Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

My Photo
Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What is baptism?

This is Barclay's proposition concerning baptism:

As there is one Lord and one faith, so there is "one baptism; which is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience before God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." And this baptism is a pure and spiritual thing, to wit, the baptism of the spirit and fire, by which we are buried with him, that being washed and purged from our sins, we may "walk in newness of life;" of which the baptism of John was a figure, which was commanded for a time, and not to continue for ever. As to the baptism of infants, it is a mere human tradition, for which neither precept not practice is to be found in all the scripture.

Before Barclay comes to the issue of baptism, he takes on the more general question of the sacraments. He says that it has long been a human habit to seek worldly, or as he puts it, carnal worship, instead of pure spiritual worship. He mentions the Pharisees “whom Christ so frequently reproves for “making void the commandments of God by their traditions.” (Matt 15:6,9)

This complaint may at this day be no less justly made as to many bearing the name of Christians, who have introduced many things of this kind, partly borrowed from the Jews, which they more tenaciously stick to and more earnestly contend for than for the weightier points of Christianity: because that self, yet alive and ruling in them, loves their own inventions better than God's commands.
[Apology, Prop 12, Section I]

He then quarrels with using the word sacrament itself. He points out that it does not appear in scripture (Early Friends were amazingly literal, at least to modern readers, in their approach to scripture. They also refused to accept the doctrine of the Trinity because the word Trinity never appears in scripture, either.) He then makes the point that the word sacrament was borrowed from the military oaths of the Romans.

The question I had when I come to this point was, what is baptism? The early Friends were clear that it was a spiritual thing and not the outward rite, whether by immersion or sprinkling. Barclay in fact talks about how there is only one baptism, and since the Bible talks about the baptism of the Spirit and of fire, this baptism cannot be referring to the baptism of water. The baptism of John is said to be a prefigure of the baptism of the Spirit and is so ended since that which it has prefigured has come.

So if it isn't the ritual involving water, what is it? Charismatic Christians claim that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is some sort of ecstatic experience marked by speaking in tongues. But that is not what Barclay is claiming. So what do the early Friends mean by baptism?

In the proposition itself baptism is described as “not the putting away the filth of the flesh but the answer of a good conscience before God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It is a spiritual thing, “the baptism of the Spirit and fire, by which we are buried with him, that being washed and purged from our sins, we may walk in in newness of life.” The first part of this is a quote from 1 Peter 3:21. What is this “answer of a good conscience?” The New Revised Standard Version translates answer a appeal. The New International Version translates it as pledge. From this one could make a case that baptism then an act of repentance with a promise of reformed behavior. Or perhaps it is just the acceptance of the gift of righteousness bestowed on us by Jesus as a result of His death and resurrection. But this second view runs counter to Barclay's earlier argument in his discussion of Justification against any imputed righteousness without us actually becoming righteous. The second part of the definition implies a much more active role taken by God. It is a baptism of spirit and fire that washes us and purges us internally and spritually. In section IV of this proposition, Barclay says:

Now this answer cannot be but where the Spirit of God hath purified the soul and the fire of his judgment hath burned up the unrighteous nature; and those in whom this work is wrought may be truly said to be baptized with the baptism of Christ, i.e., "of the Spirit and of fire."
[Apology Proposition 12, Section IV]

Later on Barclay discusses how the Bible often uses the name of the Lord to mean something more than than the bare sound of the word. It also stands for the virtue and power of the thing named. Therefore, those who were baptized into the name of Christ were baptized into the virtue and power of Christ. In the words of Paul, “as many of them as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This means that the baptism of the spirit involves entering into the virtue and power of Christ. This baptism may be a requirement for salvation. After all, how are we to be justified and perfected without taking on the virtue and power of Christ. We certainly cannot do this by ourselves. But this does not mean that it is a requirement to join a congregation. In fact Barclay notes that Paul gives thanks at one point that he has baptized only a very few people. This is from one of the greatest apostles of the early church.

This then is the one true baptism of Christ: It is the purifying and cleansing work of Christ in us turning us from sin and willfulness towards holiness and faithfulness to God. It is not a sprinkling with water or a babbling in tongues, it is the fire of God burning away the dross within us.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On Worship – Battleground in the Lamb's War

This is where Barclay's description of worship differs most from the way Friends today tend to describe the experience of worship.

