I have only been able to think of the New Foundation Fellowship as a group of people banded together to help and strengthen one another in the work; and I have only been able to think of the work as proclaiming the everlasting gospel preached by the apostles and George Fox.…The people who are traveling and speaking really need help. Team work is the name of the game. And so, ideally, the NFF is, or ought to be, a fellowship of people doing different kinds of work…all related to one steadying central purpose—to proclaim the everlasting gospel to the inhabitants of the earth and to build on the gospel foundation and to find fellowship in the work….But if New Foundation becomes something that draws attention to itself and invites speculation regarding a variety of possible future purposes and functions, then it will be time to remind ourselves that some very important work was done before the name New Foundation began to be used….There is much work to be done (Benson, A Personal Statement, 5/15/86).
In this paragraph, Lewis Benson identifies the purpose of New Foundation work to be the preaching of the gospel to as many new people as we can reach. Lewis was aware that New Foundation could become a religious organization with numerous purposes and activities, for example, teaching Friends history or theology, printing, publicizing and selling historical writings, or turning inward to endlessly examine and set standards for a proper spiritual stance. He was concerned that traveling to minister the gospel, which he saw as the principle and foremost function of New Foundation, could become a sideline, one of many worthwhile activities. Like Martha, New Foundation could become “careful and troubled about many things” and lose “the one thing needful.” According to Lewis, the one thing needful is to preach the Everlasting Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth; this is the work, whether or not the name New Foundation is associated with it.
Not all of us will be given this particular work to do, but that does not mean any can be excused from acknowledging and committing to this central purpose: to see the gospel preached. Though you may not be traveling to minister yourself, you still have an important role to play. As Lewis points out, this is team work. So, this evening, in addition to describing preparation for ministry, I will also look at preparation for those not called to prophetic ministry, who yet can contribute to the transforming work of the gospel.
Before one prepares to minister, one must first discern whether or not one is called by God to do this particular work. It is not words, concepts, or doctrines that God calls a person to minister. The substance of gospel ministry is the eternal, creative power of the living, personal God. Words arise to lend form to and to purvey the power of God that is received and felt within. In and of themselves, words and concepts cannot conjure this power, nor can they describe it, if the power is not first inwardly felt. This power of God is the source, the beginning point of ministry and is identified by Fox as Christ. “I said if the power of God…spoke in man or woman it was Christ” (Journal, 96), and again, “who feels the power of Christ, feels Christ, for he is the power of God” (Works, 7:175).
The source of ministry is Christ, the power of God. The fruit or end purpose of true ministry is to bring people into liberty and freedom, into unity and fellowship in the Spirit. If, when hearing the gospel preached, people feel the Seed stirring in their hearts and then follow the implications of that quickening movement, their lives are radically transformed. In the following statement, Fox compares the effects of this enlivening ministry arising from the power of God to the effects of lifeless ministry that originates in man’s self-will:
For the ministry of Christ Jesus and his teaching bringeth into liberty and freedom; but the ministry that is of man and by man, and which stands in the will of man, bringeth into bondage, and under the shadow of death and darkness. And therefore none can be a minister of Christ Jesus but in the eternal Spirit, which was before the Scriptures were given forth; for if they have not his spirit, they are none of his. Though they may have his light to condemn them that hate it, yet they can never bring any into unity and fellowship in the Spirit, except they be in it (Journal, 17).
It is important to discern whether or not one is called to minister the gospel, for ministry that is of man and by man does not liberate man. It misleads people, or at the very least causes them to prejudge all ministry as useless or destructive.
Thus, the source of true ministry is the power of God, and the fruit of that ministry is the liberation of the captive human spirit. Between the source and the act stands the minister who loves the Light and cultivates the gift of spiritual discernment by faithfully assuming the daily cross. As the minister loves the Light, he will distinguish words that follow and adhere to the Spirit of God known within from those ideas that are of his own making; he will see the difference between the wheat and the chaff. Comparing words that are inspired with those that are self-willed, the minister begins to sense that speaking from one’s own will is clumsy and seldom accurate. Such words feel continuously disengaged from meaning and detached from authenticity. The minister never feels “whole and at ease in that condition” but in misery. He desires to live but cannot live authentically and so waits lifeless and blank, knowing it is only the giver of life who can make “a fruitful field out of the barren wilderness” of one’s soul.
