handling of your money according to certain, negotiated stipulations. When you put your life in trust with Jesus, i.e. believe, you must enter a covenantal relationship with Him wherein you entrust the running of your life to His guidance, direction, and power.

This now would make the John 3:36 text read:

He that puts his life into a trust account with the Son has everlasting life: and he that disobeys the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.

This understanding of the word “believe” drastically enriches the meaning of the Scriptures. John 3:16 would now read:

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever puts his life into a trust account with Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

And the 1 John 5 text now comes across as:

You, who have put your life into a trust account with Jesus, because he is the Christ, are a child of God…Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that puts his life into a trust account with Jesus, whom we know to be the son of God

Contrast the above meaning with the common use of “believe” as illustrated by the Apostles Creed, a document used by much of Christendom:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Which belief is yours?

I believe in God, the Father…I believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in the Holy Spirit…

OK, but what does that do to overcome the world, to produce righteousness, to free you from the power of death? What does this “believe” mean in the life of the individual and in the life of the church? James 2:19 proclaims that the devils “believe” and tremble. What good does their belief do them?

The field marks of the belief that overcomes the world are:

  • Those who place their life into a trust agreement with Jesus are not trapped behind the gates of hell. Death and darkness no longer control them.
  • True righteousness, or a life pleasing to God, is only obtainable by living in the power of Jesus’ life. Man can make rules and religions to live by, but they cannot infuse themselves with the life of God to become living beings.
  • Those who come into this living, covenantal relationship with Jesus are drawn into the community of the righteous.
  • The “belief that overcomes the world” is sustained by living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is as true for the individual as for the body of the church.
  • For those who have placed their life into this living trust, Jesus not only reveals the Father’s will but also supplies the power to accomplish that will. Temptations have no power when our eyes are fixed on Jesus, our present guide.
  • Humans were not created to be autonomous beings. Our attempts to be what we aren’t will always result in failure. Only by entering this covenantal relationship with Jesus can we gain power to live a life of moral perfection.
  • Jesus directed attention to the fruit of the tree as the means of identifying it as a good tree or a bad tree. He also spoke about a unity between the leaf and the fruit. Only in this covenantal relationship with Jesus can there be unity between leaf and fruit; between profession and works.

If the belief that overcomes the world is not to be gained by the recitations of “we believe…,” then how do we acquire it?

George Fox stated in his Journal,

For the true belief stands in the light that condemns all evil; and the devil, who is the prince of darkness, and would draw out of the light into condemnation. They that walk in this light, come to the mountain of the house of God, established above all mountains, and to God’s teaching, who will teach them his ways.(Works of Fox, Vol. I, p.76)

and in the first volume of his Doctrinals,

And now is the time come of Isaiah’s prophecy, that the teacher shall be no more removed into a corner…but thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, this is the way, walk ye in it; now all people being strangers from the covenant of light, their faces toward Egypt, which is darkness, the word calls behind, and all people are walking toward the first priesthood that is changeable, and the first covenant that is changeable, and doth decay, and to the synagogue and temple, and the ordinances that Christ blotted out, and maintaining the priesthood with tythes, which were of the first priesthood, but the covenant is changed that made them, and the command disannulled; now this word is behind all these, for that is not the way, and the word saith this is the way from all those ways, the word saith Christ is the way, who saith learn of me, and saith God, this is my beloved Son, hear ye him, him that Moses said God would raise up, this is the word, here is the voice behind, and who heareth this voice, and hath heard this word, hears the Son… (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p. 148)

As we experience Jesus leading us, feeding us, teaching us, and protecting us, faith grows within us–evidence and assurance that our investment is well placed. This is the “belief that overcomes the world.”

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True Christians: How Do You Know Them?

…no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like… (Luke 6: 43-47 RSV)

The Matthew rendition of this portion of scripture states:

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven… (Matt. 7:21 RSV)

The popular definition of Christian, whether by people in favor of or people in opposition to Christianity, has more to do with calling “Lord, Lord” and little to do with hearing and following the words of Jesus as he reveals to us the Father’s will. The popular definition of Christian has mostly to do with whether or not you believe in Jesus.

All manner of atrocities have been and still are done in the name of belief. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of various groups, modern day wars; all done in and justified by the name of belief. Yet, looking back, one has a hard time stating that those actions were “Christian.”

