Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Advices 5 & 6 from Elders at Balby

I am continuing in my plodding methodical way to comment on the advices in numerical order as I come to them, saving the more interesting and controversial ones until it's their turn, so to speak. As always, the advices are quoted from the text published by Quaker Heritage Press at Balby Letter of 1656

5.-That collections be timely made for the poor, (that are so indeed,) as they are moved, according to order,-for relief of prisoners, and other necessary uses, as need shall require: and all moneys so collected, an account thereof to be taken; from which every need may be supplied, as made known by the overseers in every meeting: that no private ends may be answered, but all brought to the light, that the gospel be not slandered.

6.-That care be taken for the families and goods of such as are called forth into the ministry, or who are imprisoned for the truth's sake; that no creatures be lost for want of the creatures.

These two advices seem related in that both call upon local meetings to care for Friends (and maybe others also?) in need. The ideology of "self reliance" and the notion that poverty is a punishment from God are both noticeably lacking.

Number 5 is talking about all who are truly poor, for whatever reason, and urges the local meetings to see to their relief by taking up collections for them and disbursing the funds as needed. The parenthetical qualification "that are so indeed" seems to recognize that even among Friends it might turn out that some who claim to be needy are not, and it is proper for the meetings to take this into account. The advice also specifies that all such collections be properly and openly accounted for. In part this was to avoid public scandal ("that the gospel be not slandered"), but it was also to guard against a temptation to corruption ("that no private ends be answered"). In these quite practical ways the Friends - though they believed that the Lord could take away their sin - implicitly recognized that they needed to guard against human frailty even among their own elders and overseers.

Number 6 concerns the families among Friends who have needs because one member is either traveling in the ministry or in prison for "truth's sake". This seems like a more particular application of the principle in advice number 5. Pastoral Friends sometimes point out that it was also an early recognition among Friends that those who do the work of ministry sometimes merit the meeting's financial support. I don't quite agree that this constitutes a valid argument for the system of paid pastors found in many meetings today, but it does illustrate that the issue may not be quite so cut-and-dried as some of us unprogrammed Friends think it is.

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