Monday, 14 June 2010

John Howard Yoder: Bringing Peace Church Theology into the Mainstream

The following posts offer a general introduction to the main themes in the thought of the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. They are designed in particular to enable Quakers to get to grips with Yoder's influential writings.

In terms of primary references, the following are particularly recommended:

1971 - The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism (Herald Press)

1972 - The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans)

1984 - The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame)

1985 - He Came Preaching Peace (Herald Press)

1991 - Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community before the Watching World (Herald Press)

1994 - The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical (Herald Press)

2009 - Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution (Brazos Press)

The Politics of Jesus: The Shape of Christian Ethics

"This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"
Mark 9:7

1. INTRODUCTION
Yoder’s essential argument is that if Jesus is who the Church has historically proclaimed him to be then the example of his life and teachings should be normative for Christian social ethics. Jesus – reveals the nature of God and offers a radical new possibility for human social and political relationships, a possibility that is revolutionary if fully implemented. Jesus demonstrates the God-given potential of humanity and shows us how to become children of God once again.

2. WAS JESUS A POLITICAL FIGURE?

Over the centuries it has been argued that Jesus is irrelevant for politics because he deals with inward and spiritual matters rather than the outward aspects of public life. Yoder argues that, if politics is define in terms of the way human life is organised and the values that underpin it, then Jesus was indeed offering a new political vision. Three examples:

Mary’s Magnificat - Upon learning of her pregnancy, Mary gives a song of praise in which she says:

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)

John the Baptist’s Message - Preparing the way for Jesus, John the Baptist advises the crowds that:

"Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same." (Luke 3:11)

The Nature of Jesus’ Death - Crucifixion was the Roman form of execution reserved for rebels and insurrectionists (those who threatened the status quo).

3. THE OPTIONS JESUS FACED
As a Jewish teacher and leader living in Palestine under Roman rule, Jesus faced a number of existing options:

Realism – seeking to further ones ends by compromise and accommodation with the powers that be. This was the option chosen by the Herodians and the Sadducees.

Violent Revolution – seeking to further a righteous cause through armed rebellion. This was the option chosen by the Zealots.

Withdrawal to the Desert – seeking to keep oneself absolutely pure and uncorrupted by complete physical separation from the world. This was the option chosen by the Essene community.

Proper Religion – Seeking to maintain a distinction between proper religion (that is inward and personal) and the public world (that is outward and political). This was the option chosen by the Pharisees.

Jesus rejected all these available options and his life and teaching offered a completely new option that reveals the way in which God deals with evil.

Revolutionary Subordination – Living a new set of social and political relationships as a visible alternative that opposes evil whilst refusing to use evil means to achieve its aims. This involves establishing a new way of life within the old rather than seeking to actively control or destroy the old.

4. THE ETHICS OF JESUS IN WORDS AND ACTION
There is absolute consistency between Jesus’ words/teaching and his life/conduct (he lived the principles he taught). What are the key characteristics of Jesus’ ethics?

A. God’s Way of Unconditional Love
God’s way of unconditional love is the very foundation stone of Jesus’ ethics. Although this is a relatively simple concept to understand; in practice it is both hugely challenging and genuinely revolutionary. This principle is explained by Jesus in Matthew 5:44-48:

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus is making clear that the perfection of God takes the form of indiscriminate and unconditional love. We are loved by God despite our rebellion and should love perfectly, indiscriminately and unconditionally too in response to God’s forgiveness and love for us.

B. A rejection of the use of power and force to get results
Through his reading of Luke’s Gospel Yoder demonstrates that throughout his life and ministry Jesus is continually faced with the temptation to assert control and get results through the use of power and force. He resists this temptation to the end and chooses death on the cross rather than complicity with evil. Yoder demonstrates this with reference to four episodes in the Gospel:

The Temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:1-13) – the devil’s testing of Jesus in the desert are usually seen in individualistic terms. However, Yoder argues that each test represents the temptation to assert power and control in order to become king (the populist politician feeding the masses, the conquering emperor using power politics and the religious showman using institutional religion). Jesus rejects all these temptations.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand (Luke 9:12-17) – Jesus appears to fall for the devil’s first temptation in the desert by feeding the masses through a miracle. However, he does not use the popularity this engenders with the crowds to launch a bid for power. Time and again he withdraws from the crowds who want to make him king.

The Cleansing of the Temple (Luke 19:45-46) – Jesus asserts his authority by driving the traders out of the Temple. Although he clearly had large numbers of people following and supporting him, he does not use this situation to make a bid for power by provoking insurrection.

Gethsemane Arrest (Luke 22:47-51) – Jesus resists the temptation to use force and violence to defend himself at his arrest. His final act of freedom is the rejection of a violent act by one of his follows and the restoration of the harm done.

C. Egalitarian Servant Leadership
Yoder points out that, in addition to rejecting control and force, Jesus also teaches that his is the way of the servant rather than the way of status and power. He makes it quite clear that this is to be the way of his disciples too. From Luke 22:24-27:

“A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

D. Jubilee reflects the nature of God’s kingdom
In Nazareth at the very beginning of his ministry Jesus announces the jubilee by Quoting Isaiah 61:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."Luke 4:18-19

The jubilee is most fully described in Leviticus 25 in which every 50th year the people of Israel are instructed to implement a ‘Sabbath of Sabbaths’ which interrupts business as usual with a call for debts to be cancelled, those imprisoned due to unpaid debts to be set free, the land to be given a ‘rest’ or a fallow year and the land that had been sold to obtain cash needed for survival to be returned to its original owners (from Sharon H Ringe 2006).

The principles of jubilee can be seen in many aspects of Jesus’ teaching and life. For example:

Table fellowship and the common meal – Demonstrating that economic sharing and the transcendence of class/ethnic barriers are a characteristic of the messianic age.

A concern for the poor and outcasts – clearly seen in many of Jesus’ teachings and parables.

The Beatitudes – who can rejoice in the coming of the kingdom? The poor, the meek and the merciful.

In summary


Love of enemies – not – vengeance and war

Suffering service – not – An obsession with power and control

Poor and outcasts – not – A focus on status and social standing.

No cooperation with evil – not – The end justifies the means.

Liberation of jubilee – not – The politics of greed and acquisition

The Significance of the cross

In this sense, the cross becomes the price we pay for living these ethics in a rebellious world ruled by hate. The cross is the political alternative to insurrection and quietism and reveals how God deals with evil.

5. JESUS IN THE HEBREW TRADITION
Firmly rooted in the Hebrew tradition, Jesus forms a new inclusive people of God who are called out to live a way that is a foretaste of what will eventually come for all humanity/creation.

• The Hebrews were a powerless slave people and Jesus’ disciples were also drawn from the powerless and despised (fishermen, Zealots, publicans and women).

• This is a distinct community with a deviant lifestyle that makes visible the way of God within creation.

• The last supper is a Passover meal emphasising the role of God as liberator.

• This costly way is only possible in community and with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Yoder demonstrates that the early church and Paul the Apostle in particular remain true to these ethics (see the Bible references for Paul’s understanding of ‘foolishness’ and ‘weakness’). He also shows how Paul’s understanding of the ‘principalities and powers’ reinforces this position on the church’s relationship to the world.

6. AVOIDING THE POLITICS OF JESUS
Throughout the centuries Christians have developed a number of different ways to justify ignoring the social and political implications of Jesus’ life and teachings:

An interim ethic – Jesus thought the world was about to end and so his teachings were only meant to apply for a very short time period. So, given that the world didn’t end, the politics of Jesus are regarded as impractical for social ethics in the long term.

An ethic of simple rural life – The teachings of Jesus are only applicable to his specific historical and social context. They might well have worked within small-scale rural communities in first century Palestine but they are wholly inappropriate for complex urbanised societies.

An ethic of powerlessness – Jesus and his followers did not have to establish ethics for running society because they were in a position of powerlessness. Therefore, when Christians do face the responsibilities associated with power, they have to look elsewhere for their social ethics.

Personal spirituality – Jesus’ teachings focus on a personal and inward spirituality. They do not deal with social and political matters. Hence we must look somewhere other than to Jesus for our social and political ethics.

