FOLLOWING JESUS

Following Jesus


Discovering the Teen Jesus, By Felicia Silcox

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What Did Jesus Do All Day?, published by Church Publishing, Inc., bridges two worlds―the one we know today and the one Jesus knew in the Holy Land under Roman rule. Archaeological discoveries, historical writings, and early-Jewish studies continue to uncover what everyday life was like back then. Surprisingly, as the distant past comes into sharper focus, similarities emerge that are far beyond sharing basic needs like food, drink, sleep, companionship and housing. Like us, Jesus’ contemporaries worked and studied hard, worshiped in community, and observed holidays with family and friends. Like us, they struggled with temptation and sin, failure and loss, political upheaval and war, betrayal and violence, sickness and death. Somehow, the closer we look into Jesus’ world, the more familiar it feels―and the more his words ring true.

Raelene and Gary Williams highly recommend this book! You can order a copy from Amazon, or … Click here to go to a website created by the author.

On the website you’ll find a variety of excellent resources that cover what the world was like when Jesus was growing up. Topics include: Biblical Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Ancient Writings, Jewish Culture and Holy Land News.

What Genesis, Jesus & his apostles
teach about being male & female
in a troubled world, by Gary Williams

This book is now available from Amazon and other book retailers.  To order your copy, click on the left book cover below.  For a free discussion leader’s guide, click on a link to the right

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“…I felt like my Bible was calling me. I felt this promise that if I read it, if I just read it like a book, cover to cover, it wouldn’t change me into an idiot, it wouldn’t change me into a clone of Pat Buchanan, and that was honestly the thing I was worried about with the Bible. If I read it, it would make me simple in my thinking.

” So I started in Matthew, which is one of the Gospels about Jesus. And I read it through Matthew and Mark, then Luke and John … and Jesus was very confusing, and I didn’t know if I liked Him very much, and I was certainly tired of Him by the second day.  ” By the time I got to the end of Luke, to the part where they were going to … stretch Him out on a cross, something shifted within me … I remember sitting at my desk, and I don’t know what it was that I read or what Jesus was doing in the book, but I felt a love for him rush through me, through my back and into my chest. … I remember thinking that I would follow him anywhere … I loved Him, and I was going to follow Him. I think the most important thing that happens within Christian spirituality is when a person falls in love with Jesus.”  —Excerpt from Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller

Are you worried, as Donald Miller used to be, that you’ll become “simple” in your thinking if you read the Bible? I’ve channel-flipped across enough “religious” TV programs to understand your concern. Who wouldn’t be worried if all we had to go on were the weird-eyed, poofy-haired men and women seen on many Christian networks? Fortunately, after a lifetime of involvement in churches and ministries (mostly as a volunteer;once as a staff member), I can assure you that the vast majority of Christians are not at all like the scary types seen on TV or often caricatured in movies.  To be a Christian, in its original sense, simply means to be a follower of Jesus. So to be Christian in the sense originally intended is to be a person who does his or her best to live as Jesus taught and demonstrated. The word “Christian” carries so much baggage in our day and age that Raelene and I now prefer to be called “Christ followers.” That puts the emphasis back where it belongs — on Jesus — who summed up what it means to follow him with these words: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  

Can you imagine what a fine place this world would be if we all worked at the second part of that sentence, let alone the first? For example, that would put a lot of left- and right-wing talking heads out of work, make comedians become more creative or get real jobs, and change the tenor of discussion in classrooms and living rooms all across the globe.

None of us on this earth is ever going to be perfect. No family, no church, no business, no government, no community organization is ever going to be perfect when it is composed of imperfect humans. The one who lived a perfect life on earth was Jesus. The reason he offers us forgiveness when we fall short of his perfection is that he loves us — you and me — more than we can possibly imagine.

If you’re curious about Jesus of Nazareth, I hope there’s something here that will encourage you to shut out the noise that surrounds talk about “religion” and place your focus squarely on Jesus. The best web page to start on is probably this: Books for Seeking Growth . That page is going to recommend you find a modern English Bible translation and read the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

I really enjoy reading all of them at once, using “The NIV Harmony of the Gospels” by Thomas and Gundry. Matthew, Mark and Luke contain a lot of the same information, though not always in the same sequence. John’s Gospel adds information not in the other three. The Harmony puts all four accounts side by side, reorganizing them so that they are sequential. It’s a great way to get the full story of Jesus’s life, both from those who knew Jesus personally and from those who drew on the eyewitness accounts of his apostles and followers.

