Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Advices 18, 19, and 20 of the Elders at Balby

18.-That Christian moderation be used towards all men: that they who obey not the word, may be won by those that in the word dwell, to guide in an holy life and godly conversation.
Comment: I take it that "all men" here refers to "all people", in keeping with the general usage of the time. It's interesting that this advice to use "Christian moderation" is not primarily advice on how to treat other Christians. It's advice on how to treat "they who obey not the word" i.e. either non-Christians or unfaithful Christians. So we should use moderation even toward the immoderate. Who are we tempted to think of as deserving harsh treatment because we don't think they obey the word of God? George Bush? Osama Bin Laden? Michael Jackson? You have your own list of such people. The advice of the elders at Balby is that we should use moderation toward them all. The reason given is so that these people who do not obey the word may be "won" by those who dwell in the word. (Actually, some texts say "won with" rather than "won by", but I prefer the ones that say "won by" because it seems to me to make more sense). Leaving aside the far from trivial question of whether either you or I can be truly said to "dwell in the word", the assumption here is that if we do then our goal will be to "win" others to do the same. Not to win over them, but to win them over.
19.- That the Elders made by the holy Ghost feed the flock of God, taking the oversight thereof willingly, not by constraint, but of a willing mind; neither as lords over God's heritage, but as examples to the flock of Christ.
Comment: There is no comment here on how the community will know who the elders are who are "made by the holy Ghost". Presumably the elders at Balby themselves would be included, but I - for one - hope that they were recognized and named as such by other Friends, not just by themselves and not originally by themselves. There is a clear assumption that there are elders in the Christian community: Friends who have a gift for offering wise counsel. These Friends are to "feed the flock" - that is, nurture the growth of all in the Meeting community. They are to exercise their gifts willingly. The responsibility of eldership should not be shirked. At the same time, the role of elder is not the role of a boss or director. It has more to do with setting a good example than with giving good instructions.
20.- That the younger submit themselves to the elder, - yea all be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.
Comment: It isn't obvious to me that chronologically younger people should automatically "submit" to those who are chronologically older, but it does seem more plausible to me now than it did twenty years ago ;) In any case, spiritual maturity rather than chronological age may be what is meant here. The saving grace of this particular advice, in my opinion, is that after beginning with submission of younger to elder, it quickly goes on to say "yea all be subject to one another". So the eldest of the elders and weightiest of the weighty must stand ready to recognize the gifts, talents, leadings and insights of the greenest new attender who just walked through the door. And parents must be willing to learn from their children. It seems like a good prescription for healthy spiritual community

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