Radical monotheism – Jesus’ teachings reflect a God of radical transcendence and otherness. The ways of God are entirely alien to the finite values of humanity. There is an unbridgeable gulf between the two.

Jesus as a sacrifice for sins – Jesus came to give his life as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Therefore the details of his life are ethically immaterial. It is faith alone that saves not our efforts (See the Nicene Creed!).

Constantinian Shift: The Fall of the Church

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"
Luke 6:46

1. CONSTANTINIAN SHIFT – WHAT WAS IT?

Having delineated the politics of Jesus through a detailed analysis of the New Testament texts, Yoder then asks why Jesus’ life and teachings have been regarded as irrelevant for Christian social ethics throughout most of the history of the church. He finds his answer in the ‘Constantine shift’.

The ‘Constantinian shift’ occurred when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Through this process the church was transformed from a persecuted and socially disadvantaged minority community into a privileged organ of the state. Following the ‘Constantinian shift’:

• The emperor or the state became involved in the appointment of people to positions of authority within the church.

• Everyone born into the empire or the state territory was regarded as Christian (apart from the Jews). This led to the practice of infant baptism.

• The church saw this as evidence that the end had come in so far as it had succeeded in conquering the world.

• The Christian religion became compulsory and those following other faiths faced persecution.

For Yoder, far from being a victory the Constantinian shift represented the fall of the church by its incorporation into the fallen world and the neutralisation of its distinctiveness.

2. CONSTANTINIAN SHIFT – HOW DID IT COME ABOUT?

The early church was committed to living the politics of Jesus. It rejected the ways of the Roman Empire which it regarded as idolatrous and demonic for two principle reasons:

• The paganism of an Empire that required people to worship the emperor or other gods.

• The sporadic and sometimes brutal persecution of Christians.

Over time this began to change as Christians:

• Suffer less persecution and began to enjoy the social stability associated with Pax Romana’.

• Were regarded as honest and reliable and became disproportionately represented in occupations in the state bureaucracy and within powerful Roman households.

These circumstances led Christians to soften the distinction they had previously made between the church and the world and to relax ethical standards. Efforts were made to make it easier for people to become Christians.

The Romans recognised the influential position Christians occupied at strategic points of the Empire. Since persecution failed to destroy the movement, the strategy turned to cooption. Constantine shifted his allegiance to Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire and in 325 convened the Council of Nicea in order to unify Christians so that Christianity could act as a unifying force within the Roman Empire.
What really changed for the church between the third and the fourth centuries was that the awareness of minority status was lost, becoming transformed into an attitude of ‘establishment’.

3. CONSTANTINIAN SHIFT – THE IMPLICATIONS

Yoder argued that the Constantinian shift had two critical implications for Christianity; a radical reorientation of the relationship between the church and the world and the development of a new approach ethics that side-lined the teachings of Jesus.

A. The Relationship between the Church and the World

The Constantinian shift involved the fusing of the church and the world through the alliance of the church with the state. This had a number of implications:

The Whole World becomes Christian – Christianity has conquered the world (victory without eschatology). The church becomes invisible because everyone born into a given empire/territory is regarded as Christian. Those outside are regarded as God’s enemies.

The Paganisation of the Church - Christianity becomes Hellenized, rejecting its Jewish roots. There is a shift away from scriptural and pneumatic authority in favour of the authority of the church as an institution and religious control is reasserted though the priestly role (and divinely mandated kingship). The church needs to make it easier for the mass of people to become Christian so it adopts existing pagan festivals (e.g. Christmas) and introduces pagan ritualism and supernaturalism (e.g. the economic meaning of breaking bread together was replaced by a supernatural and ritualistic Eucharist)

Baptism of the Existing Order – The merger of church and state gives the church a vested interest in the present order of things and Christianity becomes a ‘religion’ that hold society together. This leads to the development of the ‘doctrine of creation’ in which the shape of the world as it is reveals the will of God. Hence current structures (e.g. government, economy, war) and existing social divisions/inequalities are seen to be ordained by God (the way God wants them to be)

God Becomes a Tribal Deity - The cause of God becomes associated with one particular power structure or state and this entity replaces the church as God’s vehicle for salvation in history. As a result, military success and empire-building become indicators of God’s favour and the nation or empire is worshipped rather than God (idolatry).

Power and Control over History - When the church sides with power and the use of force it becomes the duty of Christians to act for God in moving history in the right direction. It is assumed that humans are in control of history and can decide on the best way to exercise that control. The Christian emperor or king rules on God’s behalf and the state becomes the agent of God’s defeat of evil.

Two Very Different World Views

Before Constantine – the true church is visible (as a non-conforming fellowship) but Christians need to have faith that God is actually in control of history (which is not immediately obvious when observing the way things are).

After Constantine – God’s control of history is clearly visible (in the activities of the emperor/ruler) but Christians need to have faith that the true church really exists (because it has become invisible).

B. A New Basis for Social Ethics

The Constantinian shift and the new relationship it brought between the church and the world was also associated with a fundamental reorientation of Christian ethics. Most importantly, this involved replacing the teachings of Jesus with other standards and guiding principles (e.g. power, mammon, common sense, natural law).

Ethics based on a duality – the dualism of neo-Platonism is used to separate outer reality and inner attitude. Ethics are then divided into those appropriate to the inner spiritual reality (Jesus’ ethics of love) and those appropriate to the outer political reality (the ethics of power).

Ethics based on natural law – a shift towards basing ethics on ‘common sense’ or ‘the nature of things’ and what is ‘realistic’ rather than on the revelation of God in Jesus. This assumes that the way things are is divinely fixed and ignores the fact that creation may be fallen (i.e. in rebellion and in a mess).

Ethics based on effectiveness – Since Christians are in control of history (through the Christian ruler) ethics come to be measured by what is ‘effective’. There is a focus on how events and outcomes can be controlled to ensure that history comes out right.

Ethics suitable for everyone – If the whole of society is now Christian then Christian ethics must be workable for all. This leads to the development of dual ethical standards; a minimal ‘realistic’ standard for the mass of ‘believers’ and a higher ‘heroic’ standard for those with a special vocation (increasingly associated with monasticism and withdrawal from ordinary life). When testing an ethical position one asks “can you expect such behaviour of everyone?” and “what would happen if everyone did this?”

Ethics suitable for the ruler – If Christians rule the world then Christian ethics must be appropriate for those in positions of power. In the absence of Christian guidelines for those running the empire the Constantinian church-state alliance adopted the norms and standards of the pagan world instead. In particular, the ideas of the Roman lawyer and political theorist Cicero were used in this way. This becomes part of an ‘ethics of vocation’ in which a person is expected to do the ‘proper thing’ given their role and social situation. Christian ethics begin to assume that it is simply unrealistic to ask the ruler to live by the teachings of Jesus.

4. CONSTANTINIAN SHIFT – HOW DID IT DEVELOP?

One Empire, One Church
Following the Constantinian shift, the church-state alliance was able to claim dominion over a single united global Christian world known as Christendom. Although, the church had largely sacrificed the ethics of Jesus for the pagan ethics of power, Yoder recognised that it still had sufficient power and influence to exert a genuinely constraining or moderating influence over the excesses and brutality of those in control. However, Yoder points out that this capacity was significantly reduced by the circumstances that developed following the Reformation.

The Reformation and Fragmentation
Yoder noted that throughout history Churches have increasingly identified with progressively more fragmented regional or national political entities. The Reformation served to break-up Christendom into smaller and smaller national units and in order to protect their status, the churches chose to identify themselves locally with those in power. In such circumstances the degree of influence the churches could exert over the nation state was correspondingly reduced.

Yoder sees this as the paganisation of the church taken to its logical conclusions, each church claiming that God is especially interested in its particular nation over and above all others.

Varieties of Constantinianism

The progressive fragmentation of Christendom can be seen reflected in the following four variants of Constantinianism:

Neo-Constantinianism – the Constantinian vision becomes smaller and more provincial. The church is still linked to power but now at the level of individual nation-states rather than global empire.