If you’re already a Christ follower, perhaps this section will serve as an introduction to new books or new ideas about faith-related subjects such as worship and prayer. Maybe something I’ve posted about tithing, womens’ roles, or another topic will serve as food for thought.

 


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and a few to be chewed and digested.  ~Francis Bacon

We read a wide range of books, including a lot that are Christ centered.  Those listed here are in the “chewed and digested” category. Recommendations of friends have led us to discover authors and books we might not have discovered on our own, books that have enriched our lives. Their modeling is what prompts me to add this page of books my wife, Raelene, and I have found to be of special value.Ben Franklin 1856 book illustration 72


Scripture study / Why consider Christianity?

The Bible — No, I’m not being facetious Reading scripture is always the best starting point when we want to know about faith matters.  For casual reading (as opposed to study in preparation to teach), I like Eugene Peterson’s The Message Remix, which includes Old and New Testaments in modern language.  For those new to Bible reading, may I suggest that you consider beginning with one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).  They describe the life of Jesus and tell us what he said about himself.  Moving next to the Book of Acts will give you a good idea of what the early church was like.  The Book of Romans will get you into a good study of theology.

Simply Christian, By N.T. Wright — This is an excellent book!  We like it so much we keep extra copies handy and give them away.  Was Jesus a historical figure? If so, who did he think he was and what was he doing? Why would a self- proclaimed Jewish ” Messiah” be worshipped long after dying on a Roman cross? Wright answers these questions and more in a book that’s got plenty to offer for those who are beginning their research or seeking to strengthen an already existing belief in Jesus of Nazareth.

Wright begins with four universal issues he calls “echoes of a voice” within contemporary society: the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty. He defines and discusses these in today’s postmodern, post-Christian society, referring to them as “strange signposts pointing beyond the landscape of our contemporary culture and out into the unknown.” In the second part of the book, Wright relates the Christian story, discussing what Christians believe and how those beliefs speak to the questions, or echoes, covered in the opening pages. As one reviewer wrote, “A non-Christian could read this book and have an understanding of what Christians believe without all the confusing nuances of different strains of belief (whether Protestant or Catholic, Orthodox or Calvinist).”

In the book’s final chapters, Wright covers prayer, scripture, and Christian living, returning to the questions posed in Part One and describing how the Christian story and the Christian life are lived out in answer to these longings — not as simply biding our time until Jesus returns for us, but as a new creation awaiting its restoration.

Perfection Collides with Free Will, A study of Genesis Chapters 1-3, with extended notes on male-female roles.  The first three chapters of the first three books of the Bible provide a foundation for understanding everything that follows in both the Old and New Testaments.  For this reason, Genesis deserves much more than the casual reading it often receives.  This book will help you dig into those three important chapters and — whether you’re a seeker of information about God or a veteran follower of Jesus — I guarantee that it will challenge what you thought you understood about the beginning of human history.  Women and men struggling to figure out God’s design for them in marriage, in the community or at church will find this book particularly thought provoking.  Click here to buy a copy

The Case for Christ, A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, by Lee Strobel — I also liked this book so well I bought copies to give away.The title pretty well tells the story.  In the text, Strobel explains that he set out to debunk Christianity.  I thought his premise lost something in the translation because the publisher reveals on the cover that Strobel’s quest for truth not only led him to faith in Jesus, he became a pastor. That’s like revealing who did it on the cover of the mystery you’re about to read.  But disclosing how Strobel’s life changed before we read why it changed doesn’t detract from the story of his journey, it just takes the surprise out of the ending. So what if you know how it turns out; you’ll have to read the book to find out why.

Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller — A very fine book!!  Miller is an excellent writer who looks at the world from the perspective of someone who is two or three generations younger than me.  His book is about his growing faith, including discoveries about himself and how he gets along with others.  I related to what he said about not feeling that he fit into any church, though he (and I) grew up in the church and held leadership positions. And I was encouraged to read that he did finally become part of a faith family that welcomed him, warts and all. We heard about Miller from the colleage-age daughter of friends who found this book well worth sharing, even with oldtimers like us.

Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller.  Seriously, folks, this guy is one of the best writers working.  He combines a great sense of humor with insight and wisdom into matters of faith.

