Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The Marriage of Spirit and Scripture

Peter Kirk, a bible scholar from Chelmsford, U.K., recently wrote about Bible Deists (in a nutshell, people who believe that God created everything and now just sits back and lets things unfold without any intervention). Most of what he talks about, though, has to do with how many Christians treat the bible - almost as a replacement for God. They ignore the Spirit that inspired the words, and focus only on the words themselves.

George Fox articulated the Quaker approach to the bible when he said "For as the Spirit of God was in them that gave forth the Scriptures, so the same Spirit must be in all them that come to understand the Scriptures."

The main reason I want to draw attention to Peter's article is the end. These are not actually Peter's words but are quote from the book Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere:

Somewhere along the way, though, the church has encouraged a silent divorce between the Word and the Spirit. Divorces are painful, both for the children and the parents. One parent usually gets custody of the children, and the other only gets to visit occasionally. It breaks the hearts of the parents, and the children are usually worse off because of the arrangement. Many in the church today are content to live with only one parent. They live with the Word, and the Spirit only has limited visiting rights. He just gets to see and touch the kids once in a while. Some of his kids don't even recognize him any more. Some have become afraid of him. Others in the church live with the Spirit and only allow the Word sporadic visits. The Spirit doesn't want to raise the kids without the Word. He can see how unruly they're becoming, but he won't force them to do what they must choose with their hearts.

As Quakers, with our focus on being guided by the Holy Spirit, I think we sometimes develop a tendancy to ignore the bible and in doing so we lose a valuable guide. We are in danger of becoming those unruly kids that the Spirit has to try to raise without the Word. It's not that I don't understand why some people avoid the bible. I know many people have been beaten over the head with its words to the point where it is a source of pain for them. That may also be why people try to avoid overtly Christian language in some meetings, as well. It seems to me that this behavior only reinforces those feelings someone may have developed about the bible. If the only people they hear quoting the bible or talking about Christ are preaching anger and hostility, how can they form any other opinion? As Paul said in Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (NET). Wouldn't it be better to hear about the bible from this Spirit?

George Fox knew what it was to be beaten over the head with the bible -- literally!

Now while I was at Mansfield-Woodhouse, I was moved to go to the steeple-house there, and declare the truth to the priest and people; but the people fell upon me in great rage, struck me down, and almost stifled and smothered me; and I was cruelly beaten and bruised by them with their hands, and with Bibles and sticks.

But George also knew the inner workings of the Spirit, and knew that in the hands of those people who were not in that same Spirit, the bible was nothing but a paper club.


  1. Mark -- Good to see another Christ-centered Quaker blogger out there. With enough late-night keyboaring perhaps the whole of Quakerdom can be brought back into the fold.

    I agree with you that some have been turned away from Christianity by the "professing" christians. I know the FGC meeting to which I still belong has many members who are recovering from religion, and this lends the meeting an almost secular aura. But as Qaukers, we are not to abandon the scriptures or our religious imagery, but rather take it back from those who would abuse it!

    To those put off by the unchristian acts and behaviors of some Christians, we need to say that Christ has never harmed them. God has not chastised them. Coming back to Christ is safe and essential. Let none come between you and the Father but Jesus and you will be well-served.

    In the Light of Christ,
    ~ Charles Rathmann

  2. Charles said;

    "To those put off by the unchristian acts and behaviors of some Christians, we need to say that Christ has never harmed them. God has not chastised them. Coming back to Christ is safe and essential. Let none come between you and the Father but Jesus and you will be well-served."

    Charles.........when one has been hurt by people who call themselves "christians" and define what they do as "christianity".........it SEEMS that the hurt dished out, COMES FROM GOD and JESUS.

    I know that this is hard for you to understand, but please try, you read what I wrote over at Liz's blog 'The Good Raised Up', and I tried as best as I could to speak about this sort of deep hurt, but if you yourself have never been there, please DON'T JUDGE those who have.

    I ask this in all Love and Respect,

    Thanks, Albion

  3. Albion -- I know you from Gathering of Conservative Friends. And yes -- I have been in the position of dealing with unChristian behavior perpetrated by Christians. But we must take back the scriptures and Christ from these misguided people rather than abandon them. The trend I have seen in many Quaker circles is to drift towards agnosticism and secularism in order to be "inclusive."