Neo-Neo-Constantinianism – the traditional church-state alliance is broken through disestablishment but the church maintains its unquestioned loyalty to a particular nation-state.

Neo-Neo-Neo-Constantinianism – the church remains loyal and patriotic even though it finds itself within a nation-state that is explicitly secular or even anti-Christian.

Neo-Neo-Neo-Neo-Constantinianism – the church identifies itself with a future regime that it regards as a ‘better system to come’ (e.g. by supporting revolutionary liberation movements).


Post-Christendom


This process of fragmentation and growing secularisation continually reduces the influence of the church and marks the end of Christendom. The church is pushed from the centres of power to the margins.

For many Christians post-Christendom seems threatening, it looks like a defeat. However, for Radical Reformation Christians like Yoder, these circumstances present a genuine opportunity to re-establish what they regard as God’s intention for the church to be a voluntary, powerless and non-conforming community living in faithfulness to the way of the kingdom of heaven within a hostile world (loving enemies, serving rather than lording, identifying with the poor and the outcast and living the liberation of sabbath and jubilee).

We can now consider in detail what Yoder thought the church was called to be.

Body Politics: What the Church is Called to Be

“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16

INTRODUCTION

We have considered Yoder’s definition of the politics of Jesus and his argument that these politics should be normative for Christian social ethics. We have seen, through Yoder’s analysis of the Constantinian shift, how mainstream Christianity has generally rejected the way of Jesus since the fourth century in favour of some other standard or guide. We now turn to Yoder’s view of the church as a living embodiment of the politics of Jesus in terms of its role, its characteristics and its practices.

THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN OUTLINE

Yoder asserts that the faithful church becomes part of God’s work of salvation within human history. He believes that this work is realised in the way the church as a gathered community lives its life together as a reflection of Jesus, as a visible and distinct entity and as an agent of social change.

Reflecting Jesus

The Body of Christ – the church continues to live the life that Jesus lived (a life of service, loving enemies, concern for the poor/outcast and refusal to compromise with evil). It represents the body of Christ to the extent that it allows Jesus to live on in the world.

A sign of Christ’s lordship – the fact that the church can live like Jesus demonstrates Christ’s victory over the powers and confirms his lordship.

Reflects God’s patience – Like Jesus, the church does not seek to control events. In its rejection of coercion it reflects the patience of God by accepting that humans are free to ignore or deny what it offers.

Worship as living in the Kingdom – like Jesus, the church equates worship with living in the kingdom of God as a distinct way of being human. This is a vision of worship as social process rather than ritual and liturgy

Visible and Distinct

A ‘called-out’ people – the church has been called-out of the world to become a visible and distinct people of God with a God-given role in history.

A foretaste of what is to come – in its life together the church represents a visible foretaste here and now of what will become true for the whole of creation in the end.

A model of a new humanity – empowered by the Holy Spirit, the church visibly demonstrates a new way of being human; confounding the assertion that in this life human nature is fixed and irredeemably sinful.

A visible witness to the world – The most important way in which the church communicates its message is by its visible life together as a witness to the world.


An Agent of Change

The centre of God’s work – God’s work in history is pursued through the church as a powerless and non-conforming fellowship rather than through powerful rulers, nations and empires.

Piloting new ways of living – the church is called to try out new ways of living reflecting the nature of the Kingdom of God and to offer these to the world as a gift (piloting new ideas that the world will adopt in time).

Demonstrating the possibility of Jesus’ way – Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the support and mutual admonishment of the gathered community, the church proves that it is possible to live like Jesus in this life. This proclaims the victory of Jesus over the powers.

Independent of the Powers – the capacity of the church to be an agent of social change is dependent upon its ability to remain independent of the powers of this world (e.g. the church must resist the temptation to use the ways of the word to achieve its ends).

KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHURCH

Yoder identifies five main characteristics of the church:

A Voluntary Society – membership of the church is entered into by individual choice without coercion. One cannot be born into the church or be forced to join it.

A Socially Mixed Body – the church is an international and supranational fellowship. It is called to be a radically inclusive community with a membership that transcends the world’s divisions (e.g. of gender, ethnicity and class).
A New Way of Life – the church is united in a new way of life that reflects the way of Jesus in terms of forgiveness, suffering, economic sharing and servant leadership.

A Community of Discernment – the ‘ekklesia’ (meaning a public gathering to deal with community business) comes together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make decisions and interpret the scriptures.

A Hebrew Experience – although the church is socially and ethnically mixed, the Jewish experience of exile and diaspora acts as a model for the social existence of the church as God’s people in the world

THE FIVE PRACTICES

In his book Body Politics Yoder looks in detail at five practices of the early church drawn from the writings of the New Testament. These practices visibly demonstrate the way of the Kingdom of God to the world. They are all sacraments in the sense that, when humans do these things, God is acting through them.

1. The Rule of Christ (Binding & Loosing)

In Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 18, verses 15-20) Jesus sets out the way the church should deal with conflict and discipline within the community. This approach is significantly different from the focus on coercion, violence and punishment dominant in the world. What are its key characteristics?

• The aim is to achieve reconciliation rather than to inflict punishment.

• It is assumed that since God has forgiven us we should forgive each other.

• It only really works within a non-hierarchical voluntary community. The responsibility rest with everyone, individually and collectively.

• It is based on the community’s discernment of acceptable standards under the guidance of the Holy Spirit rather than on the laws established and enforced by those in positions of power.

• The ultimate sanction is loss of fellowship rather than more punitive forms of punishment such as prison or execution.

• In the context of loss of fellowship, reconciliation should always remain a possible option in future.

Jesus makes it clear that when humans act in this way they receive the authority of God (“whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”). He also promises to be a guiding presence whenever people come together to discern what to do (“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.").

The principles of binding and loosing specified here by Jesus as the way appropriate to the church can be seen to be the basis of modern forms of conflict resolution and restorative justice.

2. Breaking Bread Together

Throughout the history of Christendom the Eucharist has been regarded by the mainstream churches as a spiritual and supernatural ritual associated with a sacrificial understanding of the death of Jesus. For Yoder, a mark of the Messianic age is that all basic needs will be met, so the Eucharist is an economic act. The ritualisation of breaking bread enabled Christians to avoid the economic implications of the politics of Jesus. This can be related to Jesus and the early church in the following ways:

• The importance of table fellowship within the ministry of Jesus.

• The strong influence of jubilee principles in Jesus’ teaching (see Luke 4:18-19).

• The example of the early church sharing basic necessities together (e.g. Acts 2:42-46).

• Paul’s teachings about the importance of sharing together in the Eucharistic meal (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).

Again, we have an understanding of sacrament as social process. When Christians practice economic sharing God is acting through them.

The principles of Eucharist as an economic act can be seen to have become incorporated into the world through such things as soup kitchens and social security systems.

3. Baptism into a New Humanity

Following the Constantinian shift baptism became a celebration of birth into Christendom (i.e. into a particular national/territorial entity). However, for Yoder baptism in the New Testament signifies entry into a new people and the creation of a new society that transcends all pre-existing identities and loyalties. The Apostle Paul represents this most strongly in his epistles.

• In Galatians 3: 27-28, Paul defends the new inclusivity of the church that has been made possible by the work of Christ:

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

• In Ephesians 2:14-15, Paul states that the work of Christ has ended the division between Jew and Gentile and has made possible a new unity for all humanity:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.”

The proclamation of baptism is that people can change. Although the powers of the fallen world have a vested interest in keeping people separated, alienated and in conflict, baptism shows that a people can be formed who exemplify the ‘new creation’ or new humanity’. Those who have chosen to join must give their loyalty to the Lordship of Christ. All other identities are transcended (whether these are of nation, tribe, class or gender).

4. The Fullness of Christ

In the Constantinian conditions of Christendom the role of priest or minister became limited to a small number of men, but to quote Yoder:

“The specialist purveyor of access to the divine is out of work since Pentecost.” (Body Politics p.56)

Yoder sees within the New Testament narrative the description of a new form of community relationships in which every member of the body of Christ has a distinct, divinely validated and empowered role. What has been called the ‘fullness of Christ’ is outline most clearly by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4, and Ephesians 4. Such a vision has significant implications for the social structure of the church:

• Hierarchy is undermined if Christ is the head of the body.

