Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
This material first appeared on This Was the True Light.
In Catholic Quakerism, chapter III, The Quaker Conception of Christian Community and Church Order, Lewis Benson stated:
Of the two basic presuppositions in Fox's conception of Christianity we have already dealt with the first, namely, that God, through Christ, shows what is right and gives the power to do what is right. The second presupposition is that God is calling all men into a community whose fellowship and order are produced by a master-disciple relationship to the living Christ.
Man was created to live in a continuously dependent relationship to his Creator, and therefore hearing and obeying is the distinctively human activity. When man ceases to hear and obey, he falls from the position in which God has placed him. For Fox, Christianity means that God is restoring the original dialogic relationship. (Lewis Benson, Catholic Quakerism,, 1983, p.43)
These two basic presuppositions of Fox's Christianity form a concise statement of the new covenant and the community it generates. But Christendom has other views of the new covenant. Every year, around the Easter season, participants in local churches across the world will be hearing sermons on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the establishment of the new covenant between God and His people. But, despite all this sermonizing and annual attention, does anyone really understand the significance of the new covenant? Looking at the actions of Christendom, in general, I would have to say, "No."
Benson goes on to state:
The resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of one who was the incarnation of the word that God speaks to man. He is the eternal prophet who speaks from heaven, and he speaks with the voice of authority because his voice is the voice of the creator. He is therefore "the light of men," and the new covenant established by his death and resurrection is the "covenant of light."(Ibid., p.46)
These explosive words blow apart all the preconceptions the Church has regarding establishing the new covenant and serving God. If Jesus was the incarnation of the word that God speaks to man and now is the prophet who speaks from heaven, He still speaks this word, which we must hear. In Lewis Benson's statement, we are brought to confront Jesus' words: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)
To those who said, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out devils in your name, work many miracles in your name?" Jesus answered, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt. 7:23) Jesus "knows" those whose priority is to do the will of the Father, because we can only know the Father's will and receive the power to do it by hearing this word Jesus speaks to us. Everything that does not have its rise in this word is iniquity.
Edward Burrough, in his introduction to The Works of George Fox, Vol. III provides us with deep insight into this process. He stated:
First the Lord brought us by his power and wisdom, and the word by which all things were made, to know and understand, and see perfectly, that God had given to us, every one of us in particular, a light from himself shining in our hearts and consciences; which light, Christ his son, the saviour of the world, had lighted every man withal; which light in us we found sufficient to reprove us, and convince us of every evil deed, word, and thought, and by it, in us, we came to know good from evil, right from wrong, and whatsoever is of God, and according to him, from what is of the devil, and what was contrary to God in motion, word, and works. And this light gave us to discern between truth and error, between every false and right way, and it perfectly discovered to us the true state of all things;...So that all these things concerning man, and concerning the times and seasons, and the changing and renewing of times, and all things that pertain to salvation, and redemption, and eternal life, needful for man to know, all these were revealed, discovered, and made known to us, by the light which was in us, which Christ had lighted us withal.
And we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation. And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing.
Then comes a list of things that they (i.e. the early Quakers) had formerly practiced, that they now turned away from as altogether useless in the face of turning to the light of Christ. This list included:
What was the result of this?
(Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp.12-14)
I have often heard people say, "We hear God through the sermon, the hymns, the liturgy, the sacraments..."
No, I am sorry, but if you hear God, you hear him through Jesus speaking within you. Yes, George Fox and the early Friends were moved to preach sermons, some lasting three hours or more. But the purpose for those sermons was to call people to turn to Christ's light, their inward teacher that would show them the way forward and give them the power to walk in obedience to what He told them. Without coming to that, you do not enter the new covenant.
While in New England in 1672, George Fox recorded:
At another place, I heard some of the magistrates said among themselves, If they had money enough, they would hire me to be their minister.' This was, where they did not well understand us, and our principles: but when I heard of it, I said, ' It was time for me to be gone ; for if their eye was so much to me, or any of us, they would not come to their own teacher.' For this thing (hiring ministers,) had spoiled many, by hindering them from improving their own talents ; whereas our labour is, to bring every one to their own teacher in themselves. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.128)
Lewis Benson put it this way:
God who is light and whose law is light has given men a covenant of light. In this new covenant the word and power of God are mediated to God's people through the risen Christ who is present in their midst. The new covenant is therefore not a legal code, cultus, or idea, but a person....(Benson, p.45)
The new covenant between God and His people is Jesus, who said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my [authority] there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20) When you gather, two or three or more, is it for the purpose of hearing Christ speak to you as described by Edward Burrough above? Jesus's purpose in being present in the midst of those gathered in His authority is to speak to us the word of God, to feed us with the bread of life, to be the shepherd and bishop of our souls, to be the king who defends His kingdom from all incursions of the enemy of our souls, to be our priest who cleanses us and makes us clean before the Father, and the list goes on. All these things are to take place in the midst of those who will receive and hear the light He enlightens us with.
Looking at the actions of Christendom, one can only conclude: the purpose of gathering is to participate in the usual rituals that comprise Christianity, and, Jesus is there as a figurehead. Christendom neither sees Jesus' presence as absolutly essential nor the word He speaks and the functions He performs as the primary reasons to gather. Their view of the Church of the new covenant is a collection of individuals rather than a unified body of which Christ is the living, active head. This has been the prevailing view of Christianity for a number of centuries, but that is not the new covenant community. Lewis Benson continued:
This is the key to the new covenant community---it comes into existence when men hear and obey the voice of the living Christ, and it has no existence apart from this hearing and obeying. (Benson, p.45)
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Thank you for this timely reminder. The early Quaker clarity regarding all institutional and merely ritualistic "Christianity" is a much needed antidote to the many forms of prevailing darkness.
Great post Ellis. I would add that another big part of many church goers feeling of fulfillment in going to church is the emotional encouragement they get from singing together, and the intellectual encouragement of listening to well crafted words. I think it also encourages them to believe they are OK with God due to having all their spiritual peers around them: "judging themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves to themselves" so to speak. The New Covenant is a dogma, a philosophy, to accept by blind faith, as far as I have seen. They deal with the issue of a "New Creation" as a legal reality, they see that the "Old Man" is still very much alive and active within them, but they believe that due to the magical power of Jesus death to pay for sin, in God's eyes, they are no longer "legally" responsible for the sin they commit.
They are steeped in their ideas about Jesus, not in the way of Jesus. To them the "New Covenant" is a philosophy to believe in, not an active power in the world. It is a salvation "for me", not "from me".
Yes, Ryan, thank you for the insightful comment.