Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Are you satisfied knowing you or your group proclaims a Christian message rather than the Christian message? The difference between that indefinite article "a" and the definite article "the" is profound. And no, claiming to have the Christian message is not arrogance. It is about our position before Christ and the role he plays in the life of the individual and the life of the Church. A brief listing in the table below makes clear the distinction.
|A Christian Message:||The Christian Message:|
|Calls people to hear about Christ.||Calls people to hear Christ.|
|Calls people to believe in Christ.||Calls people to believe Christ.|
|The church gathers to learn about Christ.||The church gathers to learn from Christ.|
|The church partakes of sacraments or performs certain rituals as a means of grace.
A favorite message is "Christ will come..."
|The core message is Christ is come. The body bears living testimony that grace and truth come by his presence in and among us.|
The important questions in our comparison between "a" Christian message and "the" Christian message are: what are the differences in the outcome? Is there something substantial at stake?
"Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) This portion of scripture is treasured by all Christendom. But do people really understand its implications? The text continues and points out the way of rest for your souls." Take my yoke upon you and learn from me...and you will have rest for your souls." (Matt. 11:29) Jesus is echoing the words of Jeremiah (6:16) which states: "Thus says the Lord, 'Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls.'"
The ancient path, the good way that brings rest to the soul is the path of taking counsel with the creator, hearing and following his voice. This was the basis of paradise for Adam and Eve, this was the foundation of Abraham's righteousness, this was the rock upon which the nation of Israel was to stand. Jesus' declaration, "Learn from me..." is the call to return to this ancient path, this good way that brings the soul into rest.
In response to Jeremiah's admonition to ask for the ancient paths and seek for the good way, the people said, "We will not walk in it." Jeremiah went on to encourage the people to pay attention to the watchman's trumpet saying, "Listen to the sound of the trumpet." Again the people responded saying, "We will not listen."
Jesus' call today is the same as it was some 2000 years ago. If you would find rest for your soul, "Take my yoke upon you. Learn from me." Here is the path, here is the watchman's trumpet. Why do you, in word or deed, declare "We will not walk, we will not listen?"
"How," you may ask, "do we refuse to walk, refuse to listen?"
"Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them," said Jesus. The reason for his being there in the midst of those gathered in his authority is that he may teach us tasks of his yoke and show us the ancient path. Is your purpose in gathering to listen, to wait, to hear the voice of Christ?
By hearing Jesus' voice within us, individually and corporately, we are brought out of our own disquieting works. Here, in taking his yoke upon us and learning from Him, we come into our sabbath rest. The works of his yoke and the words of his teaching are not in vain but bring forth the fruit of righteousness, peace, contentment, and rest.
"OK," you may say, "just give me the tasks-to-be-done list and I'll buckle down and get them done."
No, the first and always the first thing to be done is to wait for Christ's direction to be revealed within us. Without that we do not wear Christ's yoke but some other yoke. Without that we do not learn from Christ but from some other teacher. Consequently we do not enter into rest.
The implications between "believe" and "believe in" have to do with your concept of God's plan in sending Christ. You can "believe in" a Christ that appeared in the world for 30 some years and then disappeared again until he returns at the end of the world, who left a book behind to be our instruction manual. But you can only "believe" a Christ who is actively present in and among his people, teaching them, leading them, ruling them, protecting them, overseeing them, cleansing them, presenting them to the Father, bringing them into unity with the Father and each other, and so on.
I grant you that the English text of the Bible often states or admonishes to "believe in." But some portions of scripture give our understanding of "believe in" a 180° twist. Much of what we understand to comprise "believe in" is related to creedal statements asserting our acceptance of certain dogma or theological constructs. But look at John 3:34-36, "For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure he gives the Spirit; the Father loves the son and has given all things into his hand. He who believes in the son has eternal life; he who does not obey the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him."
Yes the text says "believe in," but the context of the scripture has to do with hearing and obeying the words Christ speaks. Life comes to those who believe what they hear to the point of obedience. A closer look at the text opens up further implications. In the Greek, the word we translate as "in" is a word pointing to the object of the action. The text implies "believe that one" and points us to Christ as the one we are to believe. This is consistent with the remaining portion of the quoted text. After belief comes obedience to what we heard. If there is no obedience, we have not believed what we have heard but find ground for argument.
