an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Category: Friends Theology (Page 1 of 2)

Notes on “Focusing on Jesus – It’s All a Gift” Message

In this message, I mention a few resources to which I will provide links below.

First, the books that I mentioned.

The first book is a book that has been tremendously helpful to me as I worked on the recent messages on communion with Christ.

The second and third books are books that are very helpful in teaching and developing the practices and habits that are often described as spiritual disciplines. These are practices that we can do to put ourselves in the position to come to know and love God more deeply, and be changed by Him.

Lastly, I mentioned the organization Renovaré. Renovaré is a great source of podcasts, articles, books, conferences, and other aids to spiritual growth. Quoting from their website, they are a Christian non-profit that “models, resources, and advocates fullness of life with God experienced, by grace, through the spiritual practices of Jesus and of the historical Church.” What a blessing Renovaré has been to God’s people!

The Temptation of Power and “Success”

I was listening to Lectio 365 last year and was struck by a simple statement made as a part of the devotional for the morning. I jotted down the quote in my notes. It wasn’t really a new thought; but the simple, direct phrasing has remained with me ever since. Here is what was said:

Jesus lived in an age of tyrants, governors and bureaucrats. The temptation right from the start was for the Church to adopt the attitudes, hierarchies, and power structures of every other organisation, full of ambitious people seeking to climb the ladder of success. But Jesus turned it all on its head. If you want to be great, you must be servant of all.

from Lectio 365, Morning Edition, August 25, 2022

Of course, see the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 42-46, and other passages. Jesus is very clear on this topic. This seems such an important point in light of what we see in human organizations claiming to represent the church, both today and across 2000 years. Like the humans of Genesis 3, we humans are so quick to trust what seems good to us instead of listening to God.

I am reminded of the wisdom of Micah 6.8.

A Quote on Quakers and Abolition from the Empire Podcast

The current series being published on The Empire podcast covers the history of slavery. As usual, it has been quite good. I think the series is nearing conclusion; though it has not finished yet. I’ve heard quite a lot of reference to Quakers and The Society of Friends throughout the series. In a recent episode entitled Wilberforce and the Fight for Freedom, William Dalrymple asked a leading question of the guest historian, Michael Taylor, author of The Interest, a book about the resistance of the British establishment to ending slavery. He wanted Taylor to explain the connection of Quakers to abolition. Here’s what Taylor said in response.

So the Quakers probably deserve more credit than any other single group in terms of the whole sweep of the history of abolitionism. Benjamin Lay, the eccentric Philadelphian abolitionist in the early part of the 18th century… In the later part of the 18th century, it’s American Quakers and American abolitionists in the northern states, who produced some of the most persuasive and influential literature. And it’s this literature which they are sending across to their brethren in the United Kingdom that is absolutely vital to the growth of the abolitionist movement in places like Manchester. 

Dalrymple followed up asking what it is about Quakers that leads them to the conclusion that enslaving other human beings is wrong when apparently neither Anglicans nor Catholics saw it this way. Michael Taylor answers:

For the simple reason that within Quakerism, within the Society of Friends, there is no hierarchy of persons. They are no respecters of persons, so whilst there might within the Catholic and Anglican churches be a very strict hierarchy, a rigid order of things, Quakers have no such problems and they look at everybody as being on an equal plane.

Well, there it is. No hierarchy of persons. It’s just engrained in most Friends, who seem to learn Quakerism more by living among Quakers in community than through schooling – that was certainly my experience. And that’s why recent developments in some Friends groups to establish a ruling hierarchy is so troubling to me and others. It’s a fundamental shift away from Friends ways and the Friends understanding of humans in their relationship to Christ who comes to teach us Himself.

The lowest person in human society is not low in Jesus’ eyes, and can and should hear directly from Him – and speak as she or he hears. Lord Acton’s famous quote regarding the corrupting influence of power comes to mind. As power, particularly coercive power increases, morality so often lessens. Forsake power and speak the truth in love? Jesus, who had more coercive power available to Himself than any other human in history took up the cross. May we grow to be more like Him.

A Podcast episode on Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lay!

The Rest is History podcast had a recent episode over-enthusiastically entitled The First Abolitionist covering the life and abolitionist work of Quaker Benjamin Lay. Lay set out to convince Quakers in the Americas that slavery was a great evil back when slavery was simply taken for granted over most of the world. As usual, historians Sandbrook and Holland are tastefully entertaining in their telling of Benjamin Lay’s otherwise sobering story. Please note that his podcast contains description of the torture of enslaved people, and is not intended for younger audiences.

