Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some thoughts on continuing revelation

It strikes me as interesting that Friends who respond negatively to my Christ-centeredness most often cite the Quaker concern for “ongoing” or “continuing revelation.” While I am certainly not in opposition to the worthwhile perspective that YHWH continues to reveal the divine-self through human beings, institutions, and communities, I would like to point out a separate but related concern that ancient Friends rallied around in the 17th century. It was that those who were responsive to the Inward Light were called to participate in practices that were thought to resemble the beliefs of the earliest Church. Indeed, many Quakers believed that apostasy began as early as the second century or before, as Friends believed those folks began to veer away from the original teachings of the Christ, or, their Inward Teacher. It was a return to the “primitive church” that marked early Friends’ faith and practice far more than their concern for ongoing revelation. Even when defending the worth of women preachers and egalitarian households, Friends turned to Hebrew Testament texts concerning Abraham and Sarah before they made any reference to women in the ministry as a matter more consistent with fresh revelations from God.
I have observed, in limited contact, that many Friends who are opposed to Christ-centered Quakerism tend to suggest that they are not necessarily more in tune with the divine (though they may think so in self-comparison to those superstitious “righteous christers”), but that they understand that previous leadings or revelation has always been tinged with human hubris. We have never really understood the ancient truths to be truths until we were fully liberated by liberal democracy and the (healthy) skepticism that comes with it. Indeed, it is an ancient truth that women are most competent ministers, leaders, and servants of the divine. It is an ancient truth that we should love our enemies as well as our more friendly neighbors. It is an ancient truth that all human beings are equal, and that injustice is an evil that must be overcome. But these Truths are not only evident in some aspects of liberal democracy, but are evidenced in the early church as well. Women in the ministry is a first century CE construct, not a 16th century humanist one, nor is it born of 17th century Quakers, nor of 19th century Americans. Liberation and equality are simply not constructs of modernity. Yet, the idea that democracy has represented the apex of liberation is as much a lie as nonbelievers represent the resurrection to be.
There is veracity in the claim that truth is not only found in the biblical text or Christ-centered faith. I believe that truth is represented in numerous places and in many faiths. But for the most part, if we are to stay comprehensible to one another and maintain any integrity in our ability to claim truths, they must be part of a larger context that anchors our worldview, but particular enough so that we maintain the diversity of faiths that make for a better world. While many of my anarchist friends may deny that we are responsible for the mistakes of our forebearers, the narrative component of particularity insists that we are part of our past, and responsible not only for its maintenance, but for rectifying the evils done in the name of our particular faith and redeeming it as a meaningful contributor to the vast array of particular truths that exist in a pluralistic universe.
It is also my understanding that there are competing truths, and that many claims conflict with one another. I believe that patience will serve the Truth more than blending inconsistent claims so that there are mundane collections of aphorisms and proverbs to fill in the gaps of inconsistencies. I will stick to my story, and listen to yours, and believe that we are both experts in a Truth that will bear up both of us in future generations. I can trust that God will properly arbitrate both history and truth, and does not need the help of synchronists to make everyone happier about who they are and what God they have constructed.


Raye said...

Thanks for this, Friend. I often think of you all since Yearly Meeting. Thee finds a way to clearly write a number of things I have realized, and some I had not yet considered.

- Raye (OYM)

Martin Kelley said...

Yes, thank you very much for this.

I think it sometimes comes down to whether we respect people people who lived before us or just dismiss them as unrefined fools incapable of the higher reasonings of modern humans. The past was not all rosy (far from it!) but the base intelligence and wisdom of previous generations was the same as ours and it's foolish to dismiss it out of hand.

I've noticed that those who believe strongly in continual revelation and the idiocy of previous generations often dive into history to find and trumpet the exceptional modern liberal prototype who stood up to the ignorant rubes. Among Friends, John Woolman often plays this role and it's an odd fit. Woolman was far from a modern liberal and helped engineer the disownment of many Friends in a purification of his yearly meeting. He was also, if I may be frank, sometimes a bit nutty and intolerant. I respect him, but you have to chop off a lot of inconsistencies and inconvenient oddities to make him fit on history's pedestal. The same is true for Margaret Fell, Lucretia Mott, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc., etc. When we turn these figures into cartoon prototypes of ourselves, we erase the human elements of their struggle and end up with the "mundane collections of aphorisms and proverbs" that you speak of.

Micah Bales said...

Thanks for this post, Scot. I appreciate the perspective you bring to understanding what Friends mean by "continuing revelation."

Micah Bales