• Dignity is assigned to every part of the community.

• There is no longer any need for the religious specialist (because the Spirit has been poured out on all).

• The community is characterised by a complementary mix of roles and skills.

• There are as many ministerial roles as there are members (so more than half of them belong to women).

This vision contrasts starkly with the forms of social structure that are generally dominant in the world; those of hierarchy and inequality. Again, this can be regarded as a sacrament. For when the members of the gathered community recognise and celebrate the dignity of diverse gifts, God is seen to be working through them.

This biblical vision can be seen as the basis for flat models of business management in the world.

5. The Rule of Paul

Within the liturgy and practice of the Constantinian church the freedom to speak has largely been confined to the priest or minister. Church architecture reflects this with its rows of seating for the masses facing the priest’s alter or the minister’s pulpit. However, Yoder points out that in the New Testament there is evidence that the early church practiced a much more open and dialogical approach to worship which further exemplifies the principles of the ‘fullness of Christ’.
This can be seen in particular in the Apostle Paul’s instructions about the correct way to arrange worship in 1 Corinthians 14 and in the Apostle’s discernment processes evident in Acts 15. Such an approach has the following characteristics:

• The church (Ekklesia) comes together to make decisions and discern the will of God under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.

• Consensus or unity arises uncoerced out of open conversation.

• Everyone in the community has the right to take the floor and speak.

• Everyone in the community has an obligation to listen critically to what is said.

Yoder notes that it has been the Quakers who have applied these principles most thoroughly and self-consciously. Writing about of 1 Corinthians 14, the Pauline scholar Morna Hooker has said “The principle on which worship was conducted seems to resemble the one followed by the Society of Friends.” (Hooker 2003, p.150)

It can be argued that this form of worship as a Sacramental practice forms the basis of the modern notion of democracy.

Christian Attitudes to War: A Peace Church Perspective

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Matthew 5:9

THE PACIFISM OF THE EARLY CHURCH

During the first three centuries the Christian church followed the teachings and example of Jesus and was resolutely pacifist. Yoder notes that this position was understood in terms of a fundamental polarity between church and world and between Jesus as Lord and Caesar as Lord:

• Jesus is Lord – our loyalty is to Jesus and we know that his teachings reject the use of violence and force.

• Caesar is not Lord – we do not give our loyalty to Caesar when he demands that we worship him. This is idolatry.

• The Kingdom of God – our loyalty is to the kingdom of God and we know that this is a kingdom of peace.

• The Roman Empire – we do not give our loyalty to the Empire when it demands that we kill for it. This is idolatry.

Such an understanding can clearly be seen in the writings of prominent early Christian leaders. For example:

We, who were formerly slayers of one another, not only do not make war upon our enemies, but, for the sake of neither lying nor deceiving those who examine us, gladly die confessing Christ.” - Justin Martyr, 100 - 165 A.D.

The divine banner and the human banner do not go together, nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord has abolished the sword.” - Tertullian, 160-225 A.D.

During our consideration of the Constantinian shift we saw that the moral absolutism of the early church began to weaken over time as Christians suffered less persecution and began to enjoy the stability and security of Pax Romana. This involved a softening of the church-world distinction and a gradual incorporation of the church into the world.

POST-CONSTANTINE – FOUR APPROACHES TO WAR

In addition to pacifism, in his book Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution, Yoder outlines three other positions on war adopted by Christians from after Constantine:

Blank Cheque (Raison d’Etat) – The state (or the ruler) has the right to determine the rules and to take whatever steps are necessary to protect itself and pursue its interests. This is a position that can be traced from Aristotle through Constantine and Machiavelli to the actions of modern nation states.

Holy War – God is a warrior and may require his people to fight and kill for a holy cause. This position can be seen in the Hebrew Scriptures in the form of Joshua, in Constantine’s apologist Eusebius, in the crusades and in the language of modern leaders who assert that God guided them into war or that God is on their side.

Just War – War may be waged legitimately where certain prescribed criteria are met, making it ‘justifiable’. This position is based on the thought of the Roman political philosopher and lawyer Cicero and has been developed through history by many other Christian thinkers including Ambrose, Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suarez.

Pacifism – War is always wrong. Christian pacifism is based on the life and teachings of Jesus and has been represented by a number of individuals and movements throughout history such as Martin, Waldo, Francis of Assisi, Petr Chelčický, the Anabaptists and the Quakers.

JUST WAR IN MORE DETAIL

Yoder took the just war tradition seriously and engaged with it throughout his life. Just war criteria have never been definitively agreed, however, they tend to include the following points:

The decision to go to war

• War may be waged only by a legitimate authority.
• War may be fought only for a just cause.
• War may only be fought with right intention in terms of goal/ends.
• War may only be fought with right intention in terms of motivation/attitude.
• War aims must be defined so the enemy can always sue for peace.
• War may only be fought if there is reasonable probability of success.
• A war is illegitimate unless all criteria apply with due form and process.

How war is fought

• A war may be fought only with the use of just means.
• The means used in a war must be proportionate.
• Legitimate and illegitimate targets must be clearly defined.
• There must be respect for the dignity of humans as rational and social beings.

Yoder points out that each one of these points is significantly open to interpretation. This means in practice that just war criteria can effectively provide a ‘blank cheque’ because the state or ruler is able to define the terms. Yoder makes four other key points about the just war tradition:

• That it seeks to justify war in terms other than those found in the Bible and in particular in the teachings of Jesus.

• That it was an attempt to extend into the realm of war the logic of limited violence associated with police authority.

• That, nevertheless, it is a genuine attempt to exert a restraining influence on human violence.

• That, if the criteria is defined properly, the just war tradition has more in common with pacifism than it has with either blank cheque or holy war (e.g. very few if any examples of modern warfare would be regarded as justifiable).

YODER’S CRITIQUE OF ‘CHRISTIAN REALISM’

Much of Yoder’s engagement with the just war tradition was focussed on ‘Christian Realism’ and in particular the thought of its most prominent advocate Reinhold Niebuhr. Christian Realism developed in response to the emergence of fascism and the experience of the Second World War and argued that the existence of great evil within the world made the pacifist position irresponsibile. It made the distinction, referred to in our discussion on the Constantinian shift, between an ethics that is appropriate for individuals and what needs to be done in a sinful world, the implication being that pacifism simply allows evil to triumph.

Yoder offered a number of key points in response to the Christian Realism of Niebuhr and others:

• Western civilisation above love – The realist position places the responsibility for defending western civilisation above the Christian ethic of love and ignores the centrality of the church in God’s plan for salvation.

• The nation above God – The realist position requires the Christian to be prepared to kill for a nation or an ideology and so sets the value of that nation or ideology above our obedience to God. This is idolatry.

• Our interests over others – The realist position presupposes that the interests of one particular people or nation are sufficiently worthy to contemplate the destruction of another people or nation for the sake of those interests. This too is idolatry.

• Calculating rights and merits – The realist position is always based on a calculation of rights and merits (e.g. I prefer the lives of those nearest me to those of foreigners). This is conditional, qualified, natural love rather than the unconditional love of God revealed in Christ.

• Denying the Resurrection and the Spirit – The realist position is based on an ethics of ‘lesser evil’ which involves a systematic pessimism about the ability of humans to practice the unconditional love of God. This is a denial of the resurrection and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

• Denying the unity of the church – The realist position which requires Christians to take sides in war is a denial of the unity of the body of Christ since it may involve a Christian killing other Christians.

YODER’S DEFENCE OF CHRISTIAN PACIFISM

At the heart of Yoder’s defence of Christian Pacifism is an argument about Christ; who he was and what he reveals to us about the nature of God. We know that Yoder’s peace church theology rests on his assertion that the life and teachings of Jesus are normative for Christian social ethics. When dealing with the issue of war and non-violence, Yoder raises the stakes by arguing that If Christ was not who the church has always confessed him to be then the argument for Christian pacifism collapses. This represents a stark challenge to mainstream Christianity.