Many quote John 1:12:

But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name…

and extol the power of belief without any understanding of what is involved in that scripture. To “believe on his name” is to believe in his authority. You demonstrate your belief in his authority only when you accept his command. You encounter Jesus’ command as you encounter the light of Christ within you. (See John 1 and elsewhere.) Thus, John 3:18-21 says:

He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the [authority] of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

Concerning the light that Christ has enlightened us with, George Fox wrote:

And to you that tempt God, and say, the Lord give us a sight of our sins, priests and people, does not the light, which Christ hath enlightened you with, let you see your sins, that lying and swearing, cursed speaking, theft, murder, and whoredom, and covetousness, and pride, and lust, and pleasures, all these to be the works of flesh, and fruits of darkness? this light within you lets you see it, so you need not tempt God to give you a sight of your sins, for ye know enough; and waiting in the light, power and strength will be given to you; for they that wait upon the Lord, their strength shall be renewed; and living in the light, and walking up to God, it will bring you to true hunger and thirst after righteousness, that you may receive the blessing from God; and give over tempting of God, as if he had not given you a sight of your sins. And to all ye that say, God give us grace, and we shall refrain from our sin, there ye have got a tempting customary word, for the free grace of God hath appeared to all men, and this is the grace of God, which shews thee ungodliness and worldly lusts. Now thou that livest in ungodliness, lying, and swearing, and theft, and murder, and drunkenness, and filthy pleasures, and lusting after the world, thou art he that turnest the free grace of God into wantonness, and casteth his laws behind thy back, and walkest despitefully against the spirit of grace; here the scripture is fulfilled upon thee! oh vain man! yet thou canst say, God is merciful; he is merciful and just, and that shalt thou see, when destruction comes upon thee; for thou canst say, God is merciful, yet liveth in thy wickedness, passing on thy time without the fear of God, sporting thyself in thy wickedness. (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p.21) [For the full text, see Fox’s To All That Would Know The Way To The Kingdom on this site.]

So, let me define a Christian as one who lives in and by this light and believes in the authority of Christ from whom the light comes. Now, if we adopt this definition, won’t we be leaving out many who base their claim on “I have repented of my sins, have believed that Jesus suffered and died for me, and have accepted his substitutionary death?” The existence of this question betrays our underlying assumption that it is we, not God, who are in charge of defining who is Christian and who is not.

The Matthew 7 text continues:

On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:22-23)

To act in Jesus’ name is to act in his authority. To act in his authority is to first sit in council with God, to know his will, and then to act by his command. Otherwise you are acting in your own name. In and by your own authority you can do nothing but evil, for there is none good but God alone.

All our running without being sent, all our speaking without the command of God, all our religious activity — all our effort to please God is of no value. It is all counterfeit currency based upon the Serpent’s standard of “You shall be as Gods.”

So what does pass current in the kingdom of God? The first commandment God gave to the Israelites is not one of the ten.

Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine…(Exodus 19:5-6 RSV)

The covenant included the law given to Moses to deliver to the people, but before they could give the law any consideration they had to attend to this matter of hearing and obeying the voice of God. However, people will object, “that was the old covenant, we are now living under the new covenant.” And what is this new covenant?

On the mount of transfiguration, a cloud overshadowed Jesus and his disciples,

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” (Luke 9:35 NASB)

The voice said, “This is My Chosen One…” Chosen for what? Isaiah stated:

Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon him;…I am the Lord, I have called you [My Chosen One] in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those who dwell in darkness from the prison… (Isaiah 42:1,6-8 NASB)

And Moses stated:

And the Lord said to me,…I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.(Deut. 18:17-18 NASB)

Chosen for what? Chosen to be the covenant of light, sight, and release from the dungeon. Chosen to be the one who delivers God’s words to God’s people. God’s command concerning this chosen one is, “Listen To Him!” This “listen to him” like the Exodus “obey my voice” is more than recognizing that a sound has made our eardrums vibrate. The implication is that not only do we hear, we obey; before we can obey we must hear.

We only enter into this new covenant by hearing the voice of God’s Chosen One. George Fox recorded in his journal concerning a particular meeting in 1653:

On First-day I went to the steeple-house at Cockermouth…Some great men of the town said, Sir, we have no learned men to dispute with you.’ I told them, I came not to dispute, but to show the way of salvation to them, the way of everlasting life. I declared largely the way of life and truth to them, and directed them to Christ their teacher, who died for them, and bought them with his blood.

