Whatever happened to the Quakers? a 250-word opinion

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The latest issue of the Quaker Christian quarterly Foundation Papers(double number 110-111, published by the New Foundation Fellowship, http://nffquaker.org/) contains a brief review of David W. Bercot’s The Kingdom That Turned the World Upside Down (ISBN 0-9244-72217-7 ).  The review, “A Different View of Quaker History,” p. 7) ends with a query: “whatever happened to the Quakers to bring so many of them away from the gospel?”  and invites readers to submit “input… in the form of short letters of 250 words.”  I hoped, and still hope, that the Lord will raise up a prophet to shed 250 words of brilliant light on this question, which, in truth, exercises me whenever I go to my mixed Christian-and-non-Christian meeting or do committee work for it.  My own light on it may not rise to the level of brilliance, but I did feel the Lord’s permission to offer these 250 words, first to Foundation Papers and then to the readers of this blog:

 God created paradise for us, but we, choosing self-will, darkened our own eyes and now only see this glorious creation as a world of separation, scarcity and death. This was our doing (Romans 1:19-23), not a distant Adam and Eve’s outside of us, else our “Thy will be done” would be automatic and frictionless, as it eventually will be again.

Our Savior gathers His people and leads them out of this darkness, but some slip back, for there are many things working to keep us addicted to its false promises of refuge and fulfillment. Nonetheless, when the sheep mind the Good Shepherd, He doesn’t let them stray. “I am with you always,” He said, “even unto the end of the world.” This means that we have the Mind of Christ for the asking; we just don’t always ask for it. The flesh is weak.

No sooner had Moses gone up the mountain than the Israelites turned idolater. The disciples fled the garden on Jesus’ arrest. Need we be surprised that Paul’s “foolish Galatians” were so soon removed to another gospel, that Constantine’s church took up the carnal sword, or that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, within a generation of William Penn’s death, fell under the clerkship of a power-hungry embezzler?

The problem is not “bad guys” other than ourselves. A moment’s lapse in faithfulness, and we’re gone, and what’s worse, we don’t realize it. We’d rather believe the untrue account we conspire to reinforce in one another. The alternative is too frightening.

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7 Responses to “Whatever happened to the Quakers? a 250-word opinion”

  1. Trevor Bending Says:

    John
    I couldn’t find the review you refer to – I signed up but perhaps I didn’t sign in, anyway the folders for the papers all report empty to my operating system.
    I did find their copy of a paper by George Fox. (http://api.ning.com:80/files/adA7Y56FgDfMafHg8L9iJJ*AREKr3typ6yh*zf6GfmQCOZOMGy0BDB*YCKdgWDagYNFH0W7wKcYiy9Nhj2gZuJAoNByTbgiZ/TheWaytotheKingdom.pdf)

    I still don’t fully understand Fox but I THINK there is a HUGE IRONY in what ‘so-called Christocentric’ Quakers say about the Gospel. They say: “whatever happened to the Quakers to bring so many of them away from the gospel?”

    BUT I THINK that what they mean by the gospel is the exact opposite of what Fox says. I think they mean what Fox calls ‘the letter’: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and indeed the rest of scripture.

    Fox says (para. 32 of the above):
    But thou that hates this Light and makes a profession of God and Christ, and says, the letter is the Word, and the four books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Gospel, thou knowest not Christ that is “glad tidings”, “the Lamb of God”, who takes away the sin of the world. For the letter takes not away sin. And thou that sayest thou had not come to repentance, if thou had not known letter, thou deniest Christ, who comes to call sinners to repentance, and not the letter.

    In modern English “those who say you who do not know scripture/bible/letter have not repented are deniers of the Christ. It is (the living) Christ who comes to call sinners to repent, not the ‘letter’/scripture/bible.

    By ‘the gospel’, Fox means not ‘the letter’ (scripture as ordinarily read and ‘peddled by bible-bashers’) but (para 55) “The Light is free that has enlightened every one that comes into the world”. Fox means (I think) that it is the Light that is the gospel.

    (para 56): “O shameless men, that tell people the letter is the Word, and buy and sell it for money, which is but a declaration of the Word. And the grace is free, which has appeared to all men, which is the saints’ Teacher. And you need not have any teacher if you own the grace, which shows your ungodliness and worldly lusts.” He expands on this in paras. 55-59.