Yoder’s case is based on four main arguments; that the God revealed in Christ is a peacemaker, that the possibility of peace is directly linked to what Christ has achieved, that our ability to live peacefully is a gift of the Holy Spirit and that God’s shalom is built into the grain of the universe.

1. The God revealed in Christ is a Peacemaker
In the life and teachings of Christ we can see a God who is a peacemaker and a reconciler (see 2 Corinthians 5:19). Therefore Christian pacifists love their enemies because God does so and commands his followers to do so:

• This is how God works – Christian pacifism is linked to the cross of Christ as the way God acts in a sinful world.

• Rejecting the violent option - Jesus is presented by the Gospel writers as consistently renouncing the ‘justifiable’ insurrection of the Zealots.

• Rejecting Coercion - The pacifism of Jesus includes a rejection of the option to impose one’s will on another (a compulsion of purpose that leads the strong to violate the dignity of others).

• Resisting the temptation of evil - Christ’s way of defeating evil involved resisting the temptation to use evil. This is the kind of faithfulness that is willing to accept defeat and death rather than complicity with evil.

• This is how we must work too - The Christian must see the world and its wars from the viewpoint of the cross. If God’s strategy for dealing with his enemies was to love them and give himself for them it must be ours as well.

• A Continuation of Christ’s work - The peacemaking work of the Christian is a continuation of the work of Christ (since the church is the body of Christ in the world).

2. What Christ has achieved
Christian pacifism is also rooted in the church’s understand of what Christ achieved through his life, his ministry and his death. How does this affect our attitude to war?

• Suffering love determines history - As seen in Christ’s death and resurrection, it is suffering love and not brute power that determines the meaning of history.

• Christus Victor - We renounce war because the defenceless death of the Messiah has been revealed as the victory of faith that overcomes the world.

• We are all children of Abraham - After Jesus there is no-one in any nation who is not a potential child of Abraham. How can our brothers or sisters be our enemies?

• There are no outsiders - We learn to reject violence because nationalism is always ethnic and therefore exclusivist and in the biblical definition of human dignity there are no outsiders.

• Christ died for all - Since all humans are created in God’s image and since Christ died for all, no-one can be my enemy.

3. Transformed by the Holy Spirit

• Called to be God’s shalom - The unity of the church is a gift of God’s Holy Spirit which enables Christians to embody God’s shalom in the world.

• Disarmed by God - The Christian has been born anew and disarmed by God. The spring from which enmity and strife flow has been clogged.

• Transformation is possible - Oppression and violence are the constructions of a fallen humanity and not an inherent part of the universe or of God’s will. With the empowerment of the Holy Spirit humans can become what God intended.

4. God’s shalom – in the grain of the universe

• Non-violence is in the grain - Jesus’ stance of nonviolent suffering love goes with the grain of the universe so nothing else can ultimately succeed in creating just and peaceful world.

• Faith in God’s Promises - For the Christian, pacifism reflects faith in God’s promises. An ultimate divine certainty lets this position make sense even if it looks like foolishness to the world.

• God’s intention for creation - Shalom is God’s intention and vision for creation. Since this includes physical well being, right relationships and moral integrity, there can be no true peace without Justice.

• Peace mean fellowship with God - One cannot worship God without being reconciled to other people since fellowship with other people mirrors and is a means of our fellowship with God.

SCANDALOUS CONCLUSIONS

Yoder recognises that the Christian pacifist position is scandalous to the world because it denies all of the following:

• That one’s own family or compatriots are more to be loved than the enemy.
• That the life of the aggressor is worth less than that of the attacked.
• That killing the aggressor prevents evil and is an expression of love.
• That letting evil happen is as blameworthy as committing it.

Hence, Christians have to accept that their witness to the peace and justice of God’s shalom will bring them into conflict with the world around them. This is not an easy path to follow. Peace has to be actively waged and it is a long and arduous project.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Shalom and the Quaker Peace Declarations

These posts explore the way in which the biblical vision of shalom can be seen in early Quaker experience and understandings.

This first section on Quaker peace declarations owes alot to Lloyd Lee Wilson's essay The Biblical Basis for Quaker Peacemaking in his Wrestling with our Faith Tradition (Quaker Press 2005).

The uniquely Quaker understanding of Shalom can be observed in the first four public documents that attempted to explain and justify the Quaker Testimony against war. These are:

• James Nayler’s The Lamb’s War (1657).

• Edward Burrough’s To the Present Distracted and Broken Nation of England (1659)

• Margaret Fell’s A Declaration and an Information from us the People of God called Quakers (1660)

• George Fox and Richard Hubberthorne’s A Declaration from the Harmless and Innocent People of God called Quakers (1661)

THE ARGUMENT IN SUMMARY


1. We have been disarmed by the Lord


The roots of all war can be found in human nature in its fallen state (where humans are alienated from God) and in particular in our desire to exclusively and selfishly possess and use the creation (the lust of greed). However, we have experienced a spiritual transformation in which God has lifted us out of the fallen state and taken us back into the state of paradise again. This process has destroyed the lusts that lead to war. We have been turned away from the world and towards God. This has not been achieved by our own efforts but by the work of Christ within us. Christ has freed us from the motivation and compulsion that causes humans to fight.

"Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it; to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God; seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all. We know that wars and fightings proceed from the lusts of men, as James iv. 1--3, out of which the Lord hath redeemed us, and so out of the occasion of war. The occasion of war, and war itself (wherein envious men, who are lovers of them-selves more than lovers of God lust, kill, and desire to have men's lives or estates) ariseth from lust All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly- deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with - outward weapons, for any end, or under an pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world.”

Fox, Hubberthorne et al 1661

2. Christ is our king and he has commanded us not to fight

We regard Christ as our priest, prophet and king. Our ultimate allegiance is to Christ, not to worldly governments. Christ consistently commanded his followers not to fight. He prevented Peter from using violence at his arrest and refused to use force himself even though the power was at his disposal (Matthew 26:51-53). Christ came to save, not to destroy (Luke 9:56). The use of violence represents idolatry and a lack of faith. God’s people must rely exclusively on the Lord to protect them and should patiently endure persecution (Revelation 13:10).

“…Christ said to Peter, 'Put up thy sword in his place;' though he had said before, he that had no sword might sell his coat and buy one (to the fulfilling of the law and the Scripture), yet after, when he had bid him put it up, he said, ‘he that taketh the sword, shall perish with the sword.’ And further, Christ said to Pilate, 'Thinkest thou, that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?' And this might satisfy Peter, (Luke xxii. 36), after he had put up his sword, when he said to him. 'He that took it, should perish with it;' which satisfieth us, (Matt. xxvi. 51-53) And in the Revelation, it is said, 'He that kills with the sword, shall perish with the sword; and here is the faith and the patience of the saints.(Rev. 13:10)'”

Fox, Hubberthorne et al 1661

3. The Kingdom of God cannot be established by human force

The Kingdom of God is fundamentally different from the kingdoms of the world (John 18:36). God has made it clear that the Kingdom will be achieved by spiritual means, not by force (Zechariah 4:6). Christ has led us into the new peaceable covenant mentioned by the prophets (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3). In this state we are literally unable to engage in violence and war. Therefore we are engaged in a spiritual struggle with spiritual weapons, not an outward war with physical weapons (2 Corinthian 10:4).

“..for we have chosen the Son of God to be our King, and he hath chosen us to be his People; whose Kingdom is not of this World (John 18:36), neither is his Warfare with carnal Weapons (2 Corinthians 10:4), neither is his Victory by the murdering and killing of men’s Persons; but we are given up to bear and suffer all things for his Name's sake; and our present Glory and Renown therein stands till the appointed time of our Deliverance, without the Arm of Flesh, or any multitude of an Host of men; this we declare.”

Edward Burrough 1659

4. We want everyone to enter the Kingdom of God

We are not interested in fighting for the kingdoms of this world or trying to take them over. These kingdoms will be replaced by God’s Kingdom. So we wait and pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God where Christ will rule in every one of us. It is Christ’s rule in human hearts that brings Shalom. This is God’s wish and intent.

