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“God Has Given Thee a Measure…”

Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2006 at 10:18AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , , | Comments14 Comments

Back on May 24, in a posting on the topic of travel in the ministry, I suggested that “…what is central to all Quaker travel in the ministry is our (somewhat unique) Quaker gospel: our neither-Catholic,-Orthodox,-Protestant,-Hindu,-Buddhist,-nor-Wiccan message of the way in which salvation is to be found.”

I wrote, “This is true even of a journey as unusual as mine…. [For] what I’ll be asking to listen in on, when I visit each Friends community along the way, is the very process by which we Friends work out our salvation: the process of direct discernment of God’s will.”

And I added, “I sense that this is no accident. I sense that God does not move a Friend to travel in the ministry unless the travel would involve, in some significant sense, a relation or dramatization of our basic Quaker gospel message that salvation is found through direct, divinely-given discernment.”

Even then, I knew that I was doing our Quaker gospel an injustice — describing it in one short sentence, focusing on one small part of it and failing to mention that there was more. But I intended to come back to that matter when time permitted.

Since that posting, I’ve posted reports on four visits with Friends communities, three of which involved formal called meetings. And all through that period, somewhere in the back of my mind, there was the feeling I’d expressed in that posting, that our Quaker gospel is in some sense central to what I am doing. That feeling led me to stress the necessity of really doing discernment — doing it rightly, in other words — as my visits progressed.

And it turned out that the process of asking for corporate discernment, and holding each meeting to the discernment process, was even more important than I’d foreseen. In Monmouth I erred by failing to place sufficient emphasis on the process, and the result was a meeting that was fascinating, but not really directed to the needs of Friends in general (it was more a venting of personal concerns), and rather lacking in spiritual power. That was not the fault of the Friends present there; it was my own, for spiritual power comes through the same portal as discernment — through looking to the still, small Voice rather than to our own opinions — and I’d failed to ask with sufficient force for discernment. By the time of the Urbana-Champaign meeting, I was laying heavy emphasis on the discernment process, and the outcome was markedly Spirit-filled and very helpful indeed.

Well, one thing leads to another, and now I’m feeling that the time has come to think — and write — a bit more about this matter of our Quaker gospel. For I think it’s going to matter again and again, and especially, perhaps, when I get to my destination.

Let me begin with a very basic question: How do we distinguish between the actual gospel of Quakerism — its Good News to the world — and other things, such as our testimonies (which are not so much the News itself but logical consequences that we’ve discovered in pondering that News), or such as our simple preferences and peculiar customs?

I would answer that our Good News is recognizable by the fact that it is received by its hearers as Good News. In other words, the ones who hear it are likely to respond both with some sort of “aha” reaction — some sense of “this really changes my understanding of the world, and in consequence, the way I want to live my life” — and with some sort of pleasure at the nature of the news.

If we think about this even just a little, we can see that the Good News of Quakerism is not just one idea or message, but rather a whole constellation of ideas and messages, and different ideas and messages in that constellation are going to speak with special force to different people.

Some people, for example, are going to be thrilled, and their world view changed, by the simple discovery that there is an actual people who reject the path of war and support each other in their peace testimony. So that will be a part of the Good News of Quakerism that reaches those particular people. But for other people, that part of the Good News may have no particular force or significance, and something else — “why, Friends really do try to worship in the manner of the first-generation Christians” — may be more significant.

In some times and places, the central gospel message of Quakerism has been quite different from other times and places.