In the prologue to his book, John identifies the subject of his writing as "The Word." In The Word is the life and the life is the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwells among us bringing grace and truth and revealing to us the life, the will, and the character of the Father. And in his prayer to the Father, Jesus states, "...this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3) Thus are we given power to become sons of God. In John 6:63, concerning a discussion about the bread of life, Jesus says It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I speak to you are spirit and life. (Some translations render "speak" as "have spoken.") If we rework the John 3:34 text, it could read, "For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure he speaks to us;..." So, do you believe the words you hear from The Word? Believe to the point of obedience?
The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way:
Take care brethren lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another everyday, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ only if we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said 'Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.' Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Heb. 3:12-19)
"Believe" is a dynamic relationship between you and The Word, your Creator, not a static acceptance of creedal statements. "Believe" implies that your most important action is to listen for the voice of Christ, for you know that this is the source of your life.
Grace is defined as divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life. Most denominations have a listing of rituals, called Sacraments, that they declare or use as the means of grace. That phrase, "means of grace" is defined as the instruments, the agents, the agencies, or the mediums necessary or useful to achieving grace. This is a viewpoint distinctly different from what is given in scripture, which states that (1) grace and truth come by Jesus and (2) the grace of God has appeared to all men...
A look at one of these so-called Sacraments, the Lord's Supper or Communion, will reveal something substantially different than is practiced by most of Christendom. Its basis is the Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples just before his crucifixion. During this meal, Jesus said to his disciples, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22: 15-16) Jesus is marking a change; announcing the inauguration of something new. The original Passover was a shadow of something of far greater significance. In the original, the angel of death passed over every house having the lamb's blood painted on the door post; non-painters lost their first born child and the first born of their livestock. But mankind has a problem that extends beyond the death of their first born; except we be renewed into the image of God we all dwell in death. Jesus is announcing a different sort of passover wherein death cannot touch those who bear within them the Lamb's life. John the Baptist's announcement of Christ, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," (John 1:29) can be seen in the light of Christ being the Passover Lamb provided by God; the "sin of the world being death". Many of the incidents recorded in the Book of John center around or occur at the Passover. Let us look again at the passage from John 6 which took place at the feast of the Passover, during which the Israelites were to eat the Passover lamb. Jesus told the Jews, "...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves." (John 6:53) When the disciples could not understand this, Jesus explained, "The flesh profits nothing, the words I speak to you, these are spirit, these are life." (John 6:63. I have put the quote into present tense according to the Greek dictionary found at the back of the Strong's Concordance.)
"Do this in remembrance of me," is a phrase that not all source manuscripts share. However, it is the basis of the ritual that has continued to the present. Let's look at other statements in Scripture that have bearing on this subject. Jesus said, "I am come that you might have life and that more abundantly." (John 10:10) He told his disciples "I will not leave you orphaned, bereaved, parentless, fatherless, comfortless; I will come to you." (John 14:18) Paul wrote extensively to the Romans concerning the law of death and the law of life (the new Passover). The writer of the book of Hebrews stated, "Today, when you hear his voice harden not your hearts as in the rebellion." (Heb. 3: 15) This is written in the context of "In these last days God speaks (or has spoken) to us by his son." And "How shall you escape if you neglect so great a salvation?" (See Heb. 1:2 and 2:3) The great salvation is this new Passover wherein you have the Lamb's life within you; the "words I speak to you" within you.
"Do this in remembrance" is at variance with the declarations of Christ come. You do things in remembrance of someone only in their absence.
So do you have life, the same life that dwelt within the apostles and the early Christians? If you have the life of Christ within you, how did it come, by what agency or vehicle did it come? "Behold," said the resurrected Jesus, "I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20) Do you have Jesus in you to eat with? Paul, writing to the Colossians concerning the mystery hidden from ages and generations, proclaimed "Christ in you, the hope of glory..." (Col. 1:24) And to the Corinthians, he said, "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith...Know you not how that Jesus Christ be in you, except you be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:5) This is not about performing sacramental rituals, but rather about experiencing the risen Christ in and among you fulfilling all his offices.