A Reasonable Faith, by Anthony Campolo.  I’ve had this book on my shelf for decades and don’t recall having read it until I pulled it down and dusted it off not long ago.  Wow, what an idiot I’ve been. If I’d dug into this book years ago I could have used Dr. Campolo’s helpful insights dozens of times to talk with skeptics and seekers.  Believers, also, will find this book helpful to clarify personal thoughts about Christianity.  Long out of print, the book is easily found on the web.  Dr. Campolo addresses four major areas of secular thought, and shows how Christians can respond to them with kindness and reason:  (1)  Contingency, which claims that everything that exists has a cause that can be scientifically explained; (2) Autonomy, which claims that man shapes his own destiny. There is no God and man is a law unto himself; (3) Temporality, which claims that all things pass away; in the end there is nothing at all; and (4) Relativity, which claims that if there is no God anything is permissible. Man establishes his own laws and principles for living.  In the process of learning how to explain our faith in relation to the ideas listed above, we personally gain insights into how we can become more loving and sensitive to where others are coming from.

The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism, By Timothy Keller. This is a new find for us, but it’s a New York Times best seller, so we’re late to the party. Keller’s book speaks to doubts that skeptics and non-believers bring to religion. He uses literature, philosophy, anthropology, pop culture, and intellectual reasoning to explain why believing in God is a sound and rational choice. For those of us who already trust in the Living God, Keller offers handles on how to talk to others in this Age of Religious Skepticism, where Christians are often characterized as myth-keepers and fools. We highly recommend this excellent book. 

Books about living as a follower of Jesus

Answering God and Praying with the Psalmsby Eugene Peterson — These are two of my favorite books about prayer. Peterson is one of those special teachers who has a gift for revealing the heart of God to those of us who are looking for a deeper understanding of spiritual truths.

Ruthless Trust, The Ragamuffin’s Path to God, by Brennan Manning — A sequel to The Ragamuffin Gospel.  Manning discusses how to overcome our primary obstacle to living fully within God’s love — the lack of “ruthless trust.”

The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen — The themes are homecoming, affirmation, and reconciliation.  Nouwen’s book has much to say to anyone struggling with how to love and/or forgive those who need it most — those who do unloving things to others.

The Predicament of Modern Man, by Elton Trueblood — written right after the Second World War, it reads now like it was written yesterday. We live in difficult times.  This is a good book to help those of us who follow Jesus become better at living as salt and light in the world. Chapter titles include: The Sickness of Civilization, The Failure of Power Culture,The Impotence of Ethics, The Insufficiency of Individual Religion, & The Necessity of a Redemptive Society.

Alternative to Futility, by Elton Trueblood — A companion book to the preceding one.  Here Trueblood “presents his prescription for restoring the total health of civilization,” says the cover copy.  His answer is a “redemptive fellowship,” a  “creative society in miniature” that grows out of the church.  Are you frustrated with Churchianity?  Read this, then get busy.

Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, by Francis Schaeffer — a wonderful study of the book of Joshua.  I learned much about how God works with individuals and groups from reading this book.

Exposition of Ecclesiastes, by H.C. Leupold  — Ecclesiastes is an excellent choice to introduce a seeker to the Living God, especially with the help of this commentary.  King Solomon had everything a man could want, yet found it all just  chasing after wind.  Is there a better way to live? How does God fit in?  That’s what this study is all about.  Offers many opportunities to work current issues into discussions of Solomon’s discoveries about life.

The Servant Who Rules, by Ray C. Stedman — An excellent study of Mark 1-8.

The Ruler Who Serves, by Ray C. Stedman — Part 2 of this very fine study of the Book of Mark.

The Lord’s Prayers (also published as The Prayers of Christ), by Eldon Trueblood — I’ll admit it, I’m a fan of Trueblood.  Discovered him later in life and made up for it by purchasing every one of his books I can find.  The Lord’s Prayers is one of the best helps for improving your prayer life you’ll find.  It is not a book about one prayer; here Trueblood offers accounts from the Bible of how and when Jesus prayed, and how he taught his disciples to pray.  Trueblood then applies those accounts to our lives today.  I’m a big believer in reading the Bible first for answers about the Bible, but books by insightful teachers like Trueblood add richness to our own studies.  It’s only 126 pages long.  If I tried to outline line it by eliminating anything that was unimportant, my outline would be maybe 124 pages.

The Company of the Committed and The Incendiary Fellowship, by Elton Trueblood — Two more books that have much to offer about how we can develop within our churches committed believers who demonstrate a living faith.  The Church is not located in a church building or out in the world, it is in people, wrote Trueblood.  These books were written to help us, the people, stand up and make a difference in the world.

