February 11 2004 at 9:18 AM James Healton (no login)
‘FRIENDS TESTIMONIES’ ARE REALLY THE TESTIMONY
THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST
For me, it all began with an answer that George Fox gave to those who called him an "antichrist" who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. He turned the accusation right around and told these orthodox, Puritan preachers that they were the ones who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. I wondered how he could say that since the Puritans were certainly not the least bit docetic. Then I began to notice how much Fox and the other early Quaker writers quoted the Old Testament, especially the passages from the prophets concerning the coming of the Messiah and the messianic age or kingdom of God. It suddenly dawned on me that the early Quakers were grasping the fact that professing Christians were, in effect, denying that Jesus is the Messiah who has fulfilled all that the Prophets foretold would be fulfilled by His coming in the flesh.
Yes, they accepted that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies concerning His death and resurrection, but there was much more that they either entirely overlooked or postponed until after death or the "Second Coming". Their testimony, at best, was seriously incomplete. And an incomplete testimony for Christ has the very real potential of turning into a testimony against Him. The "Testimonies" of Friends were, and should be, the full testimony of what it means that Jesus is the Christ.
Jesus told His disciples that they would be His "witnesses" to “the uttermost part of the earth.” They were to bear witness to the world the He is the Messiah and that the messianic age has come, as foretold by the prophets. That is the same witness or testimony we should bear today. We are to do this not simply by saying the words, "Jesus is the Christ" but by living and teaching the full implications of that truth.
Jesus said that His Church would be founded upon the truth first confessed by Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God (Mt. 16:15-18). This means that Jesus is the Messiah whose coming in the flesh inaugurates and provides the foundation for a whole new world of possibilities for human life. Each of the testimonies that Friends have borne can be traced back to prophecies in the Old Testament that are tied to the coming of the Messiah.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God now dwells in the midst of His people, teaches them directly and fulfills all the ministries pictured in the sacrifices and ceremonies of the old covenant. Therefore, worship is in Spirit and Truth rather than in fleshly observances and typical ceremonies. Because Jesus is the Christ, God's people beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and no longer prepare for war. They are secure, knowing that the day long foretold by the prophets has come and that ultimate victory over evil will be achieved through following their victorious King. Because Jesus is the Christ, the Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh so that all God's people are prophets. Women as well as men may prophesy, one by one, that all may be encouraged and all may be instructed by what all have learned from the Father.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God now rules His people directly, rather than through prophets, priests and kings. As the prophets foretold, "a king will reign in righteousness" and the fruit of His reign will be righteousness and peace. He will be their shepherd to guide them in the paths of justice and mercy. God's people will not be ruled by one man or a few or even by the majority but by God Himself, present in all and leading all together. Because Jesus is the Christ, God will give His people new ministers who will not fleece the flock or abuse the sheep. Instead of standing in God's stead before the people, they will lead them to Him that they might hear directly from Him and feel His presence in and among them. Because Jesus is the Christ, God's people will no longer live in sin and disobedience to Him, but will have His law written upon their hearts and will cast away all their idols. They will be given a new heart and a new spirit that freely submits to God's will and delights in fulfilling His commandments.
And Because Jesus is the Christ, God's people will be humble, lowly, of purified lips who will do no wrong, tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. They names of false gods will not be on their lips. Because Jesus is the Christ, God's people will give themselves to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted so that they will be called the repairer of the breach and the restorer of the streets in which to dwell. In that day God will make a covenant with the birds of the air and the beasts of the field and the creeping things of the ground and God's people will lie down in safety, for there will be none to hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain. Because Jesus is the Christ, the promise to Abraham will be fulfilled and all nations will be blessed through his holy Seed. The nations will stream to the Lord that He might teach them His ways that they might walk in His paths. And a stream has been opened that shall flow from the Temple and widen and deepen until the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Though I have used the language of the prophets to show the implications of Jesus being the Messiah, I think you can see their relation to the testimonies of Friends. To put it very clearly, there is really only one testimony: Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). The particular testimonies are each different implications of the one testimony that Jesus is the Christ. Unfortunately, this connection has been lost, even among Friends. Evangelical Friends treat the testimonies as archaic, arbitrary and optional, having no direct relation to the gospel. Liberal Friends, while making the testimonies central, divorce them from Christ. In fact, Evangelical and Liberal Friends at least agree in one thing: that Christ has little to do with the testimonies. The former therefore reject the testimonies, the latter therefore accept them (or at least a facsimile of some of them).