    He repeatedly says things like (para 33): ‘But the letter is a declaration of the Word, – the husks ; God is the Word. And it is a declaration of the Light; Christ is the Light. And a declaration of the Spirit, but the Spirit is not in it; a declaration of the Power, but the Power is not in it. The Power and the Life and the Light was in them that spoke it forth, which ever [i.e. always] the world hated.’

    And, the Light is within you, it is given to all men (and women too!), God is the gospel, Christ is the Gospel, the spirit (not the letter) is the gospel, YOU ARE THE GOSPEL.

    (para 35): This Light within you lets you see it. So you need not tempt God to give you a sight of your sins, for you know enough.

    The gospel (good news) is not the words in the Bible – they, as Fox says, cited above, are ‘the husks’. The power is not in it (the letter, the Bible). The spirit is not in it. The spirit and (para 33) ‘The Power and the Life and the Light, was in them that spoke it forth, which ever [i.e. always] the world hated.’ The ‘world’ then (in Jesus’s time) and now (1650 and now) hates and denies new light, contemporary revelation, the Light within ALL MEN AND WOMEN OF EVERY RELIGION.

    As William Penn said: “The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers.”
    William Penn, 1693

    Penn is echoing his friend ‘Dear George’ Fox. Not ‘argue over trivialities or scripture, interpretation of words, hair-splitting theology’ or ‘go away and fight in lumps over these things’ but ‘go away and love one another, and your enemies too. (Who said that?)
    I think THAT is what George Fox is saying – you might understand scripture when you have ‘waited in the Light’ but it is the Light (of Christ, the Spirit or any other name) that matters, not scripture.

  2. Thy Friend John Says:

    Dear Trevor,

    Thank you for your comment! Which both raises the very fundamental question, “which is the real gospel — the letter of Scripture or the power of God doing its work in our heart?” and also directs your readers to George Fox’s “To all who would know the way to the Kingdom,” which strikes me as a very clear and compact statement of Fox’s world-view and should be better known among Friends. I’m glad that New Foundation Fellowship has its text on their website.

    You might also be interested in this statement of Fox’s (from George Fox, “A Testimony of What We Believe of Christ,” from Worcester Prison, 11/25/1675 [sic, for 1674?], in Works, vol. 5, p. 142): *[if] ye have not the same power, ye have not the same gospel.* The full quotation is:

    <And the apostle saith, 1 Thes. i. 5. 'For our gospel unto you was not in word only, but in power and in the Holy Ghost.'

    Your remark about the “HUGE IRONY in what ‘so-called Christocentric’ Quakers say about the Gospel” concerns me a little, Trevor, since I probably qualify as a so-called Christocentric Quaker (though I’d probably also qualify as a so-called Universalist Quaker), and I’d imagine that we so-called Christocentric Quakers say quite a variety of things, both foolish and wise, about the Gospel, for we’re a very diverse bunch. “We” don’t ordinarily go around grumbling, “whatever happened to the Quakers to bring so many of them away from the gospel?” — but since the question was raised, I think it’s a good one. It’s not just that many Liberal Friends today have little use for Scripture, which might be all right if their relationship with the living Christ were healthy; but I suspect that many Friends (Liberal and otherwise) are also spiritually lukewarm, with personal lives troubled by worldly attachments, chronic deceits and addictions, one of which is to a shallow Quakerism that pats them on the back for being Quakers but asks little of them. Of course, one variety of that shallow Quakerism is the self-righteous Bible-thumping kind that Jesus described in His parable of the Pharisee and the publican, which I think you’re criticizing, but it’s not the only kind.

    In short, there are Friends who are estranged from both the letter and the spirit of the Gospel. What shall we do for them? We are not to judge them, lest we ourselves be judged, and anyway their failings are all variants of our own. We can love them, and pray for them, but what else?

  3. Trevor Bending Says:

    Thank-you John for your kindly and balanced view.
    I don’t know (the gospel in) the letter very well and in spirit perhaps hardly at all.

    I can only wait hopefully in my ‘liberal’ meeting and see what follows. (Or is there more I should be doing?)

    • Thy Friend John Says:

      Dear Trevor,

      From what I can see, you know the Gospel in Spirit very well, because you took my chiding — which might have provoked defensiveness in many — with such admirable humility, and remained tender. Don’t worry if you don’t feel you know the Gospel in the letter very well: if you want to, you will; and even your knowledge of it now, however small you think it is, may be far more profitable to the people around you than if you had more book-learning and less sweetness of heart.