Note: These were “Christian” people to whom Fox was sent to show the way of salvation and the way of everlasting life. Fox continued:

When I had done, I went about two miles to another great steeple house…called Brigham; where the people, having been at the other meeting, were mightily affected…When I came into the steeple-house yard, I saw the people coming in great companies, as to a fair; and abundance were already gathered in the lanes and about the steeple-house….When I came into the steeple-house yard, a professor asked, if I would not go in the church? And I seeing no convenient place abroad, went in; and stood up on a seat, after the people were settled. The priest came in also, but did not go up to his pulpit. The Lord opened my mouth, and I declared his everlasting truth and word of life to the people; directing them to the spirit of God in themselves, by which they might know God, Christ, and the scriptures, and come to have heavenly fellowship in the spirit. I declared to them, that every one that cometh into the world was enlightened by Christ, the life; by which light they might see their sins and Christ, who was come to save them from their sins, and died for them. And if they came to walk in this light, they might therein see Christ, to be the author of their faith, and the finisher thereof; their shepherd to feed them, their priest to teach them, their great prophet to open divine mysteries unto them, and to be always present with them. I explained also to them, in the openings of the Lord, the first covenant, showing them the figures, and the substance of those figures; bringing them on to Christ, the new covenant. I also manifested to them, that there had been a night of apostacy since the apostles’ days; but that now the everlasting gospel was preached again, which brought life and immortality to light; and the day of the Lord was come, and Christ was come to teach his people himself by his light, grace, power, and spirit. A fine opportunity the Lord gave me to preach truth that day for about three hours, and all was quiet. Many hundreds were convinced; and some of them praised God, and said, ‘Now we know the first step to peace.’ (Works of Fox, Vol. I, pp. 176-177)

 

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Such a Heart

Oh that [my people] had such a heart in them that they would fear me and keep my commandments always, that it might be well with them and their children forever. (Deut. 5:29)

In this portion of Scripture, Moses is recounting to the Israelites the time when God spoke to them at Mount Horeb. The mountain burned with fire, the ground trembled, and the people shook with fear. They told Moses

We have seen that God speaks with man and yet he lives. Now why should we die? If we see this fire and hear this voice any longer we shall die.

The people then said to Moses, you go and hear the word of God, then tell it to us and we will do it.

Even though God said they had spoken wisely, He laments over them saying, “Oh that they had such a heart in them…” Even though everything seemed to be settled on an even keel, God’s lament should give us pause. By chapter 8 of Deuteronomy, the Israelites can no longer maintain their insulation from the voice of God. An intervening religion handed down by Moses will not suffice.

[God] humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna…that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. (Deut 8:3)

How are we to hear this life-giving word proceeding out of the mouth of God without encountering the life-threatening terrors of Mount Horeb? Again God intervenes. In chapter 18 of Deuteronomy God speaks of a prophet He will raise up, into whose mouth He will place His words. This prophet will speak all the words of God, like Moses did, to the people. Whoever neglects to hear this prophet will not have life, will be cut off from the people of God, and will have to answer to God for spurning so great a salvation.

In these passages, God has done three things:

  1. He has set the stage. We were created to live in a dialogic relationship with our Creator. But when we give heed to the voice of the serpent who tells us that God is superfluous, that if we follow his advice we, ourselves, will be God; when we give heed to that voice we lose the image of God, we lose the breath that made us living beings, and we lose our dialogic relationship with God. In this condition, to be brought face to face with the living God is to be brought face to face with our deadness where we were meant to be alive.
  2. He has pointed out the source of life. Feeding on every word proceeding from the mouth of God is the only thing that brings life. It was so in the beginning and is so in the restoration.
  3. He has established a passage between death and life that is available to all. Yet it is a narrow path and a strait or strict gate; “few there be that find it.” There is only one prophet raised up and chosen by God to be his mouthpiece, not many. On the mount of transfiguration, God identified His choice saying, “This is my chosen one, hear him.”

