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The One Testimony that Binds Them All Together
by James Healton
James Healton grew up among Quakers in Pacific Yearly Meeting. He was recorded as a minister by Evangelical Friends Church Southwest, and currently serves as pastor of Friends Community Church Sacramento (California). He has also served as a speaker and workshop leader for a number of events sponsored by Christian unprogrammed Friends. A version of this article originally appeared as a Quaker Evangelism Project Forum posting.
To an outside observer, and indeed, many people inside the Society of Friends, there is little rhyme or reason to the assemblage of doctrines and practices historically emphasized by Friends. Frankly, it does look as though the founders of the Friends movement collected together all the most eccentric beliefs and practices ever dreamed of, and some not dreamed of, among Christians, put them into a hat and then drew out nine or ten of them at random and decided that would be Quakerism!
But, in fact, there is a powerful unity and purpose underlying all the elements that go together to make the basic contours of Quaker theology and practice. For a long time I was a convinced Christian Friend, but the unifying element, though it lay right at hand, eluded my grasp. The light began to dawn for me while reading a passage in George Fox's Works in which he answers some Puritan critics who accused him of denying that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh.
Fox replied that it was they who were deniers of Christ's coming in the flesh. This perplexed me as Fox did not elaborate much beyond this and I knew that the Puritans clearly believed that Jesus had come in a fleshly body. Then I began to notice how much Fox and the early Quaker writers quoted the Old Testament, especially the passages from the prophets concerning the coming of the Messiah and the messianic age or kingdom of God. What the early Quakers were pointing out was that Christians were, in effect, denying that Jesus is the Messiah who has fulfilled all that the Prophets foretold would be fulfilled by His coming in the flesh.
Yes, traditional Christians accepted that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies concerning His death and resurrection, but there was much more that they either entirely overlooked or postponed until after death or the "Second Coming." Their testimony, at best, was seriously incomplete. And an incomplete testimony for Christ has the very real potential of turning into a testimony against Him. The "testimonies" of Friends were, and should be, the full testimony of what it means that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah).
Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses "to the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) They were to bear witness to the world that He is the Messiah and that the messianic age has come, as foretold by the prophets. That is the same witness or testimony we should bear today. We are to do this not simply by saying the words, "Jesus is the Christ" but by living and teaching the full implications of that truth.
Jesus said that His Church would be founded upon the truth confessed by Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt. 16:15-18). This means that Jesus is the Messiah whose coming in the flesh inaugurates and provides the foundation for a whole new world of possibilities for human life. Each of the testimonies that Friends have borne can be traced back to prophecies in the Old Testament that are tied to the coming of the Messiah. What follows is a brief digest of the prophetic testimony of the Old Testament that is fulfilled as a consequence of Jesus' first advent in the flesh. I will not use Scripture citations but those who know their Bibles will recognize the allusions.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God dwells in the midst of His people, teaches them directly and fulfills all the ministries pictured by the sacrifices and ceremonies of the old covenant. Therefore, worship is now to be in Spirit and Truth rather than in fleshly observances and typical ceremonies.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God's people beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and no longer prepare for war. They are secure, knowing that the day long foretold by the prophets has come and that ultimate triumph over evil will be achieved through following their victorious King, Jesus.
Because Jesus is the Christ, the Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh so that all God's people are prophets. Women as well as men may prophesy, one by one, in order that all may be encouraged and all may be instructed by what all have learned from the Father.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God now rules His people directly, rather than through prophets, priests and kings. As the prophets foretold, "a king will reign in righteousness" and the fruit of His reign will be righteousness and peace. He will be their shepherd to guide them in the paths of justice and mercy. God's people will not be ruled by one man or a few, or even by the majority, but by God Himself, present in all and leading all together.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God will give His people new shepherds who will not fleece the flock or abuse the sheep. Instead of standing in God's stead before the people, they will lead them to Him that they might hear directly from Him and feel His presence in and among them.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God's people will no longer live in sin and disobedience to Him, but will have His law written upon their hearts. They will cast away their idols as an impure thing. They will be given a new heart that freely submits to God's will and delights in fulfilling His commandments.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God's people will be humble, lowly, of purified lips, will do no wrong, tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. The names of false gods will no longer be on their lips.
Because Jesus is the Christ, God's people will give themselves to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted and they will be called the repairer of the breach and the restorer of the streets in which to dwell. In that day, God will make a covenant with the birds of the air and the beasts of the field and the creeping things of the ground. God's people will lie down in safety, for there will be none to hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain.
Because Jesus is the Christ, the promise to Abraham will be fulfilled, and all nations will be blessed through his holy Seed. The nations will stream to the Lord that He might teach them His ways and that they might walk in His paths. A spring has opened and has begun to flow from the Temple, widening and deepening until it will become a place in which to swim and turns the salt waters sweet. In time, the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Though the language of the prophets that I have borrowed is filled with metaphor and symbolism I think most can trace the outlines of Quaker faith and practice in it. To put it clearly, there is really only one testimony: Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). The particular testimonies are each different implications of the one testimony that Jesus is the Christ. Unfortunately, this connection has been lost, even among Friends.
Evangelical Friends treat the testimonies as archaic, arbitrary and optional, having no direct relation to the gospel. Liberal Friends, while making the testimonies central, divorce them from Christ. In fact, Evangelical and Liberal Friends at least agree on one thing: that Christ has little to do with the testimonies. Ironically, Evangelicals reject the testimonies because they fail to see their direct connection to Christ and Liberals accept the testimonies (or at least a facsimile of them) for the same reason!
To be faithful to God, we must bear a complete witness to the world and to Christians concerning the messianic identity of Jesus. When we limit our witness to His deity, death and resurrection, as Christians have for centuries, the results are very disappointing. War, poverty, pollution, oppression, corruption and immorality continue to thrive, even as the number of those professing faith in Christ increases.
God is waiting for us to finally receive, live and proclaim the full witness of Christ. Friends must not step backward and fail to fully witness for Christ. It is absolutely vital that we grasp again and fully bear witness to the wonderful truth that Jesus is the Christ and that therefore all those prophecies pertaining to His coming in the flesh are capable of being fulfilled now.
Like all Christians, I recognize that there are some prophecies that will not be fulfilled until after we depart this life or after God brings an end to this world. But Christ will not come again in glory until after the Church has fully understood and acted upon all the implications of His first coming. This, we have so far failed to do. The role of Friends is to help the Church and the world realize the full potential of Jesus' first coming. Then, and then only, will we be prepared for His second coming!
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