  • For Hicksite Friends in the time of their separation from the Orthodox (the early nineteenth century) — and also, for many Hicksites in subsequent generations — the central gospel message of Quakerism was Liberation from Outward Authority (meaning, the authority of written scriptures, church elders, etc.) Into the Freedom of the Spirit. This was a message which was not central for the first generations of Friends and which filled the Hicksites’ Orthodox Quaker contemporaries with horror.
  • For Holiness Revival Friends from the mid-nineteenth century onward, the central gospel message of Quakerism was Immediate Liberation from Sin by Accepting Jesus Into Your Life, a message which was likewise not central for the first generations of Friends — indeed, early Friends would have flatly denied that any such liberation can be immediate. And this message, that Holiness Revival Friends embraced, filled their more conservative Quaker contemporaries with horror.
  • For progressive Friends from the late nineteenth century onward, and especially for those who came under the influence of Rufus Jones and/or Howard Brinton, the central gospel message of Quakerism could be summed up in a set of abstract philosophical principles that were supposedly handed down by the Holy Spirit to early Friends — the exact list and number of these principles varies, but one popular formula is “Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality” — SPICE. Yet again (and by this time I’m sure that you, my dear readers, are already anticipating what I’m about to say), this message was not central for the first generation of Friends. And in fact, there are those in the evangelical wing of modern Friends who haved reacted against it with some horror.

  • I could add to this list of aberrations, but my point is made, and I don’t care to dwell on negativities. What is much more worth talking about is the original central Gospel message of Quakerism, which I think is a message of tremendous positive, transformative power, and which I think is well worth rediscovering. This was the message I was pointing to in my earlier posting, May 24, when I wrote of “our basic Quaker gospel message that salvation is found through direct, divinely-given discernment”. For while the idea that this is how salvation is to be found was not the exact central Gospel message of early Quakerism, it comes fairly close.

    So what was the actual, original, central Gospel message of Quakerism? (Oh, I thought you’d never ask!) I think I know.

    I have found statements of what I take to be that message, set out plainly and tersely in the writings of George Fox, James Nayler, William Dewsbury, Isaac Penington, Thomas Ellwood, William Penn, Robert Barclay, Elizabeth Stirredge, Benjamin Bangs, John Banks, John Richardson, Stephen Crisp, Joseph Pike, Jane Pearson, and others. Nearly always I find it expressed in a manner that conveys both a sense of its great importance and a sense that it is a discovery — exactly what I’d expect of a message of Good News.

    Here’s an example — John Banks conveying the message in a letter written to his son from prison:

    God in his love, according to his divine wisdom, hath given thee a measure or manifestation of his good spirit, grace, or light, which he hath placed in thy heart and conscience, a witness against every appearance of evil, which in some degree thou art come to the knowledge of; whereby thou knowest thou shouldest do that which is good, and eschew the evil. This light of the Lord Jesus Christ, teaches thee not to be wild nor wanton…; and if thou shouldest do or act contrary, this pure light will reprove and judge thee for it: and this is that, my child, thou must own and love; and then it will not only discover all sin, and every evil to thee, but as thou takest heed unto the checks, reproofs, and manifestations thereof, thou wilt thereby receive power over every thing, one after another, that the light so makes manifest unto thee … to have thy mind kept and exercised in the fear of God, and to serve him….

    Notice how many ideas this passage joins together — the idea that there is a present-moment light or spirit available to us, to be found specifically in the heart and conscience; the idea that it is explicitly of Christ; the idea that it discovers the sins we have committed that we’ve blocked out of our consciousness, and having discovered them, brings them back into our minds and reproves us for them; the idea that when we find such a discoverer and reprover in our heart and conscience, what we have found is divine, is of God, is indeed proof that God is real; the idea that if we unite with it, it empowers us —

    Without all these ideas, working together, this message is not yet a living, breathing entity. It is only when they all come together that the message becomes a complete engine, starting to move of its own power in our minds, working to transform us. It was the synthesis of these ideas that made the original Quaker movement the potent force in the world that it was.

    — And this is the potent synthesis I am seeking to return to, in the called meetings for discernment that I am having with Friends communities in the course of my journey. I don’t know how far I can succeed, but it seems worth trying —

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    Reader Comments (14)


    This is an excellent post. I think you’re right that the “Quaker” gospel needs more exposure among Quakers today.

