Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
All Christians affirm that they must listen to God. About 35 years ago, early in my own journey, I soon discovered that “listening to God” did not mean the same thing to every Christian I met. This plethora of assumptions—and the many different doctrines it produced—confused me until I felt there was no escape. All I could do was hang on, read the Bible, pray, go to church and hope that someday I would be liberated from the burden of this confusion.
I recall certain conversations with people whom, it seemed to me, were the most serious about knowing God. They went to church twice on Sundays; also on Wednesday evenings; attended weekly Bible studies, and prayed with their families at home every morning and evening. Inevitably, one such family I knew had a plaque on their wall saying “The family that prays together stays together.”
However, when I attempted to talk to these people about listening to the voice of God, our dialogues quickly revealed their underlying agenda—the rule by which they really lived.
In a conversation about studying the Bible, I said, “The early Quakers relied on the voice of God to explain Scripture to them. When the Lord revealed the truth about a passage, they called it an ‘opening.’”
My church-going acquaintance replied, “Well, but you get to listening to inner voices, and there’s no telling what could happen. Suppose you heard a voice telling you to kill someone?”
“But,” I floundered, “look at the Old Testament. It’s filled with stories that start, ‘The Lord came to so-and-so, saying...’ or ‘An angel of the Lord spoke to...’”
“Oh,” he said, “God doesn’t speak directly to people anymore.”
He doesn’t? I thought. Is this the rule by which you live? That God doesn’t speak to you? Except through all your various religious activities.
It was years before I gained enough literacy with the Bible to realize that his doctrine, “God doesn’t speak directly to people anymore,” had no basis in Scripture at all. It was man-made; rooted in the fear of human weakness.
Contrast this with the words of George Fox to the new and growing community of Friends in Great Britain in 1650: “Mark and consider in silence, in lowliness of mind, and thou wilt hear the Lord speak unto thee in thy mind. His voice is sweet and pleasant: his sheep hear his voice, and will not hearken to another. When they hear his voice, they rejoice and are obedient; they also sing for joy.” [Works Vol. 1, 1831 ed., p. 108]
What believer’s heart could fail to rise to this testimony?
If you choose to follow the actual path of listening to God and expecting to hear directly from him, you will encounter certain inescapable realities: 1) God created us as beings capable of hearing what he says to us. Therefore we have to discard the idea that “we don’t have the ability to hear,” or “we will always, or often, hear wrong because of our fallen natures.” 2) God does not contradict himself, therefore if 2 believers hear opposite things, one or both people have heard wrong; leading to 3) If you want to hear God, you have to listen. Listening to anyone, human or divine, requires silence. How else can you hear what they’re saying? This obvious fact is what’s behind Quaker worship.
Given that all 3 of the above stated realities were directly experienced by the early Quakers, and also given that these 3 realities are foreign to almost all other Christian groups, it’s no wonder that the first Quaker preachers encountered violent opposition.
There is no way to reconcile the plethora of Christian doctrines and worship practices with a serious attempt to listen to God. First, conceding that we can hear God requires us to give up our belief that human imperfection is stronger than God’s power to guide us. Second, admitting that God does not contradict himself requires all who take this seriously to refuse to accept denominationalism, but instead to seek and listen together until we all see the truth about a given question, Scriptural passage, or doctrinal assertion. Third, if we’re really listening, we have to do just that: be quiet and listen. This puts an end to “business-as-usual” programmed worship services.
So, the requirements for hearing the voice of God today are the same as those practiced by the early Quakers and exert the same necessities, sounding the same radical call to forsake all man-made religion.
Add a Comment