Coming back to the subject of evangelism, if we are to be faithful to the biblical understanding, we must bear witness to the world (and to Christians) that Jesus is the Christ. When we limit our witness to His deity, death and resurrection, as Christians have done for centuries, the results are very disappointing. War, poverty, pollution, oppression, corruption and immorality continue to thrive, even as the number of those professing faith in Christ increases. God is waiting for us to finally receive, live and proclaim the full witness of Christ. Friends must not step backward and fail to fully witness for Christ. It is absolutely vital that we grasp again and fully bear witness to the wonderful truth that Jesus is the Christ and therefore all those prophecies pertaining to His coming in the flesh are capable of being fulfilled now.
Like all Christians, I recognize that there are some prophecies that will not be fulfilled until after we depart this life or after God brings an end to this world. But Christ will not come again until after the Church has fully understood and acted upon all the implications of His first coming. This, we have so far failed to do. The role of Friends is to lead the Church and the world in realizing the full potential of Jesus' first coming that we might be well prepared for His second coming.
"'Friends Testimonies' Are Really the Testimony that Jesus is the Christ" February 26 2004, 6:34 AM
This is really one of the best, most lucid explanations of the core Quaker understanding that I have seen. Jim, do you have this or something like it on-line in a regular Web page where it would be more readily accessible than in a forum? If so, where? If not, I'd like to put it up (or perhaps a somewhat modified version not designed as an answer to Johan's questions) at QuakerInfo.com.
Bill Samuel, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Member, Adelphi MM, Baltimore YM
Affiliate Member, Rockingham MM, Ohio YM
Healton's message now an article on the Web March 6 2004, 12:53 PM
I am happy to report that James Healton has reworked his post here into an article entitled "The One Testimony that Binds Them All Together. You can find it at http://www.quakerinfo.com/one_test.shtml
Bill Samuel, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Member, Adelphi MM, Baltimore YM
Affiliate Member, Rockingham MM, Ohio YM
One testimony? Or two? April 7 2004, 2:43 PM
I hear frequently in my meeting that Jesus Christ is the only answer, and while I don't disagree with this statement, it doesn't take me very far. What is the question? This testimony doesn't tell me how to respond to a situation.
When Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment, He did not say, bow down to me. He might have found that response a kind of idolatry. What he did say is that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is, to love your (our, my) neighbor. Unless Jesus was not speaking the truth (a logical impossibility) I would take this as a starting point.
This does help me to respond in a difficult situation. It tells me that I must approach my "adversary" with love, with respect, with truth, and with non-violence.
I believe that all of the traditional Friends Testimonies could be derived from this teaching of Jesus. Jesus also said a lot of other things about how we should live in relationship to God and to the people around us. How can any of this can be ignored, discounted, or reduced to the formula "Jesus is the Christ". After all, Judas knew this that Jesus was the Christ, but he did not act in accordance with Jesus' teaching.
I am always sad to hear "liberal" and "evangelical" Friends stereotyped and judged by one another. As a liberal evangelical, I can assure you that there are many Friends in "liberal" meetings, myself included, for whom Christ is indeed the center of spiritual life. I also know many "evangelical Friends" in my Yearly Meeting who use the Testimonies as a guide to living their lives. I have never met a "liberal" Friend who did not understand that the Testimonies come directly from the Gospel, although I cannot say that there are no such persons. I do know "liberal" Friends who are not certain if they are Christian, and others who actually say they are not Christian, but that is different from saying that they do not understand the relationship.