Here are several declarations of Jesus come and the grace made available to all who receive him, who hear his words, who follow him. These are they who eat his flesh and drink his blood, who know death to passover them because they feed within upon the life of the Lamb.
Are there differences in outcomes of adhering to a rather than to the Christian message? Is there something substantial at stake in choosing one or the other? These are the questions I postulated as important at the beginning of this article.
I have noted several outcomes under each topic I have discussed; outcomes such as entering our sabbath rest; partaking of the dynamic relationship with our creator where we hear and follow his voice; and how we receive grace, truth, and life. However, there is one other dimension I want to discuss, i.e. overcoming evil and escaping temptation. How do we do it?
I have learned that there is no spiritual gymnasium where I can train to become stronger than Satan. Anytime I attempt to defeat him in my strength, I am lost. But the good news is Satan is defeated already. When you experience Jesus in your midst in all his offices, you have the one and only deliverer in your midst. He alone can write on your heart the faith that shields you from the fiery darts of the enemy. He is the truth with which to gird your loins. He is our righteousness to protect the breast. He is both the gospel and the peace between God and man to protect our feet and to keep them from slipping. He is the sword, the Word of God, that wields us. In providing all these functions, Christ is our dynamic salvation that covers and protects our head. In other words, Christ himself is the armor Paul admonished the Ephesians to wear. Thus these are the things at stake: there is no entering our sabbath rest, no hearing and following the voice of God, no grace and truth, no life, no overcoming of evil, and no escaping temptation except by following Jesus' leading and experiencing his functions within and among us.
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Thanks for this, Ellis. I think that you chose and described well the distinctions between Quaker and other forms of Christian faith. I recall having read a story that Lewis Benson told about an evangelical crusade by Billy Graham that brought in many new converts, which were then directed indiscriminately to various Christian churches. Benson spoke of the awkwardness that resulted from people showing up at Quaker meetings with a different expectation of Christian faith from what meetings had to offer them. I suppose the differences were those you identified in this essay. Now, of course, varying views of Christian faith in our meetings are pretty much a thing of the past (at least among the Liberals); we have other issues.
Rightly understood, I think, our doctrine of continuing revelation is not one of an evolving faith but instead expresses a faith that remains anchored in the everlasting truth yet addresses changing temporal circumstances, each new period of time having its own form of apostacy and requiring its particular gospel challenge. I guess I'm wondering who you see as the audience for this piece: evangelical Quakers? other Christians?
Hi Ellis. Concerning the distinction you have made, one passage that speaks to this is, "But ye have not so learned Christ, if so be ye have heard Him, and have been taught by (or, in) Him..." (Eph. 4:20,21). Not, "learned about Christ," but, "learned Christ." This is the fundamental lesson of the Christian life and walk-- to learn Christ. Christ Himself. Which is to hear Him, and be taught by, or in, Him, not about Him. In the Greek, the word for "learned" has the same root as the word "disciple." So, being a disciple of Christ means being discipled TO Christ Himself, and not to a creed or doctrine or things about Him. It means learning HIM, following HIM, walking in HIM.
And so, while I don't call myself by any of the names common in Christendom (Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.) nor consider myself a Quaker (although I do tremble at His word), as one who is discipled to Christ Himself, and is in the process of learning Christ, I heartily embrace your message.
Thank you for your comparison of "believing" and "believing in." I am in the process of creating an interest group for NYYM's and NEYM's annual sessions on "Quaker Responses to Climate Change: Wellness Centering Approaches" and I will revise my ministry as a response to this essay.
As I contemplate the difference in preparing for this interest group, I feel a dynamism that is exciting as I mull over the experience of believing Christ's call on my life in Earthcare, a call for direct action that leads to peace as I follow His voice. This is contrasted with creating a program on believing in the importance of Earthcare, which would be an intellectual offering of scriptural truths that relate to Earthcare, and a process that is monumentally overwhelming, unfulfilling, and exhausting.
Though my original outline has a quality of "believing," as contrasted with "believing in," I am "turning, turning, til I come 'round right" after reading your piece, redirecting and deepening my work.
