Man is the land where. . . two kings fight; and whatever is good and holy belongs to the one king, and whatever is evil and unclean belongs to the other; and there is no communion or peace between them. . . . And where the fight is once begun between these, there is no quietness in that land, till one of these be dispossessed: but then there is either the peace of Babylon, most commonly under a form of holiness; or the peace of Sion, in the spirit, life, and power. – Penington, Works, 1:141
A few years ago, I was regularly attending worship at a meeting in Philadelphia. For some years, I went to this particular meeting because it was the only one I knew that still had several members with old Quaker surnames, and thus, there was still in evidence something approximating old Quaker theology.
As is typical in meetings, week after week Friends would settle into worship, each on a particular bench that had unobtrusively gained acceptance by all as that person’s domain, their perch year after year, and for a family, generation after generation. I – having been a Quaker for but a few decades – shared a bench with a longtime Friend (or he shared his bench with me) for a couple of years, during which time he informed me that this bench had been his family’s for more than a century.
This Friend was a neuroscientist, and though he had the old Quaker surname (and the bench), he did not have the old Quaker understanding. He was a positivist; and one of the ways he showed his stripes was by evaluating all ministry given during the hour using the sole criterion of time: the ministry was either the right length or it was too long. At the close of each meeting, he would – according to this standard – offer me his evaluation of the ministry (the ministry of others or of myself, if I’d ministered). Seeing his constancy in this practice, I gently expressed my amusement and let him know that there could be other standards to consider when evaluating vocal ministry.
There were, however, other discrepancies in understanding between him and me. In the occasional post-meeting discussion on some spiritual topic, we each would find the other’s perspective in need of further consideration . . . further consideration by the other. Following a number of disagreements over the months, I began to sense there could be no common spiritual ground between a positivist and a Christian. This slow-footed clarity arrived one Sunday morning following a particularly rigorous discussion after meeting for worship.
The exchange culminated while we stood near an open door of the by then empty meetinghouse. Over six-feet tall, the man towered above. Lowering and wagging his finger inches from my nose, he yelled, “There is no God! You have to stop believing that!”
More problematic than the man’s stated atheism was his shouted command: “You have to stop believing that!”
Some might claim that George Fox and other early Friends—perhaps this fellow’s ancestors—could be equally vehement when speaking for their belief, but that would miss the point. It was this man’s manner of persuasion that was foreign to and had no place in early Friends’ practice. Convincement occurred when Friends preached the gospel. “That which may be known of God” (Rom. 1:19) was evoked, and often their hearers were inwardly transformed. A new sense of life, of dignity, power, and responsibility was known when the “life [that] was the light of men” appeared within. The soul at last knew its worth; the person was edified: he or she had become inwardly established.
In contrast, this positivist’s hope rested upon closing down another’s inward life: closing down the high human capacity for discernment and discovery, thus reducing a human being to something less than a person. His sole “convincing” power was a fiat delivered with a tone and gesture of violence, a tactic of depersonalization.
Unbeknownst to him or to me that morning, we each embodied a force that in relation to the other, as Penington wrote, had “no communion or peace between them”; these forces contend (like the two kings referred to in the epigraph) for the soul of humanity: to edify or to destroy. Though this Sunday morning incident involved only two people in an empty meetinghouse, it was, nevertheless, the Lamb’s War: a skirmish in which the powers clashed, powers which when pitted against one another on a grander scale determine history.
In the following lengthy excerpt from his lecture series Christianity and Civilization (1946-48), Emil Brunner, a Reformed theologian of the mid-twentieth century, summarizes the slow devolution of a civilization that is based upon the Judeo-Christian understanding that man is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). The transformation of the civilization was slow, beginning during the Enlightenment and taking several centuries, during which, some Christian doctrine and values were retained, though not their ground. In time, even these vestiges of faith were lost, and with them, confidence in human dignity, an intrinsic part of the Christian worldview. Brunner attributes the rise of corrupt, destructive political systems to a growing unbelief and the slow erosion of faith’s influence that inevitably followed.