“The Lamb's quarrel is not against the creation, for then should his weapons be carnal, as the weapons of the worldly spirits are: "For we war not with flesh and blood," nor against the creation of God; that we love; but we fight against the spiritual powers of wickedness, which wars against God in the creation, and captivates the creation into the lust which wars against the soul, and that the creature may be delivered into its liberty prepared for the sons of God. And this is not against love, nor everlasting peace, but that without which can be no true love nor lasting peace.”

James Nayler 1657

5. We recognise the right of government to punish evil-doers


We recognise that in the world as it currently is (i.e. a fallen world) God has set up government and the law to use force and violence where necessary to control and punish those who do evil (Romans 13).

"Therefore in love we warn you for your soul's good, not to wrong the innocent, nor the babes of Christ, which he hath in his hand, which he cares for as the apple of his eye; neither seek to destroy the heritage of God, nor turn your swords backward upon such as the law was not made for, i.e., the righteous; but for sinners and transgressors, to keep them down.”

Fox, Hubberthorne et al 1661

Biblical References

James 4:1-3
1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

John 18:36
36Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
Isaiah 53:12

Revelation 13:10

10He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

Zechariah 4:6

6Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.

Isaiah 2:4

4And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Micah 4:3
3And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

2 Corinthians 10:4

4For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;

Matthew 5:37
37But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Matthew 5:44
44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Matthew 26:51-53

51And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. 52Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. 53Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

Shalom and Gospel Order

What is Gospel Order?

Looking at the experience and understanding of early Friends, the feature that most closely reflects the biblical vision of Shalom is their understanding of gospel order.

The term ‘gospel order’ is usually used to describe the distinctive corporate structures and discipline of the Quaker movement. However, these structures and practices are not in themselves gospel order. Rather, they are what enable Friends to live in gospel order (i.e. in obedience to God and in harmony with God’s order for creation). It is by coming into harmony with gospel order that we realise God’s shalom.

Lloyd Lee Wilson has characterised gospel order as “…the order established by God that exists in every part of creation, transcending the chaos that seems so often prevalent. It is the right relationship of every part of creation, however small, to every other part and to the creator.” Wilson, L L (1996) p.3

Importantly, for early Friends this new order was to be realised here on earth. It was not merely the promise of a heaven in the afterlife. In this sense, ‘heaven’ may be understood as a state of harmony or communion with God, whereas hell is the condition of separation or alienation from God.

The Fall

Humanity’s first teacher was God in open conversation with men and women in paradise. However humans turned away from God and looked instead to their own power and wisdom. Metaphorically, humanity’s second teacher was the serpent who drew men and women into confusion and disobedience. This loss of unity with God threw the creation into disarray, bringing separation, disunity, disorder and disharmony.

However, God’s creation is good. It is in a state of divine harmony. The apparent disorder is simply human inability to perceive and understand the greater order that God has given to creation. This is what makes fallen humanity a dysfunctional presence within creation.

The Restoration

Humanity’s third and final teacher is the ‘gospel teacher’ Christ who has returned in spirit to lead men and women out of confusion and into obedience and order. Christ provides the way back to the state that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall; enabling men and women to regain their God-like attributes. The spirit of Christ reveals sin, purges it away and leads humans to communion with God. The path from the Fall back to paradise is the way of the cross, understood as an inward crucifixion of the fleshly nature and the resurrection of the spiritual nature that was lost in the Fall.

The reconciliation of the inner life leads to reconciliation in the outer life, bringing a new order and a new creation. Christ therefore offers a new living way to God.

Now was I come up in the spirit, through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.
And the Lord showed me, that such as were faithful to him, in the power and light of Christ, should come up into that state in which Adam was before he fell; in which the admirable works of the creation, and the virtues of that may be known, through the openings of that divine word of wisdom and power by which they were made.


Fox, G (1952) pp. 27-28

Early Friends were thoroughly pessimistic about the human condition but extremely optimistic about the possibility of fundamental transformation through God’s power. They believed that God could take possession of the human senses. Hence they accepted that the realisation of this new order would not be possible by human effort alone; it required God’s power operating within a faithful and obedient people.

The Order of God’s People in the World

The early Quaker experience of the active presence of Christ in the midst of his people demanded a system of church government that would give maximum attention to the discernment of Christ’s leadings within the group. So the distinctive Quaker meeting structures and practices were designed to provide a discipline by which Friends could maintain an openness to Christ’s direct leadership and teaching of his people.

Lewis Benson has said that “the power of Christ to order his people by his living presence is the essence of gospel order.” Benson, L (1974) p. 22

Adherence to the discipline brings the faith community increasingly into a state of harmony (with God, within ourselves, with each other) and God’s new order is revealed visibly in the social, political and economic life of a people gathered under the leadership of the spirit of Christ.

God’s reign in the hearts of his people offers a collective experience of a joyful new order. Having tasted this new order, the community is called to share the good news of their experience with others around them. This is good news indeed!

The Fulfilment of Gospel Order


The restoration of communion with God experienced by early Friends represents in microcosm a restoration that is to be enacted throughout the whole of creation. If the inner-Eden can be restored in particular individuals and groups, then God’s peaceable realm can come to the whole of creation in the fullness of time. As each individual is brought into harmony with God’s order so the process moves progressively towards fulfilment.

Early Friends believed that harmony with God would be restored to the whole of creation through what they called the Lamb’s War (a reference to the Book of Revelation).

Shalom and Gospel Order

For early Friends the restoration of original wholeness was an important aspect of their experience of the coming of the kingdom of God. The development of Quaker principles (including the Peace Testimony) was based on an understanding of ‘Truth’ as the way God had ordered creation. Above and beyond the current state of violence, hatred and injustice lay a deeper reality of God’s peace, love and justice. It was this deeper reality that early Friends felt they were experiencing.

Early Friends accepted the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety and regarded it as a vision of life under the conditions of gospel order. Violence, hatred and every kind of injustice were regarded as the symptoms of disorder which act as barriers to reconciliation between God and humanity.

American Friend Wilmer Cooper has noted that the root of the word salvation in Latin is ‘salvus’ meaning health and wholeness. Salvation can therefore be seen as that state of gospel order that the Bible calls shalom. This is a collective vision for the whole of creation; it is not about the individual securing a personal pass to heaven.

Key References


Benson, L. (1974) ‘The People of God and Gospel Order’ in Thomas C F (ed) ‘The Church in Quaker Thought and Practice (FWCC).

Cronk, S. L. (1991) ‘Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community (Pendle Hill).

Fox, G. (1952) ‘The Journal of George Fox’ (Cambridge University Press).

Gwyn, D. (1986) ‘Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox 1624-1691’ (Friends United Press).

Wilson, L. L. (1996) ‘Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order’ (Quaker Press FGC).

Shalom and the Covenant of Light

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah…..I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31: 31 & 33

Introduction


The opponents of the first Friends proclaimed that sin was inescapable in this life and that only the elect would be saved after death. To Friends this was blasphemous because it denied the universal saving work of Christ. They asserted instead that it was possible to establish God’s kingdom on earth now. This belief was based on their understanding of the nature of the new covenant brought by Christ.

The early Quaker experience of the spirit being poured out led them to believe that the message of the new covenant brought by Christ was being restored, having been lost for 1600 years. George Fox proclaimed that Quakers were entering into the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah.

The Old Covenant


For early Friends, the old dispensation based on the Mosaic Law was a covenant in which God’s saving actions in the world were mediated through natural and outward things. This included:

• The Law written on stone
• The Aaronic priesthood
• A temple made of stones
• Circumcision of the flesh
• God’s people ethnically defined
• Moses as the leader of outward Jews
• Observance of days, months & feasts
• Physical sacrifices and offerings

Quakers recognized that the outward forms of the law and the letter of scripture were consistent with God’s witness. However, they believed that although these made people aware of sin, they did not provide the power needed to overcome it; only the unmediated spirit of Christ could do this.

The New Covenant


Early Friends believed that Christ had established a new covenant. He was the all-powerful saviour who had returned in spirit to teach his people himself, to reclaim them from the religions of the world, to undo the effects of the fall and restore them to perfection.