So much of the differences between "liberal" and "evangelical" Friends have more to do with rhetorical cultural styles than they do with spiritual matters. Many "liberals" simply feel that if they talk too much about their faith, they will be "imposing" their views on others. I, for one, would rather that "they know that we are Christians by our love", not "by our words". At the same time, I can understand how an evangelical might find this ridiculous - if we believe, we should talk about it. Yet, these quiet "liberals", or at least many of them, are people who witness to God with their hands -by doing His work.
Those on the "liberal" side tend to see the "evangelicals'" reluctance to act in the face of terrible injustices, or to support the societal "status quo" as equally ridiculous. Yet, there is a time for every purpose under heaven.
Jesus also said that, as we do his work - feed the hungry, care for the sick, etc.- we do this in His name. Did He really mean this? Or did He mean something else. Because He did not say, "as we, in His name, do these things, this things become worthwhile." If we do what He tells us to do, without more, it seems, then we do it for Him.
Mostly what I am saying is that we should not judge each other based on what we think the other is thinking; we should not judge each other on what we think others ought to think. We should measure ourselves, and others, by how we love God and how we treat our neighbors. Only God can measure our love for God - we cannot know what is in the heart of another, nor should we pre-empt God in judgment.
But, again, we will know, and "they" will know that we are Christians if they experience our Love.
Peace and blessings,
Re: One testimony? Or two? April 7 2004, 5:08 PM
Hello, John Munson! Your message came in just as I was working on this site, putting together my update newsletter.
Although the sheer bulk of this Forum Web site is now making it hard to get a full overview of what everyone is saying, the breadth and variety of the contributions is confirming my sense that this dialogue among those who care about outreach and evangelism with integrity is long overdue and much needed.
So much depends on our vantage point and history and temperament, but no single vantage point, history, or temperament has been appointed as the official vehicle of our Good News. Together, the community that struggles to communicate the faith and power of God-centered life, even as it muddles along in uncoordinated and uneven ways, can reach people that no one person could reach. Just as importantly, it has the resources to correct the distortions that inevitably arise from limitations, frustrations, and our lurching overcorrections. One person overcorrects for wooden literalisms and rigidities of the past, and in so doing also removes the mystery and miracle of faith. The next person makes mystery and miracle so central that it comes across as impossibly vague or superstitious to some others. Yet another seeks a midpoint, while another finds new metaphors and images for faith, suitable for a new generation. There's no artificial harmony - in fact, some get impatient and leave; we're too fixated on our Quaker identity, or we're not fixated enough, or we honor leaders too much or too little, etc. But the community that corporately gathers around Jesus and lets him touch our hearts, even as we don't pretend to know all that that means, can grow and laugh and cry together, and bless the world.
Why Be a Christian? May 27 2004, 2:09 PM
In recent years, I've felt more and more convinced that for Friends to recover our powerful witness to the world, we have to return to the simplicity of early Friends' Christology - or to put it in terms of the title of one of Dean Freiday's books, Nothing without Christ. Friends are delightful people, even good people, but there are many other good and delightful people in the world, yet that is not enough: the world continues on in its anti-christian butcher-block ways.
Anti-christian?? What about the millions of Christians in the world? Well, there had to be some reason, in the English-speaking religious landscape of the 1600's where Christianity had the monopoly, the fresh voice, charismatic behavior and apostolic claims of Friends was needed. Friends were not dazzled neither by the antiquities nor the hierarchies of the religion industry; they knew and proclaimed that Christ had come to teach his people himself.
Among contemporary writers, Aleksandr Men' had a profound ability, even from within a tradition full of antiquities and hierarchies, to point toward Christ as the true organizing center of the Church. There is nothing that Christians can boast of, one-up others with, build camps or fortresses around, act superior about. All we have license to do is to be in relationship to Jesus. And we cannot monopolize that relationship, brand it, own it; we can only share it.
Here's an interview that Mark Makarov conducted with Aleksandr Men' that I first found in a tract published by Moscow for Jesus 1994. The English text can be found in Christianity for the Twenty-First Century: The Prophetic Writings of Alexander Men
, ed. Elizabeth Roberts and Ann Shukman (New York: Continuum, 1996). This text is pasted from the Web site http://home.earthlink.net/~amenpage/
Fr Alexander, I should like to put a question to you that I am sometimes asked myself: 'Need one be a Christian, and if so, why.'