We all have heard that Christ’s followers are an humble lot, and some would see humility as an aim to which one constantly and diligently aspires. Because the minister has sensed the clumsy inaccuracies of speaking from his own will, he knows humility intimately; he feels a continual absence of life in self-willed speech. Without sensing the standard of truth, the true foundation within, the minister feels confused, empty, and awkward.
The minister does not need to aspire to be humble; it is a constant condition that is obscured only by the flimsiest attempts at social convention, the ways of the world. He knows minute by minute his alienation from God and his naked spiritual state. Jesus’s statement is constantly before him: for without me ye can do nothing (Jn. 15:5b). The minister knows fear, that he can say nothing truly living, fully cogent, or significant in his own power, and consequently feels almost at every moment the discomfort of being in a world that values self-confidence and self-assertion, even at the price of self-delusion.
Ministers hold to the awareness of their own ineptitude, first because it’s true, and second because they have come to know the promise fulfilled in them, that the real life and power does come from God. This daily cross, this mortification, is a necessary preamble to knowing God’s power and glory, just as Christ’s death and entombment preceded his resurrection to power and glory. Ministers die to themselves and wait to be resurrected to life in Christ. They seek God with their whole mind, heart, soul, and strength because they experience life and sustenance solely in Christ. For those who would say, “Come on now, life doesn’t have to be that hard,” the response is as Jesus said to Peter, “you savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Mt.16:23).
…said the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word (Isa. 66:2).
Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said to me, Say not, I am a child: for you shall go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant (Jer. 1:6-10).
Thus, to prepare to receive God’s Word is to love truth to such an extent that one cannot help but see one’s own poverty of spirit. This passage from Jeremiah shows the utter leveling of the minister’s ego; he knows he has nothing to say, that he is a child. Because the minister has discerned and accepted this, he, as an empty vehicle, is prepared to carry the Word of the Lord, for he is one who reveres His words.
The leveling that has already taken place in the minister’s heart must likewise occur outwardly in the world. The minister works to level the nations and the kingdoms, “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down.” Then the building and the planting of the Lord can take place in the world, just as it has already taken place in the leveled ground of the minister’s heart. In chapter 13 of Mark, while the disciples admire the temple, Jesus tells them that all the fine buildings will be thrown down. He elaborates on the disorientation involving even the shaking of celestial powers, all of which precedes the coming of the Son of Man.
Because the minister points out the faulty foundation, because he pulls down and uproots what is meant for destruction, the minister is resented or feared. The minister, in all charity, is obligated to bring to light the carefully crafted delusions by which people are living. The sound of the voice, the Word, causes terror in those who fear for their worldly lives.
This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid (Mt. 17:5b-6).
The people of God are resented by their worldly brothers, as Abel was resented and attacked by envious Cain. Today, ministers aren’t usually hanged, stoned, beaten, or incarcerated, but the violent emotions which provoked such behavior are as virulent today as they ever were, and the minister must remember the cause behind the emotional abuse he will endure. Because he disrupts comfortable delusions, he will be accused of being uncaring or negative. Because he claims that there is such a thing as Truth and that human beings can know and speak from it, he will be called arrogant or elite. Should his or any family member’s real or imagined behavior not stand up to social scrutiny, he will be discredited within the social group. Whatever has the potential for neutralizing the effect of the minister’s work will be used against him, because the minister strikes at the constructions which keep people from feeling their real poverty and nakedness, feeling their real need for God.
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13).
It is the unwelcome work of the minister to see and say when life – symbolized by water in this passage – is poured away and wasted in that which is man-made and faulty, the hewn and cracked cisterns.
