I would like to start by unpacking a word that for some people is a terrible hurdle and that is the word, “Christ.” Let’s go back to the original meaning of that word.
From the beginning of humanity, certain individuals have felt the direct presence of the universal spirit of God within them, and they have said, “Now how can I put this in words?” One way was to say, “It feels like an anointing.” An anointing is to rub oil on somebody’s skin as a sign of appointing them as a priest or a king. The word “anointing” comes close to describing the feeling of being touched and transformed by the presence of God. The gospels and epistles were first written in Greek, and the word in Greek for “anointing” is “Christos.” That’s actually what “Christ” means, “anointed.”
So I’m hoping that you can just sort of accept that, when I use the word “Christ,” I’m not using it in any doctrinal sense. I am using it in the sense that there is an inward anointing in every one of us, which is capable of teaching us all we need to know in the spiritual life.
This spirit of God, or Christ, operates within us in many different ways. George Fox picked up a Puritan expression for this variety of operations: “the offices of Christ.” It’s a bit like saying “the office of treasurer” and “the office of president.” So I want to explore six of these offices of Christ with you.
The Bishop: The role of the bishop is to oversee and to stabilize, to steady. Let me read you a piece from George Fox’s Journal. This was written when Fox was twenty-three:
“My living faith was raised [so] that I saw all was done by Christ the life, and . . . when at any time my condition was veiled, . . . my hope underneath held me, as an anchor at the bottom of the sea, and anchored my immortal soul to its Bishop, causing [my soul] to swim above the sea, the world where all the raging waves, foul weather, tempests, and temptations are.” (1647)
Where would Fox have gotten this word, “bishop”? Well, he got it from the scriptures. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to Titus, “A bishop must be. . . steady, just, holy, and self-controlled.” So the image of the bishop is a person who is steady, reliable, and faithful. The bishop is the steadying influence of Christ that engenders hope.
The Shepherd: The office of Christ as shepherd within each of us is to lead us into spiritual pasture. Sometimes you might be walking somewhere, and there might be a couple different tracks you could take, and you say, “I think I’ll take this one.” And you come to a vista or a tree, and you look, and it actually imparts something to you. You’ve been given a morsel of spiritual food. Fox’s expression for that experience was to say that he had been led by a shepherd. And of course, the word for “shepherd” in Latin is “pastor.”
When we get to that point when we realize we have been fed a spiritual morsel, the normal emotional response is gratitude.
The Prophet: The office of prophet is to teach what to do and to teach righteousness. It takes us from a state of confusion and confliction, and leads to inner peace. I think we’ve all been shown things to do and we’ve been shown things to refrain from doing.
I’ll tell you of a little story. I was brought up to enjoy wine and beer as a young person, probably to excess. And part of my ego was to know what good wine is. Then some years ago, I started being told to refrain from drinking wine. And my answer at the time was, “Not yet, Lord.” But the Lord did not give up.
So for a long time, I felt conflicted and confused. Should I or shouldn’t I? And in the end, I said, “That’s it. I’ll stop.” And when I followed what the Voice was saying to me, the result in me was peace.
Fox used this word “prophet” for this voice within us, this anointing within, this light within us, to stop doing that, and do this instead. And the result of it? Inner peace.
The Ruler: In the 1600s and earlier, a series of kings and queens ruled all sorts of nations. These rulers demanded obedience and, if you obeyed them, they offered you protection. This plays out in the internal, inward spiritual sphere as well. The office of Christ as Ruler is simply a word for an inward authority.
When Margaret Fell was on trial once, about to be cast into prison, the judge ruled she was out of the king’s protection. She said, “I may be out of the king’s protection, but I’m never out of the protection of Almighty God.”
So one of the fruits of entering into a relationship with the Ruler is courage.
The Priest: In the Anglican Church, the priest is the person who sanctifies that bit of bread or that wine, and draws attention to its sacredness. So one of the functions of a priest is to make us more aware of sacredness in the world around us
When the spirit of God is working as a priest within us, it sanctifies words and actions. Friends have often been accused of abandoning the priesthood, but we’ve actually done exactly the opposite. We have given up the laity. We are all called to be priests.
Fox said, “Be patterns, be examples . . . that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people . . . ” In other words, bring people an awareness of the sacredness of life. In this, we tend to see what is really good in people, and to draw that out, rather than judging what is bad. So the Priest engenders compassion in us.
The Savior: As a savior, Christ saves us from difficulty and error in life. This saving quality restores life and innocency. Some other words that early Friends used for the office of Savior are redeemer, physician, and healer.
Here’s Fox: “Now I was come up in the spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new and creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter and I knew nothing but pureness, innocency, and righteousness.” (1648)
The role of the savior takes you back to the real child within you. A child is innocent. That’s why Jesus said, “You don’t get into heaven unless you become like a child.” And in this state, there’s a feeling that, “I can’t do it by myself.” This is the source of humility. So the fruit of the Savior is humility and trust.
The ability to recognize and name these offices of Christ – Bishop, Shepherd, Prophet, Ruler, Priest, and Savior – can help us find our way through spiritual turmoil.
I share these with you so that you can name them within yourselves and notice them. And I encourage you to do that. Because as you do that, it will sensitize you a bit more to the workings of God within you.
The early Friends were convinced that much of our tendency to sinfulness can actually be removed from us and we can move toward perfection. So my prayer is this: Oh God, help us to allow your presence and your working within us. ~~~
The text above was excerpted from a complete audio-recording of David Johnson’s presentation. A Pendle Hill Pamphlet based on this talk will soon be available at: pendlehill.org
David Johnson is a retired earth scientist who wrote The Geology of Australia, and recently, A Quaker Prayer Life and Jesus, Christ and Servant of God. David has a long- standing commitment to working for peace and non-violence, and has invested countless hours of organizing into the international campaign to ban land mines. He is one of the founders of the Silver Wattle Quaker Centre in Australia, along with his wife Trish, and both are members of Queensland Regional [Monthly] Meeting.
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