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Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

David Johnson's 6/23/2019 talk at West Richmond Friends Church, and why I called it "intense"


On First Day, 6/24/2019, I was privileged to be among the seventeen Friends who heard Australian Friend David Johnson (_A Quaker Prayer Life_, Inner Light Books, 2013; _Jesus, Christ and Servant of God_, Inner Light Books, 2017) lead an intense after-meeting discussion, at West Richmond (IN) Friends Meeting, on what the Gospel of John has to say about the relation of Jesus Christ to God, His _Abba_.

Friend David had us go around the room, each reading one of the following verses:

John 4:34
John 5:19
John 5:30
John 6:38
John 7:15-16
John 8:26-28
John 14:10
John 14:23-24
John 15:10

The picture that emerged was of Jesus the Man explaining His astonishing ability to do divine works as being rooted in His “having no will but to do the will of Him Who sent Me” (John 6:38), and “to finish His work” (John 4:34). It was clear that, during His years of ministry, Jesus was all the while training, encouraging, and empowering His disciples to act in a similar spirit of unwavering obedience to the divine will. After Jesus’ departure from the earth, David added, the early Church understood this unity with God’s will to be the supreme criterion of its faithfulness. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” exhorted Paul in Philippians 2:5-7 NRSV. The “anointing” that gave members of the early Church this “mind that was in Christ Jesus” empowered them to “abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:20-24).

It was the great accomplishment of early Friends that they recovered this key understanding of the early Church and found the living Christ empowering then to live up to it.

The question that David bade us consider as we parted, at the end of the hour, was this: _Can I accept the possibility of my being as obedient in all things as was Jesus?_

* * * * *

[On 8/1/2019, I was queried as to why I characterized David's talk as "intense." I answered:]

To my mind, it was "intense" because, if I may so express it, David stood back and let the Truth tell Itself. (And this was reflected in David's going around the room and having one participant after another read, out loud, one of the selected verses from their own Bibles.)

Whether Jesus had been conceived without original sin, was the Second Person of the Trinity, or had any other "divine" qualities to make Him qualitatively different from the rest of us, was not brought into the discussion. The two distinguishing facts David held up about Jesus were (a) His perfect obedience to the Divine Will, and (b) His determination to be "training, encouraging, and empowering His disciples to act in a similar spirit of unwavering obedience" (my paraphrase of David's idea, quoted from my report, which David reviewed before I published it). The clear implication was that if Jesus could do it, so could we.

If both (a) and (b) are true, then we can't use the excuse "but He was divine, and we're infinitely depraved sinners by nature, so we can't hope to be obedient like Him, at least so long as we're embodied in this fallen, sinful flesh." This was not stated explicitly by David, but I felt it as clearly as I could see the sunlight that day. And my heart seemed to say, "Yes, Lord Jesus, I believe You have the power to make me and keep me perfectly obedient, and I ask You to do it!" I can't speak for any of the others in David's audience, but the Lord knows whether there were any waverers or foot-draggers in the room who wanted excuses for not saying "Yes" to the invitation. (And I pray that there were no waverers who stayed wavering.)

Then there was a third important point that David made: (c) that the Primitive Church sought to maintain unity with the Divine Will, and was not just a collection of individuals who liked Christ, or admired Christ, but a corporate body who "let the same mind be in them that was in Christ Jesus" and "abode in the Son and in the Father." So also, evidently, were the early Quakers, in spite of their having been made of the same fallible flesh as we are. The question David left each of us with was: Can I accept the possibility of my being as obedient in all things as was Jesus?

That question was an intense one, but its impact was all the intenser for coming at the end of an hour of David's preparing us for it.

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