There's one single answer to that, I suppose, and it boils down to this: that people have always looked for God. It is a normal human condition to be engaged somehow or other with something higher, with an ideal - even when the human mind distorts or diminishes that ideal or changes it into something non-religious.
Look at the time of Stalinism, Maoism or any other 'isms' and you will see that when people have God forcibly taken from them, they still seek for a pseudo-god. Idolatry takes the place of true faith but the instinctive yearning for God still remains. Though why need one be specifically Christian?
Perhaps because of the Bible?
Every religion has its sacred books, some are outstanding, full of poetry and great spiritual depths. Many of the sacred books of the East, for instance those of India, the Mahabharata, the section of it called Bhagavadgita, the Buddhist Sutras have a wealth of meaning and are magnificently written. So what else besides the scriptures?
In Russia nowadays people have become enthusiasts for our country's mediaeval art. I'm very fond of it myself, but for me it's part of our total spiritual culture. But if we look at things objectively, impartially, from the side (as I can't), then the art of ancient Greece is also religious, Indian art is spiritual, [. . .] and do not mosques [. . .] have the word of God somehow imprinted on them too? . . . If we take aesthetic criteria, then [. . .] probably the religion of Zeus and Athena is the very best . . . There are many beautiful ancient (and modern) sacred buildings in all religions, and so Christianity cannot say it holds the trump card on this point. So again we have to ask, why Christianity?
Yes, of course. And I'm delighted that nowadays the moral values of Christianity are being recognized in our society. But we have to admit that it's just not true, it's mere propaganda, to suggest that there are no moral values outside Christianity [. . .]
This is not the occasion to run through the moral creeds of every society but there is no doubt at all that profound ethical ideas are to be found in the writings of the Stoics and the Buddhists, and of course, in the Old Testament (which though related to Christianity, is really a pre-Christian religion) [. . .] There is a harshness in the Old Testament which some people in Russia say is not to be found in the New. But this idea is an aberration, for our Lord Jesus was never sentimental and he was often severe in his condemnations. You have to read the Gospels with rose-tinted spectacles not to hear him saying: 'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!' or: 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!' [Matt. 25.41]. That's not sentimental.
Of course, Christian ethics has its own special features. Yet if some outsider were to come along and make a comparison of Christian ethics with those of, say, the Stoics (let's take, for instance, Epicurus, Epictetus, Seneca and others who were living around Gospel times) that person would find a great deal in common with the Gospels, though the Greek philosophers never read them.
So again then why Christianity? Must we stay ultimately with the notion of religious pluralism? The idea that God reveals himself or can be known in any form of religion? In that case, goodbye to the idea of the uniqueness of Christianity and goodbye to the Christian faith.
But to get back to the point: it seems to me that nothing proves the uniqueness of Christianity, nothing except one thing alone, namely, Jesus Christ. For I'm convinced that each of the founders of the world religions speaks truth to us.
Let's remember what they said. Buddha said that he had achieved a state of absolute detachment after prolonged and difficult exercises. Can we believe him? Yes, of course we can. He was a great man and this was his achievement.
The Greek philosophers spoke of the intellectual difficulty of attaining the idea of God and of the spiritual world. This is true.
Or Muhammad, who said that before God he felt himself to be as nothing, that God took him and revealed himself to him and that before God he felt he was nothing more than a gnat. Can we believe him? Of course we can.
But alone among all these teachers is one who speaks in his own person as if for God himself: 'But I say to you' [Matt. 5.22ff.], or as John has it: 'I and the Father are one' [John 10.30]. Not one of the great teachers of the world's religions ever said anything like that. That then is the only occasion in history when God revealed himself through a real person in some absolute fullness. This is the event we have in the Gospels.