Our work then and worship is, when we meet together, for everyone to watch and wait upon God in themselves .... And as everyone is thus stated they come to find the good arise over the evil and the pure over the impure, in which God reveals himself and draweth near to every individual, ... and therefore the Lord oftentimes, ... doth .. cause his Power to break forth in a more strong and powerful manner; ... then the good Seed ... will be found to work as physic in the soul, ... and through the contrary workings of the power of darkness there will be found an inward striving in the soul,.... And from this inward travail, while the darkness seeks to obscure the Light, and the Light break through the darkness ... there will be such a painful travail found in the soul that will even work upon the outward man; so that oftentimes ...the body will be greatly shaken, and many groans and sighs and tears ... will lay hold upon it; ... sometimes the power of God will break forth into a whole meeting, and there will be such an inward travail, while each is seeking to overcome the evil in themselves, that by the strong contrary workings of these opposite powers, like the going of two contrary tides, every individual will be strongly exercised as in a day of battle; and thereby trembling and a motion of body will be upon most, if not upon all, which, as the power of Truth prevails, will from pangs and groans end with a sweet sound of thanksgiving and praise, and from this the name of "Quakers," ... was first reproachfully cast upon us.
[Propostion 11, Section 8]

Have we ever experienced our meetings as a battleground in the struggle of good and evil? Do we even think of our spiritual lives in those terms? Even if our interior life is free of what we call evil, what about our lives in the world. All of us Friends, at least those in North America and Europe are inextricably enmeshed in an economic system that consumes a disproportionate share of the worlds resources. Gas prices are rising because oil production can no longer keep pace with worldwide demand. Food prices are rising because we are using food crops as replacements for oil. The Day of the Lord is upon us. Are we ever stricken with trembling, groans or tears? Are we seeking comfort and peace when we should be seeing what we have wrought over the face of the earth?

The seeds of war and economic injustice and ecological destruction are deeply planted on our hearts, our lives and our societies. Do we see meeting for worship as a place where the seed of God can be nourished so that it can grow to dominion over these seeds of darkness. Do we come to meeting for worship seeking the gentle rain and the warm sun when what we need might be the deep plowing and the laying of the axe to the roots of the overgrowing scrub brush? Most important, do we come to meeting undertaking to do this work together, trusting in the power of the Lord to do what we cannot do for ourselves?

Blessings to all,

Will T

Friday, May 02, 2008

My visit to Quip

I had the privilege to attend the Quakers United In Publishing annual meeting held at Brown Summit, NC, on April 24-27. I had been invited to come to speak on a panel discussing Quaker blogs. This was my first exposure to QUIP and I really did not know what to expect.

The first thing that I discovered was how diverse the membership of QUIP is. They have two co-clerks, one English and one American, and two treasurers, again, one English and one American. They rotate their annual meetings between England and various parts of North America in some more or less regular pattern. There were participants from all branches of North American Quakerism. What was most gratifying to me was that these people all got along with each other. No one questioned the theological beliefs on anyone else and they were able to focus on the work at hand.

I was able to have informal conversations with people from yearly meetings in FUM. It is clear that there are a range of views in those yearly meetings. At the level of the FUM board the yearly meetings are sometimes seen as discrete entities that speak with a single voice on various issues. The reality is much less simple than that. There are liberal and evangelical voices within many yearly meetings.

The other thing that was clear was that when Friends do have common interests and are sharing in work that is mutually beneficial, they can work very well together. I saw it with QUIP and I have had glimpses of this at the General Board.

Robin Mohr, Gil Skidmore and I were the blogging panel. Gil moderated the discussion and talked a little. Robin and I shared more extensively from our experience and we had a good discussion. One of the themes of the meeting was dealing with electronic media and how to adapt to the changes in the world of publishing. There was quite a bit of discussion of what we bloggers were about and also some of the mechanics. There were also a number of bloggers present who were not part of the panel.

On Saturday we went to Guilford College and visited the Quaker Archives. I was pleased to see people who were excited by questions of how to archive electronic media for future historians. What will happen to the records of Usenet groups like soc.religion.quaker that was one of the first places for the Quaker discussion on line? Do Quaker organizations have a responsibility to archive this against the day that Google stops? What about the Quaker mailing lists that continued the discussion? I am glad that there are people who are thinking about these things.

In conjunction with this meeting the editorial board for the QUIP Youth Book project met. On Saturday night the editorial board had a panel in which they introduced themselves and what they hoped for from the project. One of the questions that they were asked was what qualified them for their position on the board. Their responses were pretty awesome.

As I listened to them I remember that it was when I was a Young Adult Friend that I first experienced the power that can happen in meeting for worship. I had my first experiences of trying to live a faithful life. I also first became frustrated that the adult meetings just did not seem to get the treasure that was in their midst. They seemed to be content with just a bare shell of what they could have. In fact I still have that same frustration today.

As is often the case, the best part of the meeting was not the formal program but the opportunities to speak with a variety of Friends from different backgrounds and to get to know them a little better. I had the opportunity to meet fellow bloggers C. Wess Daniels and “Elizabeth Bathurst”, the Quaking Harlot. And while looking up these links I discovered that Sarah Hoggatt is a blogger, too. All in all it was a favored time.

The question I am left with is this: How can we be publishers of truth in this changing world?

Blessings to all,

Will T