“We want to clarify for everybody that this is not a homosexuality issue for us, this is an authority of scripture/interpretation of scripture/orthodoxy issue for us.” That’s what Anthem Friends Church said last week as they withdrew from Northwest Yearly Meeting.

Their exit helps clarify, for me, the stakes involved in how we read and regard the Bible.

The church letter added, “We have come to find over the years that Anthem Friends (formerly Hayden Lake Friends Church) see things very differently than the NWYM.” How so? What’s the authority of scripture issue that leads Anthem Friends to say they “see things differently?”

In their statement of faith (is this a creed?) Anthem Friends (a large church in Hayden, Idaho, with a second location in Coeur d’Alene) says “We believe the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments are completely without error and are the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life.”

This is Northwest Yearly Meeting from which they withdrew: not an FGC Yearly Meeting, and not an FUM Yearly Meeting, but rather a yearly meeting that is part of Evangelical Friends Church International, which includes five Yearly Meetings in North America (Alaska YM, Eastern Region YM, Mid-America YM, Rocky Mountain YM, and Southwest YM), and many more around the world (140,000 members in 24 countries, says EFCI’s website).

Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church (NWYM) has a banner on its website saying “it is a covenantal community of evangelical Friends churches that make Jesus Christ known by teaching and obeying the whole gospel as revealed by the Holy Spirit and recorded in Scripture.” Apparently that was not good enough for Anthem Friends.

Not good enough as assertion or not good enough in practice? I only know what Anthem says in their letter, but presumably it arises from an unfolding and unresolved controversy in NWYM. This past July, the Elders of NWYM released a letter that begins “Recognizing that our yearly meeting is unable to embrace our current diversity, and recognizing the shattering that is ensuing, with grace and charity we sorrowfully release West Hills Friends Church from NWYM membership.” The “shattering” issue was West Hills’ “affirmation of committed same sex relationships and the decision to perform those weddings.”

The Elders’ letter noted that there was an appeal process regarding their decision, and, to date, eight Meetings/Churches have filed appeals. Eight others have written letters supporting the Elders decision. You can read them all here, and my hat is off to NWYM for providing public access to all this material.

The Elders’ letter acknowledges “We recognize that as a yearly meeting, we are not in consensus over our statement on human sexuality in the Faith and Practice. We recognize that we need to do the hard work of theological reflection as Friends on the issues of revelation (including the authority of both the written and living Word of God) and human sexuality (in a broader sense than just LGBTQ issues).” The appeal letters also lift up the lack of consensus over sexuality matters, which has been manifest in NWYM for several years.

I take it, then, that Anthem Friends Church has withdrawn from NWYM not because of “a homosexuality issue” but because the Yearly Meeting couldn’t clearly and decisively affirm the [alleged] teaching in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. Disunity, for them, was a cause for separation. (For the record, I believe the Bible is quite unclear about many matters of sexuality.)

Anthem’s posture is fundamentalist. Their creedal statement is an affirmation of Biblical inerrancy. Again, “We believe the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments are completely without error and are the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life.”

This is the issue Friends need to confront. The issue is not whether the Bible is valuable. It is not whether the Bible provides “texture and clarity to our understanding of God's will,” as a Friend put it recently in a comment on QuakerQuaker. It certainly does. And of course there are those calling themselves Quaker who want nothing to do with the Bible. That’s their loss in my view. But their posture isn’t the one forcing crises in Yearly Meetings. It is the adherents of Biblical inerrancy who are provoking such crises.

When Indiana Yearly Meeting came apart at the seams a few years ago, the driving issue was Biblical inerrancy. Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) has wrestled with issues of creeds and Biblical inerrancy in recent years. Now we have crises in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) and in Northwest Yearly Meeting both driven by assertions of Biblical inerrancy as a litmus test. Both of these crises have been followed well and closely by Steve Angell and Chuck Fager in Quaker Theology and in Fager’s blog, A Friendly Letter. My hat is off to both Steve and Chuck for reporting on these crises. It is time more Friends paid attention to the challenge of Biblical inerrancy.

Close adherence to the Bible, while valuable, is unlikely to yield final and spiritually satisfying answers to all issues that may arise. Insisting on “the Bible alone” as a source of spiritual guidance will sow further schism and hard-heartedness. Seeing the Bible as “without error” and as “the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life” shouts that God stopped speaking to us a millennium and a half ago. I affirm instead that the God who speaks to me through and beyond the Bible assures me that God is still speaking. The meetings in Northwest Yearly Meeting that are wrestling with human sexuality believe, too, that God is still speaking to them.

