One does not exercise spiritual authority in the Religious Society of Friends. One is exercised by spiritual authority, if one is humble enough to follow the Guide closely.

Acts 1; I Corinthians 12:

Luke, in the first paragraphs of his second book, the Book of Acts, relates the last conversation Jesus had with his followers before he ascended. “This,” he (Jesus) said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Not unlike us, Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it – as Luke illustrates in continuing to tell the story: So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

That’s pretty clear – it was none of his disciples business when Caesar’s soldiers would be sent packing back to Rome just like it’s none of our business, all this discussion about end times. That’s not what we are supposed to be about. What is important is grasping that upon which is the church’s foundation.

8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

There is a lot Jesus doesn’t say and in the vacuum we’ve been tempted over the centuries to fill in the blanks. One thing that Jesus does say is that you will or shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. It’s fascinating to me the hurdles that some groups want to put on this promise. You can find all kinds of theories of what you have to do to get the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus said, according to Luke, is that when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. How about that, it’s not something we control, not something we can acquire.

The next thing Jesus says, also with the same kind of determination: you will be my witnesses. Not may be, or could be but that those upon whom the Holy Spirit has come upon are witnesses – literally to the ends of the earth.

In the next chapter Luke describes what Jesus promised would happen “not many days hence”. Pentecost isn’t a first century Christian thing. According to the Jewish calendar the day God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses occurred 49 days after the Exodus, the day after the Passover – thus the holy day of Shavuot occurs 49 days after the first day of Passover. Jews of the Greek culture named it the fiftieth day or Pentecost.

Luke sets the scene by writing in Acts 2: that: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

I saw a great Pentecost cartoon this week. It portrayed a group of people in the back ground with flames above their heads and in the foreground was a man telling a smiling youngster with a marshmallow on a stick “Don’t even think about it.”

When we read Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth we learn that the experience of the Holy Spirit coming upon persons wasn’t restricted to those who had gathered in Jerusalem with the Apostles on Pentecost. The experience of that Pentecost continues and it falls to Paul to help the church know how to understand this phenomena. In the twelfth chapter he read this to clarify the source of it:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

When the Holy Spirit invades a life what the life emits is consistent with the words “Jesus is Lord”. He develops that further when he writes:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

First Paul helps us to understand that from the Spirit of Christ different people receive different gifts, different people receive different callings to service and different people are motivated to take different courses of action. This is for certain not a one size fits all kind of faith tradition. All these gifts, ministries and activities – every manifestation of the Spirit is for the common good. Acknowledging that is something of struggle for some – and I guess that has always been the case or Paul wouldn’t have found it necessary to address it. It can be hard to make room for something different from our own experience. The commentator on this passage in the old Interpreter’s Bible says that Paul is eager to say that spirituality is not one uniform experience which is separate from all other areas of life. The spiritual is not in contrast to the material and the intellectual. Manifestations of the Spirit are to be found in wide varieties of conduct, because spirituality exists wherever the living, acting God works through capacities of any type. Spirituality is not a separate compartment of life, but a divine relationship which may ennoble all aspects of experience.

To all this diversity that seems to befuddle us there is actually an intrinsic unity.  It’s more than just “God’s plan for your life” or your personal purpose. This idea that every manifestation of the Spirit is for the common good calls us into that kind of communal life.

What might these gifts, calling to ministry or action look like? Paul says the gift of utterance of wisdom or knowledge may come to one, another may be gifted with a healing touch or some other miracle. Some may be prophets and other the gift of discernment another speaking in other languages and when that’s the case another will be gifted in interpretation – that list isn’t all inclusive – and what is most important is the all these gifts, calls to ministries and actions come from the same Spirit who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

The foundation of the church is not found in carefully articulated statements of faith to which everyone subscribes. It’s not grounded in scripture, which requires reinterpretation generation after generation. It’s grounded in the work of the Holy Spirit, a Spirit that is the Spirit of Jesus that has come upon us to teach us, lead us, call us to ministry and motivates us to action. Putting limits on the work of the Spirit isn’t ours to do. The quest to articulate one’s spiritual gifts (or to find one’s purpose, or to learn God’s plan for your life, etc.) often results in a spiritual navel gazing that, undoubtedly, leads to despair – for when we gaze into ourselves, how can we not despair?

What seems appropriate for us to do is to make ourselves available to one another as we seek to make sense of the call of the Holy Spirit on our lives. As we listen to this very present yet mystical presence in our lives we might find ourselves finding it necessary to council another that listen more intently when the call they sense doesn’t seem to fit. In other situations we may find it important to challenge another to risk taking the action or engaging in a ministry to which they have a sense of call.

The Religious Society of Friends is at heart a corporate spiritual journey. As Lloyd Lee Wilson said, it’s not a place where each individual gets to have their own self-designed spiritual growth charter. It is only in our joint practice, in our joint experience, and our joint testimonies that we have communities of believers who can do the work that God has set us out to do. God’s project, as understood by Friends, is not so much the sanctification of myriads of individuals, as it is the transformation of all creation.

What we do as we worship and live and do our business together, is we learn those skills and abilities jointly that enable us to model the Kingdom of God to the rest of the world. This is our testimony as a gathered people. And we do so by taking the seeds of that learning out beyond the confines of our monthly meetings and begin to transform the world outside the Religious Society of Friends.

And the measure of our faithfulness is not how many hearts we have won to Jesus to God or to the Divine power or the Inner Light. It is how real we have made the Kingdom of God.

This is the Lamb’s War. It is no walk in the park. It takes all of our effort, jointly together, and we’ve got to be lifting one another, encouraging one another, and occasionally saying ‘look out, there’s a hole there.’

Spiritual authority among Friends rests in the Gospel, the Good News. If it is not Good News for everyone, it is not the Gospel. And if it is not the Gospel, it doesn’t have authority over us.

The baptizing power of the spirit of Truth is the true evidence. It is not true because I said it, or because it is eloquent or because it is four-syllable words. It is true because you can taste the Gospel. It baptizes you.

One does not exercise spiritual authority in the Religious Society of Friends. One is exercised by spiritual authority, if one is humble enough to follow the Guide closely.

The Holy Spirit is being invitational, not coercive. If you don’t want to participate in the life, you don’t have to. But if you decide that that is what you really want, then God will use you, and God will use you in words or deeds or symbolic actions or whatever, but it will, in fact, be authoritative to those who have ears to hear


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