As long as we do not have to hear the word of God, we can pretend that we are alive, that we are indeed Gods. But the moment we hear the Word of God, something must die. If we would know life, we must be willing to die to all we have “gained” by giving heed to the voice of Satan. We can then give heed to the voice of this prophet like Moses that God has chosen to be The Word of God. This prophet like Moses said, “The hour is come and now is that the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who will hear shall live.” (John 5:25) Jesus, the Word of God, the chosen one, has enlightened every human that comes into the world, yet we “esteemed him not.” We have slighted the work of his light within us, calling it too little and too insignificant to bring us salvation. But to as many as receive the working of His light within, even to those who believe on His name, The Word of God, to them He gives the power to become children of God, i.e. born in His image and by His will. Thus, something comes to life—the heart that is willing to hear and obey the voice of God. This is the heart within us that God is looking for, that He is working to grow within us. It only grows in the “soil” of walking in a dialogic relationship with our Creator.

Isaiah 54 speaks of the people who are taught by the Lord, “and none shall make them afraid.” Not the fear of death, not the terror that stalks by night, not the manufacturer of weapons against them. “For I myself have created the smith who blows on the coals to fashion the weapons,” says the Lord. Isaiah 55 asks, “Do you hunger and thirst for this?” “Come, You that have no money, buy and eat. Delight yourself in abundance of listening, and you shall live.” Isaiah calls us to enter into and to live in the fire and the voice the Israelites could not abide at Mount Horeb.

George Fox stated:

That which could not abide in the patience, nor endure the fire, in the light I found to be the groans of the flesh, that could not give up to the will of God; which had so veiled me, that I could not be patient in all trials, troubles, anguishes, and perplexities ; could not give up self to die by the cross, the power of God, that the living and quickened might follow him, and that that which would cloud and veil from the presence of Christ, that which the sword of the spirit cuts down, and which must die, might not he kept alive.” (Works of Fox, Vol I, p.76)

To the “living and quickened” the unendurable fire and word of Mount Horeb are life and light. They are our protection and our sustenance. We can’t live without the presence of the speaking God.

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Something to Say…Part 3: The Vitality of George Fox’s Message

My first post touched upon James Tower’s assertion that the adoption of the pastoral system was necessary due to the rapid expansion into the American West. The second post began to look at how the gospel preached by Fox is different from that preached by Evangelical and Friends United Meeting Friends. In this post I will continue pointing out differences as begun in post 2, and I want to look at why the message preached by George Fox found fertile soil in the 1600s, why it will work in any age, and why I am convinced it will answer the crying need of today.

The 1600s were as hostile to the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers as any environment we have faced in our history in the U.S. or that which confronts us today. Yet it flourished.

Fox described the situation into which he was sent to preach the gospel thus:

Some time after, the Lord commanded me to go abroad into the world which was like a briery, thorny wilderness. When I came, in the Lord’s mighty power, with the word of life into the world, the world swelled and made a noise like the great raging waves of the sea. Priests and professors, magistrates and people, were all like a sea, when I came to proclaim the day of the Lord amongst them, and to preach repentance to them. (Works of Fox, Vol. I pp. 89-90 or Fox’s Commission)

The description of a briery wilderness does not sound at all hospitable. But that was not the worst, the Quakers were beaten with staves, sticks, and Bibles. They were threatened with swords and knives. They were stoned. Three were hung on Boston Common. They were thrown into prison where many died. Laws were enacted by Parliament against them. In the face of all this, they continued to work to bring the gospel into every parish in England, into Scotland, Ireland, the Colonies of the New World–everywhere they could go. By the time of Fox’s death in 1691, one out of every hundred Englishmen was Quaker, plus the movement had spread to a number of other countries.

What was it about the message they preached that caused people to be convinced of the truth of it and to turn from the Christianity they had been practicing to embrace something that was startlingly new?

Fox exhorted:

DEAR FRIENDS AND BRETHREN, Who are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God, who are believers in the light, which is the life in Christ, and are become children of the light and of the day, grafted into Christ, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, and are gathered in the name of Jesus, in whom ye have salvation, and not in any other name under the whole heaven. For Christ Jesus saith, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matt. xviii. 20. So you being gathered in the name of Jesus, he is in the midst of you, a Saviour, a mediator, a prophet, a shepherd, a bishop, a leader, a counsellor, the captain of your salvation, who bruises the serpent’s head, and destroys the devil and his works. Therefore, brethren in Christ Jesus, exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For you are made partakers of Christ, if ye hold fast the beginning of your confidence steadfast to the end. Heb. iii. 14. Therefore, hear Christ’s voice ; for he is in the midst of you a teacher. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.260)

