Why Didn’t Jesus Write a Book??

A fellow blogger who happens to be a Quaker asked an interesting question recently. It was

“Why didn’t Jesus write a book while he was on earth and settle this thing once and for all?”

I know Jesus, like most of the twelve apostles was probably illiterate but I’m sure he could have written a book if he thought it was important.  Why didn’t he choose to do that? As my friend said a book directly from Jesus would, or at least should, have settled all the many  many current day differences among us Christians. I have wondered about this many times.

We currently rely on a book finally assembled four hundred years after the fact that was written mostly by the apostles or their representatives to tell us the things of Jesus. Of course there were also those like St. Paul who had no direct relationship with Jesus but was instead inspired by a miraculous act to write what he did.  Many of the early church fathers, meaning those in the first one hundred years, also recorded their opinions, inspired or otherwise, of what they thought Jesus meant for us to do. But most of those writing were not chosen by the council who put together our Bible to be included. It seems we have many second or third hand words about Jesus in the Bible and other documents but none directly from Jesus himself. Why didn’t Jesus write something himself?

My Quaker friend imagined God’s answer to his question to be this:

“I desire a direct spiritual relationship with all men… if my son had written a book… then all men would have a relationship with a book  and not God”

I can’t imagine a more apt response from God than what my friend proposed!  Jesus wants us to have a direct relationship with God. How much simpler could that be! It seems that today many put the book called the Bible above their relationship with God himself. While the book does give us valuable information about Jesus and God it should never be thought of on the same level as God. To do so would be to treat the book as an idol. And of course most of us know what God thinks of idolatry.  Enough said..

You are WRONG!!!

Many if not most Christian evangelical denominations insist that they are the only ones who 100% understand the nature of God.  They each believe everyone else is wrong to one degree or another. There sometimes seems to be more arguing with fellow Christians among themselves than there is any sharing of the Word with those outside their current brand of beliefs. In that regard it is nice to see at least one Christian organization that is not out to prove everyone else is wrong. click the following link to see an article by a Quaker author about being peacemakers.  http://www.friendsjournal.org/personal-peacemaking

The above article is from an August 2008 Friends Journal but is timeless in its advice. It covers 21 tips on personal peacemaking but could also be applied at the denominational level. To tweak your curiosity I will include a few of the tips here along with a brief personal perspective on what they might mean in regards to inter-denominational squabbles that occur regularly today.

  • Making fun of the person you are in conflict with, or engaging in sarcasm or ridicule, is poison.

Ridicule of our opponents on Christian issues seems to be almost the norm today as it is in our current political environments. Of course when we are ridiculed we immediately know that it is a poison to any rational debate. Even various theologians seem to use this vehicle against those who disagree with them.

  • Judging a person or deciding “who is wrong and who is right” is just another form of blaming.

Jesus had a lot to say about judgment and this is just another way to say what he said.

  • We are responsible at all times for choosing behavior that meets our highest moral/ethical standards

The Golden Rule should be how we treat everyone; even those who we disagree with.

  • Blame is not a helpful concept.

We should quit trying to prove everyone else is wrong and just go about our lives as Jesus taught us by treating each of our brothers, both Christian and non-Christian with respect.  Creating over 35,000 different versions of Christ is harmful to each of us and to the Body of Christ in general. These conflicts are definitely not in the instructions Jesus gave us.

Why Did You Tell Us?…

Happy New Year’s everyone! God has given us another year to show the Lord’s love in our lives. Let’s not waste it!

This will just be a short post from something I have been reading this afternoon. It is an article in the January 2011 issue of Friends Journal – Quaker Thoughts and Life Today. The article is entitled The Meaning of Universalism by Phil H. Gulley. I will be discussing some of the issues he brings up about Universalism in future posts but I just wanted to give you one of the short stories in that article now. I found it comical and ironic at the same time:

It was about a church that decided someone needed to go preach to the Eskimos to go save them because they were lost. So they sent a missionary to the Eskimos, and he preached. When the missionary was done preaching, an Eskimo elder said to him, “Before you leave, let me ask you something. If we had never heard of Jesus and sin, would we have gone to hell when we died?” The missionary replied. “Well, no, of course not if you hadn’t heard.” And the Eskimo said, “Then why did you tell us?”

Are we condemning people who otherwise would not have gone to hell by our brief encounters with other cultures? That is something to think about. 🙂

Speaking up in church..