Following the Epistle to the Hebrews, early Friends saw Christ as the substance and fulfillment of the shadows, figures and types of the old dispensation. The outward forms of the old covenant (e.g. temple, priesthood, law) had all found their fulfillment in Christ. The scope of the new covenant was broadened from ‘outward Jews’ to ‘Jews in Spirit’ and a focus on the outward and natural was replaced by a concern for the inward and spiritual.

• The Law written in the heart
• Christ as eternal high priest
• A temple of living stones
• Circumcision of the spirit
• God’s people spiritually defined
• Christ the leader of his people
• Every day as the day of Christ
• Christ the final sacrifice and offering

As the first covenant was ended by the outward incarnation of Jesus, so the second covenant was entered through the inward incarnation of Christ in all who would receive his light. Christ had restored the line of communication between God and humanity and his covenant was at once eternal because it came from God and temporal because it was made manifest in particular people located in history.

For Quakers, the millennium was within, attainable immediately by all people. Human limitations could be transcended by God’s power working within them. The kingdom of God was like a pearl to be found within all. The true covenant was something carried within each individual that gives birth to a life of righteousness.

Shalom and the New Covenant


For early Friends, the standards of the new covenant were the standards that had existed before the fall and the coming of the Mosaic Law. These were exemplified in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.

Mainstream Christianity has tended to deny the possibility of living the Sermon on the Mount in this life. Those seeking to follow this standard have either been persecuted or directed to the monastery. Friends believed that this view represented an ‘old covenant’ approach focused on an outward law and letter that did not have the power to liberate from sin.

If the possibility of a fundamental transformation of the human condition is denied, if the way of Jesus can only be realised after death and if there is no liberation from sin in this life, then the promise of God’s shalom is forever deferred. For those with wealth and power this is a convenient position to take since it permits a lower ethical standard and justifies the violence, inequality and injustice of the fallen world.

This Quaker understanding made a clear distinction between the outward weapons of the old covenant and the inward spiritual weapons of the new covenant. The inward sword of Christ’s spirit would conquer all inward enemies that hinder the coming of God’s kingdom. Fox believed that Quakers were showing the way to a new covenant of light and peace in which the outward sword would no longer be necessary. However, until this covenant was complete (i.e. when Christ ruled in all hearts) he recognized that the lawful force of government was required to control and punish evil (i.e. the policing and judicial function).

Key References

Guiton, G (2005) ‘Growth and Development of Quaker Testimony 1652–1666 and 1960-1994: Conflict, Non-Violence and Conciliation’ (Edwin Mellen Press).

Gwyn, D. (1986) ‘Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox 1624-1691’ (Friends United Press).

Weddle, M. B. (2001) ‘Walking the Way of Peace: Quaker Pacifism in the Seventeenth Century’ (Oxford University Press).

Wilcox, C. (1995) ‘Theology and Women’s Ministry in Seventeenth Century English Quakerism’ (Edwin Mellen Press).

Shalom and Quaker Testimony

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.

George Fox, 1656

The Nature of Quaker Testimony

The Quaker way has always given priority to right action (orthopraxis) over right belief (orthodoxy). In particular, through testimony, Friends have felt called to offer a practical demonstration of life lived in gospel order. The testimonies function as signs to the world, they are an attempt to communicate by direct action what Friends know to be true about the order of God’s creation.

The terms ‘witness’ and ‘testimony’ imply a judicial analogy in which Friends see themselves as witnesses giving testimony to the world in much the same way as witnesses testify to a court of law.

Quaker testimonies are not rules to live by. They grow out of the inward religious experience and are intended to give outward expression to the leadings of the spirit of God within. In this sense they are the fruits of spiritual transformation.

Testimonies speak of obedience to God and the need for genuine congruence between inner experience and outer life. For many Friends, the life of eighteenth-century American Quaker John Woolman represents an exceptional example of this.

Integrity

The testimony of integrity speaks of an experience of gospel order that is characterised by authenticity, transparency, truthfulness and straightforwardness. The root of the word integrity is the Latin “integritas” which means wholeness and completeness.

Simplicity

The testimony of simplicity speaks of liberation from the ephemeral distractions of the world leading to a single-pointed awareness of God. The simple and unencumbered life is a life lived with God at its centre.

Equality

The testimony of equality speaks of a God who is no respecter of earthy power and status, a God who is concerned for the poor and the marginalised. This is an experience of gospel order that is characterised by the interconnectedness of the whole of creation in which each part has value and integrity.

Peace

The peace testimony speaks of a liberation from the human urges that lie at the root of destructive conflict. It exemplifies God’s power to take away ‘the occasion of all wars’. This is an experience of gospel order that is characterised by harmony, wholeness and cooperation.

Shalom and Quaker Testimony

It can be argued that the overarching Quaker testimony upon which all the others rest is gospel order. Quaker testimonies communicate what Friends have tasted of gospel order in their individual and corporate experience. This entails a concern to live in harmony with the divine order that connects all parts of creation.

Testimony is first and foremost about obedience to God. However, by being ‘patterns and examples’, Friends also seek to provoke a response in those around them; bringing the values of God’s order up against the values of the world and making a choice between the two unavoidable.

Testimonies offer an alternative vision of what life is all about; a vital witness to the new creation which God is offering the world. Because this vision is at odds with the dominant order it inevitably leads to conflict with the world. Early Friends called this process the Lamb’s War.

Key References

Cooper, W. A. (1991) ‘The Testimony of Integrity in the Religious Society of Friends’ (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 296)

Dale, J. (2002) ‘Quaker Social Testimony in our Personal and Corporate Life’ (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 360)

Guiton, G. (2005) ‘Growth and Development of Quaker Testimony 1652–1666 and 1960-1994: Conflict, Non-Violence and Conciliation’ (Edwin Mellen Press)

Olmstead, S. (1993) ‘Motions of Love: Woolman as Mystic and Activist’ (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 312)

Smith, S. (2005) ‘Living in Virtue, Declaring Against War: The Spiritual Roots of the Peace Testimony’ (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 378)

Taber, F. I. (2009) ‘Finding the Taproot of Simplicity: A Movement between Inner and Outer Action’ (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 400)

Shalom and the Lamb's War

“And as they war not against men's persons, so their weapons are not carnal, nor hurtful to any of the creation; for the Lamb comes not to destroy men's lives, nor the work of God, and therefore at his appearance in his subjects, he puts spiritual weapons into their hearts and hands: their armor is the light, their sword the Spirit of the Father and the Son; their shield is faith and patience; their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God.”

James Nayler – The Lamb’s War 1657

What is the Lamb’s War?

During the 1650s the young Quaker movement launched a nation-wide preaching campaign of great vigour and intensity that became known as the Lamb’s War, referring to the book of Revelation in which John of Patmos recorded his visions of Christ’s final defeat of evil on earth and the establishment of the New Jerusalem. Doug Gwyn has called the Lamb’s War a ‘cultural revolution’ because it involved a comprehensive attack on all those institutions and practices that sustained the existing order and a proclamation of the coming of a new divine order.

The massive scope and rapid success of the Lamb’s War caused significant disquiet within the establishment. The apocalyptic imagery and language was disturbingly militaristic and many thought that the Quakers intended to overthrow the state by force. By the late 1650s rumours circulated widely about Anabaptists and Quakers coming to cut people’s throats.

Early Quaker Eschatology

The early Quaker claim that “Christ is come to teach his people himself” was for them an announcement that the great spiritual battle outlined in Revelation had begun.

Early Quakers expected that the inward transformation of individuals would lead to the outward transformation of the world. The Lamb’s War was therefore a campaign that took place first of all within the individual and then within the world. In this sense Quaker eschatology was both realised (within the individual) and to be realised (within the world).

Friends were certain that the final outcome would be the triumph of justice over evil and the establishment of God’s kingdom. However, this transformation was dependent on a human response. It required a universal acceptance of the power of the Lamb to crucify evil and resurrect the new creation within the individual and then within the world. Every human won by the Lamb weakens the power of the ‘Beast’.

