I believe that the Truth is far bigger than any human set of ideas about the Truth, any faith community, any tradition, any religious institution. While I believe that anyone who actually denies Jesus (the Messiah) has got it wrong, it seems undeniable to me that many people from non-Christian faiths are further along in the service of our Father, greater in the Kingdom of Heaven, than most who profess to be Christians. I believe that the Spirit that was made visible to us in Jesus, and which speaks to us and wants to live in us today, speaks to all men and women in their hearts and offers to all the chance to turn their lives over to the Living Christ and become servants in the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t think that this offer is limited by the religious beliefs that a person professes.
Certainly, religious beliefs can be useful, but faith is the key. Faith means putting our trust in God, granting the Living Spirit of Christ absolute sovereignty in our lives. We can talk until we are blue in the face about the meaning of the atonement or how we asked Jesus into our hearts, but if we are not living lives that bear fruit of repentance – if we are not walking as children of light – our beliefs are meaningless. Worse than meaningless, considering that there are people who do not think that they believe in God who in fact obey God. (See Matthew 21:28-32.) The primary question, it seems to me, ought to be: Are we living our lives unreservedly in the hands of God? Most Christians’ lives give testimony to the fact that we have not made the decision to go all the way for Christ, even while some non-Christians clearly have.
I believe it was Thomas Kelly who wrote that many are willing to go halfway for God – they are willing to make sacrifices, change careers, do good in the world. But most men and women are unwilling to go the other half, which consists in surrendering everything, our very selfhood: dying to the self. Now, I think that it is arguable as to whether most professing Christians even go much of the first half. But it seems self evident that very few people, of any faith, go the second half. The state of our world testifies to our massive failure in this regard!
So, I do believe that people of different beliefs can enter the Kingdom of God, while most Christians seem to refuse to. This has presented difficulties for me, lots of material for wrestling, as I have considered how my own personal identity relates to my work in the world. Is a part of “dying to self” giving up any particular set of religious beliefs? Does being present to God in every moment require a relinquishment of all ideas, as Zen Buddhism would hold? I’m not sure. But I think that a lot of my wrestling has to do with the fact that I am not yet fully embedded in a covenantal religious community, a church in the first century sense of the term. I refer not to a meeting/church community, which I do have, but to a more tightly knit brotherhood/sisterhood.
I long to come together with other valiant ministers who share my call to be a city on a hill, a light that cannot be hidden, calling out to the Seed of God in all people, incarnating Christ among the poor and witnessing to the living presence of Christ already in and among the marginalized and dispossessed. I think my questions about identity – for instance, why be a Friend when I could “just be a Christian,” or why be a Christian when I could just be a child of God? – might diminish once I come into covenant community with other soldiers in the Lamb’s war who are heeding the call to give everything, their whole lives, their very souls, to God’s struggle to liberate all life from the bondage we find ourselves enmeshed in.
I am fairly clear that the next step for me is to head back to Great Plains Yearly Meeting and begin carrying out traveling ministry in the Great Plains region, visiting widely dispersed meetings and hopefully meeting a lot of new friends along the way. I hope that as I undertake this mission that God will raise up other valiant Friends who will feel the call to labor alongside me. I am praying to the Father for more laborers for the field, as well as companions with whom to share our journeys, our struggles, our hope, and Communion.
For as much thinking as I have done about “evangelism” in the past year or so, I’ve about come to the conclusion that the ultimate point is simply to be what God created me to be, and to come together with others who are also heeding that fundamental call. Evangelism is inseparable from a life lived in faith. Those of us who make the choice to live up to the hope that is in us will so shine before others that they will see how our lives glow with the Spirit of Jesus, and they will give praise to God. And maybe some of them will get the courage to let the Light shine through their lives, either working alongside us, as the disciples who set down their nets and followed Jesus, or within the communities where they came from, as with the healed demoniac whom Jesus sent back to testify to his own people.