Jesus, the preacher of morals - this is a historic myth. They would not have crucified him for just that alone. Jesus, the self-proclaimed Messiah? Why then did they not crucify BarCochba who also called himself messiah? And there were plenty of false messiahs. What was it in Jesus that aroused such love and such hatred? 'I am the door', he said, the door to eternity [John 10.9]. It seems to me that everything that is valuable in Christianity is valuable only because it is from Christ. What is not from Christ could as well belong to Islam or Buddhism.
Every religion is a path towards God, a conjecture about God, a human approach to God. It is a vector pointing upwards from below. But the coming of Christ is the answer, a vector coming from heaven towards us. On the one hand, an event situated in history, on the other hand, something quite outside history. That's why Christianity is unique, because Christ is unique. That's my answer to the question.
Now let us think about those listeners who find themselves right now at a crossroads and may be thinking: 'Very well, but how am I to know that Christ was actually the one he claimed to be? How can I know that the Bible speaks the truth? How can I make sense of the different religions? What will be my answer to my atheist parents or atheist teachers, what shall I say to the Hare Krishna devotees dancing on the square? Why must I come to Christ? Just because Fr Alexander or Mark Makarov, or some other people think that the Bible speaks the truth? How can I tell whether they are right?
Well, firstly, in the case of someone who already has some sense of what religion is, my answer might be what I have just said: all religions can be believed in. If we believe that God revealed himself to Muhammad, why make an exception for the founder of Christianity and reject what he has to say? If we believe that God does reveal himself, then he does so in different ways to all of them. And I believe that God is somehow at work in every great teacher and so there are no grounds whatever for saying: 'but we reject this Jesus Christ'. No, they are all true, and this means that he too is speaking the truth in saying of himself, 'I and the Father are one' [John 10.30].
But in the case of someone without any religious awareness, then I would reply in the words of the Gospel - you remember what the disciples said to Nathaniel - 'Come and see' [John 1.46].
It's something we have to see and feel, something that we must experience. Mathematics cannot prove the beauty of Beethoven's ninth symphony or of a great painting - say Rublev's 'Trinity'. You have first to hear it, see it, make an inward visit to it - and we have to seek Christ out and try to meet him. Without this encounter no system of proofs will ever convince us, the system will remain merely something schematic and lifeless. We believe in Christ not because someone told us to but because those words invite each one of us to 'come and find out'.
Faith comes from hearing the word, said the apostle Paul. Remember what happened to the Samaritans when the woman came to them and said, 'Here is a man who told me all that I ever did.' They were astonished, but when they went themselves and heard Jesus themselves they concluded: 'Now we understand for ourselves, not because "you told us so", but from our own personal experience' [John 4.42].
That's the scientific approach, genuinely scientific. The fact is that science without experience cannot progress far. And in the case of religious belief, experience plays an enormous role. But it is an inner spiritual experience. This is the reality that human beings have to encounter. Say someone wants to pass an opinion about this reality without having tried to meet it, to encounter it, their opinion will be based on insufficient data. We can see Jesus only with the heart. Other things about him can be learned scientifically, by purely outward means as it were: the fact that he actually existed, what milieu he came from, and so on. These are important questions, but for faith they are secondary.
What about those people (and there are quite a few of them) who have so absorbed their atheist education that they listen to us now and are thinking: 'It would be fine if everything were as you say, but of course everyone knows that there is no God.'
I think that, on the contrary, everyone knows precisely the opposite. As I said at the beginning, the sheer numbers of people from whom God was taken away and who turned to idol-worship, demonstrate (something which, incidentally Mao Tse-tung understood) that people cannot exist without God.
God is the starting point of everything. Human beings live in the world only because they have faith in the meaning of this world. Albert Einstein once said that a person who doesn't believe in the meaning of existence is not fit for life at all. So atheists who say they do not believe in the meaning of existence, in fact, in the depths of their souls, in their subconscious, do believe but conceal their beliefs under various other labels.
People thirst for water because it is a necessity - that's an objective fact. They need food - that's an objective fact - like many others, and there is nothing imaginary about them. If people always thirst to find a higher meaning in existence, and to revere it, and to orient their lives on it, then this means that this need is not merely something pathological, but the normal condition of the human race.
