Organized religions have a way of sparking inferred opinions when the followers are not afraid to stand out of the crowd. And usually when people try to explain to others, there is no amount of words that could prevent the audience from interpreting the said or written words from the unintended angle. Sometimes, even to each other in their own brotherhood and sisterhood. The Dunkers, now an all but unheard of religious sect, supposedly reacted to this human tendency to an extreme.
As the story went, Benjamin Franklin was a long-time acquaintance of one of the founders of the Dunkers, Michael Welfare. And when the good o’ Ben suggested to his friend that they might extinguish some of the vicious rumors spread about them if they could write down their abiding principles and rules of the church, Michael Welfare supposedly said the following:
When we were first drawn together as a society, it had pleased God to enlighten our minds so far as to see that some doctrines which we once esteemed truths, were errors, and that others, which we had esteemed errors, were real truths. From time to time He has been pleased to afford us farther light, and our principles have been improving, and our errors diminishing. Now we are not sure that we are arrived at the end of this progression, and at the perfection of spiritual or theological knowledge; and we fear that, if we should feel ourselves as if bound and confined by it, and perhaps be unwilling to receive further improvement, and our successors still more so, as conceiving what we their elders and founders had done, to be something sacred, never to be departed from. (Franklin, B.)
Sounds like extreme modesty. However when one reads it again, one may ask, who was deciding which brothers and sisters were getting the doctrines right and which others were getting the doctrines wrong? Where was the reference standard to tell them that their principles were improving and errors diminishing? My wild guess is that the Dunkers were a group of followers that believed in following just the bible and not by men’s words. They did not want their church leaders to write down any rules and doctrines, lest something new, something unintended by Jesus stemmed from it, and that people, as humans also have a tendency to hero worshiping, would start follow the leaders’ words instead of Jesus’ teachings. A very noble intention.
In fact, there is some truth to their claim. Mormons, for example, have the Book of Mormons. The Mormons do consider themselves Christians, even though their adherence to “gospels” that are in addition to the bible violates one of the passages in the bible:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18)
Of course, one can also see their reasoning as a reluctance of making a commitment with their written words. After all, didn’t Martin Lomasney once said, “Never write if you can speak, never speak if you can nod, never nod if you can wink”? Not making any official statement avoids some accountability.
Enlightenment is a difficult subject. Born again Christians will tell you that God’s Holy Spirit enabled them to “know with certainty” that they’re with God, while a non-Christian will use many human logic to try to argue the existence of God, the trustworthiness of the words in the bible, and the testimonies of the Christians. The Christians will tell you that God said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13)”, while people who do not believe in the Christian God will point out the lunatics who blew up buildings or cults who committed group suicide also believed they were entering heaven. Even the bible itself said:
For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Corinthians 1:19-25)
Truth. Don’t we all believe in one thing or another? And whether we write down our beliefs or not, we live our lives based on our beliefs. We act according to our beliefs, and then we experience the consequences of our actions. And then, just as we can’t see electricity or gravity, but can see evidences of these natural phenomenon from the consequences of regarding or disregarding the laws of physics, we find the truth about our beliefs. Truth. It’s looking right at us.
Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Magnum Books, 1968.
The NIV Holy Bible.