Being Swiss, Brunner saw close-hand the outcome of centuries of anti-spiritual forces at work, as countries encircling his own fell into totalitarianism in the 1930s. Those bastard political systems – Fascism and National Socialism – were born and bore the marks of their spiritual progenitor, whose countenance was eventually recognized and named: nihilism. Here Brunner gives a short history of the long travel from faith to fascism: [italics mine]
The mere fact that more than half a century ago a man [Jakob Burckhardt] thoroughly awake to the character of his time was able to foresee the catastrophe we have experienced indicates that the eruption of inhumanity, lawlessness, and depersonalization, which we have experienced during recent decades must have had its deep historical roots. True this eruption of anti-spiritual and anti-cultural forces as they appeared first in the Bolshevist, then in the Fascist, and finally in the National-Socialist revolution came to the rest of the Western world as a complete surprise and left it in utter bewilderment. Still looking back on these events, this feeling of complete surprise and horror is not altogether justified in view of the fact that the spiritual evolution during the last centuries was a slow and invisible but none the less indubitable preparation for this outbreak. If we ask, as certainly many during these years have asked, how all this inhumanity, this lawlessness, this collectivist depersonalization was possible, the answer cannot I think be in doubt. The last three centuries seen from the spiritual point of view represent a history in which step by step the central and fundamental idea of the whole Western civilization, the idea of the dignity of man, was undermined and weakened.
For more than a thousand years, Western culture had been based on the Christian idea that man is created in the image of God. This central biblical idea included both the eternal spiritual destiny of every individual and the destiny of mankind to form a free communion. With the Enlightenment, this idea on which the whole structure of Western life was rested began to be doubted.
At first, the alternative to the Christian idea was still a religious although no longer distinctly Christian theism. Then further from the Christian foundation, there came a transcendentalism or idealism, which still remained metaphysical although no longer explicitly theistic. In the middle of the last century this idealistic humanism was replaced by a positivist philosophy of freedom and civilization, which acknowledged no metaphysical but merely natural presuppositions. It is not surprising that this positivism, in its turn more and more, lost its humanistic contents and turned into a naturalistic philosophy for which man was no more than a highly developed animal, the cerebral animal, and this was a conception of man within which such things as the dignity of man, the rights of man, and personality no longer had any foundation.
Benjamin Constant, that noble Christian philosopher of freedom of the early nineteenth century, has comprehended the essence of this whole process of modern history in three words: “De la divinité par l’humanité à la bestialité” [from Divinity by humanity to bestiality]. The totalitarian revolutions with their practice of inhumanity, lawlessness, and depersonalizing collectivism were nothing but the executors of this so-called positivist philosophy, which as a matter of fact was a latent nihilism and which, towards the end of the last and the beginning of this century, had become the ruling philosophy of our universities and the dominating factor within the worldview of the educated and the leading strata of society. The postulatory atheism of Karl Marx and the passionate antitheism of Friedrich Nietzsche can be considered as an immediate spiritual presupposition of the totalitarian revolution in Bolshevism on the one hand and National-Socialism or Fascism on the other. That is to say, the prevalent philosophy of the Occident had become more or less nihilistic. No wonder that from this seed that harvest sprang up which our generation reaped with blood and tears, to use once more Mr. Churchill’s words.
In Brunner’s summary, which ties forms of political order to the Zeitgeist, or the spiritual condition of the age, we note that our own nation was begun at a propitious time. Our founders were eighteenth-century people of the Enlightenment, proponents of reason, who enjoyed the benefits that had accrued from a Christian civilization with its doctrine of man being made in God’s image, and therefore deserving of dignity. This worldview had so long prevailed that the idea of man’s inalienable rights could be “truths [held] to be self-evident,” and as such, individual rights were engrafted into our Constitution, and the rule of law upheld in recognizing that document’s authority.
Without the undergirding Christian worldview, civil rights are not self-evident. With the loss of Christianity and the Enlightenment’s residual cultural assumptions, our social order is threatened. Its continuity rests upon links thin and attenuated, ready to snap. Precedence, tradition, law, and the moral character of our government officials and citizenry are what now stand between us and brutal tyranny that commonly overtakes societies.
These past three years, our attention has been held by the drama of corruption, scandal, and deceit played out by the federal government’s chief executive, and now we hear tyranny growling in the wings awaiting his cue to pounce onto center stage. May the House managers succeed in ridding us of this bad actor who has undertaken an unprecedented assault upon our Constitution, our nation’s long-adhered to script of civic rights and order. We take heart in legislators’ determination to present evidence and argue soundly against the travesty of Trump remaining in office.
From New York representative Jerrold Nadler comes this January 24 statement before the Senate:
President Trump is an outlier. He is the first and only President ever to declare himself unaccountable and to ignore subpoenas backed by the Constitution’s impeachment power. If he is not removed from office, if he is permitted to defy the Congress entirely, categorically, to say subpoenas from Congress in the impeachment inquiry are nonsense, then we will have lost (the House will have lost, and certainly the Senate will have lost) all power to hold any President accountable. This is a determination by President Trump that he wants to be all powerful; he does not have to respect the Congress; he does not have to respect the representatives of the people; only his will goes. He is a dictator. This must not stand. And this is another reason he must be removed from office.