And in “A warning to the magistrates, priests, and people of the city of Hamburgh, to humble themselves before the Lord, and not to be high-minded.” Fox said:

Therefore take warning; for your priests and people are too high, are swallowed up too much in this world…therefore I am to warn and advise you, both high and low, priests and people, to come to the grace, light, and truth that comes by Jesus Christ; to the manifestation of the good spirit of God, which is given you to profit withal; that with this grace, truth, light, and spirit of Christ, you may turn to him from whence it comes, who saith, “Learn of me;” and God saith, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” So all the children of the new covenant, that walk in the new and living way, do hear Christ their prophet, that God has raised up, and anointed to be their teacher and priest. So now, God doth speak to his people by his Son, as he did in the apostles’ days. The Lord is come to teach his people himself by his grace, light, truth, and spirit, and to bring them off from all the world’s teachers, made by men since the apostles’ days; who have kept people always learning, that they may always be paying of them…. (Ibid., pp. 379-380)

I have spoken with people who would take Fox’s statement, “So all the children of the new covenant, that walk in the new and living way, do hear Christ their prophet, that God has raised up, and anointed to be their teacher and priest” and apply the following logic. “I am a child of the new covenant, therefore, I must hear Christ.” But the intent of Fox’s warning is to point out that only those who hear Christ, their prophet whom God has raised up, and experience Him teaching them are children of the new covenant. If you know this by personal experience, you will be drawn to know it as the community of God’s people.

We get a thumbnail sketch of the message Fox preached in his account of the meeting at Firbank Fell.

In the afternoon the people gathered about me, with several of their preachers. It was judged there were above a thousand people; to whom I declared God’s everlasting truth and word of life freely and largely for about the space of three hours;

(The following bulleted items are excerpts from Fox’s narrative.)

  • [I directed] all to the spirit of God in themselves that they might:
    • be turned from the darkness to the light, and believe in it, that they might become the children of it,
    • be turned from the power of satan unto God;
    • be led into all truth, and sensibly understand the words of the prophets, of Christ, and of the apostles;
    • all come to know Christ to be
      • their teacher to instruct them,
      • their counsellor to direct them,
      • their shepherd to feed them,
      • their bishop to oversee them,
      • their prophet to open divine mysteries to them;
    • [I directed all to the spirit of God in themselves that they might know] their bodies to be prepared, sanctified, and made fit temples for God and Christ to dwell in.
  • In the openings of the heavenly life, I opened unto them the prophets, and the figures and shadows, and directed them to Christ, the substance.
  • I opened the parables and sayings of Christ, and things that had been long hid; showing the intent and scope of the apostles’ writings, and that their epistles were written to the elect.
  • I showed also the state of the apostacy that hath been since the apostles’ days;
    • the priests have got the scriptures, but are not in the spirit which gave them forth;
    • [They] have put them [the scriptures] into chapter and verse, to make a trade of the holy men’s words;
    • the teachers and priests now are found in the steps of the false prophets, chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees of old, and are such as the true prophets, Christ and the apostles cried against,and so are judged and condemned by the spirit of the true prophets, of Christ, and of his apostles: and that none in that spirit and guided by it now could own them
  • I was moved to inform the people, that the steeple-house, and the ground whereon it stood, were no more holy than that mountain;
  • those temples, which they called the dreadful houses of God, were not set up by the command of God and of Christ;
  • nor their priests called, as Aaron’s priesthood was;
  • nor their tithes appointed by God, as those amongst the Jews were;
  • but that Christ was come, who ended both the temple and its worship, and the priests and their tithes; and all now should hearken to him: for he said, “Learn of me;” and God said of him, “This in my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”

I declared that the Lord God had sent me to preach the everlasting gospel and word of life amongst them; and to bring them off from all these temples, tithes, priests, and rudiments of the world, which had got up since the apostles’ days, and had been set up by such as had erred from the spirit and power that the apostles were in.’ Very largely was I opened at this meeting, and the Lord’s convincing power accompanied my ministry, and reached home to the hearts of the people; whereby many were convinced, and all the teachers of that congregation, (who were many) were convinced of God’s everlasting truth that day. (Ibid., pp. 142-143)

Contrast this message preached by Fox with that proclaimed by a Quaker pastor of the American West:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ, and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If “hearing His voice” is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something—hearing His voice. (Excerpt from a group email exchange following a New Foundation Fellowship event.)