The Safest Place on Earth, by Larry Crabb — You may be catching a theme here in my reading.  This is another book that explores how the church can become what God intended it to be, a place where imperfect people receive support and compassion in dealing with our weaknesses.  A safe place where lives are forever changed as we deepen our relationship with God and others.

Encouragement, The Key to Caring, by Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr. and Dan B. Allender — Yes, Lawrence J. and Larry are one and the same Crabb.  The authors write about how to go beyond “surface community” in our churches, so we can become encouragers of one another.  It’s easy to be critical or withdrawn.  It’s not so easy to offer encouragement in healthy ways.  I found this book, well, encouraging.

Connecting, by Larry Crabb — Another excellent book on how to connect with others.  Many of us are “disconnected souls” writes Crabb.  “What we need is connection!  What we need is a healing community!”

Under the Unpredictable Plant, An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, by Eugene Peterson.  While this book was written mainly to those in paid ministry, and I’m not, I found it spiritually uplifting.  Peterson uses the story of Jonah to discuss what it means to hear God’s call.  Now that has to be relevant to all of us who claim to be His.

A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken — Includes letters by C.S. Lewis.  A love story, a search for faith, and a growing friendship with C.S. Lewis are the basis of this book that is best read with a box of Kleenex nearby, even if, like me, you’re too tough to cry.

Reversed Thunder, The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination, by Eugene H. Peterson —  This is an unconventional look at the Book of Revelation.  Here’s what Peterson himself writes about it: “This last book of the Bible takes the entire biblical revelation and re-images it in a compelling, persuading, evangelistic vision which has brought perseverance, stamina, joy, and discipline to Christians for centuries, and continues to do so.”

More books that are well worth your time

Finding the Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, by Reggie McNeal — Found this one by accident (or divine intervention, take your pick).  The author looks at the universal church, as practiced American style, and then delivers what is promised by the book’s title, six tough questions for the church.  But he doesn’t stop there; he also delivers excellent insights into how church leaders can move from Churchianity to practical Christian living in the 21st century.  I love his concept of “life counselors” to greet and work with new people at a church.  McNeal compares them to personal trainers who set up individual exercise programs with people who join a gym for the first time and who need someone to work with them to accomplish their goals.   If you are serious about your faith, you have to ask why so many good people, followers of Jesus, have such a difficult time in and with the institutional church?  This book is a call to action, not a criticism.

The New Thought Police, Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds, by Tammy Bruce —  One evening, when my wife and I were staying In an Oregon hotel, I turned on the TV. I then indulged in some typically male channel flipping. That stopped when I came to a woman speaking to a college class — the kind of thing you only see on obscure cable channels.  She was obviously very smart, so much so that I dropped the channel clicker and began to listen.  Turned out it was Tammy Bruce, discussing her new book to a hostile group of students.  This self-described lesbian feminist former president of NOW was berating her old companions and being slammed in return.  She was accusing them of a left-wing version of McCarthyism aimed at the right … mainly at Christians.  They were calling her a turncoat.  She was actually defending a Christian’s right to reject the left’s politically correct agenda.   When we returned home, I bought the book.  This is an eye-opener, written by a left-wing insider who met the enemy (us) and found that some of us are pretty cool.  Isn’t it time that some of us meet this (former) enemy and find out what makes her cool?  At the same time, you’ll get an excellent explanation of the left’s agenda for the U.S. and what they’re doing to beat us into submission.  We can bury our heads in the sand, or we can become an army of informed, committed, caring, connected followers of Jesus.  The choice is ours.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck — How, you ask, can a guy like Steinbeck be on a reading list for people who seek to grow in their Christian faith?  For starters, he’s one of the great writers of the 20th century. What makes a great writer great is the ability to create realistic characters in realistic settings.  This sort of book helps us know what people are thinking about and struggling with.  In this case, however, the book has even more to offer.  This is Steinbeck’s modern version of Cain and Able.  It’s about good and evil and our ability to choose between the two.  Any pastor who has used too many sermon illustrations from Tales of Narnia or some other favorite would do well to build a sermon around the biblical message of choice, as illustrated in East of Eden. As a bonus, while preparing your sermon you get to read an American classic.

Kurt Vonnegut has a lot to say about the human condition, too, but that might be stretching it for this list.  I will confess, though, to having all of his novels and collected short stories. As Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

Coming Soon — Favorites from several other authors, including N.T. Wright and Philip Yancey (or is it Tom Clancy?  I get them confused).

