The New Lamb’s War—The Language and Worldview of Quaker Prophetic Witness

June 21, 2014 § 10 Comments

The words we Friends use to describe our prophetic witness ministry—testimony and witness—are judicial terms. They come from a time when Friends believed the world to be under God’s judgment, when we believed ourselves to be witnesses for the prosecution, testifying with our words to the character of God’s judgment, presenting our testimony as  God’s righteous indictment of a world fallen out of the Life, and testifying with our lives to the way God wanted humans to walk over the world toward its restoration in Christ.

In this prophetic worldview, Friends saw themselves as answering a call from the same divine Spirit that had inspired the prophets of Scripture. Their answer to that call was the same as Isaiah’s: Here am I, Lord. Send me; send me! And the message was much the same, as well. The word of the Lord in the mouth of the prophet is one of chastisement. It warns of judgment. It predicts downfall. It calls for repentance. It promises salvation from judgment upon repentance.

However, early Quaker prophecy was much clearer about what was wrong with the world and why the judgment would fall than about what the sentence would look like and when it would come. The certainty lay in the prophets’ hearts; the details were in the hands of God.

Today, Liberal Friends do not generally share this worldview. Our God—when we have one—is not primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge. We are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering, both utter and eternal. We’re not even sure about the character of the soul, but we are not inclined to define it as the identity we bear before the judgment throne.

And the world mirrors our own lack of belief. Most of the sinful world does not take this God or his threats seriously, either. The Exxon executives who loudly proclaimed at first that they would not rest until the Valdez spill had been completely remediated and then quietly changed their minds later do not fear Jehovah or hellfire for their sins of ecocide. Who is this God? Where is he? He simply is not present in any meaningful way, which puts the doubt to any claim for either his omnipresence or his omnipotence. And his hellfire? Can it compare with their Bhopal or Chernobyl or Nagasaki? Invoking this God’s judgment would not even have turned aside George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who actually believe in him. The traditional prophetic voice and worldview that early Friends shared with their world has no standing anymore.

We Liberal Quakers have an altogether different approach to the threat implied in prophetic witness and we need a new rationale for why that threat matters. 

Many Liberal Friends are inclined to think like Hindus or Buddhists in this regard, to see the consequences of evil action in terms of the law of karma: you will reap what you sow.

This law is not the writ of a sentient and purposeful, let alone a jealous, divine being, but an aspect of creation, an inherent law of nature, more like gravity or even more aptly, like Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you seek power, it will corrupt you. If you spew hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, you will drown your own cities. If you repress your people, you will face social unrest.

But in effect, the threat of natural consequences is no more effective than that of final judgment at the Endtime or of hell awaiting the sinner in the afterlife. We just are not hard-wired to act upon distant or deferred threats. We are hard-wired to act upon immediate danger. Clamoring about all the horrible things that will happen if greenhouse gases surpass the threshold of 400 parts per million (we’ve already surpassed the original threshold of 350 ppm) just doesn’t shake the soul of very many people and certainly not of our political and corporate elites. 

To be meaningful and effective today, Quaker witness must present a real and present danger to the evildoers of the world. Yet the threat must represent a Third Way—not the violence of the oppressor or the violence of the resister, but the emergence of the Truth, meaning a presentation of a truth that is not merely inconvenient but that makes you squirm under its Light, a truth that burns away the shadows, the lies and denials, the fears and the greed that are driving us toward eco-Armaggedon .

We have some models for the Third Way. The first was taught by Jesus the insurrectionist; a second is the Lamb’s War of early Friends. In the next post, I want to explore the Third Way of Jesus. In subsequent posts, the Lamb’s War.

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§ 10 Responses to The New Lamb’s War—The Language and Worldview of Quaker Prophetic Witness

  • Paul Klinkman says:

    We have more than one Lamb’s War.

    1. God said to Noah, save every animal from mass extinction, equally with saving your own children from extinction. This decade, many of the world’s amphibians are going extinct, and we know that’s just the beginning. Does Noah’s story speak to you?

    2. The prophet Ezra saw how the indebted Hebrews were getting the screws tightened by the wealthy Hebrews, even as they were rebuilding Jerusalem’s city walls. Ezra went to the wealthy Hebrews in anger. The wealthy Hebrews could end up with only the ashes of their money, if that’s the way they wanted to play it. In the same vein, perhaps we need to be more forthcoming about who, specifically is going to be allowed to fight the Lamb’s War. In any case, we need to recognize where the cult of maximizing personal profits and Christianity intersect, but they certainly aren’t the same religion. You can’t follow both God and mammon (money), says the Book.

  • pilgrim52 says:

    Reblogged this on Take What You Need and commented:
    Highly recommended treatise on Quaker ministry and the prophetic voice! I’ve read part II, The Lamb’s War, as well and it is also excellent. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Philip says:

    Perhaps it is useful to look at this problem of “supernatural” or “divine” judgement in the context of two worlds – the world of evolution and the world of creation.