This modern proclamation of how Jesus saves mankind is not a recent development. Though shorter, it does not differ in its main points from the Richmond Declaration of Faith, subsection “Justification and Sanctification.” This sort of theology was in existence in the 1600s when Fox and the other early Quaker preachers were confronting priests and people with the gospel message similar to that delivered at Firbank Fell. (Fox fleshes out his understanding of salvation in his To All That Would Know The Way To The Kingdom, which is the opening piece in Vol. IV of his Works and is available for download at the above link.) [The above link does not take you to the correct place. Use this link instead: To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom.] In spite of its antiquity, trying to live by “salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven…” left (and still leaves) a gaping hole in people’s inward experience. Embracing the message preached by Fox and experiencing the power and work of Christ within us brings the satisfaction of knowing (i.e. experiencing) the work of regeneration and being made conformable to the image of Christ within us. This was the experience of the people at Firbank Fell. Because of the inward satisfaction, they were willing to embrace the message preached by Fox, even to the extent of severe suffering at the hands of family, neighbors, “Church” members, and magistrates.

Edward Burrough was one of those convinced at Firbank Fell. Seven years later he wrote an account of the rise of the Quakers in the North of England, which appears as the introduction to Vol. III of the Works of Fox. That document shows the fullness of the experience of the message Fox preached. (See my posts Who Is Your God and The New Covenant.)

In reading Burrough’s narrative, it becomes clear that a principal part of the experience of embracing the gospel proclaimed at Firbank Fell consisted of coming to Christ our teacher. He wrote:

First the Lord brought us by his power and wisdom, and the word by which all things were made, to know and understand, and see perfectly, that God had given to us, every one of us in particular, a light from himself shining in our hearts and consciences; which light, Christ his son, the saviour of the world, had lighted every man withal…

  • They found this light sufficient to reprove and convince them of every evil deed, word, and thought.
  • By this light within them, they came to know good from evil, right from wrong, and whatsoever is of and according to God from what is of the devil, which is contrary to God in motion, word, and works.
  • By this light within them they were able to discern between truth and error, between every false and right way, and it showed them the true state of all things.

So that all these things concerning man, and concerning the times and seasons, and the changing and renewing of times, and all things that pertain to salvation, and redemption, and eternal life, needful for man to know, all these were revealed, discovered, and made known to us, by the light which was in us, which Christ had lighted us withal.

And we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation

And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing. (Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp. 12-13)

Burrough’s comment is, “And after this manner was our birth or bringing forth…” (Ibid., p. 14)

There is nothing comparable to the above in the Evangelical tradition (Friends or otherwise). Not even after many years of experience, let alone at “birth”. So remarkable is this difference that the Quaker pastor quoted above stated that it was an extraordinary thing God did in and for that generation of Friends.

My contention is, “No. What Edward Burrough described is normal Christianity. The experience of knowing Christ in all His offices (or functions) within ourselves and among us as we gather to wait upon Him is what brings us into harmony with God and His purpose in history. This is salvation in its true sense. There is no other path to this salvation than that laid out by Fox above. The remarkable, extraordinary thing is that the possessors of such a precious pearl as the gospel preached by Fox would (like Esau) trade it for a mess of pottage.”

This is the pearl hidden in the field and is the rejected inheritance of all sons and daughters of Adam. Because this gospel Fox proclaimed is the inheritance of all mankind, it speaks to the condition of all mankind and satiates the hunger for righteousness in all mankind of all times. Unlike Esau, we can reclaim our inheritance, but to do so we must sell all.