For more background on early Quaker abolitionists, see articles on John Woolman and Anthony Benezet.

Benjamin Lay painted by William Williams in 1790. Image from National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, via Art Resource, New York

On Women in the Church and in Marriage

In the past I wrote a series of posts considering biblical teaching on women in the church and in marriage. Several people have asked me about this recently so I thought I’d make the posts easy to find by adding a page that serves as a table of contents for these posts, and linking to it. And now, in 2023, the “Hot Topics” message Church teaching about Women refers to these articles yet again, so I am republishing.

In a nutshell, I argue that God created humans, male and female, to stand as peers in carrying his image. God often calls women into leadership and teaching ministry. It is God’s call that makes a leader or teacher or preacher in His church – nothing less will do. And no human organization can rightly oppose what God does. Regarding marriage, I argue that the best plan for marriage is a partnership of mutual submission under the headship of Christ.

I mention the Bible Project as a valuable resource on the creation narratives in Genesis, both podcasts and videos. One particular video on human identity may be helpful. There is another, older video by Tim Mackie video that you may find helpful. The Bible Project is a tremendous resource!

Last Sunday I mentioned trends in American higher education in which more women were attending college than in the past. Here are some statistics over the last 50 years.

A recently published, excellent new book, Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church, by scholar Nijay Gupta, lives up to the description in its title. This is a very helpful book – highly recommended!

The Bible is the Language of God’s Heart

When it comes to hearing God, the Bible is the language of his heart. Nothing he says in any other way in any other context will ever override, undermine or contradict what he has said in the Scriptures. That’s why Jesus doesn’t just show up on the road to Emmaus and say, ‘Hi, it’s me!’ Instead, he takes considerable time to deliver a lengthy biblical exposition in which he reinterprets God’s Word radically, in the light of his own life, death and resurrection.

Pete Greig
How To Hear God (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2022), p. 36.
(I heard it on Lectio 365 for April 27)

The Word of God

‘It is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to him’

C.S. Lewis
The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. 3: Narnia, Cambridge & Joy, 1950-1963, edited by Walter Hooper (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2007), p. 246.

Seeing Color Newsletter/Journal of John Woolman

In the recorded message this week, I mentioned the free newsletter Seeing Color. This note is to make the link to it available. If you subscribe, it will come in email each month.

I also mentioned the Journal of John Woolman. The text is freely downloadable or can be read online. Some may find the older style of his writing difficult. There is also a free audiobook version available on Librivox. You can read from a browser or get the Librivox app for your phone. There are updated and edited versions for sale in all the usual places.

Women’s History Month articles at Barclay College

Barclay College has put out several short blog articles for Women’s History Month. Check them out!

The first one is a brief comment on women in pastoral and other forms of leadership in the church and in society. It opens with an introductory defense of women in leadership and closes with a call for the church to do better at supporting God’s call to women in leadership positions. It is confounding that there are a few churches today claiming to be Friends who do not allow women as elders or in senior pastoral positions, in spite of our Faith and Practice! What?

The second is a short article on Margaret Fell, one of the first Quakers and a great early leader whose writings on women preaching remain relevant today. She’s not called the “mother of Quakerism” for nothing!

And lastly, there is a very short article on Mary Fisher, a pioneering Quaker missionary who undertook a dangerous mission to travel overland to meet with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to tell him about Jesus. Even some of her supposed “helpers” tried to undermine her efforts! But she was faithful to her calling, met with the Sultan, and afterwards refused his offer of protection: she was already was under God’s protection!

Quaker Meetings in John Woolman’s Time

While perusing John Woolman, American Quaker, a biography of John Woolman by Janet Whitney published in 1942 that Fred Newkirk asked me to order for him, I ran across a description of what Quaker meeting for worship was in those days. It so happens to also be what meeting for worship in the “waiting worship” approach can be in some Quaker circles still today. While perhaps Whitney idealizes a bit, I have experienced Quaker worship in this way – entering into God’s undeniable presence quietly and powerfully covering all in attendance in a manner I’ve not experienced in other forms of worship. It is most assuredly not merely worship in silent individual meditation; God moves some to speak powerfully – even to preach. Whitney knits through her description of worship a number of characteristics of early Quakers that convey the simple, humble attraction of the movement even in prose exhibiting the limitations of past colonial perspectives. It seemed worth excerpting for those who wonder at Quaker waiting worship to perhaps get a feel for what such worship and the broader Quaker approach to following Christ can be like. So, here’s an excerpt taken in pieces from pages 24-27.