    I would argue that this is also the original Christian Gospel.

    Another Friend who tried to recover the Gospel message of George Fox and publicize it in our time (or - actually - in the 20th century, which is no longer our time) was Lewis Benson. I’m curious as to whether you’ve read his book “Catholic Quakerism: A Vision for all Men”.

    - - Rich - -

    -- comment posted by Rich Accetta-Evans, http://brooklynquaker.blogspot.com/
    June 22nd, 2006 at 12:49 p.m.
    Sep 3, 2006 at 04:16PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    As I think I suggested in one blog conversation we had, I sympathize with the idea that the barebones Hicksite gospel – liberty from outward authority and freedom in the “spirit”, with very little clear idea of how we know what that spirit is or how to discern it – is inadequate, and that we need to “try again,” so to speak. So I welcome people trying to rediscover the old Quaker gospel and figure out what made it so powerful for Friends back then.

    But when you say that without *all* the elements present in its older articulations, “this message is not yet a living, breathing entity”, I’m not convinced why this should be the case. It’s as though two inventors made two backpacks, one that worked well, one that worked less well, and you are insisting that the only way to build a working backpack is to exactly reduplicate the first one. Maybe parts of the original design are eliminable.

    To my mind, the exclusive and privileged identification of the Light with Jesus Christ seems to be quite eliminable – intellectually, to my reading, the paragraph by John Banks is every bit as moving if the single mention of Christ is omitted. And experientially, a “Christ-neutral” version of the sort of Quaker gospel you have described in fact is at least in my own experience “a living, breathing entity,” “a complete engine, starting to move of its own power in our minds, working to transform us” – and in a way that vanilla-liberal Quakerism never was for me.

    In friendship,

    -- comment posted by Zach, http://gaq.quakerism.net/
    June 22nd, 2006 at 1:14 p.m.
    Sep 3, 2006 at 04:17PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    Very well said. Stay low and faithful in this gospel and I am sure that you will be guided and blessed on your journey to Baltimore.

    -- comment posted by Will Taber, http://www.gtitlblogspot.com/
    June 22nd, 2006 at 7:47 p.m.
    Sep 3, 2006 at 04:18PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    Thank you all for your feedback –

    Rick, I am sure that what I have called the “original central Gospel message of Quakerism” is part, and an important part, of the original Christian gospel as well. I am not convinced that it was as central to early Christianity as to early Quakerism. I would ask: was it more central to early Christians than the message, “Christ died for your sins”? More central than the message, “Christ has triumphed over death”?

    The early Christian gospel, I think, was primarily about the life, death, and mission of Christ. The early Quaker gospel, on the other hand, was primarily about the Paraklete — what it is, how it functions, how to recognize it and know it for divinity, and how our lives are to be lived in its presence. The two gospels are not terribly separable, for the mission of Christ had to do with the bringing of the Paraklete, and the Paraklete cannot be clearly heard by ordinary, selfish, small-minded people such as you and I without the model and teachings of Christ to provoke us into looking beyond our own supposed limitations. But nevertheless, I think that there are important ways in which Quakerism can be seen as a new step in Christian understanding.

    Zach, there are indeed a lot of working backpacks. But different backpacks do have different functionalities.

    If you eliminate those features of the Arc’Teryx backpack — the one I’m using on my walk — that are not also present in the Kelty backpack, you wind up with a backpack no better than the Kelty. I wouldn’t want to try to carry a Kelty with sixty pounds in it, fifteen miles a day for any length of time, and I wouldn’t want to carry an Arc’Teryx simplified to Kelty level with that kind of weight, for that kind of daily distance, either. It really is true that when the additional features of the Arc’Teryx are added in, the pack acquires a tightness and balance and zing that would not otherwise be present.

    So too, I think, with the Quaker gospel, when the feature of Christ is included. I’m not going to try to “prove” this to you, because my experience is that arguments of that sort accomplish nothing. They particularly accomplish nothing when the other person says, as you are saying to me, “Well, but my experience tells me otherwise.” I will only ask you to consider a couple of things.