Thank you for this timely piece – for its dazzling white-honey clarity, its intellectual sophistication, and above all the dignity of soul from which it emanates.
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Patricia, I find myself wondering what I would have done had that angry neuroscientist shouted at me that I must stop believing in God.
I think I would have asked him, “Why?”
Thanks for your comment, Carol. As I recall, after issuing his directive, the neuroscientist immediately turned away. I quickly responded, “I disagree,” then walked through the open door into the daylight.
Yes, Patricia, the Lamb’s War *is* ubiquitous — thank you for saying it plainly! James Nayler pointed this out in his 1657 classic, “The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin” (online at http://www.qhpress.org/texts/nayler/lambswar.html). I’d encourage your readers to read the original, which is not long, but I’ll venture a bare-bones paraphrase: (a) The Lamb’s War is waged against the “god of this world” (a term coined by Paul in 2 Cor 4:4 for the deceitful spirit that persuades men and women to put trust in the untrustworthy and value on the valueless, to justify evil means by invoking the supposedly “good” ends they serve, to act on fear rather than love, and (what is the same thing) to live by bullying and knuckling under to bullies rather than by following the voice of conscience, through which God speaks to everyone), or in other words the “man of sin” (another Pauline term, from 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, for the impostor anti-god who obstructs obedience to the true God by demanding obedience to him- or rather it-self). (b) The Lamb’s War is a nonviolent struggle that harms no creature, a campaign of entreaty, waged by Christ “with the sword of his mouth” (non-Christian readers may substitute any name they like that conveys the power, wisdom, righteousness, and divine authority of the Being Christians call Christ, such as “the angel of G_d/ of Allah,” “the Good Spirit,” “the Spirit of Love,” etc.), to (in Nayler’s words) “plead with his subjects concerning their revolt from him their creator . . . and giving up their obedience to the worldly spirit . . . till they become so far one with it as that it hath not only defiled their souls and bodies, blinded their eyes, stopped their ears, and so made the creature utterly unprofitable to God and unfit for a temple for him to be worshipped in.” But Christ can, does, and will give sufficient Light to the spiritually defiled to cut through their blindness and show them their true condition, so that they may make a free choice whether or not to persist in it. (c) Note that Christ *leads* this campaign, and we followers merely follow: mere human cleverness and good will *without divine guidance* will not be enough! (d) Note that the enslaved zombies of the “god of this world”/”man of sin” often call themselves Christians and believe themselves to be Christians! But, as Nayler writes, “Do you walk as he walked, or hath he left you such example to follow? Search the Scriptures, and read the life of them, and your own lives, _with the light of Christ Jesus,_ and cease to blaspheme any longer, in saying you are Christians, while in Christ you are not, but in a contrary spirit, and contrary life. And your fellowship is not with him in suffering, but with them by whom he suffers.” If you love your comforts more than you love to be of Christ’s party — search your own heart about this — you are not yet of Christ’s party. (e) Every true follower of Christ is called to take part in this war: there are no neutrals. (f) “Perilous times are come; now is the earth and the air corrupted and filled with violence and deceit.” It is not just Hitler, Stalin, and Big Brother who rule by violence and deceit in our times, but shared cultural ideals like maximizing profit and economic growth, the pursuit of national security through empowering an armed civil state to seek “total information awareness” while also trafficking in “disinformation,” and the treatment of the earth and her creatures as lifeless commodities rather than as parts of the body of God. But these collective insanities could not flourish without being rooted in the individual insanities of billions of sinners. The Lamb’s War both calls us sinners to repentance and shows us how to do it. Experience has taught me that our part is only to say “yes,” and the Lamb can be counted on to do the rest.
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I’m grateful for this response, John. You’ve brought the focus of the topic to the initial battle of the Lamb’s War that must be fought and won within. . . and the ground held. It is the conscience that is the sentinel, and its watch only as competent as the commanding will requires. May our intent and eye be steady.
So I have just this evening and began to read Nayler’s Lamb’s War (likely bad timing, I am tired from the day). This will no doubt take multiple readings and study (during a brighter time of the day and supplemented by coffee).
My first impression is that James Nayler has embraced a model of redemption/reconciliation with God that is currently being referred to as Christus Victor (following the work by Gustaf Aulén) but classically referred to as the “Ransom Theory”.
I was wondering if any Friends were aware of the ransom theory as applied to Friends or any other studies of models of salvation among early Friends.