In the book of Revelation, an angel gives the evangelist a little book and tells him to eat it up; it will make his belly bitter, but it shall be in his mouth sweet as honey. After John has done as the angel commanded and found it to be just as he predicted – sweet as honey in his mouth and in his belly bitter – the angel then says to him: Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings (Rev. 10:9-11). One can expect unpleasant responses to one’s ministry; one can expect a bitter belly after the sweetness of ministering. And one must prophesy before many people, just as the angel in Revelation says, just as Lewis points out in the paragraph quoted at the beginning of this essay.
Benson defined the New Foundation Fellowship as “a fellowship of people doing different kinds of work that is all related to one steadying central purpose – to proclaim the everlasting gospel to the inhabitants of the earth and to build on the gospel foundation and to find fellowship in the work.” The work of the minister is to proclaim the gospel that people may experience the new and living way. Those with elders’ gifts can then build upon the gospel foundation by nurturing and encouraging the community in faith. Clerks, teachers, and administrators, the leaders of the community, are in a pivotal position between the minister and the community. Without the assistance of these leaders, the gospel proclamation will not move through and leaven the social group. Too often people gifted with leadership ability are more devoted to self-serving ends than to the gospel. Jesus’s harshest criticism is for these chiefs, leaders, and managers of the vineyard:
A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winevat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be our’s. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. And have you not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? (Mk. 12:1-12)
When the managers choose to work against the messengers, God puts the managers to death and gives the vineyard to others. When the elders choose to work against the ministers, the elders are already spiritually dead, and should they persist in idolizing power, they will remain so.
Though it is often the case, ministers and elders are not always at loggerheads. When a love for and commitment to the gospel is present in both elder and minister, they experience gospel fellowship, the third and final element mentioned by Lewis in describing what New Foundation ought to be. Gospel fellowship is not the same as a confluence of personal agendas. It is instead the love Jesus first received from the Father and then commanded his disciples to know and to have for one another. We, too, must first receive this same love from God. When this authentic love is received and manifested among disciples of Christ, it does appeal powerfully to people and draws them toward the Kingdom.
Preaching the gospel, supporting the work of the minister, building upon the gospel foundation, all these different kinds of work first require an inclination of the heart and mind to love the truth. Opening to the truth, we are freed from self-serving delusions and prepared to receive the fulfillment of the promise, the Light of Christ. Only when Christ, the power of God, is received, can the gospel be ministered. Then can the elder nurture the minister and the community; then is gospel fellowship present and apparent among us. However, if the Light is hated and spurned because we’d rather not see the evil we do for the sake of worldly advantage, if we choose to remain in deceit which is contrary to the Light, there can be no real fellowship, no gospel order within our community, and the minister will depart to work elsewhere. Loving the truth is the preparation needed for each and everyone among us.
This appears to be a presentation you made. If I am right, can you tell us the occasion?
I particularly liked the conjunction of Isaiah 66 and the early part of Jeremiah. I was also thinking about Isaiah’s own experience of hearing God ask “whom shall we send, who will go for us.” Isaiah’s answer is “behold I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” God’s response is to take coals of fire to touch Isiah’s lips, which I see as equivalent to God putting his words into Jeremiah’s mouth. Preparation for ministry requires a willingness on our part, “Here am I. Send me.” But, as you point out, there can be no true ministry without God’s part: burning away the old, unclean lips; filling our mouths with his word; and being sent forth. Jesus’ instructions were: “Pray that the Lord of the harvest send forth laborers.” This sending forth always includes periods of preparation for the work we are given to do.
Thanks for your comment, Ellis. Both quotes that you referred to manifest an intense self-awareness in each prophet that is entailed in loving/needing truth, the awareness of personal insufficiency. Resisting the truth keeps us from this harrowing realization but also prevents growing in understanding; loving the truth allows it to prosper among us. This talk was first given at Kenbrook, near Lebanon, Pennsylvania, at an NFF gathering in the late ’90s.