      Which leads me to comment on your closing sentence: “I can only wait hopefully in my ‘liberal’ meeting and see what follows. (Or is there more I should be doing?)” — Do wait hopefully! But cultivate your friendships among the wider world of Quakers, and lean on those precious souls for support in those times when you may feel all alone in a meeting that doesn’t understand what you understand. Or you may be the only one in your meeting that’s carrying a particular spiritual gift, for example healing, or prophecy, or discernment of others’ spiritual conditions — and you’ll need peers you can talk about your craft with, and the nearest ones may be hundreds of miles away.

      You can always talk to me about impatience with your own meeting! Oh, the tantrums my wife has had to listen to! But perhaps you’re to serve it as an elder, and love it as a parent would love a family full of problematic children, — or better, as a step-parent, who may be the only loving and responsible grown-up in the room, but one with no recognized authority over the unruly and immature ones! In which case, know that God knows what you suffer, and will lend you strength and comfort as you need it.

      And be joyful and thankful when the Friends in your meeting pleasantly surprise you! Because they will.

  4. Trevor Bending Says:

    Thanks!!! Will try to do as you say. (I’m doing the Britain Yearly Meeting online course from Woodbrooke ‘Becoming Friends’, perhaps with a view to applying for a membership before too long.)

  5. Bill Brown Says:

    I think Fox was just responding to the tenet, still popular today, that the bible (particularly the King James version, among anglo-protestants)- a book made of paper, the hides of beasts, and the hands of man- is the “perfect word of God” (i.e. the “that which is perfect” spoken of by Paul in Corinthians), and that man is left to his own reason, not the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret this “perfect word”.

    I firmly believe that the “perfect Word of God” is alive, and in heaven- sitting at the right hand of the Father. It is not a dead piece of leather and paper made by the hands of men and the only testament for men to puzzle out using their own knowledge.

    I do, however, believe that it is like a compass- it does not point directly North, yet it is true enough to lead us home, wherever we might be lost. It is because men have denied the Holy Spirit and used the reasoning of their own minds to justify just about whatever they fancied, that the Lords house stands divided today. And without this compass, anyone could proclaim anything saying, “thus says the Lord”. Even with this compass people like Constantine have taken authority within the Congregation of God and have been able to lead the people into confusion and murder.

    I do not believe that the dictates of the New Covenant are the “letter of the law”- for the letter of the law is death, and we are to harm none. We do not stone the sinner, we put them out, give them over to Satan and this world to punish, and forgive if repentance is come unto them- and this just as a beginning to differentiate between the letter and the New Covenant.

    If it is the “letter of the law” to abhor fornication, adultery, worshiping false gods, following false prophets, then is it not also the “letter of the law” to eschew killing? I do not believe that it is the Spirit of the Lord that endorses any of these things, though any of these things may be forgiven- if we repent our sins.

    Men always go too far one way or another, given their own reigns. They either want to bring the letter of death to the sinner, or they want to allow anything they should find in their fancy. The narrow way turns neither to the left or the right, but is a straight path leading to salvation and freedom from this darkness we are born into.

    Luke 16:16-18
    King James Version (KJV)

    “16The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

    17And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

    18Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

    Now we all know that the law allowed a man to divorce his wife, that is the letter of the law. But the spirit of the law is that which Christ proclaimed in the latter verse above- if you divorce your wife and marry another, or marry a divorced woman, you are committing adultery.

    Now what is the difference between the letter of the law, and the kingdom of God? Here it is plain:

    John 8:

    “4They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

    5Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

    6This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

    7So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

    8And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

    9And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

    10When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

    11She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

    Christ did not say “go thy way, and fornicate to your hearts content”. He said, “go, and SIN NO MORE.”

  6. Bill Brown Says:

    Furthermore, the gifts of the Spirit are to convince the unbelievers. Otherwise, why shouldn’t we believe the Bhagavad Gita as surely as we do the TANAK and the Gospels? Why not the book of Tao? Why not the eightfold path of Buddah? It is because the Holy Spirit is real, and moves in power that we should take the Gospel seriously, and discard the others (not that there is not truth in just about all of the religious works I have cited, and nearly all else as well- for example, every one has a variation on the “golden rule”- do to others what you would have done to you, but that is simply because man is in Gods image and “Romans 2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves…”. Even Mohammed can discern the sky is blue, and report truthfully as to it’s nature.

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