Friends consider redemption occurs in two parts: “The first is . . . accomplished by Christ _for us_in his crucified body without us. The other is the redemption wrought by Christ _in us_. . . [t]he first is that whereby man, as he stands in the fall, _is put into the capacity of salvation_[italics mine here], and hath conveyed unto him a measure of the power [etc.]. . . that was in Christ Jesus . . . [t]he second is that whereby we witness and know this pure and perfect redemption _in_ourselves, purifying [etc.] . . . and bringing us into unity. . . with God” (Apology, 173-4).
A couple of paragraphs later in this seventh proposition on Justification, Barclay speaks of what is “purchase[d]” by Christ’s death: “to wit, the Light, Spirit, and Grace of Christ revealed to us.” Fox in his 27th epistle likewise uses the same idea of Christ’s death purchasing hope of pardon for us when he writes: “the prisoners have hope of their pardon, the debt being paid, and they freely purchased by Christ’s blood. . . the prisoners begin to sing in hope of their eternal freedom” (Works, VII:35). Note that the prisoners only “begin to sing in hope,” which implies there is more to come after Christ’s death, that is to say, the inwardly realized justification.
So with both Fox and Barclay the idea is one of Christ’s death obtaining or “purchasing” a benefit for man while not accomplishing the inward realization of justification, which for Quakers must occur: “it is by this inward birth of Christ in man that man is made just, and therefore so accounted by God, wherefore to be plain, we are thereby, and not till that be brought forth _in us formally_,. . . justified in the sight of God” (177).
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Thank you. This sounds very much like Christus Victor: in the cross Christ gains victory over sin and death (powers & principalities) and so frees us from bondage to sin and death. Contrasted with the Calvinist notion of substitution atonement where we are saved form the penalties for sin and death.
Is the only choice Christianity or positivism? Are there other religions and believers “not of this fold” that fight the Lamb’s War? Your blog post was very thought-provoking and helpful; thank you for writing it.
Thank you for your comment and good questions. The verse that came to me as I thought about the first question (Is the only choice Christianity or positivism?) was John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” First, note that choosing one of these two isn’t the way one becomes either a Christian (in the Quaker sense) or a positivist. How one becomes one or the other, I think is the result of whether or not one responds to those inward promptings of our Father, the God of Truth. Responding to the truth, or Light in the conscience, leads one along the path toward Christ, who when known raises us up to new life; it is then that we become a Christian in the Quaker sense. On the other hand, not responding to inward promptings deadens the discerning powers needed for that work, and ultimately one is unable to see or hear anything within, a condition of spiritual death where all one’s attention is focused outward toward the world, leading one to conclude there is nothing more than our natural powers to discern, such as the senses, and one becomes a positivist. Along the way toward either of these ends are many opportunities to set up camp and stay forever. One such opportunity I mentioned in this piece: the post-Enlightenment person who has rejected the doctrines of Christianity and is satisfied with holding the principles and values; such are modern Liberal Quakers, neither Christians nor positivists (at least most of them).
Your second question (Are there other religions and believers “not of this fold” that fight the Lamb’s War?) is best answered, I think, by quoting a page from Penington that is in a Q&A form. The upshot of the passage is one shouldn’t become distracted by the words/concepts but instead feelingly come by the substance signified by the word/concept.
Q. But hath not this Saviour a name? What is his name?
A. It were better for thee to learn his name by feeling his virtue and power in thy heart, than by rote. Yet, if thou canst receive it, this is his name, the light; the Light of the World. . . .
Q. Why dost thou call him the light? Are there not other names every whit as proper, whereby he may as well be known?
A. Do not thus set up the wise and stumbling part in thee; but mind the thing which first puts forth its virtue as light, and so is thus first to be known, owned, and received. Yet more particularly, if thou hast wherewith, consider this reason: we call him light, because the Father of lights hath peculiarly chosen this name for him, to make him known to his people in this age by, and hath thus made him manifest to us. And by thus receiving him under this name, we come to know his other names. He is the life, the righteousness, the power, the wisdom, the peace, &c., but he is all these in the light, and in the light we learn and receive them all; and they are none of them to be known in spirit, but in and by the light.
Q. How are the other names of Christ known in and by the light?
A. Letting in the light (which convinceth of, and warreth against, sin) the life stirs and is felt; and the life leads to the Word which was in the beginning, and giveth the feeling of that also. And in the Word, the righteousness, the peace, the wisdom, the power, the love are felt; and he is made all these to those who are led into and kept in the light. And when the powers of darkness appear with mighty dread, and there is no strength to withstand them, this lifts up a standard against them, and calms all the tempests, and cures all the wounds and diseases of the soul, anointing it with the everlasting oil; so that now I can sensibly, and with clear understanding, call it my Saviour, the Captain of my salvation, my Christ, or Anointed, my Husband, my King, my Lord, my God. (Works, 1:123-4)