Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 36 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 31)

Tonight is the night of our dear savior's birth. May God bless us all with His Light and Power and Presence!

Isaiah 36 – Footnote says this “Appendix” is a poem of return from exile and associated with Second Isaiah. Modern scholars think the “Second Isaiah” is not the work of the 8th c. prophet. The name of Isaiah is not mentioned and the historical setting is 200 years after his time. Jerusalem has fallen and the nation is in exile. Cyrus is already present. Oracles of this part are more consoling and remote from the time of Ahaz and Hezekiah. The style is more rhetorical and repetitive. Monotheism is not only affirmed; it is expounded. Religious universalism is clearly expressed. Second Isaiah starts in chapter 40.

In the 14th year of Hezekiah, Sennacherib of Assyria attacked. They wonder why Hezekiah is so confident that he would rebel, acting on reliance on his alliance with Egypt “that broken reed. . .which pricks and pierces the hand of the man who leans on it” (36:6). The cup-bearer wants those on the ramparts to hear what he is saying. The message is reported to King Hezekiah.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 31
Early Friends, of course, rejected “tradition” as the Catholic Church defines it as something wholly of man, not of God; but in this it seems to me they were being inconsistent with their own insight. In a sense they were denying that the Spirit could every have led the early church to organize itself as it did under the authority of bishops who were ordained and part of a continuing chain of leadership linking them to the apostles. Friends denied that the Spirit would ever have led the church to institute outward sacraments, creeds, and ordinances to keep the apostolic foundation secure. Friends saw “continuing revelation” as applying only to those gathered into their own particular vision of the church; the idea would have prospective validity only. The things the early church had decided were somehow not part of the chain of revelation, but still it is interesting to compare their approach to that of the Catholic Church. While both Catholics and Quakers hold that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire and work in his people and his church, both strongly insist that any new revelation be consistent with the foundations laid by the apostles. Our God is not a God of confusion but a God of order, so claims of new insights must cohere with foundational teaching.

In the Catholic Church the right and duty of discernment on the issue of what new insights are consistent with the foundation belongs to the hierarchy, though in practice there is input from the grassroots. Among Friends, however, the right and duty of discernment with respect to “new insight into the established gospel” as Robert Barclay called it, devolves onto the membership as a whole. The interesting thing is that in both communities—Catholic and Quaker—the process of accepting new insights is very slow and methodical. In a properly functioning Meeting, changes in corporate testimony, while always theoretically possible, are as rare as they are in the Catholic Church. The rules established by early Friends require virtual unanimity to institute new practices or approaches. But when changes are convincing and a strong relationship to the gospel foundations are shown, the changes brought about under the doctrine of continuing revelation are impressive. Friends were among the first, if not the first, Christian group to forbid members in good standing to own slaves. They rejected the stigma of inferiority that attached to women in other Christian denominations and were among the first Christian groups to work against the death penalty. Their deep conviction that was and violence are inconsistent with Christian profession is widely known and respected. They also were among the first Christians to challenge class and race privilege as being similarly inconsistent with the gospel.

On the other hand, Friends did not and do not see the same “continuing revelation” in the observances and practices that developed in the early church to preserve and transmit what Catholics call “the deposit of faith”—that foundation to which Robert Barclay referred, on which the faith is built. They did not and do not see “continuing revelation” in the methods the church adopted to assure the soundness of the foundation or to meet the challenges of growth, persecution, and the deepening insights that came with both. But I think that the history of the Christian faith shows that these methods were also important for assuring that the gospel would survive in the world. Faith in the reality and need for continuing revelation brings change, but slow respectful change. This is what I have seen among Friends at their best and in the Catholic Church at its best as well. The Catholic Church’s past is just much longer and more complex than is that of Friends.

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