    The first thing I’ll ask you to consider is that the early Friends were quite unanimous in testifying that Quakerism is not Quakerism without Christ. And they lived in a time and place full of people — freethinkers and ranters and Socinians and the like — who were ready to argue that Christ was not needed as part of the formula for a full life. So the early Friends had to think this matter through, and test it against the counter-arguments of the freethinkers and ranters and Socinians, before affirming it. They were not stupid, and they weren’t driven to affirm the necessity of Christ simply because they wanted to wave a flag or fit in with the Church of England. They were affirming the necessity of Christ because they’d experienced it, or felt they had. Perhaps, Zach, they were on to something real?

    The other thing I’ll ask you to consider is that perhaps, for all your experience, you may not have experienced quite *everything* just yet. And if you haven’t, then you’re not really in a position to argue that since *you* have not experienced a difference between the life of the Quaker gospel *sans* Christ, and the life of the Quaker gospel *avec* Christ, that there is no significant difference to be found between the two.

    It may, just perhaps, be that you haven’t experienced a profound difference between the one and the other — a difference of an order comparable to the difference between seeming life and genuine life — not because there is no such difference, but because you have not yet discovered how to link up the genuine Christ in there. I’m just speculating, mind you; I don’t know you, I may be totally wrong about this, and if I’m wrong then I apologize right now from the bottom of my heart. But you may perhaps be trying to plug in an idea labeled Christ, and seeing that it makes no real difference to the way the machine works, instead of connecting with Christ himself.

    In any case, whether I’m right or wrong about your situation, let me in humility ask you to try to be open to the possibility that there are dimensions to the original Quaker gospel that have not unfolded for you yet. And be glad that this might be the case, for if it is, it means you have some wonderful discoveries still ahead of you –!

    I hope, Zach, that I’ve given no offense by saying these things.

    Finally, Will, my thanks for your approving words.

    -- comment posted by Marshall
    June 23rd, 2006 at 11:27 a.m.
    Sep 3, 2006 at 04:21PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    Marshall - I wonder if Christ’s statement about the gospel both includes and defines the work of the Spirit and man? To quote:

    Luke 4:18ff
    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    Isaiah (whom Jesus quotes) is talking about the Messiah establishing God’s Kingdom on earth. In Christian traditions, the coming of the Spirit is part of the establishment of God’s kingdom. Many believe pentecost is the moment when Christ’s gospel became OUR gospel - and isn’t that the point of the Quaker gospel?

    -- comment posted by Christopher Frazier, http://www.quaker2.org/
    June 29th, 2006 at 11:29 a.m.
    Sep 3, 2006 at 04:22PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    Hi, Christopher! Many thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Just speaking for myself, I don’t see Christ’s very first sermon (the one you quoted) as *defining the whole* of what the Gospel is. I read it, rather, as *expressing one facet* of the total Gospel.

    The Gospel, for me, is a jewel that seems to have countless facets, each shining light in a different direction. The one you describe is truly a wonderful one, and I honor your right to regard it as central! But I don’t personally think it was the most important aspect of the Gospel for early Christians; it appears to me they were more smitten with the Resurrection, as being the Miracle That Changed The Whole Picture.

    And from my readings, I don’t think it was the most important aspect of the Gospel for early Friends, either. There are just too many places in early Quaker literature where some Friend or other is challenged to state the central message of the Quaker faith, and he responds, not with a declaration that God’s kingdom has been established, but with a statement of some sort pointing to the voice in the heart and conscience as being *Christ’s own voice, God Himself revealed*.