** There are many places to buy new and used books.  My favorite is www.abe.com.  I’ve purchased dozens of books from that site and always been pleased.  Amazon also has a good selection of new and used books.  Some of my favorites, like those by Elton Trueblood, can only be purchased used.  I’ve found the individual booksellers who advertise through abe.com to be reliable in assessing the condition of what they offer.

Raelene Williams had never led a Bible study before and didn’t feel she knew the scriptures very well.  Even so, when neighbors asked, she took a leap of faith.  Here she shares what happened over the course of the next four years.   CLICK HERE TO READ.

Just walk across the room
Neil Smith applies principles from Bill Hybels’ excellent book

The following are summaries from two books by Elton Trueblood.  If you’ve never heard of this man, Google the name and prepare to be impressed.  He taught at Stanford and Harvard, among other places of learning, was friend to presidents and other world leaders, and wrote dozens of excellent books.  And that was all before lunch.  He was an amazing man of God.  Read below how Trueblood defined the church universal, according to his best understanding.


Excerpts from Alternatives to Futility, by Elton Trueblood

The early Church turned the world upside down.  No one would accuse the Church of doing that today.  The early Church at first had no buildings, no separated clergy, no set ritual, no bishops, no pope – yet it worked.

What are the characteristics of a church body that might help us repeat the miracle? A healthy church is a redemptive society that gives meaning to history and a sense of human solidarity.  Its members grow in faith, encouraged by a special kind of fellowship that allows members to recover a sense of meaning in their lives.  They live the truth of being linked to one another, and to history, in the continuum of believers who are in the flow of God’s eternal purpose.

This redemptive society is characterized by:

  1. An intensive fellowship of
    a.  worship
    b.  affection
    c.  work
  2. Members who have a sense of
    a. Christ’s vocation
    b. An emerging divine purpose
    c. Their own vocations as followers of Jesus
  3. Members who are dedicated
  4. Members who are able to demonstrate rather than just theorize
  5. A real sense of equality among the fellowship, in spite of different functions
  6. Fellowship that is marked by a sense of inner peace in the face of the world’s turmoil
  7. An almost boisterous, overwhelming joy in loving and serving God
  8. The ability to maintain a cohesive fellowship, while introducing ideas that are
    discordant with society’s beliefs and practices
  9. An ability to infect the surrounding community with the Gospel
  10. Vitality
  11. Moral sensitivity
  12. Members set free from personal struggles for power, money, and prestige
  13. There can be no living religion without a fellowship
  14. Members feel responsible to one another

Millions who once found their chief fellowship in the church, now find it in social groups, clubs, hobbies, and so on.  Many of the best people are outside the churches precisely because they are the best people.  Becoming disgusted is in their favor.  There are churches that accomplish good, but there are also many reasons to be discouraged.

Alienation is often based on the fact that the church demands too little.  What we need is a redemptive movement to take our dry bones and make them live – a reformation that unites, that recovers and fulfills the radical nature of   Christianity.  We need to be sufficiently bold and courageous in creating these new redemptive societies (within the established church, not outside of it).

Important questions to resolve

Should we distinguish between clergy and laity?
Should the Churches own property?
Should real membership be rigorously restricted to the deeply convinced?
Should the normal meeting unit be the small cell rather than large gatherings?
Should regular meals together be incorporated into the fellowship, as was done in the early church?

Excerpts from The Company of the Committed, by Elton Trueblood

Pages 21-23
The crucial question today is not whether we must have a fellowship, for on that point we are reasonably clear; the crucial question concerns the character of the fellowship.  The more we think about it the more we realize that it must be a fellowship of the committed. This is because mere belief is never enough … the chief barrier to a renewed vitality in the Christian society is not lack of belief.  Millions … feel no sense of urgency about the Christian endeavor …

One way of stating the crucial difference between belief and commitment is to say that when commitment occurs there is attached to belief an ‘existential index’ which changes its entire character.  Belief in differs from belief that, in the way in which the entire self is involved. ‘If I believe in something,’ says Marcel, ‘it means that I place myself at the disposal of something, or again that I pledge myself fundamentally, and this pledge affects not only what I have but also what I am.’ We shall not be saved by anything less than commitment and the commitment will not be effective unless it finds expression in a committed fellowship.