    Evolution has built the world we know. It is a world of succes and strength, where beauty is derived through creative destruction, a world where actions have consequences (karma?), a world where the natural order is one where judgement secures survival and the restoration of balance in the world.

    Creation is the wold of the divine, the world that Christ describes for us, the world in which if any person is in Christ, they are a new creature, a world where the old order of evolution is able to set aside and a unique familial relationship is provided between the divine and the created, a world where actions and consequences are not the central consideration, a world where each and all (not just the strongest) matter.

    For me, I see no divine judgement within the description of the new creation, only the access to the eternal universal love shown in Jesus’s actions and in the words and actions of those convinced (and re-created) persons who came after. Judgement only appears in contrast to this universal love.

    If we focus our attention on the world of evolution, we miss the whole point of the christian message. Yes, the world of evolution appears to require judgement. That is its method of rebalancing. Yes, the world of evolution appears broken. That is the beginnings of the cycle of creative destruction. All of this is the way of the evolving world.

    Our message could be different. We can offer the message of hope. We can take the notion of faith – the evidence of things unseen – and build it into a new view of how we can live. The message can be one of how universal love can create a peacable kingdom, a message that stands against the question of judgement.

    Yes, we can be indignant, but surely we are not called to be the agents of, or even the foretellers of, judgement, are we? Can we, instead, imagine that it is possible to supersede the world of evolution. Is love actually stronger? That is a question of faith, I think.

    For me, I have hope, and will build on what little faith I have. The mustard seed which has mistakenly entered into my life will overwhelm my well prepared intellectual structures, tear down my earthly garden of success, and grow from that obnoxious weed that makes my evolved world uncomfortable into a huge tree that completely overwhelms that evolved world with its own truth of divine grace.

    Hmm, this went longer than I thought. Sorry about that…

  • Kathleen K-G says:

    Let me see if I follow. You say that today, liberal Friends are more likely to identify with the ideas of Buddhists and Hindus than with early Friends? And that early Friends were more bible-minded than liberal Friends today are. So are you suggesting that liberal Friends are not likely to be aligned with Christian thought?

    Modern Christian thought is more aligned with what you described as liberal Friends’ ideals than they are with early Friends’ writings. There is a very vocal subset of Christians who are more focused on the afterlife than living lives aligned with God’s will, but that doesn’t mean that they define modern Christianity any more than other fringe groups define their entire religious tradition. It’s common, and I think hurtful to understanding each other in the world, to reduce Christianity to one subtype.

    • I remain grateful to both Steven and Kathleen for what I’m reading here:

      1. I think Steven is on to something real. Much modern Christian thought is very close to modern Liberal Quaker thought, and many Liberal Quakers may not read widely enough, or converse in wide enough circles about spiritual matters, to realize it.

      2. “There is a very vocal subset of Christians who are more focused on the afterlife than living lives aligned with God’s will,” as Kathleen says, and here let me put in a plug for Michael Hardin’s extraordinarily good book, _The Jesus Driven Life_ (JDL Press, 2nd ed., 2013), in which the author describes “Constantinian Christianity,” or “theology that has capitulated to Empire,” as giving rise to five different kinds of spiritual pathology, including docetism, of which he writes “it is but a short step to believing our earthly life doesn’t matter much and that it is all about getting to heaven” (pp. 128-129). But selfish Christianity is not Christianity. (That’s me talking again, not Michael Hardin, though Michael might agree with me on that one.) It is important to recognize that a lot of what passes for Christianity is pathological, the Franken-Christianity result of trying to hybridize the pure and liberating gospel of Jesus with something satanic and incompatible, like “love-your-enemy-while-bayonetting-your-enemy.”

      3. Steve writes that there was “a time when Friends believed the world to be under God’s judgment, when we believed ourselves to be witnesses for the prosecution, testifying with our words to the character of God’s judgment, presenting our testimony as God’s righteous indictment of a world fallen out of the Life.” I, John, am a Friend who still believes that, and I have been called as a witness for the prosecution, or as the Qur’an puts it, a “plain warner.” But God is not punishing, wrathful, or vengeful. It is we who have done this to ourselves! God is calling the prodigal son home from the putrid hog-trough, the lost sheep back from the impassable cliff, not because God ever willed them to suffer, but because “this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light,” John 3:19. It’s we self-condemned ones who have crowded into the darkness ourselves, trampling others and forcing them into the self-created darkness with us. God calls to us, “On the day that ye eat of that fruit ye shall surely die,” but we eat it anyway, plunging ourselves into a world of death and fear, keeping ourselves in bondage to it, and God continues to call, “Repent, turn ye, for why will ye die, O Israel?” — our only Savior and Comforter, and yet we treat God as our enemy!