    -- comment posted by Marshall
    July 3rd, 2006 at 5:09 p.m.
    Sep 3, 2006 at 04:24PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    I think the backpack analogy may become too strained if I keep using it, but here goes –

    I agree with what you say in your first major paragraph responding to me, and in a qualified way with the next one. But I think you are posing a false dilemma, between the Kelty and the ArcTeryx, which in my understanding of our analogy correspond to what I called “vanilla liberal” Quakerism and more traditional/conservative Quakerism, as though there is nothing in between.

    To make it concrete, I see at least two important ways that the description you gave (and quoted) differs from that of the average universalistic liberal Quaker: (1) the explicit naming of Christ, and (2) the conception of the Light Within as that which “makes manifest” or lets us see things as they are – not merely that which gives guidance which we can hear. (It’s no accident the most recent major textbook on liberal Quakerism is called Listening Spirituality.) We all know that early Friends found #1 important and that many liberal Friends do not, but I think very few realize that the same is true of #2. In fact I don’t know of any branch of Friends that emphasizes #2; I can’t speak for the Conservative branch as a whole, but even NCYM (C) omits this aspect of the Light in their Discipline [http://www.ncymc.org/discipline.html#h2inner].

    Which hopefully clarifies why we are not faced with an all-or-nothing choice between an overly minimalist sort of liberal Quakerism (neither 1 nor 2) and a strictly traditional variety of Quakerism (both 1 and 2). One could also explore a Christian variety of Quakerism that still relies exclusively on hearing-based metaphors for the Light (1 but not 2) – I call this “Christian liberal Quakerism” and Rich is perhaps the flagship blogger here. Or one could explore a universalist variety of Quakerism that emphasizes “making manifest” and seeing-based metaphors for the Light (2 but not 1) – I call this “post-liberal Quakerism,” though others have used the term in other ways.

    That is what I believe I am being led to explore, and it’s not the same thing as “vanilla liberal” Quakerism. Just as the traditional Christian brand of Quakerism you are advocating is not the same thing as the liberal Christian Quakerism many other Friends hold. In both cases, the understanding of the light I described in #2 makes a substantial difference, I believe.

    To be clear, all I’m trying to establish right now is that there are _possible_ backpacks that lie _between_ the Kelty and the ArcTeryx, because you seemed to be denying this. It’s another argument entirely whether any of these backpacks are actually good ones. I don’t think we’re going to argue each other out of our positions by words, so I’m not going to try, though I very likely will blog on this topic next month. The real proof of the pudding will be in the eating: does your vision of Quakerism make you a changed man before you would change others? Does it give you the power that Friends once had? Are Friends of your persuasion creating a visible revitalization in the Society around you, however quietly? These are the same questions I ask myself. I am skeptical that any Friends can give a firm “Yes” to them, which is cause for humility.

    To make another analogy, if the decline of the RSoF is like a disease, and Friends concerned about it are like researchers looking for a cure, then viewpoints like yours and mine simply represent different schools of thought among the researchers as to how the cure will be found. You think what you’ve described is the most promising avenue; I think what I have described is. We should each go about our own work, and hope at least one of us (here including other earnest Friends) is successful.

    In any case, I think that experience must play a big role here. That was my intent in invoking “my experience” – it was to testify that I’ve found this “making manifest” conception of the Light Within to be profoundly powerful, and that this experience did not change when I slowly moved from an adamantly Christocentric, neo-primitive understanding of it to an understanding of it that did not require that all people explicitly recognized “Christ.”; My intent was not to silence debate, as I know the “my experience” is sometimes used for.

    That’s my main response to our disagreement here. I want to briefly address the rest of what you said though in your comment.

    For one thing, I think in your argument about Ranters, Socinians, etc., you are falling prey to the all too common vagueness in the use of the word “Christ.” As I understand it, our main contention, here and elsewhere, is whether the use of the outward name of “Christ” should be insisted upon, but I don’t think the history supports the idea that this outward naming was the primary contention between Friends and the more libertine types; as I recall not all Ranters were outwardly anti-Christian. The primary contention was not about the outward use of the name “Christ,” but the obedience to the Inward Christ – the cross, which Friends tried to submit to, and others generally did not, be they outwardly Christian, Socinian or Ranter. And here I don’t believe we’re in disagreement. When I say I don’t believe “Christ” should be a mandatory part of our religion I don’t mean obedience to the Light Within should be optional; far from it. I mean the outward use of the name “Christ” should be optional. And given the persistent Quaker preference for the inward above the outward, this is not a wholly unreasonable idea.

