Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
The voice of Christ frees us from bondage to rules. Focusing on the immediate, direct teaching of our Shepherd simplifies our task, because all we need to do is wait for guidance. With God’s voice comes the power to obey, something a focus on rules, even the right rules, can never provide.
However, reading Scripture, especially the New Testament, can tempt us into focusing on Jesus’s precepts for living. This in turn siphons our attention off his living presence.
In Catholic Quakerism, Lewis Benson discusses the early Quaker concept of how we hear God. Chapter 1 starts with the unprecedented nature of the New Covenant. In Chapter 2, “The Quaker Understanding of Christian Ethics,” under the section Righteousness and Community, he asks, “How does … [the] righteousness of God reach us through Christ?” Benson adds, “[George] Fox rejects most of the usual answers. The Bible he rejects because to make Jesus’ moral teachings into a new Torah would be no new way.”
But even when we know better, we tend to get trapped in rules. For me, the most persistent is “I know I have to forgive my enemies.” (See Matt. 5:44) For others, it might be “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Matt. 18:15, or “[D]o not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or about your body, what you shall put on.” Matt. 6:25.
However, God commands us to listen to the present voice of Christ. If this were insufficient guidance, then rules would make some sense. But we know his teaching is comprehensive and reliable; available to us at every juncture and indeed, must be our authority. The minute we start to stray into rules, we have begun to look to some other source of guidance for our behavior, and away from our teacher.
This leads to a failure to listen, imposing our rules on others and, ultimately, killing our relationship with Christ. It also fosters spiritual pride, with the attitude, “This rule is for others, not for me.” Therefore, while highly valuing the words of Jesus, with all the wisdom they impart to us, we must stay focused on his living presence and voice.
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