Advices 1 thru 4 of the Elders at Balby
In one of the last posts on this blog, we began a dialog of sorts about the advices of the elders at Balby. My original hope was to draw attention to the advices themselves as opposed to the postscript to the advices that is so often quoted out of context in Quaker circles. Unfortunately, the discussion was truncated. I would now like to continue it by bringing my remarks on the first three advices out of the "comment" section and into the body of this post, followed by remarks on the fourth. (I will continue with the others in future posts). The quotations are from a posting of the original text by the Quaker Heritage Press as transcribed by Rosemary Moore from "a copy in the Lancashire Records Office at Preston, from the papers of Marsden Monthly Meeting."
"The elders and brethren send unto the brethren in the north these necessary things following; to which, if in the light you wait, to be kept in obedience, you shall do well. Fare well."
Comment: It would be interesting to know whether the "brethren in the north" asked for this advice, or brought some questions that elicited it, or simply seemed like a troublesome lot who needed it. In either case, it's instructive to see that the writers of the epistle thought "obedience" was a good thing. By this they apparently mean obedience to God and His light rather than to themselves as elders.
"1.-That the particular meetings by all the children of Light, be duly kept and observed, where they be already settled, every first-day of the week; except they be moved to other places. And that general meetings be kept in order and sweet in the life of God, on some other day of the week than on the First-day, unless there be a moving to the contrary: that so in the light and life, the meetings may be kept, to the praise of God."
Comment: "Children of light" is the name used here for those we would now call "Friends" or "Quakers". Keeping meetings going was evidently considered a very important duty of the community, and if they were kept this would be "to the praise of God". It's a different mindset than one which views meetings as optional and designed for the benefit of the worshippers. I'm not sure what "general meetings" means in this context: meetings for discipline?
"2.-That care be taken, that as any are brought into the truth, meetings be in such places amongst them, as may be for the most convenience of all, without respect of persons: and that hands be laid on none suddenly, lest the truth suffer."
Comment: To join with Friends was, of course, to be "brought into the truth". Meetings should be set up for the new Friends in places convenient to them, even if they were not convenient for important existing Friends. The caution that "hands be laid on none suddenly lest the truth suffer." still survives among us in the form of a custom that people should attend at least a year before being admitted as members.
"3.-That if any person draw back from meetings, and walk disorderly, some go to speak to such as draw back; to exhort and admonish such with a tender, meek spirit, whom they find negligent or disorderly. And if any, after admonition, do persist in the thing not good, let them again be admonished and reproved before two or three witnesses; that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every thing may be established. And if still they persevere in them, then let the thing be declared to the church: and when the church hath reproved them for their disorderly walking, and admonished them in the tender and meek spirit, and they do not reform, then let their names and the causes, and such as can justly testify the truth therein, and their answers, be sent in writing to some whom the Lord hath raised up in the power of his Spirit to be fathers, his children to gather in the light, that the thing may be known to the body; and with the consent of the whole body, the thing may be determined in the light."
Comment:Here we get to the meat of the advices, with instructions on how to deal with Friends who "withdraw from meetings" or "walk disorderly". It's striking that no definition is offered of what it might mean to "walk disorderly". My guess is that Friends thought they would know disorderly walking when they saw it. Probably the disorderly walkers would know it, too, and that might explain why they might begin to "withdraw from meetings". I wish we could know more about exactly what kinds of situations prompted this advice. Was the primary effect of the advice to inaugarate a tighter discipline on Friends who were hitherto doing their own thing? Or was it to moderate and regularize the procedures for admonishing them, as an alternative to arbitrary harsh treatment by self-appointed disciplinarians?
A further point of interest is that the elders felt quite comfortable referring to the meeting community as "the church". They identified with the New Testament Church and did not feel in the least squeamish about using such language.
"4.-That as any are moved of the Lord to speak the word of the Lord at such meetings, that it be done in faithfulness, without adding or diminishing. And if at such meetings, any thing at any time be otherwise spoken by any not of the light, whereby the seed of God cometh to be burthened; let the person or persons in whom the seed of God is burthened, speak in the light (as of the Lord they are moved,) in meekness and godly fear, to him; but let it be done in private, betwixt them two, or before two or three witnesses, and not in the public meetings, except there be a special moving so to do."
Comment: This advice embodies all the subtleties and paradoxes about the concept of a free ministry inspired by God alone that is nevertheless accountable to a body of other Friends. The minister is to speak the word of the Lord without adding or diminishing. But if he or she does otherwise, who will know? The answer that other Friends will know by senseing that the "seed of God is burthened". And if they feel this it is their responsibility to speak to the minister who has erred (not, notice to third parties about the minister but to the minister himself or herself). The time place and manner in which this speaking is done is of crucial importance. It must be in "meekness and godly fear". Perhaps this is a tacit recognition that the person who feels the seed is burdened, rather than the minister, may be mistaking the Lord's intentions. Moreover, the conversation should not take place in the meeting itself, which would make it a matter of public debate and would risk humiliating one or more of the Friends. Rather it was to take place in private, or with no more than two or three witnesses. A concern for sound ministry is here balanced with a concern for fairness and balance and good order.
Labels: Balby advices