Speaking up in church is something that varies widely in the Christian world. When my wife and I joined a small startup church eight years ago everyone there felt welcomed to speak up after the service. Since the church was a liturgical one speaking up during the service was a limited to chanting the required verses as they came up in the service text. But after the service anyone who had something to say could stand up and speak their mind. During those years we were renting space in a strip mall so our church was somewhat unconventional at least from an architectural standpoint. We were a small congregation so speaking up was a good way for everyone to get to know their fellow members.

Five years or so after the startup and with a new pastor we bought and remodeled a space that looked much more like a conventional church. Not long after the new facilities were completed a decision was made to restrict speaking up to only the pastor. If someone wanted to say something they are now required to give their written message to the pastor and he would recite it to the congregation after the service. I’m not really sure the purpose for this change but one of the results, at least from my viewpoint, was to take away much of the small church feel and personal fellowship. I was saddened to not hear those special, although sometimes long winded personal recitals. 🙂

I know when I was a member of a Catholic congregation many years ago speaking up was also limited to pretty much the pastor. The ability to stand up and speak varies greatly among different denominations. Some encourage speaking up with an occasional “Amen” during the service; some allow more personal utterances. But I think there is primarily only one who actually have “speaking up” as the primary means of worship and that is The Society of Friends known as Quakers. For those Quakers who use the unprogrammed worship format speaking up is what the service is all about. It is left up to the congregants to decide what is said during their worship time. Some meeting (services) go the whole period in silence; some are a constant messages as received by the members from the Holy Spirit.

I think God meant us to speak up during our worship time and not to just have everything set up to automatically speak for us.

The Institutional Church

Here is a quote by Philip Gulley who is a Quaker minister and author.  I couldn’t have said it any better

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that while the institutional church is important to us, Jesus appeared to give it little thought. Though the church eventually became the means by which the story and witness of Jesus spread, neither its genesis nor continuance seemed a priority to him. Time after time, meeting human needs took center stage in his life and ministry. Indeed, when Jesus did speak of institutional religion, he was often scathing, saying at one point that those who were religiously pure on the outside were inwardly deceitful and rapacious.This serves as a caution to those of us who’ve convinced ourselves that the goal of the church is institutional purity. To be a follower of Jesus is to choose, at every ethical crossroads, to serve people above structures.

I have come to thoroughly agree that the institutional church is indeed secondary to the teachings and practices of Jesus Christ.  Given that there are now over 35,000 versions of institutional church today I have little doubt that Jesus’ scathing words of the religious bureaucracy in his time  would likely be repeated today.  This is one of the major reasons why my feelings for today’s religious institutions have significantly diminished in recent years.  If only the church were Christian.

Quakers and the Sacraments…

The following is actually a comment attached to my April 5 concluding post on Quakerism.  I think it is important enough to pull it out and include it as a separate post.  Thanks eriu49 for sending it.


I am very interested in your thoughts about Quakerism. I have been attending Meeting since 1995 and find it meets my needs very well.

I found a piece that spoke to your question about why Quakers do not perform Baptism, and it makes a lot of sense to me, so I hope you will find something in it. It is from whittierfirstfriend.org:
Meaning of Sacrament

One of the distinguishing features of the Society of Friends from most other Christian bodies is the absence of the observance of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper from its religious practices. To many of our fellow Christians, the Quaker understanding of the Sacraments is worrisome and appears to disregard what has long been perceived as the plain command of Christ to “do this in remembrance of Me”.

Our purpose here is to briefly interpret the Quaker vision with regard to the sacraments not only for the benefit of the visitor or seeker, but to remind Friends in this generation of the historic roots of the testimony and to inquire if the testimony rings true to our own experience today.

A Sacrament has been described as the intersection where God and human beings meet. Sacrament has to do with the sacred. Through the centuries, even in the mystery religions, primitive peoples believed in the possibility of participating in the life of the divine by eating or drinking something clearly associated with or representing their god in likeness or symbol. The extent to which pagan religions had a direct influence on the development of Christian sacraments during the early stages of the Christian era, is unclear. However, there is historical evidence that the sacramental idea was practically universal in the religious habits and practices of those who became Christians from pagan religions represented throughout the extensive Roman Empire.

The Quaker Emphasis

The Quaker movement was founded on the conviction that the whole of life is sacramental. The founders refused to designate any particular observance or practice as being more sacred than another. They assumed the same position with respect to time or to special days. Sunday was regarded as no more holy than Saturday or Monday. All days are the Lord’s days, all are holy. In this sense, it was a positive witness, emphasizing what Friends were for rather than what they were against.

