Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Ezekiel 18 – The virtues of the “upright man” are described: “law-abiding and honest; he does not eat on the mountains or raise his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not seduce his neighbor’s wife or sleep with a woman during her periods. He oppresses no one, returns pledges, never steals, gives his own bread to the hungry, his clothes to the naked. He never charges usury on loans, takes no interest, abstains from evil, gives honest judgment between man and man, keeps my laws and sincerely respects my observances—such a man is truly upright” (18:5-9).
What is unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy is that people are seen as individually responsible for their behavior, not communally. The sins and short-comings of one’s relatives shall not contaminate you if you observe what is right. And even more significantly, the sins you commit at one point in your life will not necessarily doom you in God’s eyes. Repentance and change of course is possible.
“House of Israel, in future I mean to judge each of you by what he does—it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks. Repent, renounce all your sins, avoid all occasions of sin! Shake off all the sins you have committed against me, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. . . I take no pleasure in the death of anyone . . . Repent and live!” (30-32)
This is the most straight-forward proclamation of the change of approach that is characteristic of this time period in Israel’s life of faith. No longer will the entire “people” be held accountable for the sins of those who wander from God’s commandments. No longer are people slaves of their pasts.
John 14 – He continues his discourse. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me” (14:1). He tells them he goes to prepare a place for them in his father’s house, a place with “many rooms.” The “way” to the place Jesus is going is “through [him]” - “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (14:6).
Philip asks to be “shown” the Father. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (14:9) Even if they cannot believe that they (Jesus and God) are one, Jesus says they should be able to believe his works (14:11). The one who believes in him will do even greater works “because I am going to the Father” (14:12) and he will do anything for us asked in his name.
Love Jesus, John tells us and keep his commandments because if you do, Jesus says, “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither see nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you” (14:17). This Advocate - intercessor, counselor, protector and support - “will teach [us] everything and remind you of all I have said to you” (14:26).
He leaves them his peace, a peace that the world cannot give. Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid. He is going away from them, but he will return (14:28). He tells them these things before they happen so that they may believe in him when they do. See Isaiah 30:20-22 on the inward teacher. Isaiah’s text says, “Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (14:20-21).
These texts of course were enormously important to early Friends (Quakers). They explored how we may come to know God “in us” through His “present operations and motions” in our souls rather than through doctrines and stories about other peoples' lives. Friends did have a deep knowledge of Scripture that informed their understanding of this “inward presence,” but they definitely denigrated the idea that creeds and sacraments could “open” this presence to us. I disagree a little. I think both are important – the historical knowledge of Christ we can get from reading Scripture and the drama of the sacraments. They bring us into the narrative in a powerful way when we approach them correctly.