Page 38
What we seek is not a fellowship of the righteous or of the self-righteous, but rather a fellowship of men and women who, though they recognize that they are inadequate, nevertheless can be personally involved in the effort to make Christ’s kingdom prevail.  Perhaps the greatest single weakness of the contemporary Christian Church is that millions of supposed members are not really involved at all and, what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not.  As soon as we recognize Christ’s intention to make His Church a militant company we understand at once that the conventional arrangement cannot suffice.  There is no real chance of victory in a campaign if ninety per cent of the soldiers are untrained and uninvolved, but that is exactly where we stand now.

Page 72
If we were to take the idea of a militant company seriously, the church building would be primarily designed as a drill hall for the Christian task force.  It would be a place where Christian ambassadors in common life would come together to be trained, to strengthen one another, and to find solitude when it is needed … we may say that the Christian building should be a ‘launching pad,’ a place from which people engaged in secular life are propelled.

Page 99
The first Christians were sometimes divisive, sometimes snobbish, sometimes deceitful, but they had no doubt concerning the nature of the standard from which they were departing.  It was the standard of a loving concern for one another and for all men, in the sense of a burning desire for the welfare of the other person.

Page 101
The evidence of love as the ultimate mark and test of the (early) Christian community comes from many post-Biblical sources.  One of the most moving of all testimonies is Tertullian’s:

‘It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents.‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another … Look how they are prepared to die for one another.’

Justin Martyr supplements this witness, in the conclusion of his description of Christian worship, as follows:

Those who are well-to-do and willing, give as they choose, each as he himself purposes; the collection is then deposited with the president, who succors orphans, widows, those who are in want owing to sickness or any other cause, those who are in prison, and strangers who are on a journey.’

Page 108
At no point is the need of redemptive fellowship more pressing than in connection with the problem of race … The poor maligned society, the Church, really offers our best hope for the kind of ‘meeting’ without which the race question will not be solved at all.

Page 109
Trueblood calls for the formation of interracial fellowship groups [in 1961], which he says can be revolutionary in their effect.  “In this way people who have lived for years in the same city as strangers, even though employed in the same places, may become actual friends.  Their motto may be the words of Christ when He said, ‘No longer do I call you servant …; but I have called you friends’ (John 15:15).”


Wise words from a young woman
who lived more than 300 years ago

Introductory Note from Gary Williams:
Roughly 2000 years ago Jesus selected an unlikely group of men and women to  form the core of his little band of religious radicals.  They weren’t rich, educated, well-known, or without fault, yet they turned the ancient world upside down.  The Bible says God chose these imperfect humans so that we would understand that what they did was the result of His power, not theirs.   When they said “yes” to Jesus’ call, God gave them the tools and opportunities to do the work prepared for them.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to find that 1700 years later He handed out a Godly dose of wisdom to a young woman in England, who, like the Apostles and disciples of Christ, came from humble circumstances.  Like them, she also heard a call and answered “Yes, Lord.”

Her name was Deborah Wynn Bell and in 1709, at the tender age of 20, God used her to write about the role of women in the church.  What’s remarkable is that those of us who’ve studied this issue know she was centuries ahead of her time in understanding what the scriptures teach us about women in the church.

She was born in 1689, in Yorkshire, England.  Her parents were part of the still new Quaker movement that was stirring up the British landscape, but her father and seven siblings died before she was 12.  Times were hard for other reasons too.  Quakers were being thrown into jail, beaten, robbed of their homes, and persecuted in other ways because of their religious beliefs.  These Godly people refused to participate in the government-sponsored Church of England, refused to bow down to their “betters” (as was the custom of the day), and insisted on living according to their strict interpretation of scripture.  In the eyes of the law and many of their neighbors that made the Quakers deserving of anything bad that was thrown at them.  It took great courage to openly admit to belonging to the Society of Friends, let alone to preach in their meetings.  Still, when Deborah Bell was only 19 and without a formal education, she began an active public ministry that carried her to Quaker gatherings throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

To get an idea of the radical nature of this young woman’s life, you should also know that the role of women hadn’t changed much between Jesus’ day and 1708.  She was expected to marry, have babies, and manage her household.  Her place was not to travel and preach, and she certainly wasn’t expected to show the wisdom of someone much, much older and better educated.

You’ll see what I mean about wisdom when you read the letter she wrote to a woman who sought her counsel.  Her letter was published in a book titled:  “The Friends Library, Comprising Journals, Doctrinal Treatises, and Other Writings of Members of the Religious Society of Friends,printed in 1841.  I have other “modern” books and articles about women’s roles in the church.  None of the recent authors cover the essentials any better than this young Quaker.


