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.

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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.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Faith is a Relationship

If you ask someone about their faith, they may describe it in terms of a creed or a document. In many church services there is a part in which a statement of faith is recited, be it the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed, or something else. Orthodox Friends might reference The Richmond Declaration of Faith. If you ask me, I am likely to go into a discussion of Barclay's Apology. We tend to view our faith as if it were the same as our beliefs. I am as likely to fall into this trap as anyone. But I don't think that God is particularly interested in theology.

Jesus is always asking his followers whether they believe, whether they have faith. But it is always, do you believe in me, do you have faith in me? When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, (Matt 14:22-33), Peter said, “Lord, if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said come and Peter boldly stepped out of the boat and started walking on the water. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became fearful and began to sink and called out to Jesus, who reached out and saved him. Then Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” This was not the faith of intellectual belief that he was asking about, this was a question Peter's faith in the power of God to hold him up.

When Jesus healed people, he was clear that it was a matter of faith. Not faith in dogma or scripture but faith in Jesus' ability to heal. When the centurion came and asked Jesus to heal his servant, (Matt 8:5-13) the centurion says, “Don't bother coming to my house, I am not worthy. Just give the order and he will be healed.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have i found such faith.... Let it be done to you according to your faith.”

But how does this translate to our lives today since Jesus lived and died some 2,000 years ago? This was the key insight of George Fox that Christ can still speak to us. “There is even one Christ Jesus who can speak to your condition.” “Christ has come to teach his people himself.” This was the wondrous news that made Fox's heart jump for joy. Christ can be known inwardly and we are invited to live in relationship with this inward Christ, just as the disciples lived in relationship to the outward Jesus in Galilee. They saw this as a fulfillment of the prophesy of Jeremiah 31:33-34, “ But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” This is a call to know God and to be in relationship with God.

Evangelical Christians are right on the mark with their question “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” if they mean by that, “Do you trust the voice of Christ within you to lead you to healing and greater love and understanding?” But for me, this question carries with it a sense that there is only one relationship to have with Jesus and our experience of the Divine takes a single form. If you haven't had a particular experience or if your relationship with God is different, then you are, at best, a second-class Christian. The Biblical record contradicts this. God appears to people throughout the Bible and each event is unique. God walks with Adam in the cool of the morning. God appeared to Abraham in the form of 3 strangers walking down the road. Moses encountered God in a burning bush. Jacob wrestled with God through an entire night. God answered Job out of a whirlwind. God appeared to Elijah as a still small voice after the whirlwind, the earthquake and the fire had all passed by. The miracle of Pentecost was not that the apostles spoke in tongues. The miracle was that the apostles spoke and every listener heard them in their own language. God is always speaking to us in our own language and in the context of our own knowledge and experience. If we have a personal relationship with God, than each relationship will be unique, just as each of us are unique. And each of is is being called into relationship with God.


Will T

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Blogger Bill Samuel said...

This is absolutely critical. Jesus said he was, "the way, the truth, and the life." This can be hard to grasp, and humans have the tendency to concretize it by substituting things such as doctrine about Jesus, particular rituals, etc.

My current church has no doctrinal statement but rather a vision statement. It is all framed around being followers of Jesus. It is seen as a dynamic relationship, not as something that can be fixed in a set of doctrines or rules. This seems to me to be the way we are called.

Relationships can seem messy, and codifications of doctrine or ritual neat and orderly. But relationships are deeply alive and provide us the best opportunity to grow in faithfulness.

September 06, 2011 8:47 AM  
Blogger Tania said...

Will, thanks so much for this. You gave me a nudge to write my own blog post: .

September 06, 2011 3:13 PM  

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