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Something to Say…Part2:The Gospel, the Power of God

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 KJV)

This post continues my series in response to James Tower’s blog post of 2012 entitled Something to Say About Silence. After re-reading some of James’ comments, on my previous post, I realized that I needed to insert a different post for part 2 than I had originally planned. (James’ comments will be in red type.) He stated:

…While I too am critical of Evangelical Friends on many points, [I] fail to see the distinction of the gospel you are insinuating. I get that the Quaker discovery was that “Jesus came to teach his people himself” and that one of the main differences was that the Quaker way of following Jesus was a living and active faith involved involving listening and obedience, but does this really qualify as a “different gospel” or is it the reclamation of the power of the gospel that had previously been suppressed or ignored?…

James raises an excellent question, one that could be argued legitimately from either side: Did Fox proclaim a different gospel or did he reclaim the power of the gospel that had previously been suppressed or ignored? Certainly, the professing Christians of Fox’s day claimed to have the gospel as in:

…the tongues [i.e. those who know Greek, Latin, and Hebrew] may say,…what, have we not had the gospel all this while? I say no, they that went from the spirit of the Lord, and ravened from the spirit of God, they went from the power of God, which is the gospel… (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p. 228)

The argument, “what, have we not had the gospel all this while?” presupposes that the gospel consists of the story about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. An often used phrase by Fox is “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” Sometimes it is shortened to “the gospel, which is the power of God,” and sometimes it is lengthened to include “to them which believe.” If you take this statement seriously, as did Fox, then you can’t have the gospel and not have the power. If you do not have “the power of God unto salvation” then you are proclaiming something other than the everlasting gospel. Fox is saying, “The good news is that here is the power of God unto salvation from death, salvation from the image of Satan, salvation from the curse, salvation from the teaching of Satan, salvation from sin.” So this leads to the question of how do we access this power of God unto salvation?
Lewis Benson stated:

At least from the fifth century onward the church had been teaching a doctrine of “justification by grace” and representing the new covenant as a “covenant of grace.” The doctrine of “justification by grace” defined the human problem as: How can a person be found innocent before the bar of God’s final judgment? (Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2, p. 28)

The Richmond Declaration of Faith, a document that forms the basis of both Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International does not differ much from the above. It states:

“…We believe that justification is of God’s free grace, through which, upon repentance and faith, He pardons our sins, and imparts to us a new life. It is received…in the unmerited mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Through faith in Him, and the shedding of His precious blood, the guilt of sin is taken away, and we stand reconciled to God. The offering up of Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world is the appointed manifestation both of the righteousness and of the love of God….to the humble penitent whose heart is broken under the convicting power of the Spirit, life is revealed in that death. As he looks upon Him who was wounded for our transgressions, (Isa 53:5) and upon whom the Lord was pleased to lay the iniquity of us all, (Isa 53:6) his eye is more and more opened to see, and his heart to understand, the exceeding sinfulness of sin for which the Savior died; whilst, in the sense of pardoning grace, he will have joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement (Rom 5:11)…(You can read more of that document at http://www.quakerinfo.com/rdf.shtml#JustSanc)

According to this, the power of God is accessed through accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and believing that we are forgiven and made new creatures in Christ. Jesus’ saviorhood is seen to consist in His priestly office of the atonement.

Everything looks good until we run into, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father.” So now, fifth-century-theology and Richmond-Declaration-of-Faith, how am I to know the will of the Father and where do I find the power to do that will?

George Fox’s approach to the question of how are we to access the power of God unto salvation is quite different than that proclaimed by fifth century theology or by the Richmond Declaration of Faith. Lewis Benson wrote in his QRT article,

Although Calvin introduced the prophetic office of Christ into dogmatic theology, he made no theological use of it. For Calvin, Jesus’ messiahship was determined by his priestly and kingly offices. When Calvin thought of Jesus the Messiah he thought of a priestly and kingly figure, and in so doing he was conforming to the main tradition in the church from the second century onward.’ Unlike Calvin, Fox gave full theological weight to the office of Christ as prophet. When he thought of Jesus the Messiah and saviour, he was thinking of a figure who was as much a prophet as he was a priest and king. He was fully aware that in his teaching about “Christ the prophet” he was inaugurating a revolution in the way people understand who Christ is and how he saves men. He knew that he was building on a very early apostolic tradition; and he knew his teaching about Christ would bring with it a need to challenge the accepted traditional meanings of salvation, saviour, gospel, belief, faith, new covenant, the righteousness of Christ, and the nature of the church of Christ. (Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2, pp. 21-22)
The doctrine of “justification by grace” defined the human problem as: How can a person be found innocent before the bar of God’s final judgment? Fox defined the human problem as: How can a person know and do the will of God in this life? [emphaisis mine] He preached Christ as the teacher and prophet who saves us from captivity to sin and not as a saviour who saves us while we remain under the power of sin. He called Christ the “teacher that bringeth salvation.”…It is because Fox proclaimed that Christ is saviour as he is revealer, that he interpreted salvation by Christ in a way that was radically different from the churches of the Reformation. (ibid., p. 28)