On the Bible, I would much rather Friends take guidance (though not as a creed) from Barclay’s Apology in which he says of the Scriptures, after noting the Bible’s value:  

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader. Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule.

Also posted on River View Friend

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Comment by Doug Bennett on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 12:07pm

Keith -- Surely disagreement over same sex intimacy has been a visible symptom in each of the recent schisms or near schisms (Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Northwest, etc.). And it has been an issue in the contentious relations between FUM and various of its member YMs, and an issue between some Friends and AFSC for some decades.  But is this disagreement the deep cause of these conflicts? Or is the deep cause the Biblical inerrancy used to bolster the argument that homosexuality is a sin? Or is is the deep cause of the contentiousness something else? I don't know, but I doubt same-sex intimacy is the deepest cause. I wrote a bit about this in 2012 at the height of the Indiana schism: a href="http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/whose-water-are-we-carrying>" target="_blank">http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/whose-water-are-we-carry...;.

I also wrote about these matters in Friends Journal (March 2013): "Towards a Testimony of Intimacy." For me, an attentive and regular Bible reader (but not an inerrantist), the Bible is just a mass of confusion and odd guidance about matters of sexuality and intimacy. There are many wise and wonderful things in the Bible about intimacy, but it can hardly function as a look-up manual for acceptable practice.  (As I once wrote: Quick, name a happily married couple in the New Testament.)

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 12:20pm

I did a search on the Earlham School of Religion "Digital Quaker Collection" for "continuing rev elation" as a phrase, and found zero hits.  If we could do a search of modern liberal and liberal-leaning Quaker literature for "continuing revelation", I think we would find that the term is used quite frequently.  And, I speculate, what it is taken to mean is to lay aside the Bible and the "authority of the Bible", in favor of modernist ideas.  This is what I mean when I allege that continuing revelation would be seen by the early Friends as something approaching heresy.

I think Forrest Curo is correct in arguing that Biblical interpretation evolves, even within the Bible itself.  But that is different from casting the Bible aside in favor of post-Biblical ideological trends.  Since the Bible incorporates multiple perspectives, it can be self-correcting, as one point of view interacts with others.  (Source: John R. Martin, now retired from EMC)

Comment by Diane Benton on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 12:32pm

It is not God's will that I desire to to know, it's God.  And it is through knowing God that God gives me the desires of my heart.  It's a feedback loop.  Our desires either come from God or from the world around us.

Comment by Doug Bennett on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 12:52pm

William -- I don't know when that specific phrase (continuing revelation) comes into currency, but right from the beginning Friends have had a view that sees God as continuing to speak to us.  Here is Elton Trueblood (a Friend who loved the Bible) in 1966 on early Friends:

 Elton Trueblood, The People Called Quakers, Harper Row, 1966, pp 69-70: 

"Our discussion has brought us to the famous doctrine of the Light, which is popularly supposed to be the major theological contribution of Quakers to total Christianity. The Light is sometimes denominated “The Light Within,” or “The Inner Light,” but most often it is called “The Light of Christ Within.” Such was the common practice of leading Quaker intellectuals of the seventeenth century, because they wanted to maintain the identity with the Christ of history. There were sound reasons for this decision. If they had decided otherwise, Quakerism might easily have become separated from its Christian roots and have ended as something similar to theosophy. In that event it would certainly have lacked the power which it demonstrated, and in all probability, would not even have survived. As it was, Quakers were able to stress immediate experience without in any way denying or minimizing the Biblical faith. The Light which strives to reach every man is not some vague general light, but the present continuation of he Light which shone in Jesus as he called men by the Sea of Galilee. Here the Logos doctrine served admirably so that the prologue to the Fourth Gospel became more precious to Quakers than almost any other single passage in the Bible. John 1:9 in the Authorized translation, which the first Quakers knew, was used so much an so often that it came to be known as “the Quakers’ text.”"

John 1:9  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

No one in this discussion is proposing leaving the Bible behind.  It is very hard when our present worshipful seeking leads us to a place that feels in tension with some part of the Bible. One of the several things we need to do when that happens is to ask ourselves whether we are hearing well what is being said to us through the Bible. 

Comment by Diane Benton on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 1:08pm

A revelation I had awhile back regarding "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination." Lev 18:22 was to interpret it in light of "To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you."  That said to me that what was being talked about was was one man ruling over another.  Using sex to intimidate.  I guess it was alright for a man to do that to a woman. :)

I see that as continuing revelation.  Does that make me a revisionist?