While both Catholic and Protestant traditions in mid-seventeenth century required the observance of certain rites as a prerequisite for membership, Friends were persuaded that although to be a member of Christ’s body involved no outward rite, it does inescapably require an inward transformation of one’s whole life.

Friends do not consider the observance of the sacraments to be wrong, but they do regard participation in such an outward rite as unnecessary to genuine Christian discipleship or entry into the community of Christ’s people.

Friends use the words “baptism” and “communion” to describe the experience of Christ’s presence and his ministry in worship. John the Baptist was pointing to this when he said: “I have baptized with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Worship reaches its goal when those who worship feel the baptism of the Spirit. Communion occurs when the worshiper communes with God and with those who are gathered in the Lord’s name.

The presence of Christ with his church does not occur by symbol or representation, but in the real communication of his Spirit: “I will pray the Father and He shall give you another Comforter, who shall abide with you forever.” John 14:18. Christ needs no rite or priestly intervention to make that real communion or baptism possible.

We believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in communion with that Spirit. If the believer experiences such spiritual baptism and communion, then no rite or ritual is necessary; whereas, if the rite or ritual is observed without the inward transformation which these outward sacraments are intended to symbolize, then the observances become meaningless and hypocritical.

Communion after the Manner of Friends

The Quaker ideal is to make every meal at every table a Lord’s Supper. Again, the reality lies, not in the nature of the material substance, but in the way it stirs the heart of every partaker. The Quakers, and all Christians, are called upon to remember Christ every time bread is broken.

Friends understand and appreciate the fact that other Christians feel the need of ceremonial observances. In fact, we may share this with them, when invited to do so. However, the life to which we are called is one which is deeper than all ceremonies and outward observance.

Friends use the words “baptism” and “communion” to describe the experience of Christ’s presence and his ministry in worship. John the Baptist was pointing to this when he said: “I have baptized with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Worship reaches its goal when those who worship feel the baptism of the Spirit. Communion occurs when the worshiper communes with God and with those who are gathered in the Lord’s name.

The presence of Christ with his church does not occur by symbol or representation, but in the real communication of his Spirit. If the believer experiences such spiritual baptism and communion, then no rite or ritual is necessary; whereas, if the rite or ritual is observed without the inward transformation which these outward sacraments are intended to symbolize, then the observances become meaningless and hypocritical.

For Further Information Read

An Introduction to Quakers by D. Elton Trueblood
Friends View of the Sacraments by Jack Kirk
The People Called Quakers by D. Elton Trueblood

Study of Quakers – Some Personal Thoughts (con’t)

Ok now on to some of the few things where I feel Quakers beliefs fall a little short .  

The core of Quakerism is as solid a foundation as I think I have ever come across in Christianity. But, much of it seems to eroded especially during the period between 1800 and 1900. I’m sure there are many meetings that still stick to the core tenets but there appears to be many that also have drifted to other beliefs. This saddens me.

I do lament Quakers apparent marginalizing of some of the words of Jesus. Jesus clearly taught that all should be baptized. His great commission

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”–  

Matthew 28 as shown here very much emphasized this practice. Whereas most Christian sects greatly play down the “do as I have commanded” part the Quakers play down the physical aspects of baptism. If I understand them correctly most Quakers believe that this should be a personal process and no public ceremony is necessary. I will have to study their history more to see how they think this aligns with the words of Jesus. While a public ceremony may not be necessary I think it help to re-enforce other Christians.  

The other practice is communion. I understand again that Quakers believe that their communion with Jesus is a personal thing but I think the public ceremony does strengthen the corporate bond with our fellow believers. I think they claim that the quiet time is where they experience Jesus and that the ceremonial act of the Eucharist is unnecessary. Maybe my life long liturgical upbringing is just getting in the way here.  I just don’t know at this point.

One other area that troubles me a about Quakers is that since they don’t align with any creeds  or confessions so their congregations, or meetings as they call them, are across a wide spectrum. They seem to go all the way from Unitarian to very fundamentalist evangelicals. If I were to choose to join a Quaker meeting, and I may someday do just that, I will have to do a lot of research as to just what that particular meeting practices. This lack of uniformity is troublesome to me. The messages of their founders is so strong it is really a shame that they can’t seem to coalesce around some central tenets in order to be a more united group. I know Quakers, following George Fox’s lead, veer away from creedal documents but I think they would be better off if they were not quite so shy of more forcibly demonstrating their core convictions. This variation within the movement is certainly regrettable but I guess this is pretty common to all Christian denominations so it is not unique to them. By their lack of conformity they seem to reflect a lack of conviction and that is indeed regrettable to me.