The early Quaker movement experienced an inward liberation that they understood in terms of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Having rediscovered the pearl of inner and outer peace for all people, they were prepared to risk everything to establish the kingdom of God.

The Practice of the Lamb’s War


The methods used by early Friends in conducting the Lamb’s War reflected their understanding of the way in which God deals with evil.
The Lamb’s War was very much a corporate endeavour. It did not involve a lapse into personal piety. Early Friends recognised that the process of realising God’s kingdom on earth was a job for a gathered people, not for isolated individuals.

Despite the assertiveness and militaristic language of the Lamb’s War, it was a consistently non-violent campaign. Their religious experiences had taught Friends that spiritual transformation must involve a genuine change of heart and that this by its nature could not be achieved by force and coercion.

Instead of using force, the Lamb’s War was a campaign in which Friends sought to persuade others by the example of their lives and by the suffering they were prepared to endure. Friends were willing to face severe persecution rather than transgress the law of God written in their hearts.

The message of the Lamb’s War was addressed to everyone. For example, when Quakers spoke to those in authority, their principle aim was to prompt the moral reform of the powerful. No individual was regarded as entirely lost to the cause of the Lamb.

This was a struggle for liberation that sought to free people from bondage to the ‘lusts’ that produce injustice and destructive aggression. The struggle was to be won by turning people away from the evil present in the world and inward towards the power of the Lamb working in their hearts.

Shalom and the Lamb’s War

Through the Lamb’s War, Friends committed themselves to God’s project of liberating each and every soul and every part of the creation. They sought the restoration of all things to God’s order and kingdom by re-establishing the hearing and obeying relationship that humans had originally experienced with God in Eden.

The process of spiritual transformation experienced by early Friends convinced them that there would be no peace while two wills competed for supremacy (self-will and God’s will). The events enacted by the Lamb in their hearts (revelation, judgement, purging and restoration) were regarded as a microcosm of the events to be enacted throughout the whole of creation.

Friends believed that the Lamb’s War would bring people to gospel order, which is God’s shalom.

Key References

Guiton, G. (2005) ‘Growth and Development of Quaker Testimony 1652–1666 and 1960-1994: Conflict, Non-Violence and Conciliation’ (Edwin Mellen Press)

Gwyn, D. (1986) ‘Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox 1624-1691’ (Friends United Press)

Gwyn, D (1992) ‘The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism’ (Quaker Books)

Nayler, J. (1657) ‘The Lamb’s War’ in ‘The Works of James Nayler’, vol. 4 (Quaker Heritage Press)

Weddle, M. B. (2001) ‘Walking the Way of Peace: Quaker Pacifism in the Seventeenth Century’ (Oxford University Press)

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Shalom and Gospel Order

Can we see the biblical vision of shalom within early Quaker experience and understandings?

What is Gospel Order?

Looking at the experience and understanding of early Friends, the feature that most closely reflects the biblical vision of Shalom is their understanding of gospel order.

The term ‘gospel order’ is usually used to describe the distinctive corporate structures and discipline of the Quaker movement. However, these structures and practices are not in themselves gospel order. Rather, they are what enable Friends to live in gospel order (i.e. in obedience to God and in harmony with God’s order for creation). It is by coming into harmony with gospel order that we realise God’s shalom.

Lloyd Lee Wilson has characterised gospel order as “…the order established by God that exists in every part of creation, transcending the chaos that seems so often prevalent. It is the right relationship of every part of creation, however small, to every other part and to the creator.” Wilson, L L (1996) p.3

Importantly, for early Friends this new order was to be realised here on earth. It was not merely the promise of a heaven in the afterlife. In this sense, ‘heaven’ may be understood as a state of harmony or communion with God, whereas hell is the condition of separation or alienation from God.

The Fall

Humanity’s first teacher was God in open conversation with men and women in paradise. However humans turned away from God and looked instead to their own power and wisdom. Metaphorically, humanity’s second teacher was the serpent who drew men and women into confusion and disobedience. This loss of unity with God threw the creation into disarray, bringing separation, disunity, disorder and disharmony.

However, God’s creation is good. It is in a state of divine harmony. The apparent disorder is simply human inability to perceive and understand the greater order that God has given to creation. This is what makes fallen humanity a dysfunctional presence within creation.

The Restoration

Humanity’s third and final teacher is the ‘gospel teacher’ Christ who has returned in spirit to lead men and women out of confusion and into obedience and order. Christ provides the way back to the state that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall; enabling men and women to regain their God-like attributes. The spirit of Christ reveals sin, purges it away and leads humans to communion with God. The path from the Fall back to paradise is the way of the cross, understood as an inward crucifixion of the fleshly nature and the resurrection of the spiritual nature that was lost in the Fall.

The reconciliation of the inner life leads to reconciliation in the outer life, bringing a new order and a new creation. Christ therefore offers a new living way to God.

Now was I come up in the spirit, through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.
And the Lord showed me, that such as were faithful to him, in the power and light of Christ, should come up into that state in which Adam was before he fell; in which the admirable works of the creation, and the virtues of that may be known, through the openings of that divine word of wisdom and power by which they were made.

Fox, G (1952) pp. 27-28

Early Friends were thoroughly pessimistic about the human condition but extremely optimistic about the possibility of fundamental transformation through God’s power. They believed that God could take possession of the human senses. Hence they accepted that the realisation of this new order would not be possible by human effort alone; it required God’s power operating within a faithful and obedient people.

The Order of God’s People in the World


The early Quaker experience of the active presence of Christ in the midst of his people demanded a system of church government that would give maximum attention to the discernment of Christ’s leadings within the group. So the distinctive Quaker meeting structures and practices were designed to provide a discipline by which Friends could maintain an openness to Christ’s direct leadership and teaching of his people.

Lewis Benson has said that “the power of Christ to order his people by his living presence is the essence of gospel order.” Benson, L (1974) p. 22

Adherence to the discipline brings the faith community increasingly into a state of harmony (with God, within ourselves, with each other) and God’s new order is revealed visibly in the social, political and economic life of a people gathered under the leadership of the spirit of Christ.

God’s reign in the hearts of his people offers a collective experience of a joyful new order. Having tasted this new order, the community is called to share the good news of their experience with others around them. This is good news indeed!

The Fulfilment of Gospel Order

The restoration of communion with God experienced by early Friends represents in microcosm a restoration that is to be enacted throughout the whole of creation. If the inner-Eden can be restored in particular individuals and groups, then God’s peaceable realm can come to the whole of creation in the fullness of time. As each individual is brought into harmony with God’s order so the process moves progressively towards fulfilment.

Early Friends believed that harmony with God would be restored to the whole of creation through what they called the Lamb’s War (a reference to the Book of Revelation).

Shalom and Gospel Order

For early Friends the restoration of original wholeness was an important aspect of their experience of the coming of the kingdom of God. The development of Quaker principles (including the Peace Testimony) was based on an understanding of ‘Truth’ as the way God had ordered creation. Above and beyond the current state of violence, hatred and injustice lay a deeper reality of God’s peace, love and justice. It was this deeper reality that early Friends felt they were experiencing.

Early Friends accepted the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety and regarded it as a vision of life under the conditions of gospel order. Violence, hatred and every kind of injustice were regarded as the symptoms of disorder which act as barriers to reconciliation between God and humanity.

American Friend Wilmer Cooper has noted that the root of the word salvation in Latin is ‘salvus’ meaning health and wholeness. Salvation can therefore be seen as that state of gospel order that the Bible calls shalom. This is a collective vision for the whole of creation; it is not about the individual securing a personal pass to heaven.

Key References

Benson, L. (1974) ‘The People of God and Gospel Order’ in Thomas C F (ed) ‘The Church in Quaker Thought and Practice (FWCC).

Cronk, S. L. (1991) ‘Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community (Pendle Hill).

Fox, G. (1952) ‘The Journal of George Fox’ (Cambridge University Press).

Gwyn, D. (1986) ‘Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox 1624-1691’ (Friends United Press).

Wilson, L. L. (1996) ‘Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order’ (Quaker Press FGC).