    As for your speculations on my spiritual condition, I don’t think they are well founded, though I thank you for your pre-emptive apology. You appear to be assuming that because I am in favor of a post-Christian or at least Christ-(as-name)-optional future for the Society, that I am therefore non-Christian as an individual, and have perhaps always been that way – I have “not yet discovered how to link up the genuine Christ in there,” and am merely noting that the mere idea of Christ makes little difference in one’s faith. That last bit is true – I am saying that the idea or name of Christ makes little difference to one’s inward bearing, and don’t think all the fuss about it justified. But your other assumptions I think are mistaken.

    I was raised to be a sincere Christian, and in college found in Quakerism a faith that made the old texts and doctrines (some of them anyway) finally make sense; this was the beginning of that “linking up.” After several years I began studying and meditating on early Quaker history and writings quite seriously, though I am still no expert, and this culminated about a year and a half ago with a powerful and life-changing experience of the reality of Christ-in-me (as I understood it at the time), which began to break my heart of stone and has given me most of the purpose and life and joy that I now have; if this was not the linking up you are referring to, I’d like to know why you think so. And so I respectfully disagree with your suggestion that this aspect of the original Quaker gospel has not yet unfolded for me. As far as I can tell, it has, and I still have come to disagree with such as you, after much serious reflection.

    Why I over the past year and a half have slowly changed from being firmly neo-primtive and Christocentric to being “post-liberal” and in a sense post-Christian is another story. But the main theme is the belief that it is important that we stay close to the Root and much less important what we name it. That and a deconstruction of the Christian tradition, in all its superstition and chauvinism and all-to-humanness, which I think any intellectually honest person must reckon with.

    In any event, I would turn your queries around: maybe there are aspects of our religion that have not unfolded for you yet. May we all remain open to that.

    P.S. – I recently saw and responded to your comment [http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/2006/05/under-maple-tree.html#c115080935005991237] on Cat’s blog, though it hasn’t been moderated as of right now.

    -- comment posted by Zach, http://gaq.quakerism.net/
    July 14th, 2006 at 9:32 a.m.
    Sep 3, 2006 at 04:27PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    Hello, Zach!

    Let me start by saying that I am taking great pleasure in our conversation, because I find your comments thoughtful and perceptive, and sense that they aim at a constructive goal that you would be willing to work with me to reach. Wow.

    I wonder whether you are not misreading my quotation from John Banks. If you will go back and re-read it, you may see that when he spoke of the Light, he did not describe it merely as something that “makes manifest” or “lets us see”. Rather, he described the Light as something that “if thou shouldest do or act contrary … will reprove and judge thee for it”. This shows that he experienced the Light, not as a passive thing like sunlight, but as a person, capable of entering into dialogue with each of us individually.

    Thus I would say that any “spirituality” which focuses on a Light that merely “makes manifest” and does not actively seize us by the scruff of our neck and shake us for our misbehavior, stops short of a full encounter with this person. What it has to teach will be qualitatively different from what an encounter with the Light-Person has to teach. In particular, what it teaches will fail to acknowledge that there is a Light-Person worth our connecting with.

    Now, I do accept that there are “backpacks” that lie in between the “vanilla liberal Quaker backpack” and the “backpack” of Quakerism as described by people like John Banks and George Fox. I’m not denying that; I happily agree with you on that.

    But I do believe that these in-between backpacks still won’t have the combination of ingredients that brings them to real life. I think such in-between “backpacks” will be like that spirituality of Light that stops short of encountering the Light-Person.