Some areas that I have touched upon during my study warrant further investigation. One of those areas is Quakers being shunned for marrying outside of their sect and shunning in general. I think these are things of the past but I am not sure. Shunning seems to be the exact opposite of showing our love for the God within each person? At first glance these issues are a little troubling to me. But, before I pass personal opinions on them I need to study them some more.

So to close out this rather lengthy discussion on Quakers I believe that the core tenets of Quakerism follow the words of Jesus more than any other version of Christianity I have studied to date. They are certainly an action group whereas many other forms of Christianity are more words than deeds. So, to summarize more than a month of postings, I think I have finally found a religious movement that lives by the words of Jesus in both thoughts and action. At least as I understand them. Are they perfect? Certainly not but are any of us? Just because this series of posts are complete does not mean that my study of Friends is finished; in reality it is likely just beginning. There is MUCH more I want to learn about this group of Christians and especially how they put the Lord’s words into actions.

Study of Quakers – Some Personal Thoughts

After this fairly thorough study of Quakers I am ready to summarize my personal thoughts on Quakers and their beliefs and practices. First of all I must say that I am very much attuned to most Quaker beliefs. I think that Quakers really understand what Christ taught on how to live our lives. Not only do they believe it but they practice it in their daily lives. More so than almost any other Christians. I very much admire them for that. Their testimonies, which to me are really statements for their personal actions truly reflect what I think Jesus had in mind about living our lives. I might not be, at least yet, a Quaker in membership but, by this study I am convinced that I am one in my heart.

Many of the strong feelings I have had throughout my life I have now found to be very much aligned with long established Quaker beliefs. I was eight years old when I gave my best friend a black eye over some dispute that I can’t even remember. Immediately after that incident I was totally devastated over the violence I had done. I promised myself that I would never strike or injure another person in that manner. I have lived up to that promise since then. Along these same lines I have always felt that the various wars we have been involved in were totally against God’s will. The Quaker belief that God is in each of us and therefore if you kill another person you are killing God also.

I recently went through a round is emails with a Christian friend about Biblical Inerrancy. After much discussion I was told, maybe not in so many words, that if I didn’t take the whole bible as being totally the word of God then somehow I needed to rethink whether I am really a Christian. I knew there were other Christians out there who didn’t buy into the inerrancy logic but having grown up and lived in that tradition I did not run across them very frequently. It was certainly relieving to find that Quakers for the last three hundred years have been espousing what I personally believe is the true message of the Bible. It contains words of God, but it is not THE word of God. The word of God is Jesus as the apostle John states at the very beginning of this Gospel.

I believe in simplicity, especially when it come to religious institutions. It has always been an affront to me that Christians throughout history have spent billions of dollars making giant cathedrals for themselves in order to “worship” God. In the early times this was totally Catholic in nature but Protestants have also fallen prey to this practice. Jesus did not tell us to spend our money on idols to him; he told us to spend it on his kingdom work. Many believe that if we don’t have lavish surroundings then our guests will look elsewhere for their spiritual needs. To me just the opposite is true. So, when I found out that Quakers purposefully keep their worship facilities very simple. I found another reason to think that they are one of the few denomination that really “get it”. On a personal level, their beliefs on simplicity also align with my anti-stuff campaign I have tried to wage most of my life.

I just can’t get over the fact that most of my strongest life beliefs end up being part of Quaker practices and traditions. This fact totally amazes me!

Next time will go over some of the things that I believe Quakers fall short on. This list is much smaller than the one above.

Study of Quakers – (Part 10) Some Source Books and other Miscellaneous things

Before I close out this series with some personal thoughts I wanted to do a quick post here to give you the list of books I have read in order to do these posts. There were also literally hundreds of websites/blogs I visited; too many to mention or name here.  

Here is the list of books and their authors and some websites. This is by no means a complete list but I believe it is a good sampling of the topic.

