This Has Always Been the Cost

We’re only 12 days in. Not even two weeks. And this presidency is already devastating.

Donald Trump is waging war against the American people.

Six journalists were charged with felony rioting for covering protests at the presidential inauguration. It’s now illegal to protest on the floor of Congress, or to live-stream a protest on the House floor. Resisting arrest is now considered a hate crime in Louisiana. A new bill was introduced in North Dakota that allowed motorists to “unintentionally” run over any protestors obstructing a highway.

History has a name for what America is becoming. And it’s not “representative democracy.”

Opposition is illegal. Yet we must oppose. Every vile thing coming out of this White House must be opposed.

A mark of Christian discipleship is a willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Jesus invites his followers to take up their own crosses, to be willing to let Love lead us into dangerous, painful, even life-threatening territory. Jesus teaches us that “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Do we taste that love among us? In our fellowship? In our worship? Are we willing to die for one another? For the liberation of the oppressed? For Jesus? Are we willing to be tortured because of our deepest convictions? Are we willing to face unjust imprisonment?

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Convicted of blasphemy, James Nayler was branded with a “B” on his forehead and his tongue was pierced with a hot iron

Which reminds me. It was once illegal for Quakers to gather. For 25 years in Britain, the mere act of worshipping together landed thousands of Friends in jail. Whole meetings were sent to prison. And yet Friends kept meeting. They also stirred up trouble. They did prophetic acts, such as “going naked as a sign” or wearing sackcloth and ashes. They publicly argued with priests and condemned the established church. They refused to tithe and pay taxes that fed the violence of empire.

Friends did not avoid trouble. They ran toward it.

British prisons were filled with Friends. Within a year of the passing of the 1664 Conventicle Act – an act created to stamp out independent, nonconformist religious groups – 2,100 Friends from five London meetings were arrested. It has been estimated that 1 in 3 Quakers experienced state-sanctioned persecution in the first 35 years or so of the Religious Society’s founding.

Friends were holy trouble-makers.

This was their battle: the Lamb’s War. Being meek did not require subservience. Nothing about Quakers was passive or defensive. They created trouble. They were willing to deal with the repercussions of revealing the way of the Kingdom, of establishing a truer Society, even if it meant they might be publicly shamed, tortured, and imprisoned.

Today, as news keeps rolling in of injustices committed by our own government, I find myself wondering whether I might be willing – truly willing – to follow Christ anywhere. Even into prison. Even unto death. It seems that this has always been the cost of being a Friend of Jesus, a disciple of Christ.

Tomorrow is Day 13. I don’t know what it will bring. But I think I’m ready.

We Need a New Quakerism

Early Quaker Meeting

We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.”
—Extracts from the Writings of Friends, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Faith & Practice

A phrase that keeps coming to mind is “a new Quakerism,” and oddly enough, I’ve been hearing other Friends unknowingly echo this phrase back to me. It seems to me that many Friends, even those who consider themselves “convinced,” are hungry for more than what the Society has to offer. We keep coming back to the same point: we desperately need to re-imagine Quakerism.

We need a new Quakerism.

I’m not talking about re-imagining structures or techniques. We need a complete change of course. We need a revival. A brief breeze of enthusiasm is not enough. In order to survive, we need to do what I’ve heard C. Wess Daniels refer to as committing “faithful betrayal.” We must betray what-we-know in order to discover what is true – what is at the heart of the Quakerism we need.

In order to get to the heart of that Quakerism, the radical vision of early Friends might be a good place to start. From the basics of our movement, from the simplicity of the Gospel, that’s where we can find the power that George Fox lived in and that lived in George Fox. In stillness, in Light, centered on the imperishable Seed within, the living “One, Jesus Christ who can speak to thy condition.” The Society of Friends was not built; it was born – a community of prophets. In the shared worship, where egos were hushed and Love was magnified, there was an abundant life and conviction that led Friends to corporately reject the abusive and unfair ways of the world and seek (and demonstrate) a better Way. A transformative and subversive faith was discovered. Thousands of Friends were imprisoned for their faithful subversion, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to
suffer shame for his name.

