As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said. ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.
– George Fox
In June, when I was last here, I mentioned the Quaker theology of continuing revelation. In that sermon, I said, “Some within our yearly meeting find this theology of continuing revelation distressing, but I find comfort in this theology because it honors Friends’ longtime witness that God is still speaking to our condition today, both as a corporate body and as individuals. We should always be listening for how God wants to use us and our abilities as disciples of God’s grace within today’s ever-changing world.”
Today I want to expand on this point and, by doing so; I will make a passionate defense for the theology of continuing revelation within modern Quakerism and within our yearly meeting.
For me, as a Christian Quaker, the words of George Fox, written above, still inform how I view my relationship with Christ: Christ as a heavenly guide, still leading us two millennia later. In the Gospel of John 1:9, it is stated that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” This is the Light that is still among us and within us.
If we honestly believe that God has stopped speaking, all that God have ever said is in the Bible, let’s just close up shop right now and start calling us the Historical Society of Friends. Let’s just read the Bible as a historical novel that has no relevance to how we live today. Let us stop having waiting worship and pretending that we will somehow hear the voice of God today. Let us board up this meetinghouse and do our study of the Holy Scriptures in private.
But I do not believe this and this meeting does not believe this either. Throughout my readings of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, I see God is always present in the journeys of God’s people, even at the most difficult points of time. God was present with Moses, God was present with Ruth and Naomi, God was present with Christ on the cross, and God was present with the women as they discovered that the tomb was indeed empty. And God is still present with us today through God’s son, Jesus Christ, and God is still speaking to our condition today.
Why would God abandon us generations later and not continue to reveal Godself to us? In a way Quakerism should be described as a corporate journey towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.
Friend Lloyd Lee Wilson from our sister yearly meeting North Carolina Conservative writes: “God continues to teach those who make themselves available to be taught how to live according to the Divine Will in the present day. Continuing Revelation does not involve a new Gospel, but teaches us how to live out the Everlasting Gospel in our current circumstances.”
Our current circumstances bear some resemblance to First Century Palestine where an Empire was in charge of a large part of the world and injustice was rampant throughout the countryside. Yet, in many other ways, Twentieth First Century USA is also vastly different than First Century Palestine. We know more about the wider world and how the world functions than humans have ever known before. These scientific advances have largely helped the world to prolong and improve life. Some believe that these advances have led us into a new age where God is not needed; we have advanced beyond the need for Christ
Yet, I do not want to replace my belief in Christ with believing in only scientific knowledge, as some New Atheists have suggested. Science without morality has brought us the atomic bomb and other increased capabilities to kill each other, which have only increased misery in our world. We still need to offer moral guidance for the world and to proclaim that God is still present within our world and within our lives
Friend Lloyd Lee also reminds us that this is not a new Gospel that is being created through the continuing revelations we receive. Some liberal Friends have interpreted the theology of continuing revelation as a way to disregard the Bible and I think some conservative-theologically Friends within our yearly meeting fear that more liberal-theologically Friends are using/will use this theology as a way to discount the Bible and Christ. We are not trying to create a new Gospel but trying to understand what God’s message means in today’s context.
I want to go further with this and say that God will reveal Godself according to our individual and corporate abilities. For example, not in the too distant past, this meeting would not have approved of same-sex marriage. Friends here have now realized that God’s love applies to the LGBTQ community. But what if I brought a message advocating for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community to this meeting in 1990 or 1970 or even 1950? Would it have been too much for the meeting? What has happened in the intervening years? God hasn’t changed, instead we have changed and we are still changing. I often wonder what beliefs do we hold today that future generations will be stunned to learn about and think, “What were they thinking back then?”
Also, since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, one year ago today, we have started to look deeply at racism within our community and within ourselves in a different way than we have before. The shout of Black Lives Matter have brought this topic to the forefront in this country and we are slowly responding. We still have a ways to go in confronting the embedded racism within our midst. But that is the Good News: God will continue to be with us as we stumble towards creating God’s Kingdom here on Earth.
Before I end my message today, I want to speak about the dangers within continuing revelation. I have already spoken about how people think that we have surpassed the need for Christ and the Bible. I have also seen people with big egos run over others by saying that this is the will of God or that God has told them that others should follow them. Yet, this should not be happening as much as I see because Friends over the centuries have developed corporate and individual discernment processes to test leadings of individuals and of the larger bodies.
Within the theology of continuing revelation, we still need to heed this framework that Friends have developed over the last three centuries to test and carry leadings. Sadly I do not see many Friends heeding this advice and a lot of the strife within our yearly meeting is due to a lack of commitment to corporate discernment and discipline.
Let us continue to not only deepen our individual and corporate discernment into what God is revealing to us while we gather together, but also recommit to practices of testing and carry leadings among us to be certain that we are listening to God, not our egos.
God still needs us to be God’s disciples within the world and to work towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.