Deborah  Bell’s letter and why she wrote it

About this time a young woman who was a baptist, came divers times to a meeting I sometimes visited, and wrote several letters to me, by way of inquiry concerning our principles, which I answered as things opened upon my mind.  After several letters had passed between us and she seemed satisfied with my answers, she wrote me another, desiring to be resolved about women’s preaching, saying, she thought me a proper person to apply to, being concerned in that service; to which I replied in substance as follows. 

Dear friend,

Though we are strangers one to another, as to personal knowledge, yet understanding by some friends, and thy own letters to me, that thou art inclined to virtue and piety, and desirous to know the way of the Lord, which is very commendable in youth, and particularly wants to be resolved concerning women’s preaching and praying in public assemblies; and I being concerned that way, and always glad to hear that young people are inclinable to godliness, find the tender love of my heavenly Father flow towards thee, heartily desiring he may open thy understanding, and give thee the true knowledge of himself, and of his way Christ Jesus, whom to know is life everlasting.

And first I shall observe, that the holy women, under the law, were concerned in carrying on the work of the Lord, when the tabernacle was commanded to be built.  And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, this is the thing which the Lord commanded, saying, take ye from amongst you an offering unto the Lord, whosoever is of a willing heart, &c.  And they came every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments; and they came both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, &c.  And all the women, whose hearts stirred them up in wisdom, spun goats hair, &c.  And divers services we may find, for the carrying on of the Lord’s work, the holy women in that day were employed in assisting in concurrence with the men in the work of the tabernacle; which I look upon was figurative, setting forth something of the inward work of the holy spirit of Jesus Christ, in men and women under the glorious Gospel dispensation.

But to come closely to the point, we may observe, that Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her, &c.  And Miriam exhorted them to praise the Lord; which undoubtedly was approved by Moses, Aaron, and the rest of her brethren.  We also find, the Lord hath been pleased to make known his will to godly women as well as men, and to make use of their service in matters of great moment; of which Deborah a prophetess and a judge in Israel, and Huldah, the prophetess, are eminent instances.  Hence thou mayest see, the public service of women in the church is no new thing, but was practised amongst the people of God in ancient days.

I shall now proceed to observe, that the same was to be continued in the latter days, or dispensation of the Gospel; which is thus expressed by the prophet Joel, personating the Almighty: ‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, &c.  And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit, and I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth,’ &c.  So if daughters have the Spirit of the Lord poured forth upon them as well as sons, why may they not preach, pray, or prophesy, when led and moved thereto by the Spirit, as well as sons?

Passing now from the Old Testament to the New, we find a notable instance in Anna the prophetess, who gave thanks and spoke of the Lord Jesus Christ unto all them who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.  Here was a woman preacher, who taught or prophesied in the temple of the Lord; an early preacher of the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.  But I suppose the chief objection in thy mind against women’s preaching, arises from that saying of the apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians; ‘Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.  And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.’

It appears to have been only to some married women at Corinth, the apostle gave that charge; and none can justly draw from his words, that he thereby meant to prohibit all women from preaching and prophesying in public assemblies; for it is plain from the text, that those Corinthian women were not such as prophesied, or had a word of exhortation to give; but busy-bodies, asking questions which disturbed and troubled the church.  But those amongst us, whom the Lord has concerned to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and declare the glad-tidings of life and salvation by him, to poor captivated souls, are not found asking questions to trouble the church, but labouring in the gift God has given them, that people may come to be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God; which was the concern of Gospel ministers in former days.

Such women as the apostle speaks against, were to learn of their husbands at home; which implies, they wanted such instruction as their husbands might be able to give.  We read, Philip had four daughters, virgins, who did prophesy, and though Paul and his company tarried there about a year after he had so written to the Corinthians, yet we do not find, that he in any wise disapproved the prophesying of those godly virgins.  We may justly conclude, that if women’s preaching or prophesying had been put an end to by the coming of Christ, and was not to be allowed in the Gospel dispensation, Philip, an evangelist, would not have suffered his own daughters to prophesy, who were virgins under his own care, as may reasonably be supposed.  Nor did the other apostles, in their general epistles to the believers, give any such commandment to the churches; which, no doubt, they would have done, if in the Gospel dispensation the Holy Ghost had prohibited women being so concerned.  Besides, such a prohibition would have been a plain contradiction to the prophecy of Joel, before mentioned.