At the heart of Christ’s good news and the faith of the early Friends is a vision of the Kingdom – transformative apocalypse. Daniel Seeger wrote a brilliant article in Friends Journal, “Revelation and Revolution: The Apocalypse of John in the Quaker and African American Spiritual Traditions,” that eloquently expounds on the radical implications of Quaker eschatology:

“What the Apocalypse of John revealed to George Fox was not the end of the world but its rebirth, a rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples as the disciples act concretely to advance the cause of justice and truth in human society. Using imagery from the Book of Revelation, George Fox describes this struggle for truth and justice as the Lamb’s War, a war carried out by the meek through gentleness, nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and peace. While there is a lot of mayhem and violence in the Book of Revelation, this is violence and mayhem perpetrated by oppressors against each other and against the weak and innocent. The single weapon in the Lamb’s War as described in the book of Revelation is a ‘terrible swift sword’ which proceeds from the mouth of Jesus. In other words, it is not a humanly devised killing machine, but only his truth which goes marching on into battle with the forces of evil.”

Early Friends were bound together by faith in God’s Kingdom, one where God reigns as Lamb and the Spirit of God was upon and within all. This was both present reality and future hope. It is true. It must also be sought. Does that conviction still, in some way, fuel the work that we do together? I hope so. Because it is that conviction that pushed Friends to prophetic work that shook the social order. It’s what made them Friends.

Without that conviction that God reigns and that God will reign, only the empty forms of Quakerism persist. That is the way of death.

We need a revival of that apocalyptic faith. Without it, we may provide folks with open-minded communities and strong, progressive values. Without it, we may provide kind spaces and opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. But without that apocalyptic faith, without that conviction, we lack the full gospel that shocked the world, liberated the oppressed, and empowered the saints. We do not have to be fundamentalists to have an eschatological conviction, nor do we have to be spineless in order to be inclusive. Early Friends knew of God’s wide, generous activity throughout creation, of the innate value and dignity of every child of God, and the need to fight against the oppression of Empire.

Those who fight the Lamb’s War will discover James Nayler’s words to 
be true: “Their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God.”

We fight, we wage war, with peace and good will towards all the creation of God, and through this we crush the spirit of the age’s power and extend God’s reign. We usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., we are confident that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” and we are called to live out this hope.

If we do not or cannot, then we have failed as Friends.

I wonder, is institutional Quakerism a contradiction to our apocalyptic faith? If we have unknowingly abandoned our core beliefs, what’s next for us? How do we come into Gospel Order? Can we re-center our vision and our hope? What does that even mean? I’m not sure. But I know many who are hungry for a new expression of faith, and I know that the world could use us.

We must follow the Spirit.

Let’s Discover the Gospel Together

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This is my gospel-preaching face

Dear Friends,

My journey into the wacky world of Quakerism began in Barnesville, Ohio. At that point in my life, the writings of George Fox, Margaret Fell, and Isaac Penington often played a role in my morning devotions, but my interaction with Quakers was, to say the least, limited. I came to the Friends of Jesus Fellowship (FoJ) gathering in Barnesville having little idea on what to expect and never having met the other participants, but I believed that there was something special about this group’s vision. I read their Advices and Queries a year or so prior to this gathering, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by how their words describing life in the Church and the gospel of Christ deeply resonated with me.

This FoJ gathering played a major role in my own participation in the Religious Society of Friends. I found something in the silent worship that I barely encountered before: a space to wrestle God and a way to dive into and draw from the wells of Christ’s Spirit within me. I realized I was hungry for that silence. Starving, even.

It was also the first time in a long while where I felt at ease in a spiritual community. My then-boyfriend came along, and I remember not being used to having my gay relationship so naturally affirmed and blessed by a Christian community. It was a bit disorienting, but so healing for my soul. Also, most of the participants had not been involved in the Charismatic Church or no experience with charismatic phenomena, yet I found my perspective as a tongue-talking, miracle-believing charismatic was affirmed and honored. I had never met these people before, yet my gifts were so welcomed. I was welcomed.