On Sunday and on Thursday they went to meeting “first days  and week days meeting.” …Going to meeting was an outing and a social occasion, as well as a sacred necessity…. Silence spread around the meetinghouse, broken only by the song of birds, the chatter of squirrels and insects, or the stamp of a restless horse. Meeting “began” when the first persons entered the meetinghouse, and the deep silence was the chief part of the ritual. Although to the Quakers no one place was more holy than another, and they never had their meetinghouses dedicated or sanctified, nor their burying places consecrated, they had yet chosen for the site of their first meetinghouse in this neighborhood a place hallowed to the Indians for long past as a burying ground.

It seemed to the simple Quakers that a burying ground already established in a central spot was a suitable place to use for their own dead. God was everywhere and the Father of all. …the body of the first to die, Mary Kendal, was laid to rest by her husband and friends in 1687 in the Indian burying ground… and many more. The Indian dead, sitting upright in their barrows with their pottery and dried corn and bows and arrows beside them for use in the Happy Hunting Grounds, mingled their dust with that of the Quakers who lay reposeful and empty-handed, trusting God for provision in the future life as in the past. …no monuments above ground distinguished the one from the other. Gabriel, if he came with his trumpet, could not read the list of names otherwhere than in the Lamb’s book of life. It was against Quaker custom in those early days to have so much as a headstone. The meeting minute-books and individual family records alone furnished the information. So when the Quakers on the Rancocas were ready to build a meetinghouse, its site was a foregone conclusion. Convenience and habit dictated that it should stand beside the burying ground.

To little John Woolman the meetinghouse was as familiar as his own home. He could not remember any time when he did not go there, for he had been taken before memory became conscious. There was no symbol inside, no cross or altar, to mark the house as a temple, but yet it was solemn in there, it was different. When one entered the dim interior from the outside brightness, one felt a hush. On one side of the center aisle sat the women, on the other the men; and the same division was maintained on the two raised facing benches, where the elders and ministers sat. Behind the elders’ bench, to the southeast, was a small window made of four panes of bull’s -eye glass, and in the southwest wall, on the women’s side, was a large fireplace. In winter when the door was shut, most of the light in the meetinghouse came from the leaping fire that roared bravely in the brick chimney, and in extreme weather the women and children whose seats were furthest from it would move closer and gather near the warmth with decorous informality. In summer most of the light came from the open door…

At times another shadow silently appeared, the black silhouette of a man half-naked with a single feather upright in his hair. The Indian peered in to see the white man’s doings, and never needed telling it was worship. Only the movement of his shadow told his entrance, to take his place among the silent forms and share their inward salutation to the Great Spirit in a language which he too could understand.

It was a heavy responsibility to break that hush by speech. Although there were some who rushed readily into the vocal ministry, an opportunity open to all, a sensitive spirit trembled and forbore. Yet the ministry, by sermon or by prayer, was a necessary part of the perfect meeting, and meetings held for long periods in a silence that was never broken were found to become weak and dead. For this reason a definite “call to the ministry” was favored by Friends, and after a few spontaneous “appearings in the ministry” of one whose words seemed to feed the spiritual life of the rest, encouragement was given by making a minute recording “the recognition of their gift.” This recording minute of the Monthly Meeting, the local executive of the church, was all that it meant to be a minister among the Quakers. It did not in any sense appoint a minister to preach, much less pay him for doing so; and it did not release those not recorded as ministers from the duty of obeying a rare call to speak in meeting when the Divine impulse was felt. The Spirit of God  knew no distinction of persons in this service, neither of age nor of sex, of wealth nor of poverty. Recorded ministers sat on the facing benches with the elders simply because to one more likely to speak than others it was an advantage to be slightly raised and to face the company.

…”We being A large Family of Children,” wrote Woolman in his Journal, “it was customary with my parents after meeting on first  days to put us to read In the Holy Scriptures or Some good Books, one after Another the rest [sitting] without much Conversation; This I think was of Some use.”

John Woolman: American Quaker
by Janet Whitney, 1942, pp. 24-27
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