Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus has this to say to his disciples: "If you belonged to this world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:19).
Throughout the New Testament, the followers of Christ are told to expect animosity. As a people called out from this world, our alien values will inevitably clash with the status quo. Barclay's final proposition serves as an indictment against those Christians who live too comfortably within the patterns of this world. Here, Barclay questions what others seem to take for granted. While others condemn the Quakers for being odd, Barclay suggests that "normality" is more truly offensive. The remainder of the Micro'pology is dedicated to Barclay's critique of the dominant social customs.
For the remainder of this chapter, we will consider two related issues: "flattering speech" and the custom of bowing down before those of higher social rank. These conventions were widespread in Barclay's day, but Barclay contends they are not lawful for those who would truly follow Christ.
By social custom, some people of Barclay's era were routinely addressed as Your Honor, Your Excellency, etc. In our time and place, the remnants of this heritage can be seen in the legal system (and elsewhere, as we will consider below). Barclay's first objection to this practice is to point out these titles can make liars of those who use them! Frequently, those addressed as Your Excellency have, "nothing of excellency in them; and he who is called, Your Grace, appears to be an enemy of Grace; and he who is called Your Honor, is known to be base and ignoble." In fact, those who gain high titles have often been ruthless in their pursuit of power. Rising to the top often means stepping on those who stand in your way. If anything, we are more likely to find honor and excellence in the meek and humble-hearted who serve in obscurity.
Barclay is especially disturbed by those religious leaders who make use of grand titles (such as, Your Holiness or Your Grace). Barclay points out that such flattery is out of character for the early church. The apostles are not called "My Lord John," "Master Paul" or "Doctor Peter." Rather, they are simply called John, Peter and Paul. According to Barclay, the apostles had no need for titles, since they possessed holiness, excellence and grace as a reality. Those who covet these titles, says Barclay, do so precisely because they lack the reality (and hope to cover their deficit with words).
Also, Barclay considers it deceitful to sign our letters, "Your humble servant." Quoting a figure from church history, Barclay offers these words of advice: "Beware thou subscribe not thyself his servant, who is they brother; for flattery is sinful."
Dedicated to equality, Barclay rejects those social conventions which place one human being above another. From the Quaker perspective, the use of titles and the custom of self-abasement rarely have anything to do with courtesy or humility. Rather, they are games we play. And through these games, we hope to impress and influence others.
Barclay is willing to distinguish between flattery and a sincere compliment. There is no harm (and much good!) in a sincere complement. But the use of flattery is never sincere. Flattery is a deceitful coin. It is spent and demanded by those who value influence over Truth.
In a similar way, Barclay rejects the practice of bowing down before those of higher social rank. Barclay asks, "He that boweth and uncovereth his head to the creature, what hath he reserved to the Creator?" It is in deference to Christ that "every knee must bow." Certainly those human beings who expect adoration from their fellow creatures are demanding what rightfully belongs to God alone.
Once again pointing to the example of the early church, Barclay reminds us that Peter refused adoration from Cornelius -- saying, he was a man. Elsewhere in Scripture, when John falls at the feet of an angel, the angel rebukes him. The angel says, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you." Believing that all human beings are fellow servants, Barclay can see no reason why we should ever prostrate ourselves before one another.
Here are a couple of questions:
1. We don't very often call people "Your Majesty" or "Your Grace." But we may find ourselves addressing a judge as "Your Honor." Do you think there is any real problem with this?
2. At West Hills Friends, our involvement with Amnesty International gives us the opportunity to write foreign leaders (including those who expect to be addressed as "Your Majesty"). Do you think we should address the person in different way (perhaps, "Dear King")? Do you think our letters would be less effective that way?
3. What do you think of social customs that allow one person to be addressed by his or her first name while the other person is addressed more formally (doctors to patients, professors to students, etc.)?
Continue to Proposition Fifteen (pt. 2)