Since getting involved with the FoJ, I have gotten more and more involved in the wider Society of Friends. I’ve found myself caring for our very diverse and very fragmented communion. I have been a regular attender at both Liberal and Evangelical Friends meetings, served a year with the Quaker Voluntary Service, worked (and still work) at the Friends World Committee for Consultation – Section of the Americas, and have had several opportunities to meet and worship with Friends from all over the world and from every branch. I’ve experienced the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit in diverse ways among the different flavors of Friends, but still, I find something very uniquely rich and nurturing at the FoJ gatherings.

Now, I do not mean to sell another brand of Quakerism, nor am I claiming that the Friends of Jesus Fellowship is superior to other Quaker fellowships. What I am saying is that where I personally gain the most vision, experience Quakerism most fully, and feel the most spiritually at-home, has been at the FoJ gatherings… and well, I believe our gatherings have something to offer every disciple of Christ, and even every seeker. At the FoJ gatherings, I’ve found a space to communally reflect on the radical implications of the gospel, I’ve found a community offering mutual support in one-another’s ministries and sojourning, and I have seen what leaning on the Holy Spirit looks like, in the testimonies of Friends and in the Spirit-orchestrated worship. More than anything, I’ve been thankful to be so welcomed to dream and discover the gospel alongside some very honest, beautiful, and real people. From my experience, I’ve experienced a genuineness and authenticity at these gatherings that is rare in the world.

I do not see FoJ enaging in sheep-stealing anytime soon, as we do not aspire to grow into another denomination or even strictly a church-planting network, but I do see the gifts that FoJ has to offer the Society of Friends and the wider Church. For those who hunger for a contemplative yet embodied worship, who need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit, and need to hear the gospel again, especially in a time where good news is hard to find, I encourage you to consider coming to our fall gathering in Silver Spring, Maryland, this upcoming October 7th-10th.

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For more information on this upcoming gathering, check out this post by Micah Bales. You can buy a ticket for the gathering here.

I hope and pray you’ll consider worshiping with us as we learn what it means to confess Jesus in a chaotic world.

In friendship,

Hye Sung

 

I doubt the Church.

I doubt the Church.

It’s been hard to write, talk, and even think about God as of late. A major life change snuck up on me, devastated me, and left me questioning everything. To be honest, I’ve been wrestling with hopelessness, doubt, and fear on a fairly constant basis the past month. Even as I’ve been able to get my head above water, and as I’ve reconnected with God, I’ve still been pretty hopeless about church. I’ve been haunted by thoughts like, “Maybe it’s time to let the Church die. Maybe it’s a waste of time to try to keep these institutions running. Maybe we need to abandon the Church as we know it.” I am struggling nowadays reconciling institutional Christianity with Jesus. This could just be my 8 wing acting up (for Enneagram nerds) or maybe I am just bitter, but the American Church models and breeds capitalism, white supremacy, nationalism, and it may do some good, but is it worth it prolonging its death for that?

I’m still wrestling with these questions.

The Way of Christ is not meant to be conventional or logical, but instead powerfully subversive and Spirit-led. I want to follow Jesus to be a holy fool, a disciple, a peacemaker, and I don’t see the institutional Church being able to support such callings. The American Institutional Church rarely breed “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10) but rather pushes people with the seed of Christ to continually deny the radical notions of the gospel. Pieces of the Gospel can be found in the American Church, but it is laced with various poisons that make it unsustainable. The Liberal Church has idols of success, intellectualism, and… being white. The Conservative/Evangelical Church has idols of tradition, moralism, and exclusivism. Both are quite toxic and some days I think it’s better to just let it all die. Pull the plug. Abandon ship.

I’m tempted to protest church, exhorting God’s people to sell the steeplehouses, close down the institutions, meet in homes, and encourage each other in the Way of Christ. After all, following Jesus as a community, as a people, is the only way I’m convinced one can follow him. I cannot help but think that perhaps church-as-we-know-it more actively opposes the Holy Spirit in her building of koinonia than supporting and welcoming her. I struggle to see how much of this could be part of Christ’s vision for his people.