Title Author
An Introduction to Quakerism Pink Dandelion
A Living Faith Wilmer A. Cooper
A Quaker Book of Wisdom Robert Lawrence Smith
Quaker Spirituality – Selected Writings Forward by Rick Moody
Plain Living – A Quaker Path to Simplicity Catherine Whitmire
Why Friends are Friends – Some Quaker Core Convictions Jack L. Willcuts
Quaking Quakers website/blog. A really good site to get a feel for everyday living by today’s Friends http://www.quakerquaker.org/
Friends Journal Magazine – several issues https://www.friendsjournal.org/

Let’s finish out this post with some of the miscellaneous things not covered elsewhere. One of the items that I think is unique to Quakers is that they used to believe it is improper to pay for a “minister”; that, as their founder George Fox said is the ministry to the flock must be “freely exercised”. He quoted Acts 2:39 and Acts 20:33-35 where Paul says he will not take money for ministering to his congregations. But, I think this is one of those things that have fallen by the wayside. From what I can find Quaker pastors appear to be paid pretty much the same as pastors in other denominations. I’m not sure when this change happened?  

Weddings among Quakers are much simpler than those for either other Christians or in the secular realm. No minister or other official is needed. The man and woman simply say their vows to each other and the people invited to the wedding and, of course, to God. Another tradition is that everyone attending signs the wedding certificate and it is then proudly displayed in their home. This is in stark contrast to spending over $20,000 for the usual wedding in the United States.  

Quakers do not use month names. They simply say “the second month…” I think this has something to do with the months named after pagan Greek gods but I am not sure of that.

Quakers are said to be eternal optimists! They believe that there is God in each and every person so all people merit our love. As Jesus said, love even your enemies. They also believe that it is possible to be more Christ like in our daily living. They recognize the sinner in each and every person but choose to concentrate on the love and potential goodness that God gives us daily. Striving each and every day to be more Christ like is a better use of our time than to be constantly moaning about our sinfulness and worthlessness. I like the idea of being a Christian optimist.

Study of Quakers – (Part 8) The Bible

I want to open this post with some words from www.quakerinfo.org/quakerism/Qreligm.html

Quakerism depends on neither the Bible nor on priestly tradition. However, Friends do value the Bible and recognize the “priesthood of all believers. Genuine belief cannot be second hand. Quakers believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God but the Bible is not the “Word” of God but instead are words of God.

Quakers say that those who make an idol of the Bible, calling it the Word of God, giving the title of our living and present Lord, do miss the mark (John Chapter 1). The Bible contains the messages of Jesus but it is just a collection of inspired writings; it is not Jesus and should not be held on the same level as him.  

Quakers leave it up to each of us to decide for themselves which parts of the Bible may be literally true; which parts may apply to only the times of the writers; which parts may be myths or parables; and which parts may be embellishments from the sources the writers used. Quakers like many other Christians, with the exclusion of probably Baptists, Lutherans, and to some degree Catholics, believe the messages of the bible to be reliable and trustworthy but not always literally true or inerrant. They believe it to be good for teaching Christian practices and beliefs but not to the exclusion of everything else, including personal revelations and in the Catholics case church tradition.

As I mentioned in the introduction of this series Quakers believe that many Christian sects have put the Bible on at least an equal plane to God himself to the extent that they idolize the words instead of God. These are tough words for some Christians to swallow and they bring out much belligerence in many. I personally, at least to some degree, agree with the Quakers on this topic. Having said the above I don’t want to leave you with the idea that Quakers don’t revere the messages of the Bible or that they declare them as non-essential. That is definitely not the case. In fact Quakers believe that they must check all personal revelations with the messages of the Bible. If they are not aligned then serious thought must be given to the depth or real meaning of that personal revelation.

The small minority of Christians who have fallen prey to the belief that ALL words of the bible come directly from God and are therefore totally and literally true for all eternity have, in my opinion, done harm to Christianity. I have read that some say Christians were pushed into the total inerrancy corner by secularists debates in the last one hundred years or so. I will probably do a blog post outside of the current series on that issue sometime in the near future. Given the strong scientific evidence that the earth is much more than 5,000 years old Christians who cling to this literal and inerrancy theory, although they don’t mean to, invalidate the true Christian message to many they are supposed to be recruiting.

I recently took an extended road trip out west and saw much of God’s beautiful creations in that part of the country. After viewing thousands of miles of stratified mountains and mesas and to know that they couldn’t possibly be formed in that short period of time do lament my fellow Christians stubborn insisting that the earth is only 5,000 years old. But to do otherwise would obliterate their belief in total inerrancy and total literal truth. The literalist are certainly an all or nothing group; there can be no shades of grey in this group. The laws of nature including such things as gravity and such are very much a part of God’s revelation to us. To say they are untrue is an affront to God in my opinion. Yes, God may be just trying to “trick us with all that stuff” as they say but I just don’t buy that.