When a person looks back in time now, they will see that always, throughout the centuries, God was present in some form or another. I've just thought of the founder of Positivism, Auguste Comte. He was a man who rejected higher values, though not aggressively and he spoke of God as something unknowable about which nothing could be said. He died on his knees before an altar, but this altar was the armchair where the woman he loved (who also had died) used to sit. He lavished respect and veneration on this armchair. He, by the way, was the first to propose the idea of a temple dedicated to humanity - le grand être - the great being of mankind which should be venerated. If we look through the history of all pseudo-religions, then we see how ineradicable is this sense of the sublime, how essential it is to humanity.
And there's another point, which involves indirect evidence [. . . ] I'll give you a simple example. So today we are seeing the economic disintegration of our country, but this is not the result of any natural disaster but because the government has proved to be incapable and had led the whole system in the wrong direction. But what do you think: isn't the universe a more complex system than the entire Soviet Union? If the universe continues to evolve and exist, that means that the thinking principle behind it is obviously more effective than our leadership.
The point you are making is either one of the so-called 'proofs of the existence of God' or simply an argument in favour of the existence of a higher reason.
It is evidence. The word 'proof' itself is rather vague and a bit dubious: nothing can be ultimately proved. Real scientists know that in any field, and particularly in the exact sciences, in the final analysis everything comes down to axioms: an unprovable axiom is the starting point, and entire systems are built on it.
The next question that listeners often raise is: 'How can a Christian account for the existence of evil [. . .] and the existence of God?' In other words, how do you answer the so-called 'problem of evil'?
The fact of the matter is that there is moral evil and there is the physical imperfection of the world - they are rather different things.
The physical imperfection of the world is a result of the fact that the world is being created, that it is not finalized, not completed. I very much like what the German poet Novalis, who was a romantic and a mystic, said, namely that humanity is the messiah of nature.
Human beings do in fact occupy a special place in nature. We can believe the Bible that we are called to bring about a special spiritual transformation of nature; and that all creation groans in travail, as Paul says, awaiting the revelation of the children of God, that is, of us, people [Rom. 8.21-22]. We ought to be influencing nature, but instead we are destroying it.
But then why did people defy God's will and so become the carriers of evil? To explain this completely and rationally means explaining the principle of darkness, giving grounds for it rationally, and justifying it.
The urge towards evil is itself an irrational impulse born out of freedom. I can't of course now go into the thinking of the great Russian philosopher, Nicolas Berdyaev, and his idea that freedom is something concealed from us in the divine nature and is eternal. It's something we can't comprehend, but one thing is sure, and that is that if people have been given freedom by God then we have also been given the possibility of opposing God and of taking a different path.
If people had no possibility of choosing their own path, then their freedom would be like Soviet elections as they used to be when they offered you one candidate and called it a choice. If God had given us freedom and said here is your only path and you can't take another, then that would not be freedom. We would be like rigidly programmed robots, androids. Human beings would not then be made in the image and likeness of the Creator, but they would be the Creator's playthings.
Consequently, God sent his likeness into the world to meet whatever might come so that human beings might carry on creating the world and reveal their many gifts in the world. Hence our supreme status as human beings. We have to answer for our actions, and so we can't expect at every moment that someone from on high will give us a tug on the leash. Moses said: 'I lay before you the paths of good and evil, life and death. Choose life.' [Deut. 30.15]. Choose what is good. This you see is freedom, two paths.
And when people say to me what about the war and was God watching, I answer, my friends, he wasn't 'watching' at all. He warned us long ago what it would all lead to. If people opened their Bible, they would see what happens when human beings are abused, when spirituality is denied, what the results of materialism are. Everything that happened, let us say in Berlin and in Moscow, God had warned us about. When it all happened according to the scriptures (and indeed everything did happen according to the scriptures!), then people say: 'But where was God?' God is just there where God has always been. He has always given us warning.
It's another matter when people reject responsibility. . . But we must not forget that human beings are very tightly bound together. There is a law which we conventionally call the 'law of solidarity'.