Is it fair to doubt the Church as much as I do? Perhaps I am self-deluded and my passion for a high ecclesiology is actually idolizing a certain ecclesiology, a certain expression or way. It may not be fair to the Church, and it probably is a limiting view of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I am sure that’s all true to some degree. That’s partially why I haven’t given up on institutional Quakerism.

I am convinced that God’s grace can reach into any moment, any experience, and even any institution. The richness of the gifts in Quakerism holds me in this peculiar Society. I have not found a vision of the gospel more compelling, more transformative, than that of Friends, and though we may have loosened our grip on some aspects of this vision throughout the branches, it is still part of our spiritual DNA. I’ve seen the Society come alive in this power, at QuakerSpring, at Friends of Jesus gatherings, and of course in Peru at the World Plenary Meeting, where Friends from all branches came together to worship and fellowship, offering their tradition’s gifts. I have had glimpses of revival, and I want it.

Maybe God will lead me out of institutional Quakerism one day, and maybe God will let the institutional church crumble. The truth is, I have little idea on what God is up to, and I have little authority to speak on what God should do… but I’m confident that I have been animated by the grace of Christ, and it is hard for me to deny the Spirit leading me to Friends. So what does being faithful and believing Christ’s good news mean for me right now? I deeply sense that it is to continue being nurtured and edified by the Society of Friends, and to call forth the gifts of Quakerism that we’ve lost sight of. Is that the answer for other Quakers, and for other Christians sojourning in denominational structures? For some, but definitely not all. But for myself, I feel my spirit leaning on some rather obscure Scripture verses, giving me hope for the Religious Society of Friends and the Church as a whole:

God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors. God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back.

—Deuteronomy 30:3-6, 10 (The Message)

For myself, Friends, the Church, and all who know the love of God: may we not be halfhearted, and may we hold nothing back, so God’s presence would be welcomed among us to restore, revive, and redeem.

 

I am not white enough

No matter where I’m dropped, I always struggle with a sense of not belonging. I’m a gay, half-Japanese, ex-Moonie, college drop-out, Quaker who believes in Jesus, speaks in tongues, and takes communion. I am in many ways a paradox, but more than anything, I’m a really bizarre human being. And my last post about “White Appropriateness” deeply reflects my own exhausted experience in the white mainline Church. Yes, I painted the mainline world with a broad brush. I recognize that I am currently going through a sudden and painful life-change and some of that hurt may have been funneled into my last post. That said, I stand by everything I wrote, and I hope I can clarify a bit on what I mean by “white appropriateness”, and how I have encountered it among liberal mainline Protestants and even Quakers.

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My best friend and I watching TV and mutually encouraging one another in the sloppy, wacky, and foolish way of Jesus`

“I am not white enough.”

It scares me how often I think this, especially when engaging with my faith community. The biblicism, homophobia, and overall lack of critical thinking were hard to deal with in charismatic circles, but I didn’t struggle as much with shame for not being white enough. Perhaps this was because the charismatic fellowships I was a part of tended be racially and socioeconomically diverse. To be fair, a lot of my experience in Evangelicalism was also haunted by this notion, but not nearly as intensely as I’ve experienced in the past few years of participating in white mainline communities.

For my white readers, I know some of you are thinking, “how often does one’s economic and racial/ethnic background even come up in church?”

I want you to understand that I am constantly interpreting the tongue of white folks. Coffee hour at Quaker meeting is not easy. I listen to Friends talk about summers spent in France, granddaughters at Bard, family trips to Thailand, dietary needs, and Book TV on C-Span. I’ve found that these conversations require deep listening, discernment, and, for better or for worse, self-censorship. It isn’t like people are constantly probing me with questions that expose where I lack privilege (though, I will say, this does happen every time I’m asked about my education, which is every time I go to meeting or church) but I am constantly on my toes, trying to relate, trying to listen, trying to hear, and it is often worth it.

But here’s where it gets discouraging.

