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"Let Your Lives Preach"
by Friends in Christ (Plain Quakers)
[Friends in Christ (Plain Quakers) is a group of Friends based in the United Kingdom. This essay is adapted from Issue No. 4 for 2003 of their quarterly newsletter, The Call, by permission.]
In the days of Francis of Assisi, almost everyone in what we now call Italy was nominally a Christian. By virtue of being sprinkled in infancy, each person was a member of the Roman Catholic church, as if by citizenship.
For his time, and in his place, Francis was a prophetic man, with his due measure of Christ's light illuminating his spirit. He felt it necessary to preach the Gospel to all the world, without regard to this universal sprinkling and universal, nominal membership. There is a popular image of him, preaching to the birds. The reality of the incident belies the sugary image, however. Weary of his words falling on the deaf ears of nominal Christians, Francis was moved to go down to the city dump, and demonstrate to them that he could find a far more receptive audience amongst the carrion-eaters that fed on their rotting scraps!
Francis once said, "Preach the Gospel - use words if necessary!" This was a powerful message to those to whom Christianity lay in the words and forms of liturgies and outward hierarchies!
On the threshing-floor of 17c England, the Lord raised up another prophet, George Fox. We read in his Journal (can there be any recipient of The Call who has not read it? If so, how strongly we recommend it, second only to Scripture!) how he came to enquire of all kinds of preachers and priests, and how none could speak to his condition; but at last - to his great joy - he was shown that Christ alone could most powerfully speak to his condition, and could move within him to make him His apostle, to proclaim the Gospel to the world.
Fox was one of God's instruments in awakening the Church, and in gathering to Himself a people, separate and prophetic, to serve Him. Of the many words that the Lord put into Fox's mouth, perhaps none ring so much as a small maxim, which stands with that of Francis. It is this: "Let your lives preach". Often quoted - often shamefully misquoted - often misinterpreted. Nonetheless vital and true!
It does not mean, as some luke-warmly suggest, that we should not use words at all (even "if necessary"!), but should rely solely upon our actions. This would be the false doctrine of justification by works alone; the apostle James makes it clear that works go along with faith, not without it. It is more akin to the commandments which Christ quoted as the greatest of all: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30, 31)
Let us look at Fox's maxim word by word.
"Let"Quench not the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19) in yourselves. Do not be afraid, the Lord will tell you what to say (Luke 12:12) or do. Do not join with the luke-warm, who say that believers should not testify, or you will risk being spat out by the Lord (Revelation 3:16). Let the Holy Spirit work in you - allow it, respond to it, obey the Lord's leadings by it, and let the springs of prophecy flow!
"Your"It is no good leaving it up to other people, or even telling other people what to do. The responsibility is yours. Take that responsibility, as the Lord lays it upon you. If you do not, the Lord may remove His blessing and bestow it on someone more responsive and obedient.
"Lives"This means everything - all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This includes the words which the Lord will put into your mouths - it does not exclude them. It means every action: your family and private lives, your working lives, your lives in the community of the saints, the household of God (that is the Church, Ephesians 2:19), your walking down the street - everything.
"Preach"What is there to "preach" except the Gospel? The Kingdom of heaven is within you, and there is one - Christ Jesus alone - who can speak to the condition of every one of you and to the whole world if they hear, respond, and obey. He is come to teach His people Himself. From beginning to end, the story of Scripture is a seamless whole, pointing to the victory of Christ and the salvation of those who believe and obey.
When we get to this word "preach", we have come to an important place. Who can preach? To the Church alone, made up of those who hear and obey Christ's voice, is given the commission of preaching and proclaiming the Good News. No other body can do it, except Christ's. No society, no yearly meeting, no fellowship, no church of the world, no sect, certainly no group who will not let Christ be Christ and who will not let itself be the Church!
Within the Church, all members - as members, limbs, and organs of the Body of Christ - have their own functions. Some may be anointed to preach by the written word, or by speaking in front of each solemn meeting, or to the world's passers-by on the streets. Some may be given a life of that service; others may be called upon at a specific time and on a specific occasion. Even those who sit and learn from Christ in silence - whether He teaches them Spirit-to-spirit, or by the words or deeds of another - in their way demonstrate to the world what it is to be learners in Christ's school.
Corporately also, the Church preaches. By its coming together in Christ's name alone, under His Headship, to know and to feel His promised presence in the midst of them. By the testimonies which all members share, and demonstrate to the world. By being united by the Holy Spirit in all its corporate utterances and statements of faith. By the way it is united in love. By the way it is prepared to die, forgiving those who crucify or stone it.
Friends, the world out there is not the Roman monolith it was in Francis' day. It is not the same turmoil of sects that it was in Fox's. It is, however, no less a hell of human making, a globalised hell of greed, secularist atheism, and the virtual atheism of those churches and religions who will speak of God and claim to speak for God, but will not let Him rule them inwardly. It is a hell of wars and hatred, where men talk of freedom but carry guns, which are the very fetters of their slavery to the devil, the world, and the flesh.
That world is the arena into which the Church - Christ's holy army - must walk unencumbered by weapons, save for spiritual ones. It is in that world where the Church must let its Life preach.
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