      The paradox is that God created us in His/Her own image, which means that we have free will, as God has, and the power to create. What glories might we create if we all were only ready to use that power in the service of love!

  • Rhonda says:

    How did I know this was going to be an apostate blogger? You have no grasp of the truth, yet your self-righteous indignation with Christians is the arrogance that infects all leftists (you say liberal but you’re not in the true sense of the word). Needless to say, this was a toe in the water which I quickly remove. Your ignorance and arrogance is chilling.

    You and your ilk are why I have nothing to do with contemporary Quakers. You have besmirched a name and a people. I am a convinced Quaker; convinced by George Fox. I am a child of God through my Lord, Jesus Christ. You on the other hand are the child of the prince of this world, also known as the great deceiver.

  • I also look forward to your further posts. You’ve accurately described what is at least a major thread of the liberal Quakerism I know.

    I particularly resonated with your references to Truth-with-a-capital-T and Light-with-a-capital-L – a.k.a. Jesus the Christ.

    Your reference to eco-Armageddon, however, was a speed bump for me, or perhaps a pothole.

    I look forward to your further posts. Thanks so much!

    Grace and peace and love and joy to you and yours —

  • […] New Lamb’s War – the Language and Worldview of Quaker Prophetic Witness” (…). I think that Steve is my uncontestedly favorite blogger, now that Paul Hamell […]

  • I eagerly await your presentation of the Lamb’s War, Steve. I’d like to think that while the Liberal Friends’ lambs are making their cavalry charge against the Man of Sin (whom Nayler named as the enemy in this war; we’ll return to the question of who and what he is, but the impatient may want to look ahead to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, noting that the Greek _anthrōpos tēs anomias_ could also be translated “Person of Lawlessness”), Conservative and Evangelical Friends’ lambs will be sending their infantry divisions in on the right and left flanks, trapping the Man of Sin in a valley of no escape and forcing his unconditional surrender to an engulfing sea of bleating lambs. What better cause to bring these natural allies together for! We’ll also be doing the Man of Sin a favor, too.

    What a sad reflection on the condition of Liberal Friends, though! “Today, Liberal Friends do not generally share this worldview [of early Friends]. Our God—when we have one—is not primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge. We are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering.” Your God, when you have one? —You mean you’re not a people of God any more? Some of you are sheep with a shepherd and some of you have no shepherd? How will you fight a Lamb’s War without your General?

    I’d argue that the Christian God was never “primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge,” anyway, but a Lover and a Forgiver, a Savior and a Cherisher, who always wished all His darlings, or Her darlings, to be saved, awakened from their terrible dream of fallenness, and reunited with their Divine Source in an eternity of perfect bliss. (For “darlings” read “all souls,” or “all sentient beings.”) This is the God whom Jesus likened to the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15) and then modeled by forgiving His own murderers from the cross (Luke 23:34), having made plain to his followers (John 14:9) that whoever sees and knows Him, Jesus, also knows the character of God. This is also the character of God that was revealed to Paul, who, in a marvelous tour de force of rhetorical irony (Romans 1:20-2:4), ends his thundering denunciation of us sinners and our “abominable” sins with “but it’s God’s kindness and forbearance and patience that leads us to repentance.” Not God’s wrath or God’s scariness, but God’s heart-melting tenderness.

    You note that Liberal Friends “are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering.” All the worse! Because then that means that the destruction and suffering we experience daily are meaningless! If you explain them as the workings of karma (a concept that pervades Christian scripture, though the term itself is a Hindu-Buddhist import) but divorce the law of karma from a lawgiving God who ordained it, you’re saying that God had nothing to do with it. What is God, anyway, just an observer? (God does come across as an indifferent observer in the Yoga Sutras, a righteous avenger in the Bhagavad-Gita, and a nonentity in the Buddhist literature, so LIberal Friends who look to the East for their theology can make God be whatever they want God to be.)

    There is an explanation of the suffering we experience that is consistent with the Christian teaching that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 4:16), and that is that we chose to experience a world of suffering and death when we chose to have a will that diverged from God’s. This happens to be the central thesis of _A Course in Miracles_, for those Liberal Friends that follow that text, but it can also be found in John 3:19-20 and, in mythic form, in Genesis 3.

    But with repentance, rightly understood, all that changes: suffering, death, the hapless victimhood of innocent creatures about to be cooked to death by the heedless, godless captains of a runaway industrial civilization. Repentance is the inevitable consequence of discovering that the Man of Sin, the Person of Lawlessness, is _me_, for from that discovery there is no other meaningful escape. The question before Liberal Friends is, Will you repent? And the test of whether Liberal Friends’ theology is viable or not is, Does it invite repentance?

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