When I am myself, authentic and open, sharing my heart or telling my story, talking the way I talk, I’ve often experienced not being heard. I cannot tell you how many times people’s interest in me dissipated after pushing me to tell the story behind my unpronounceable name (which they insist on shortening to “Hye”) and finding out I am an ex-Moonie, or after finding out I am a Christian of a more evangelical orientation, or even when I simply act like me… goofy, emotional, and weird.

By no means do I count “weirdness” as a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a gift Jesus possessed. Perhaps the way he is portrayed as eloquent, constantly centered, and simply carrying a powerful aura that caused souls to yield, is accurate. But I have a hard time believing that he was not at all a freak. He cursed a fig tree to death because it didn’t bear fruit (Mark 11:12-25), which is a bit extreme, a bit magical, perhaps profound, but most definitely strange. His whole ministry path was not exactly typical, sensible, or even rational. I like weird. And thankfully, Quakers can handle weird. We have our fair share of eccentric folks, with strong personalities and brilliant minds and beautiful souls. That said, it seems to me that “nerdy weird” is the tolerable weird in Quaker circles, and that kind of weird, which I respect and love, can be kind of… white.

And I am not that kind of weird.

I’m speaking in tongues, grew up in a cult, openly weeping over my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, amateur Mormon historian, child of an interracial arranged marriage kind of weird. I’m the kind of weird that is often made to feel inadequate for not finishing my college career, the kind of weird that is demanded an explanation for my “exotic” or “funny-sounding” name (actual things that have been said), and the kind of weird that is dubbed by various believers as either too fundamentalist or overly-spiritual, and either way, too ignorant. I’m the kind of weird that feels irrelevant and invisible in a mainline congregation.

And maybe this doesn’t sound like a racist, classist issue, and maybe I am just an over-demanding special snowflake, but I cannot help but see how much the upper-middle class, white, liberal, and (over-)educated have managed to control whole denominational cultures. I cannot help but see how the Other is forced to conform to a certain cultural standard to the best of their ability to enter the life of the Church. And I cannot help but feel, today and too often, that I am simply not white enough to do this.

 

 

 

 

 

Further Thoughts on Quaker Revival

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FWCC’s World Plenary Meeting in Peru

A few weeks ago I wrote on the subject of a Quaker renewal. This post was a flood of thoughts, questions, doubts, and all I knew by the end of the post was that the Society of Friends desperately needs the Spirit of God. This is not a unique conclusion, nor a particularly specific one, but it’s all I could confidently claim as vital in Quaker renewal. The thing is, I’d go as far as saying that we need more than renewal; Quakerism needs a revival in order to survive. We don’t simply need a refreshing move of the Spirit to encourage us on our way but we need the Spirit to crash down on us and to confront us with the Good News that was so dear to the hearts of the apostles and early Friends. We are rapidly shrinking, and many meetings and churches have little vision guiding them. It seems to me that we need the Spirit of God more than ever.

These are trying times for institutional and historical churches, as all of them are losing numbers and as the percentage of the non-religious increases each year. It seems that we’re currently experiencing the collapse of the American Church as we know it, but I’ll say that I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. The Church as we know it has a whole lot of good, but also has a whole lot of bad. American Christians have too often succumbed to individualism, capitalism, violence, and the ways of the world, and we need to relearn faithfulness to the distinct and profound teachings of Jesus Christ. Though we like to think of ourselves as not nearly as bad as Evangelicals, us Quakers are no exception. We too have inherited much from the world.

It appears that the Church is being called to lay down many of her old ways, letting whatever is quenching the Spirit within her to die so that she may even more fully experience Christ’s resurrection-power. I see these trying times to be a time of liberating the Church from the lies of the world, and I see Christ pushing us to earnestly seek spiritual vitality and to creatively and prophetically reach the world with his good news.

So what are we to think of all those who label themselves “spiritual but not religious” or those believers who have fled our Sunday morning services for more organic fellowship, found in pubs, living rooms, and coffee shops? I see both these trends as potentially gifts from God, as the hierarchical tradition preserved in institutional churches is being done away with, and as people are less tied down to dogma and more often seeing themselves as spiritual seekers. In my opinion, this is the perfect recipe for a Quaker revival. We are in a world that is hungry for wholeness, simplicity, integrity, community, and authentic spirituality, and our tradition has that to offer. Perhaps the huge wave of “nones” and “dones” are the result of the Spirit moving.

