Friday, November 1, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Micah 5 and My Own Article on "Continuing Revelation" (Part 4)

Micah 5 – The terrible weakness and frailty of Israel’s earthly kings is compared to the coming strength of the messianic ruler “[Y]ou, (Bethlehem) Ephrathah, the least of the clans . . .out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel. . .” (5:2). “The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth” (5:3). Then the time will come when a new ruler of Israel will come and lead his fellow countrymen “with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God” (5:4). He will lead his flock from exile back to the own land.

The remnant “left in Israel will take their place among the nations. They will be like a lion among the animals of the forest, . . . [and] the people of Israel will stand up to their foes, and all their enemies will be wiped out” (5:9). The Lord says He will tear down their walls, put an end to witchcraft, destroy idols and sacred pillars, “so you will never again worship the world of your own hands” (5:13). The Lord will pour out his vengeance on “all the nations that refuse to obey me” (5:15).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism -
“Continuing Revelation”
Part 4
Still, there were some outward guideposts or principles you could employ in discernment. These were never written in the form of rules (heaven forbid!); they simply developed over time. One was insisting on the unchanging nature of God’s truth. Just as the promises of Christ are utterly constant, so the “spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it” (Fox, Journal, 399).  This principle was associated with Friends’ articulation of their peace testimony, but it was equally applicable to all the truths they saw as flowing from God.

The Spirit of Christ they had “come into” was the same Spirit that had “given forth” the Scriptures, so it stood to reason that Scripture could be used to test the consistency of one’s personal leading to the witness of Christ contained there. The fruits of your profession should be fruits of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22)—not the fruits of the “fleshly”, unredeemed nature—“fornication, impurity . . .idolatry   strife, jealousy, anger . . . and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21). If there was a clear statement of principle set forth there, you could not easily set yourself in opposition to it. Friends denied that this amounted to “setting up” Scripture as an outward authority, but the effect was much the same. If Scripture clearly testified to something and you felt led to a path that was inconsistent with it, or if the fruits of what you believed promised to be bad or destructive, you were likely to be judged out of unity with the Truth.

Yet there are difficulties in this way of looking at things. The Scriptures, if viewed as a matter of words only, contain inconsistent admonitions. On the question of slavery, for example, there are words that seem to sanction or accept slavery as a part of civilized life, which believers may participate in—such as Paul’s advice to slaves to “obey [their] early masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ . . .” (Eph. 6:5). Yet Friends challenged the definitiveness of Paul’s words in several ways—by examining closely the “fruits” of slavery in both slave-owner and slave and finding them universally corrupting and destructive, and second, by arguing that the whole tenor and development of the biblical “story” that God’s Spirit had given forth helped us to see that man was not to be viewed or used as chattel.

Christ was the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow as far as Friends were concerned. Another way of applying the test of consistency was to ask if the Christ you were listening to and obeying inwardly was the same Christ that the Scriptures had revealed, or if he had changed to suit the times you lived in. This standard was beautifully articulated by James Nayler:

“Now seeing he has appeared who is from everlasting and changes not, here is an everlasting trial for you all . . . whether you profess him from the letter or the light; come try [test] whether Christ is in you. Measure your life and weigh your profession with that which cannot deceive you, which has stood and will stand forever, for he is sealed of the father.

First, see if your Christ be the same that was from everlasting to everlasting, or is he changed according to the times: . . . Does he whom you obey as your leader lead you out to war against this world and all the pride and glory, fashions and customs, love and pleasures and whatever else is not of God therein? Does he justify any life now but what he justified in the prophets and apostles and saints of old?” (Nayler, Early Quaker Writings, 109-110).

There is an irony here however, which should not go unmentioned. Nayler was one of the most promising of Fox’s early followers. But only three years after writing these words, he himself faced severe censure (virtual rejection) by Fox and other Quaker leaders when he brought their movement into disrepute by engaging in a stupid display of “street theater”—permitting himself to be greeted entering a town in the manner in which Christ had been greeted on entering Jerusalem with palms and praises of a bevy of female followers. The municipal authorities responded by charging him with blasphemy, a charge that resulted in his being pilloried, whipped, his tongue bored through with a hot iron, a “B” for blasphemer being branded on his forehead, and three years imprisonment. He was eventually accepted back into the Society and his writing continued to be held in esteem. Nayler’s actions demonstrated the very difficulty we are exploring her.

Were you led into the same kind of lowliness Christ exemplified, or were you led into self-aggrandizement and pride, thinking you knew more than you really did? Did you seek to justify a way of life that was fundamentally different from the way of life the saints had always been called to live or to seek some liberty no follower of Christ would have sought? The standard was not changed—only the means by which we came into a knowledge of that standard.

Were you eager to serve others and to shed the love of God abroad, or were you led into actions that served your own interests?

“. . . be servants to the Truth and do not strive for mastery, but serve one another in Love, “Wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Take Christ for your example that I may hear of no strife among you” (Fox, Letters, 55).

Were you enamored of worldly fashions and honors, or did you turn your back on these things as Christ had? Infatuation with the world’s delights had to be put aside if one was to come into the life Christ offered, for that life lay on the other side of his cross.

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