    You are of course perfectly entitled to disagree — and I know you do, and am not offended that you do. It is a disagreement I am very comfortable with.

    As to your metaphor of “researchers”, I am not trying to cure the decline of our Society. Really I’m not. In trying to return to what I described as the “potent synthesis” of early Quakerism, I am merely trying to be faithful to what I have felt God asking of me. Such faithfulness does not require that I *achieve a cure*; God has not asked me to be *successful*, but merely to practice authentic Quakerism as best I can, to model it as best I can in my interactions with others, and to very nicely ask the Friends I meet with on this journey to give it a try for the duration of our meeting. That is a much more modest goal. And it is still, modest as it is, almost more than I can manage.

    And because this is my goal as I presently understand it, some of the tests you propose for what I’m doing — “*…does your vision of Quakerism … give you the power that Friends once had? Are Friends of your persuasion creating a visible revitalization in the Society around you, however quietly?*” — don’t really seem to me to fit the case. God is not giving me power, but simply asking me to do some modeling and some polite asking. God has not promised me He will revitalize the Society as a result, any more than He promised Amos and First Isaiah that their audiences would listen and be changed by their prophecies (Amos 7:7-9; Isaiah 6:8-12, 29:9-10)

    No, I do not require that all people explicitly recognize Christ. Saying that Christ (the Divine Being, not the idea or the name) must be present in the Quaker Gospel for it to come to full life, is not the same thing at all as saying that all people must explicitly recognize Christ.

    I also do not say that the argument over whether Christ must be present in religion was “the primary contention between Friends and the more libertine types”. I merely say that the question *was raised*, and Friends thus had to come to terms with it.

    I would say that the Root *is* Christ and Christ *is* the Root. You appear to be saying that one can have the Root without giving it the name “Christ”; and with that I would agree. But I would say that if one genuinely has experienced the Root, and then hears Christ *capably described*, one is very likely to say, “Oh, but you are describing the Root!” And the story and teachings of Christ appear to me to convey a far deeper and more complete grasp of the Root than the vast majority of us can manage on our own –

    Finally, I am *sure* there are aspects of our faith that have not unfolded for me yet! No doubt about it! And the thought of it makes me very happy, because it tells me I have new joys to look forward to –

    I look forward to your blogging on this matter at some future date.

    -- comment posted by Marshall
    July 14th, 2006 at 11:56 a.m.
    Sep 3, 2006 at 04:31PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    I'm sorry I missed this one the first time round.

    I do find this notion fascinating. And I agree, I don't think the Quaker gospel you depict here was a central aspect of the gospel as presented in scripture -- though it appears fully consistent with it.

    Jesus' gospel -- as presented in the synoptics -- the kingdom of the Father is here! Turn from your sin(s) and be saved. Paul's gospel seems to be that Jesus' obedience unto death and subsequent resurrection communicates new life to us and it's incumbent upon us now to live changed lives in response -- in other words -- turn from our sin(s).

    My trouble with the Quaker gospel you present -- which has at least the potential to unpack the how-to-do-it of both Jesus' and Paul's gospels -- is that I have lost faith that the discernment practices I've been taught amongst Friends thus far are adequate to the task set before us by the Quaker gospel you profess.

    I'm faced at the moment with a possible leading to take on pastoral ministry -- as paid clergy. And lack the tools to discern aright whether it is an authentic call from the one we seek to obey.
    Dec 31, 2006 at 08:52PM | Unregistered Commenterdavid
    David -- when you write, "I have lost faith that the discernment practices I've been taught amongst Friends thus far are adequate to the task set before us by the Quaker gospel you profess", I have to confess that I don't fully understand what you are telling me.

    If I may ask, please explain to me: What discernment practices have you been taught? And in what circumstances, or in what respects, do you find them inadequate to the task?
    Jan 1, 2007 at 08:17AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    The principle discernment practices are waiting worship, meeting for worship for business, and something liberal Friends call clearness committees.