As I’ve made clear, I don’t necessarily find the decline of institutional and historical churches to be tragic, but what I do find tragic is the gifts these traditions offer being lost. I’ve come to love so much about Quakerism: the testimonies, history, communal mysticism, discernment practices, Spirit-led activism, prophetic ministry, and contemplative spirituality. If I am led to abandon institutional Quakerism in order to bring these gifts elsewhere, I will. In a lot of ways, this would be easier and perhaps more effective. But I personally feel led to honor the living and deceased Quaker saints who have built up this beautiful and bizarre community since the mid-17th century by continuing my involvement and fellowship within Quaker meetings. Our community has a lot to offer the world, and so I will continue to contend and pray for revival in the Society of Friends.

Out of discussions with other Friends at the World Plenary Meeting, and further reflection, two specific things came to mind on how we can actively pursue a Quaker revival. Both are not spectacular, but they keep rising in my spirit.

  • Organize a prayer meeting. Gather Friends to pray for each others’ needs, the local meeting, and other issues that need to be held in the Light. Pray for vision in the Society of Friends. Pray for the Children of God to rise and manifest, among Quakers and in the wider Church. It does not have to be complicated or elaborate, but simply a space to enjoy the presence of God and corporately invite the Kingdom of God. You can ask for this to be held at the meetinghouse, or invite Friends over your house for cheese, crackers, wine, and spiritual warfare. I think it’s wise to make it clear that these meetings are not in competition with meeting for worship on Sunday, but rather a supportive, complementary element to the meeting’s worship. These smaller gatherings can be a centering presence for the meeting, offering vision and nurturing to the wider community. It would also be helpful to make this a space where everybody is invited to participate, offering their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12). This space of eager, expectant open worship, where inspired vocal ministry, intercession, and whatever else the Spirit orchestrates is welcome, can also overflow into the life of the meeting, encouraging the pursuit of Spirit-led worship.
  • Support efforts of unity in the Society of Friends. Connect to Friends from other regions, yearly meetings, and branches of Quakerism, and try to build dialogue and partnership for the edification of the whole Society. I am convinced that each branch of Quakerism preserves and builds upon various convictions and impulses that existed among early Friends. Therefore, I find inter-branch fellowship to be extremely helpful in discovering a fuller vision of Quakerism. Perhaps you can visit another yearly meeting’s sessions, or make it to a Friends World Committee (FWCC) event, such as the Section of the Americas meeting in March 2017, or attend the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends gathering next month in Richmond, Indiana. I would also like to remind Friends that you can also monetarily support these initiatives and gatherings, even if you are unable to attend. For very biased examples, you can donate to the Friends World Committee, which does amazing inter-branch work and Quaker education, and the Quaker Voluntary Service, which brings together birthright, newly convinced, not (yet) convinced, Liberal, and Evangelical Friends into a year of service, spiritual exploration, and communal living. To further reveal my bias, I also have to recommend attending the biannual gatherings of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, where there is gathered worship that is thoroughly informed by Quaker history and spirituality, but not held back by it. These gatherings draw folks from throughout the “Quaker spectrum”, as well as Quaker-curious Christians, and offer a space to dive into the experience of the Risen Christ and receive counsel and empowerment to extend the reign of God in the world.

I suppose I can only follow up these suggestions, ideas, etc., with some queries.

What are some others way we can seek vision, new Light, and revival as a community and for our community?

What is keeping us from growing and what do we need to change?

What message do modern Quakers preach, and is it the same as early Friends? If not, is that a problem?

How do we create strong-visioned communities that are also inclusive of all people?

 

 

 

“And these signs will accompany those who believe.”

