New Foundation Fellowship

Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

Discernment and the Seeking of Unity in Christ

Many years ago, Else Pickvance (1915-2002)[1], gave me a small abridged version of the journal of John Burnyeat. Else and I had been talking about the importance of properly discerning Christ’s leading within ourselves and the importance of our spiritual community in helping us toward in this vital task of the Spirit. She pointed out to me this small passage which to me speaks volumes about the spiritual place that Burnyeat and Else were in, but also something important about how we, as brothers and sisters in Christ relate to each other and how we discern our own work in the church, and how reliant we are on each other for discernment.

In 1662, Burnyeat was trying to reach clearness on whether he was being called to travel in the Lord’s work to America. He wrote, “…it came upon me to go and acquaint G.F. (George Fox) and also Ed. Burrough (Edward Burrough), who where then in London, and Richard Hubberthorne; for I loved to have the counsel and countenance of my elder brethren, who were in Christ before me.”

 Else explained to me that, for her, this exemplified true Gospel Order, in that Burnyeat not only recognised his need to test his leading with his brothers and sisters in Christ, but also he quite clearly had a deep love for the experience of coming into spiritual unity with his fellow labourers in the Gospel. I have never forgotten this passage which Else was so keen to share with me. I was very struck with Burnyeat’s use of words. He says “…I loved to have the counsel and countenance of my elder brethren…”

I think it also says much about the humility and solidity of Burnyeat himself. He was obviously keen to ensure that he was discerning Christ’s Will properly, and he had a deep desire to experience the unity and bonds  of love which flow from seeking Christ’s Will together.

I think it is a sign of spiritual health when people are able and willing to test their leadings with one another in the Fellowship of Christ. We live in an age where independence and autonomy are highly valued. I’m always grumbling about this, but I have to guard against the dangers of this in myself. I have also seen many incidents of people (including myself) convincing themselves that they are right and that they don’t need anybody else to tell them that. This is a danger sign, a sign that the person is suffering from self-will and spiritual pride. Of course, we have to trust what Christ speaks in us, and in some situations, it's right to just get on and follow, but are we humble and low enough to seek the unity of our sisters and brethren in Christ, just as John Burnyeat so loved to do?

Within the fellowship of Christ, part of the process of discernment for ourselves is to see whether what Christ speaks in us, is the same as what is being said in others. If our discernment of the Light is true, the Light will have also revealed the same Truth to our sisters and brethren in Christ. This is why Paul is so keen to ask the Ephesians to submit to each other in the Fear of God (Ephesians 5:21), and this why it is so important we bring our leadings before the Church to be tested. Mutual accountability is such an essential part of our communal life as Christians. Without it, we become mere individualists, galloping over the emotional horizon, directionless, devoid of God’s Purpose and Power, and sometimes, very destructive. It is only as we are willing to submit our actions and leadings to the discernment of Christ’s Body that we grow in self-awareness, but also in love, mutual trust and discernment.  In this are we truly enabled to take our place as Living Stones in God’s Building and to do His work in the world.

See my second footnote, below [2]



[1] Else and Joe Pickvance were an integral part of the New Foundation Fellowship in the UK since its inception in the 1970’s up until  Joe departed this life in 1999 and Else left us in 2002.

[2] I originally published this article in the New Foundation UK newsletter. I thought it might be helpful for others.

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Comment by Ellis Hein on 7thMo. 24, 2015 at 10:50

What counsel did Burnyeat receive? Did he go to America? I have not read any of Burnyeat and am quite ignorant of his life.

One important question that must be asked and must be answered before proceeding in pursuing a leading is "Whom do I ask for counsel?" There were and still are plenty of counselors who will tell me what I want to hear. There were and still are plenty of counselors who will give me bogus advice (sing Psalms, take tobacco was the advice given to Fox). These counselors give their counsel under the guise of religion.  True discernment lies in the recognition  of life. The life in me must answer the life in the counselor and in the counsel I am given.

Thanks for republishing this, Allistair. 

Comment by Allistair Lomax on 7thMo. 31, 2015 at 14:32

Thanks Ellis, I think Burnyeat was encouraged to go and eventually travelled to Barbados, Virginia and New England. I do agree with your observation about seeking trusted brothers and sisters in Christ for counsel. Some counsel can be offered with the very best intentions, based on what might seem sound reasoning, but if it is not grounded in the Spirit of Christ, then we lay ourselves open to being mis-directed. I was hoping that my blog had made that point explicit.

Comment by Ellis Hein on 8thMo. 2, 2015 at 11:58

Thanks, Allistair, for the information on Burnyeat. Your blog probably does make clear that seeking counsel from others must be grounded in the Spirit of Christ. My comment arose when considering those individuals who take the words "the fellowship of Christ," "body of Christ," etc., to mean any professing Christian. How then am I to know Christ directed counsel from any other good-sounding advice? My comment may be repeating  what you have already stated, but it struck me as important to draw this distinction for those who have not come to understand the distinction between profession and possession. I hope this is clear and understandable. My comment wasn't meant to be a criticism of what you had written, but merely to drive that nail a little deeper (if I may use that cliche).

Comment by Allistair Lomax on 8thMo. 2, 2015 at 12:07

No problem, Ellis, your point is well-made and well-taken....

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