Thank you Pat for your comment. I remember reading something by Lewis concerning the Billy Graham crusades. At least I think I read it. I can't read Lewis' material without hearing his voice, which sometimes makes it difficult to know if I read something or heard Lewis say it. As to the audience for the article: I have heard people in many different spectrums talk about having a Christian message. I have heard Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Liberals (Quaker and non-Quaker). The challenge of the early Quakers, as you know, is their unambiguous claim to have proclaimed the Christian gospel. Everything they did had its rise in that gospel. So I see the audience as being all across the spectrum of folks claiming Christianity.
Allan, Thank you for pointing out that Ephesians passage concerning learning Christ. That is very much in line with what I was trying to convey.
Reb, I am glad to know that my article has had such an important effect on your work. But I must say that it is not "my" article. All "my" material, had to be stripped out before I could complete the work. What survived were the insights and things the Lord opened within me. At least it is my earnest hope that all else has been removed that the work may be truly the work of God. It that alone can this have a beneficial impact upon your ministry. Any "heady, brain-beaten stuff" of mine would not stand.
Thank you for such a well presented statement, Ellis. All that you said is true to scripture. Jesus made it pretty clear when he concluded the Sermon on the Mount by warning that only those who "hear" and "do" his sayings are building their houses upon the rock. It involves much more than just admiring Him or praising Him or believing intellectually that He's really who He claims to be.
Regarding "communion", I've recently been doing a lot of reading regarding the very early Quaker view of the "parousia" (or second coming) and how it provided the original rationale for rejecting ritual sacraments or ordinances - the Mass, Eucharist, or Lord's Supper in particular. It's interesting that by the second generation of Quakers (Barclay etc.) Friends had already pretty much dropped their claim that such ordinances were anachronistic (Paul had said the meal was "to proclaim the Lord's death till He comes", but Christ had truly come already in their individual and corporate experience). They began rather to focus on the superiority of the spiritual over the "carnal" and on the New Covenant preference for the real substance over the symbolic or sacramental shadows.
The remarkable insight given to Fox and his contemporaries concerning the present reality of Christ's real presence (parousia) was such a precious gift, but it became sadly neglected, perhaps because it just seemed too fantastic and counter-creedal a claim to ask the Christian world to accept. But the foundational basis for keeping the sacraments among Christians has remained the belief that the parousia has not yet come. Christ's Kingdom, although perhaps present in some very limited way, is still primarily a hope for the future and will require a catastrophic physical change in "the heavens and the earth." The sacraments are necessary because we are living in the "meantime" or the "already, and not yet."
It's interesting that in the last 20-30 years preterist students of biblical eschatology have essentially uncovered the truth that the parousia was an event expected by the apostles (based on the promises of Jesus Himself) in their own generation, and which did in fact happen. Preterist interpreters rightly see that the events surrounding the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple were the historical fulfilment of this expectation. They also recognize that this event constituted a covenantal change which is symbolically pictured in scripture as the establishing of "a new heavens and earth." Unfortunately most preterists have failed to see what Fox saw about the powerful spiritual reality of Christ's "presence" fulfilling the expectation of His coming.
Many respected biblical scholars believe that John's gospel actually provides the rationale for a spiritual second coming in the "paraclete" sayings of Jesus' farewell discourse (in John chapters 14 -17). They point out that the same characteristics frequently mentioned in John's gospel (which showed Jesus to be "the Prophet like Moses") are attributed to the Paraclete by Jesus. There's much more to the paraclete sayings than a general prediction about the Holy Spirit and the coming outpouring at Pentecost. Reading carefully through John 14 in particular makes it clear that Jesus was identifying himself in a unique way with the Paraclete, and His promise to come again is almost certainly being conjoined with the coming of the Paraclete. These paraclete sayings were John's somewhat mystical way of teaching about the meaning of parousia, while the earlier Synoptics had used Jewish apocalyptic imagery (Hebrew hyperbolic judgment language) which focused more on the coming historical judgment of Jerusalem and the Temple. I think preterist historical eschatology, current Johannine scholarship, and Fox's unique spiritual insight into the New Covenant presence of Christ with His people make a powerful and convincing case for a rich, contemporary Christ-centered Quaker faith and life.