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15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
Mark 15:15-20

As a charismatic believer, I have often seen these verses used to defend the belief that tongues is for all believers and that healing is the desire of God. These verses, though, are not in the earliest of manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) and most bibles make note this fact. For a long time, I did not believe these verses could be used at all to defend this view and even railed against those who used in this in their own apologetics on the charismatic gifts. Though I still agree (admittedly, with some hesitance) with most scholars that these verses were not likely penned by Mark, I still value these verses and recognize that they could hold some significance for Christians today. There is the possibility that they may have ended up in the manuscripts because of either oral tradition or the notes of a scribe. Nevertheless, the fact that they exist means something. I think the Church needs to open to the possibility that their existence indicates that a supernatural culture, one full of the miraculous and providential work of the Spirit, was the norm of the early church.

Post-Constantine Christianity (note: perhaps a problematic term, but a historical shift is undeniable, and Constantine was definitely helpful in that) may have ushered in a spiritual drought as Christianity lost its counter-cultural, subversive nature. The Church became a pillar of the Empire, and though the good news of Jesus continued to nurture and instruct thousands of souls in the ways of righteousness, the political implications of this good news was much-rejected, and the spiritual power of the Church seemed to have been drained as a result. It did not help that the Galatian heresy of mixing Christ’s grace with the Law seemed to also consume the formal doctrine of the Church, and that the role of prophets and prophecy (which continued into the early church, as evidenced by the Didache) vanished as Ignatius instructed the Church to “do nothing without the bishops,” pushing the gift of prophecy to lose its egalitarian nature as it became a gift for bishops alone. (Read “The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church” by James L. Ash, Jr. for more on this.)

Augustine developed a form of cessationism during this time, arguably because of the lack of charismatic activity in the Church. This experience was quite common throughout the Church of the time. Before this period, the approach to the miraculous was much more earnest and frequent among Christians. In the second century, both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon spoke of the charismatic gifts, discussing prophetic ministry, exorcisms, and even the raising of the dead. The practice of jubilation, which seems to be practice of singing in tongues, was even a part of the liturgy, and continued even into the ninth century. By the end of Augustine’s life, he had changed his view as he witnessed a revival of healing, but his cessationism continues to influence many Christians.

All this to say that these extra verses in Mark seem to reflect the early church’s practice of the miraculous.

  1. In my name they will drive out demons (a practice described by Ireneaus of Lyon, Origen of Alexandria, Lactantius, Tertullian, among church fathers and early Christians)
  2. …they will speak in new tongues (note: not other tongues but new tongues, which could likely include the practice of “jubilation” as described by Augustine and the mystics)
  3.  …they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all  (not a practice to reproduce, as some fundamentalists do, but a promise of protection; Paul experiences this in Acts 28:3 when bit by a snake)
  4. …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well (reveals the authority to heal among believers and is talked about by a number of early Christians, including by Augustine in the City of God)

If this Spirit-driven culture of the Church was the norm for early Christians, and they regularly exercised the charismatic gifts and miracles, then I cannot see why it shouldn’t be the norm for the believer and Church today. Throughout Church history, we have seen this apostolic and prophetic power restored and tapped into time after time, among several Anabaptist and Huguenot groups, throughout Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, as well as the Quakers, especially the first generation of Friends, who regularly saw such manifestations occur.

As Christendom as we know it crumbles before our eyes, the heresies of legalism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, leader-centered/hierarchical models of worship, violence, imperalism, and all our limiting theologies on the work of Christ and the Spirit, are losing their hold on God’s people. I pray that as we move forward in the revelation of Christ, in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom, we would seek the Spirit’s anointing and grow in an imaginative, dynamic faith that welcomes the impossible.

Speaking to my Quaker sisters and brothers, we must not forget that the first generation of Friends were yielded disciples of Jesus Christ. They were truly Pentecostal; united in the experience and life found in the Spirit of Christ. Their actions were often subversive to both the Church and State, and their ministries and fellowship were marked by the life-changing power of the Spirit. They saw miracles daily, just like the Church after Pentecost, and they boldly lived out the political implications of the gospel. All of this was the result of following and submitting to the lead of the Holy Spirit. We have a glorious inheritance in our spiritual lineage, and I am confident that as we discover and yield to the Spirit that sparked our movement, we can walk in the power of early Friends and the apostles, and see the greater things that Christ promised to us (John 14:12).