The most precious and urgent thing that the Religious Society of Friends has to advance is the Everlasting Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, lost to many during the dark night of the apostasy. These are George Fox’s words; he generalized the application of the term “everlasting gospel” (found in Scripture only at Revelation 14:6) and breathed new life into Paul’s equation of the Gospel of Christ with the power of God (Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 1:17-18). This is what Fox scholar Lewis Benson’s ministry was about: see especially his Catholic Quakerism (1966) and Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox (1982). It’s my mission also.
This “apostasy,” or hijacking of Christ’s Church from its proper nature and mission, continues throughout Christendom. It was once commonly associated with institutions that bullied their prey into accepting customs and notions without truth in them, like “Christian” armies, state-run churches, inquisitions, and indulgences for sale; today a market-driven apostasy soft-soaps its target population with the undemanding gospel of “I’m OK; you’re OK.” Part of us all would like to be soothed by an all-forgiving Jesus who asks nothing of us, but from the moment we first steal a nickel or tell a lie, we are not OK. In our hearts is a sickness. We stagger through life in need of an ambulance. An apostatized church is an ambulance with four flat tires.
The Religious Society of Friends today is an umbrella group that contains both the living body of Christ and a lot of other stuff. The living body of Christ, His Church, is what I want to advance, because in It, and in It alone, I believe, is hope for the fallen and lost. Most of the men and women of this world, essentially all of us, are fallen and lost. Do we daily, ongoingly, experience the peace of union with God? Does God guide us through every perplexity in our path, as if walking beside us in paradise? When we ask the mirror who we are, are we dazzled by the image of one created in God’s image, or are we depressed once again by the image of the serpent, the father of white lies, self-serving expedients, addiction, denial, and projection? Then we are fallen. And if we have no other guide in this world of danger and death but our own cleverness, then we are sheep without a shepherd, lost. Do you doubt it? Look at the state of the world.
Now the key to the restoration of the fallen and lost is repentance, a word often confused with mere remorse, or, worse, with self-punishment. But remorse and self-punishment are things of hell, and repentance is of heaven. Repentance, which involves a new way of seeing things, is not something we initiate; it comes to us only as a divine gift. When Peter reported that the house of the gentile Cornelius had been converted and saved, his interrogators didn’t say “oh, what fine people, to have had the good sense to repent and accept Christ,” but rather they marveled, “Then to the gentiles also God has granted metánoian eis zōḗn, repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). The goodness was all God’s. Repentance is what puts us into contact, increasingly conscious contact, with a Savior, not the absentee savior preached by the apostasy who doesn’t really bother to heal our sickness or “sinfulness” until after we die, but a living, present Source of guidance, healing and reconciliation with God, into whom we are “grafted” (Romans 11:17-24, one of Paul’s many metaphors that Fox used liberally), so that we truly come to live in the Savior and He in us.
Now those of us who sit on Quaker advancement committees and have not yet received this gift of repentance unto life can hardly be expected to praise it, but those of us who have, who now enjoy citizenship in God’s kingdom –how can we keep from singing? What greater fact, what greater experience, do Friends have to tell the world about?