Sunday, April 17, 2005

Advices 1 thru 4 of the Elders at Balby

I see that some readers have still been visiting this blog even though I haven't posted in weeks. At long last I feel ready to write something. (Incidentally, Florence Accetta, whose illness has absorbed the energies of our whole family for the last weeks, is in a rehab nursing home and seems to be recovering her strength but is still enduring many trials. Continued prayers are welcome.)

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.



Blogger Unknown said...

Friend Rich: I just stumbled onto your blog

"disorderly walking" is from Paul 2Thes 3:6ff King James Version.
TH2 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
TH2 3:7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
TH2 3:8 Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
TH2 3:9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
TH2 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
TH2 3:11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
TH2 3:12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
TH2 3:13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
TH2 3:14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
TH2 3:15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
TH2 3:16 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means.

To understand this use the Revised Standard Version
TH2 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
TH2 3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,
TH2 3:8 we did not eat any one's bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you.
TH2 3:9 It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.
TH2 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat.
TH2 3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.
TH2 3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.
TH2 3:13 Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing.
TH2 3:14 If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
TH2 3:15 Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
TH2 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways.

Joseph Condon, Plainfield Meeting

5:14 PM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Joe, many thanks for pointing out the source of this phrase "disorderly walking". I had known instinctively that it was from Paul, but hadn't looked up exactly where it came from. This is a good illustration of the way that the scriptures permeate almost everything that early Friends wrote or said.

The KJV translation that Joe quotes says to "withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us", which is very much to the point of advice # 3 of the elders at Balby.

The Revised Standard Version, which Joe also quotes, seems to have a narrower meaning. Instead of being concerned with any kind of disorderly walking it says only " keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us." [my italics]

It does seem from the context of the rest of the chapter that Paul is chiefly concerned with idleness, but the KJV translators (and various other translators since) seem to think that he was also saying something about any kind of unruly or disorderly behavior. The Greek text I find at Bible Gateway (1894 Scrivener New Testament) shows the word in question as ατακτως , which I would transliterate as ataktos. I will leave it to folks more versed in Greek to tell us whether ataktos is more properly translated as "idle" or "disorderly" or "unruly".

In any case, the use of the phrase by the elders at Balby does not seem to be limited to idleness. Or at least it doesn't seem so to me. I remain curious, as I was when I wrote this post in 2005, as to the specific kinds of "disorderly walking" the elders were referring to - - and about whether they thought the main problem they were dealing with was disorderly walking itself, or over-zealous discipline of such, without benefit of the steps of gospel order that they outlined here.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

11:21 PM, January 30, 2007  

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