How do you pass on to your child your knowledge, your physical features, character traits, your faith? Only thanks to this law of solidarity, by which people are linked together and enabled to pass on these things. But given that the channel exists, we must act responsibly towards it because it can also pass on evil. Someone, say, who is an alcoholic can pass on their pathological genetic structure to their innocent child. This only adds to that person's responsibilities.
We are not in a nursery school, we are in life, life with all its rigours . . . Dostoevsky gives a frightening example in The Brothers Karamazov: when [a landowner's] dogs were let loose on a child . . . One of my friends wrote to me from prison reflecting on this theme: that God was there. He was present when several dozen grown men, baptized Christians, with crosses round their necks, knowing something of God's law, did not try to save the child but set the dogs on him at the impulse, the whim of the landowner.
This happened through human choice, and not because of some mindless force [. . .]
Our conversation is taking place in the last decade of the twentieth century, when many things are changing before our very eyes, when, here in the Soviet Union, the word 'religion' no longer scares anyone but everyone talks about it warmly. There are many changes in the attitude to religion and to believers in particular, and to Christ.
But how are we, believers, to view these changes? Are they evidence of a genuine spiritual mass movement, or a fashion, or what?
Future historians will be better placed to judge. It does not interest me. I am not a historian, I am a man living in history. And for my part, these changes (which, of course, I have long expected) have made our working conditions easier, though there are some new problems and difficulties.
The late Fr Sergei Zheludkov used to say that the day would come when we would be able to speak on the radio and we would not know what to say. So now our responsibility is all the greater.
Besides, there are other temptations - polarization into extreme modernism or extreme conservatism [. . .] It is most difficult for people who are at the centre, like me. It's just the same as in social life.
Is that why you are attacked by both sides?
Quite correct. But that's normal, I regard it as the norm for myself.
In this respect, I suppose, we with our evangelical outlook are probably more to the right than you.
Most likely you are.
Maybe this is the source of some differences between us?
. . . I am not a supporter of the theory of evolution [. . .] I have put forward arguments in favour of scientific creationism. You, I know, accept the theory of evolution.
[. . .] In my view it is more religious, though it is scientific too. But in my view a religious outlook cannot be intellectually justified except somehow on the level of evolution [. . .]
At this point I just want to stress that even quite serious differences of outlook between us should not prevent us (especially you and me) from loving each other as Christians.
Yes of course. Good Lord, these differences don't matter at all [. . .] Ultimately, it's God's business and all we can do is investigate whether the world was created in this way or that. Faith in Christ is not altered by such things. Faith is completely independent of whether we hold to evolutionism or creationism or finally something between the two: creative evolution, as [the philosopher] Henri Bergson did who is a connecting link between evolutionism and creationism [. . .] But all this is secondary. How the universe developed is of no consequence for faith, for my relationship with God and with Christ, for my presence in the world. Though for my intellect, it's a fascinating question, full of interest, it's absorbing, and its bound up with my religious ideas.
And for myself, sometimes a cloud, a bird or a tree can mean more than any religious painting. Nature itself is an icon of the first quality for me.
"Christ come in the flesh" August 12 2004, 3:08 PM
Jim Healton wrote,
"For me, it all began with an answer that George Fox gave to those who called him an 'antichrist' who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. He turned the accusation right around and told these orthodox, Puritan preachers that they were the ones who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. I wondered how he could say that since the Puritans were certainly not the least bit docetic."
The phrase "Christ come in the flesh" had a different meaning in early (1650s) Quaker usage than it has had for most of those who used the phrase. The Quakers meant that Christ had come in their own flesh. This is a feature of early Quaker theology that occasioned much misunderstanding between Quakers and their contemporaries, and which has been overlooked by many modern students of Quakerism.
I can't do justice to the idea in a short post (and haven't time for a long one at the moment), but it has been discussed at some length on Quaker-G recently, as part of Larry Kuenning's draft for a book on Early Quaker Theology.
Friends of Truth/Glenside Friends Meeting/Quaker Heritage Press