It also appears very clear, that the apostle Paul never intended such a limitation, who gave suitable advice how women should behave themselves when exercised in praying and prophesying, as thou mayest read.  They that conclude the apostle intended to exclude all women from praying and prophesying, make him inconsistent with himself, to prescribe a way in one place how to perform orderly and decently, what he disapproved in another.  But the same apostle is very clear when he saith, ‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.’  ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’

Then if there be no difference between male and female, but all are one in Christ, why may not all be like the partakers of the gift of his grace, thereby to be made to speak in his name, and exhort all to believe in him and obey him?  And it is likewise to be observed, that in the same chapter the apostle advised the women at Corinth not to trouble the church, he saith, ‘Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.’  From whence it may be as strongly argued, the apostle meant they might prophesy, though not required of them by the Lord so to do; as to say he forbad women to prophesy, though the Lord required it of them.  For saying ‘You may all prophesy,’ included the women of Corinth as well as the men, if moved thereto by the Spirit of the Lord.  And though the apostle saith, ‘Let the women learn in silence with all subjection, but I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence,’ &c.

Respecting this I shall observe, that those women upon whom God hath poured forth of his holy Spirit, and filled their hearts with his living word, so that they cannot hold their peace, but a necessity from the Lord is upon them to preach the Gospel of glad-tidings, to those who are captives to sin, that they may come under the government of the law of the spirit of life, that sets free from the law of sin and death, having been made living witnesses of the work of God in their own hearts, and experienced a blessed change wrought therein, and a concern raised to call others to seek after the Lord, and fear him; these can direct into the way that leads to true peace, because they have known their feet to be turned into it, by the might arm and power of the Lord, which has wrought a willingness in them to follow and serve him, according to the ability he gives.  And this agrees with that saying, ‘Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.’  And he has, by his power, enabled a remnant to walk in his way, though a way of self-denial, step by step; and these whether men or women, have witnessed a learning in silence, as they have thus waited and rightly come to learn of Christ Jesus, their heavenly husband; he has opened his everlasting way and Truth unto their souls, and even constrained them, by his overcoming love, to declare of it to others, which has been done at times in fear and trembling, and much self-denial.  Such women are not of those the apostle had occasion to reprove.

For we are far from usurping authority over the men, but remain in true subjection, depending upon the Lord our strength, and waiting for the authority of his holy power, which calls to this great work, and carries it on, both in sons and daughters, to the praise of his great name, and the comfort and encouragement of poor longing souls, that thy may come also and enjoy for themselves, that which will nourish up unto everlasting life.  Such women as these the law allowed of, and the apostle allowed of, as might be more fully proved out of the holy Scriptures.

For they who allow not women’s prophesying, preaching or praying, must consequently conclude, that the Lord’s regard to them is lessened, and his love in measure withdrawn from them; for it is evident, by the texts I have mentioned, He made his mind known to women in ancient days, and they spoke in his word to his people; and as their counsel was taken, the Lord enabled his people to overcome their enemies.  But blessed be the name of the Lord, there is a remnant in this day, who have been made partakers of his mercy, and can say he is the same that ever he was, in regard and love to all his people, male and female; God unchangeable, blessed in himself and in his son Jesus Christ for ever.

I might enlarge on this subject beyond the bounds of a letter, should I observe, how Jesus Christ our Lord conversed with, and used the service of women before he was offered up; how his first appearing, after his resurrection, was unto a woman; and also how Paul commended divers women, and tells how helpful they were to him, and entreated his true yoke- fellow to help those women who laboured with him in the Gospel; which for brevity I omit, and shall draw towards a conclusion, earnestly desiring the Lord may open thy understanding, both in this thing, and in all others which concern thy everlasting well being.  If I had room I should be willing to tell thee a little of my own experience in several respects, but am more desirous to have a little conversation with thee, if opportunity admits.  So with sincere desires in my heart, for thy welfare and growth in the
knowledge of God, and establishment in the blessed Truth, I conclude thy truly loving friend, willing to satisfy thee in what I can.     Signed Deborah Bell

A considerable time after, this young woman came to a meeting where I was, and when it ended, told me she was the person who had written me divers letters, and received my answers, desiring to have some conversation with me, which I readily agreed to, and we spent some hours together to our mutual comfort.  She confessed to the truth, and was much tendered through the visitation of the love of God to her; and some time after, finding my heart opened in love of God, earnestly desiring her preservation and settlement in the Truth, I wrote and sent her (another letter).    D.B.

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The Intersection Between Heaven and Earth

A Journey to Discover the Intersection
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By Raelene Williams

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