Friday, August 5, 2016

Testing Leadings

Yesterday I read an article by Chuck Fager about the ongoing situation in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). In the article, Chuck includes a letter from the NC Yearly Meeting on Ministry and Counsel, outlining a doctrinal basis for splitting the yearly meeting. In listing perceived differences between two factions, it has these contrasts about the purpose of scripture:

The Holy Scriptures are subject to the Holy Spirit and, should a seeming conflict arise, the Holy Spirit provides the final answer.The leadings of the Holy Spirit never contradict the Holy Scriptures and, should a seeming conflict arise, the Holy Scriptures are a trustworthy source of the Truth because they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I originally had a lot to say about these two statements, but I believe much of it was just rehashing a 200-year-old argument, so I will only say that I believe the Scriptures must be read in the Spirit in which they were written, and if the second statement implies otherwise then I disagree with it.

But, this got me thinking about the whole idea of testing leadings against the Scriptures and whether that has mostly disappeared from Liberal Friends. My impression is that it has (and I note that the first of NCYM's statements about Scriptures doesn't mention it either). The follow-on question, then, is whether there are things that we do test leadings against (I'm going on the hopeful assumption that we at least test leadings with one another via sitting in worship and discerning). It seems to me that the testimonies are one of these touchstones. If a perceived leading is not consistent with the peace testimony, for example, that should at least make us pay extra attention to it. I don't think that we should reject it outright, but be extra careful in discernment. Perhaps the writings of early Friends can serve as touchstones as well - I have read a bit of Robert Barclay in working on this post and some of it will probably come to mind in the future. In particular, I wonder how much of our surrounding culture becomes a touchstone. Is there an automatic assumption that something is right because it is consistent with our political views or our party's platform or those of our neighbors and co-workers? Among Liberal Friends, can we tell when something is part of the liberal culture we tend to surround ourselves with, but not necessarily of the Spirit?

One reason I ask this is that in the polarization of our politics, there seems to be more of a lock-step mentality. If you are for X, you must also be for Y and Z. It sometimes feels like there is an unspoken "if you are a Quaker, you must be for X, Y, and Z". Now, I don't have a problem with someone assuming that if I am a Quaker that I am at least striving to be humble, peaceful, honest, etc., but when it comes to assuming that I would support or reject some particular law or organization, I have a problem with that. The Holy Spirit can lead us in unexpected directions that are not necessarily the direction our surrounding culture would understand, and we must continue to seek that Spirit and to test our leadings against it, and not fall back on our cultural assumptions.

With regard to the Scriptures, I do find myself examining my behavior in light of them. For example, Matthew 5:22 says "But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire." I have been trying to take that seriously, and refrain from referring to people I don't agree with as "stupid", and not trying to perpetuate insulting memes. I also find this statement by Robert Barclay compelling, and it speaks to another reason why I continue to read the bible: "This is the great Work of the Scriptures, and their Service to us, that we may witness them fulfilled in us, and so discern the stamp of God's Spirit and ways upon them, by the inward acquaintance we have with the same Spirit and Work in our Hearts".

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