CONCERNING THE MINISTRY
In the year 1643, when he was only 19 years old, George Fox left his home and all his family. Desperately, he wanted to find someone who stood nearer to God than he did. Desperately, he wanted to find someone further down the path -- someone who could serve as a guide in his own search.
Poor George had one disappointing encounter after another. One spiritual advisor urged him to "smoke tobacco and sing psalms." Others invited him to join the army or take a wife.
One discussion was going rather well until the hapless George stepped into the man's garden. At that point, the minister's affection for petunias eclipsed his affection for spiritual discourse.
After this painful and fruitless appeal to the experts of his day, George Fox gave up his hope in outward authorities. Instead, he learned to speak with God directly. Rather than rely upon the experiences of another, he learned to seek the presence of Christ within his own experience.
The Quaker movement began with this realization: an experience of God is available to all. Fox and other Quaker leaders devoted their lives to connecting others with Christ the Present Teacher.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the early Friends were always a little suspicious of religious authorities.
From the Quaker perspective, many of those who called themselves "ministers" and "priests" lacked any real spiritual substance, whatsoever. They had the outward forms of ministry, but not the inward reality. The Friends insisted that a title doesn't really make one a minister. Nor does an academic degree. Nor does a penchant for elegant speech.
In the Apology, Robert Barclay says that the only true foundation for ministry is a direct call from God. It is this call (and this call only) that qualifies one for ministry. Barclay points out this position sets Quakers at odds with most of Christendom. Most other Christian groups have very specific outward qualifications.
The most common of these qualifications is educational. Many advocate Greek, Hebrew and Latin as a way to read the Scriptures in their original, ancient forms. However, from a Quaker perspective, knowledge of the Spirit is a better guide to Scriptural truth than a knowledge of the letter.
In fact, Barclay offers this story: "I know myself a poor shoemaker that cannot read a word, who being assaulted with a false citation of Scripture, from a public professor of divinity... affirmed not through any certain letter-knowledge he had of it, but rather from the most certain evidence of the Spirit in himself, that the professor was mistaken; and that the Spirit of God never said any such thing as the other affirmed: and the Bible being brought, it was found as the poor shoemaker had said."
Again, many would advocate a knowledge of logic and philosophy before a person is qualified for ministry. However, Barclay boldly says that even a fool may still be fit for something -- but a fool trained in logic and philosophy will be "extremely busy about nothing."
Barclay is confident that, "the truth proceeding from an honest heart" will have more influence than a thousand demonstrations of logic.
Once more, Barclay provides anecdotal evidence for his position. He tells of a "heathen philosopher" who came to the Council of Nicea (a great council of the early church). The philosopher came to dispute the claims of Christianity. The Christian bishops gathered in that place met the philosopher with arguments of their own. But neither side could persuade the other.
Finally, a few words were quietly spoken by one identified as "a simple, old rustic." And hearing these words, the philosopher was convinced and converted to Christianity. I'll let Barclay finish the story in his own words: "And being inquired how he came to yield to that ignorant old man, and not to the bishops, he said, 'That they contended with him in his own way, and he could still give words for words; but there came from the old man that virtue which he was not able to resist.'"
Barclay goes on to accuse some educated people of intentionally complicating the Truth, so that their intellect may have a chance to shine. Barclay admonishes these people not to be embarrassed by the lowliness and simplicity of the Gospel.
Barclay rejects the notion of establishing ministry upon an academic foundation. Ministers are those called by God, not merely those educated in certain disciplines (like public speaking and theology).
By this criteria, Barclay points out, all of us are qualified to be ministers. All of us should strive to be grafted into the Life of Christ, so that when we speak it is from this source -- so that when we act, it is Christ who acts through us.
In fact, Barclay rejects the distinction between "clergy" and "laity" ("whereby none are admitted unto the work of the ministry, but such who are educated" and trained for such a purpose). He points out that these words are unknown in Scripture.
However, Barclay does allow that some people receive a specific call to ministry. Ministers (in this more narrow sense) are simply those who routinely do ministry. They are not a special, elite class of people.
Barclay also makes a strong argument against those ministers who coerce funds from those under their care. While it is certainly acceptable for a minister to receive support from others, it is best for those who minister to take the attitude, "freely I have received, freely I give."
Here are a few questions:
1. How can we know if someone is truly called to be a Minister? Is there any objective criteria?
2. What role should an education play for those called to ministry? What is the relationship between faith and knowledge?
3. In what ways are you called to minister?
Continue to Proposition Eleven (pt. 1)