Breaking the chain of man-made Religion
By: Author Unknown
Today there seem to be two main choices available for the person looking for faith. These two choices are not new or different from those that have been around for hundreds of years.
The first choice is a religion where there is a central human authority in the church and a man or a woman essentially instructs the people on how to follow the requirements of that religion. This is almost always based on an interpretation of scripture. The people of that religion are to follow the guidelines provided by the authority. Even when the human leader is supplanted by adherence to a written creed, strong group pressure can be exerted on the individual to go along with the religion. If the individual disagrees with the group, that person is generally thought to be in the wrong and a “backslider.” This form of religion is found throughout the world and is very popular in Christianity today.
The second choice is a religion where the individual is accountable only to his or her own inner feeling or personal tendencies. Scripture, if used at all, are primarily used for individual interpretation and are not given a place of authority outside of each individual. In fact, there is essentially no authority outside of each individual. This religion makes great claims for being diverse, but in reality it only attracts a very select group of people. It is popular on the liberal fringes of Christianity.
We are asked to choose between these two types of religion. Modern unprogrammed Quakers tend to reject the first type and move toward the second. Pastoral and Evangelical Quakers hold to the first type and reject the second. And the rest of us find ourselves going back and forth from one side to the other in a series of life long reactions. In a resent seminar, I asked participants to share their travels between these two and was not surprised to find many had traveled long distances, coming from one and going all the way over to the other. My own experience includes a similar long journey on this trail.
I began on the extreme liberal side of the spectrum, growing up in an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting in the Eastern United States. Our Sunday school lessens were almost entirely based on the arts and crafts, and the study of comparative religions. Some Bible Study existed, but it was basically an open exploration of what the passage might mean to the individual.
Feeling the confusion and hopelessness of being left to my own resources, I began to search for something more definite: a specific answer-centered religion. I traveled all the way over to the other side of the religious spectrum and found myself in a fundamentalist Christian church where we were instructed on how to think and live. This religion was a direct reaction to my past: I was hungry for something I could call Truth with a capital”. Finally through the grace of God, I was able to see some of the dangers of this new form of religion and of being told exactly what to believe- And seeing those dangers drove me to a long search for a religious home somewhere between the two extremes I had experienced. However, I appeared stuck at this point without any way forward- or backward- until I began reading George Fox’s Journal.
Two Forms; One Species
My traveling around and my reading of early Quakers led me to find that the two forms of religion discussed above were to my surprise both part of the same species. They are directly related to one another and are almost always a result of responses against each other. The “rise in fundamentalist religion” is a direct result of the “failures in secular humanism” And a rise of humanistic and individualistic trends in religion is a direct response to the pressures in fundamentalist religion to conform at all costs
So persons looking for faith often find themselves at the brink of despair asking: » Is there any way out of this terrible dilemma? Is there any way to break sway from the bondage of these man-made religions?”
The simplest solution would be to find something somewhere in the middle-and this is where I looked for a long time. It is the position of what we call the “mainline” Christian churches. Yet, these churches often find themselves torn and divided by the tensions of the two sides and I soon found that this middle ground can simply become a compromise position between two extremes- a compromise stuck in a continuous struggle to stay in the centre. In the end, it is part of the bondage in dealing with these two alternatives.
When I began to take a close look at the writings of early Friends I was amazed to find that they did mot belong on the religious continuum at all. Then early Quakers stood in revolt against the two types of religion and any combination thereof. They were part of a revolution that called for complete break in the chain and the bringing in of something completely new.
The first Quakers were people who had experienced the failings of both types of religion. Just like me and so many of us, they had been traveling for years. They had been to the established church on the right and to all the dissenting groups on the left and found them all to be empty of Life and Power. They longed for something different and wonderful if such a faith existed. Although they could read about such a faith in the Bible, they could not find it in their own time. In the midst of their longing and despair, with nowhere to turn, they were given a great gift. God risen up within them a new and living way, something completely different than they had known before. This new and liv8ing faith did not revolve around the central human authority within the church, nor did it throw out authority all together in favor of the feelings of the individual. The new and living faith they were given was not a variation of the same speci4esm of religion with which they had struggled. They felt that they had found and were experiencing anew and living faith experienced by the first disciples and apostles- not a man-made replica of it.
Their faith had as its centre a living encounter with the living God. Christ is alive and can be encountered inwardly among us. This is not a religion about Jesus, but a call to listen to, and follow, Him as a present living reality. “Christ as come to teach His people Himself” it is not a reworking of orthodox religion. It is a call to encounter the Living Shepherd who gathers His sheep to Himself today and is our present Guide and Teacher (John 10).It is a call out of the bondage of the old religion and into a living faith. The starting point with this faith is to become familiar with the Guide Waiting in silence, we learn to recognize His voice in our hearts and distinguish it from all other voices. As we spend time reading His story, the words of scripture testify to His life within us and among us and call us to know Him better. Just as He taught His disciples, He can teach us today.
This new and living faith leads to a new and living worship, where Christ is the leader. This faith leads to a new understanding and experience of ministry, when we speak a word only when it is given to us by our Lord to speak. Decision making in the group worshippers depends on setting ourselves aside and searching for the living Word within us to guide us. This new faith leads to a new community, which Jesus calls His Friends (You are my Friends, if you do what I command you.”?
The work of the New Foundation Fellowship is to carry this message of Life and Hope today we call all people out of the chain of man-made religion and into the living faith in Christ. This is not a veiled attempt to move Friends away from Liberalism towards fundamentalism. I have traveled that road and found it dangerous one full of empty promises. Ours is not an attempt to revive the traditions of the past. It is not an attempt to use a new language for “the old time religion.” It requires a whole new way of looking ay faith, one with which I believe the writings of the Hebrew prophets can help us.
The Faith of the Hebrew Prophets
Prophets like Jeremiah were certainly not figures that stand out for there commitment to religious orthodoxy and institutional maintenance. They were also simply religious non-conformists. Instead, their strong critique of the established religion was an urgent wake-up call for people to see the emptiness of man-made religion. Jeremiah calls the people to come home to the Living God and to listen to His voice. It is this listening and this faithfulness that will transform them and bring them to be formed into a living community of faith once again: Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
The prophecies of Jeremiah and the other prophets point a new way that is coming that will be different from an outward legal code. Neither will it be individuals simply following their own notions
And “lights” Instead, all will know the living God and hear His instruction inwardly and be given the strength to follow it (see Jer. 31:31)
The early Friends felt that this way had come through Christ, who is the true Light that enlightens everyone that comes into the world. As we open our hearts to His Light and Word, He becomes the new law written within our hearts-“for the law came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ.” It is His Light and Spirit and Presence among us that are able to lead us into grace and truth. They became a living fountain of water to restore, heal, and direct us (Jn.4).
We are called the living encounter with the living God and His Son. When we wait to hear His voice, Jesus teaches us inwardly and calls us to be His Friends and to follow Him (Jn.10 & 15; 1 Jn.). When we hear His voice and are faithful; we come out of the old into the new and living way.