Lewis Benson concludes his article with:

In what has been set forth here I have tried to show that Fox’s teaching about Christ was not appropriated from his religious environment but was a fresh and distinctive view of Christ, which he proclaimed in the form of a challenge to the teaching of the churches. In the third section I have indicated some of the principal scriptural sources from which his doctrine of Christ was drawn. He believed that he had recovered important parts of the New Testament witness that had been neglected or ignored by the churches. If we are to recover this long-lost teaching of Fox today, it is most important for us to see, as Fox did, that his teaching about Christ is not an appendix to the orthodox teaching of the churches that merely increases our knowledge of Christ by a process of simple addition. Fox’s fresh insights brought him to a greatly expanded view of Christ’s power to lead men to a new-founded righteousness and a new-founded community. The recovery and re- proclamation of the gospel that he preached will surely have revolutionary consequences for those who have ears to hear it and the grace to receive it. (ibid., p. 42)

Some of the scriptures that Fox draws upon for his teaching about Christ as prophet and teacher are:

  • Deut. 8:3
  • Deut. 18:15-18
  • John 1:1-18
  • John 10:10
  • John 12:46-50
  • Peter’s speeches in Acts 3 and 4
  • Stephen’s defense in Acts 7
  • Titus 2:11-12
  • Heb. 1:1-2
  • Heb. chapter 3

In Vol. VII of his Works, Fox stated the following things that had been “lost since the apostles’ days.” (Worship was mentioned twice as indicated below.) These are:

  • men’s meetings in the power of God to relieve widows, strangers, and fatherless (p.15)
  • the public worship of God (p.235)
  • The true hope (p.322)
  • the true cross (p.322)
  •  the true way (p.322)
  • the true faith (p.322)
  • the true worship (p.323)
  • the true religion (p.324)
  • the image of God within (p.325)
  • the true praying (p.325)
  • the true fellowship (p.326)
  • the righteousness (p.327)
  • the sanctification (p.327)
  • the sanctifying belief (p.327)

The covenant-of-grace theology came into being with the demise of the apostolic gospel and is responsible for the loss of the above items. The only means of restoring these lost items to the lives of individuals and the life of the church as a whole is to come to wait for and to experience the working of Jesus Christ in and among us in all his offices. All these items are part of the Salvation that the true gospel, the power of God, brings us to.

In 36 years of hearing an average of two sermons per week, (that amounts to about 3700 sermons) I can’t think of any that dealt with the importance of knowing Jesus present in our midst as our prophet and teacher, let alone pointing out that experiencing Jesus in these offices (and others) in and among us is of vital importance to our salvation. If Pastoral Friends can legitimately claim to have the same gospel proclaimed by George Fox and the early Friends, then it would make sense to me that these vital subjects should be central to what is being proclaimed in our day.

I would argue Fox’s answer to the question, who is a christian, would be something like “one whose life was changed by Christ” and that it was the power of the gospel believed, not the gospel itself, that was changed. In say you are called to preach the gospel Fox understood, and that I felt called to serve as a quaker pastor, I am still at a loss as to the nature of the difference you are implying. Other than name dropping Fox, how is there a try difference in our aims?

The question of true Christians or true believers now can be answered. Fox stated concerning true believers:

for [true believers] believe in the true Christ the light, and bid people believe in the light that doth enlighten every man that cometh into the world, that all men through him might believe… (Works, Vol. III, pp. 309-310)

They are the ones who experience this power of God unto salvation, who know the work of Christ in and among them in all his offices to restore to them the image of God, the righteousness of God, the sanctification and holiness without which none can see God, the true faith that overcomes the world and protects from the god of this world, the true worship in spirit and truth into which the Devil can’t come, and so on. All these things are known and seen in and by the light of Christ which He has enlightened us with.

Further reading:

  • Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2.
  • Lewis Benson’s letter to a friend containing further information regarding his paper on Christ as Prophet.

In the next post I will look at Fox’s Firbank Fell sermon, Edward Burroughs account of the rise of the Quakers in the north of England that was the result of that sermon and compare that with a statement from an evangelical Friends pastor.

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