WHOSE FRIEND AM I?
Emerson declares that “The scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do not furnish him with one good thought or happy expression; but it is necessary to write a letter to a friend, – and forthwith troops of gentle thoughts invest themselves, on every hand, with chosen words.” Those who have not known real friendship will hardly be bothered to read those words of Emerson. They will seem silly, perhaps even childish. And, truth to tell, I am no scholar; but, nevertheless, let troops of gentle thoughts now be expressed in chosen words which reveal the depths of intimacy of which a human being is capable. This human being, anyway. Like Alistair Ross, “I want space and freedom in order to discover me” and it is God who gave that space and freedom to me.
It has been said that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. If that is so, I wonder how good we are at choosing our friends? Jonathan and David became ‘one and spirit’, Jesus and John knew mutual intimacy, and the God who loves me has united me with a friend. But what is a friend?
A friend is one whose spirit and heart have been joined to mine. A friend is one who has been given divine love for me and me for him; that divine love which causes rivers of living water to flow between us. A friend is one for whom I would give not just my life, but each moment of my life. A friend is one in whom I invest all my trust; to whom I make myself wholly accountable. A friend is one who owns my space and my freedom. A friend is one in whom I can discover the person and presence of God as my friend makes the same discovery in me. A friend is one in whom my human creativity is a reflection of divine creativity, and for us to express together our creativity is itself a form of worship before our creative God. A friend is one with whom I can dream; together we can dare to believe God. My friend and I are not merely linked individuals, but we are “a love movement, an interweaving dance of participation.” I am the richest man on earth; I have a friend. A friend who walks on holy ground with me.
The Trinity has been described by Pinnock as an “open and dynamic structure”, a “loving community”, the “ultimate in community, mutuality and sharing”, and this is surely also what true friendship is. Like the Trinity itself, the togetherness of friendship is not, according to MacLeod, some “mere proximity; it is face-to-face relationship, rich in self-expression, rich in glorious out-goingness, rich in what we might almost call its external extrovertness, the outward-lookingness of the divine agape.” In speaking of Christians together, Grenz states that we should not focus on solitary human persons, but “persons-in-community.” “Therefore,” he says, “community is not merely an aspect of human life, for it lies within the divine essence.” So, I suggest, does friendship.
Therefore I agree with Hans Van Der Gees who wrote that “friendship is a better pattern of orientation for the pastor than preaching or ministry.” Before Jesus was my Lord, he was a friend of me the sinner. It was Jesus being my friend that enabled him to be my Lord.
“If we follow Jesus in that kind of friendship, it will transform our approach to children and young people, our relationships as church members, our understanding of team ministry, our mission in our communities, our inter-church relationships and our international viewpoint.” In short, it will transform society. Then we will discover that friendship “may be the key to many locked doors.”
Therefore I, too, would call us who are Christians to rediscover friendship; to discover again the holy ground of intimacy; to share our space and our freedom with another. The Spirit of God will lead us in this, for friendship originates with God and proceeds from him. So – join me in this! And, as has been said by Johnson, “Let us live! Let us love! Let us share the deepest secrets of our souls! You first.”
Baptist Union of Scotland, Heart, Mind and Mission, (Glasgow, Baptist Union of Scotland, 2001)
Paul S Fiddes, Participating In God, (London, Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2000)
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, The Report of the Special Commission anent Review and Reform, ‘A Church without Walls’, available on the Internet from: www.churchwithoutwalls.org.uk
Stanley J Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, (Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1994)
Derric Johnson, Did You See That?, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Inc, 2000)
Donald MacLeod, ‘The Doctrine of the Trinity’, Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, Vol 3 No 1, Spring 1985, pages 11-21
Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, Rediscovering Friendship, (London, SCM Press, 2000)
Clark Pinnock and others, The Openness Of God, (Carlisle, InterVarsity Press, 1994)
Alistair Ross, Evangelicals In Exile, (London, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1997)
Editor: Paul Sherman, R W Emerson, Essays, (London, Dent, 1984)
James Thwaites, The Church Beyond The Congregation, (Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1999)
Rob Warner, 21st-Century Church, (Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications, 1999)