“A man with an experience is never at the mercy of an argument.”

—Anonymous

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 2:39pm

Doug, I'm trying to pay close attention to your choice of words. Your last response to was confusing to me.  In your response to my first question you said were not sure whether biblical inerrancy is the cause of  the current schisms but that it is a factor.

I then asked whether the act of sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex was also a factor in the current disunity. You answered with yes, it is a "symptom" and then went on entertain the possibility of casual relations. 

Are you using the words factor and symptom synonymously?  Is the wish of those who engage in sexual intimacy with people of the same sex to be validated by the affirmation of an outward centralized institution (like a yearly meeting) a "factor" in the disunity among Quakers in the same way that those who adhere to a particularly outward doctrinal notion is a "factor" in the disunity among some Quakers today.

PS. I too am a regular reader of scripture. I value it in the same way that I value the counsel and suggestions of a friend. I taken it or leave it or it is modified according to the active direction of the Light itself in my conscious and conscience. The inward Spirit anchors my conscious and informs my conscience directly. I am in need of no other source for guidance and direction. But that is another discussion. 

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 2:42pm

Hello, Diane!  I don't know exactly what you are inferring from these passages, so I can't make any judgments about the adequacy of your interpretation!

DB, see the Wikipedia entry on "continuous revelation", treated as a synonym for continuing revelation.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuous_revelation  I think that Conservative Friends OF OLD would identify most strongly with the section on "Charismatic/Pentecostal".

Pentecostal and Charismatic[edit]

Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians generally believe that Christians, especially "Spirit-filled" Christians can receive revelations from God in the form of dreams, visions, and audible or inaudible voices. They also believe that certain individuals are able to transmit revelations from God in the form of prophecy, words of knowledge, and speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

While most Pentecostals and Charismatics believe the Bible to be the ultimate authority and would not say that any new revelation can ever contradict the Bible, they do believe that God continues to speak to people today on extra-biblical topics as well as to interpret and apply the text of the Bible.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 3:44pm

Doug, just to cut to it, what I am struggling to get through to is whether you would agree that looking toward an outward centralized institution (Yearly Meeting) or outward document or collection of documents (scripture) to validate or enforce a particular outward ideal, practice, doctrine, creed, suggestion, etc. is the cause of the current disunity. 

Comment by Diane Benton on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 4:25pm

William, I was giving an example of having a revelation that led to a reinterpretation of scripture and asking if that was revisionism.  Your response seems like a non sequitur unless you are saying that a reinterpretation is revisionism if it's disagreed to by others.

Comment by Doug Bennett on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 4:59pm

Keith – By their very nature these are huge questions: what causes what in human affairs.  I’ve spent a lifetime ruminating about that.  I know there are serious people who doubt it, but I believe ideas have causative force, sometimes in ways we intend and sometimes not.  Believing that ideas have consequences still leaves questions about which ideas are the drivers and which are being drawn along, too.  Or could it be that more than one idea is a driver? 

 

I’m reluctant to think that people’s ideas about same-sex intimacy are, in themselves, very causative. I’m inclined to think they’ve been persuaded that same-sex intimacy is sinful. I note that hardly anyone talked much about the sinfulness of same-sex intimacy before the 1980s – not until Stonewall.  (That’s why I call it a symptom.)

 

My hunch is that those who get exercised about same-sex intimacy are fearful of change and resist seeing traditional ways upset. They look to the Bible for support. That’s where Biblical inerrancy comes in.  It is a way of thinking about religious matters and about life that looks to the Bible as the sole source of moral authority. And there are a few Biblical snippets that seem to speak against same-sex intimacy.  Myself, I believe those passages are being mis-read.  (Happy to say why on another occasion.)

 

In general I think Biblical inerrancy is a mis-use of the Bible, and taken seriously and applied consistently would involve one in very foolish things (slavery, levirate marriage, subjugation of women, all the Leviticus proscriptions, etc.) Do I think Biblical inerrancy is causative? Again, I think ideas are causative, but do I think Biblical inerrancy is causative idea? I’m genuinely not sure.  My hunch (again) is that it is a dressed up rendition of a craving for certainty, a certainty of no more substance or value than fool’s gold. Thus, the quest for certainty is the driver, and Biblical inerrancy a doctrine that supports that quest for certainty. 

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