    I have seen ways they do not work. And the ways they do not work are at least in part attributable to a lack of agreement in why to do them.

    More significant to my loss of faith is my geographical distance from a meeting and hence from opportunities to practice my Quakerism. It is difficult to practice corporate discernment outside of a discerning community.
    Jan 1, 2007 at 09:01AM | Unregistered Commenterdavid
    I guess, David, that I myself don't think of waiting worship, meeting for business, and clearness committees as "discernment practices". They seem to me more like settings or arenas within which Friends may, if they so choose, engage in such practices. Calling them "discernment practices" strikes me as a logical error of the sort that James Thurber might have called "taking the container for the thing contained" -- rather like calling a boxing *ring* a boxing *match*, or calling a steeplehouse a "church".

    The real discernment practices are the things we do in such arenas.

    "How do we discern?" seems to be an unsettled question among Friends nowadays. There are many Friends who, even in meetings for business, lean heavily upon the practices of the world -- logic, cynicism, self-interest, prejudice, and appeals to amoral principles and authorities. I wonder if it might not have been the behavior of such Friends that caused the sessions of waiting worship, meetings for business, and clearness committees you were involved in, to fail to "work" upon occasion --?
    Jan 2, 2007 at 08:51PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
    "logic, cynicism, self-interest, prejudice, and appeals to amoral principles and authorities" -- yes that is a part of it. But to an extent I accept this as we are after all human and these are human processes. There is I suspect a role for some measure of these in discernment and God can use even self-interest upon occasion (I have seen it happen when a clearness committee came -- in retrospect -- to the right decision but in my opinion in the wrong spirit/for wrong reasons -- and that did contribute to my failing faith and growing cynicism).

    But even when I allow for that -- there's something else. There is the range of opinions about what we are doing there. I very much value the diversity in liberal Quaker meetings, that's what drew me there. But at the same time, this diversity can become dysfunctional. We get locked into our little Quaker fragments. And it is the Quaker fragments which dictate our agenda and consequently it is that subversion which troubles me.

    Ad when I ask questions about discernment, or about what we DO in the silence, I either get dead silence or I get stuff imported from other faith traditions.
    Jan 3, 2007 at 05:39AM | Unregistered Commenterdavid

    Your latest comment, David, leaves me with a lot to unpack.

    You write, "'logic, cynicism, self-interest, prejudice, and appeals to amoral principles and authorities' ... to an extent I accept this as we are after all human and these are human processes. There is I suspect a role for some measure of these in discernment...."

    My own response, dear friend, would be: GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). To illustrate, with reference to my current serialized article on the first Friends and slavery: if you and I are early eighteenth-century Friends and we engage in discernment based on the logic, cynicism, self-interest, prejudice, and appeals to amoral principles and authorities that undergirded slavery, then we will wind up discerning that slavery should continue. To come to a higher conclusion than that, we need to start our process of discerning from a higher basis. Only the mind of Christ will produce the discernments of Christ.

    Does that make sense? Would you agree?

    You write of a clearness committee that came to the right decision, but in the wrong spirit and for the wrong reasons. I would venture to say that in that case it probably also came to a bad decision, because the spirit and reasons will color the fruits as surely as the ostensible decision itself. For instance: "Very well, I will let you have what you asked for," spoken in a spirit of poisonous resentment and for reasons of calculating political maneuvering, is a lousy decision, even if "letting you have what you asked for" is the right thing to do. Only the spirit and reasons of Christ will produce wholly good decisions.

    Again: does that make sense? Would you agree?

    Finally, it seems to me that getting locked into little Quaker fragments is yet another sign that the group has failed to fail to enter the mind of Christ. It is just one more form of GIGO.

    Entering into the mind and spirit of Christ is a discernment practice, at least as I understand it.

    Jan 4, 2007 at 06:20AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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