Something to Say About Something to Say About Silence

I recently stumbled across James Tower’s blog post of 2012 entitled Something to Say About Silence. Since his post and subsequent discussion was several years old, I have decided to make my comments in the form of a series of posts of my own. I hope James will take this opportunity to re-address the issue here. In his post, he raises some issues that I am moved to talk about. Please go read his post lest I should misrepresent him in any way.

James stated:

…due to the rapid growth of the church during westward expansion of our country we adopted the pastoral system. Many lament this as the death of real Quakerism, but this is a mistake. Quakers simply needed to adapt to their circumstances in a time and place far different than where the movement was birthed, i.e. in a well established empire with many people growing up within the movement. In the “wild west” with many new people from various faith traditions or no tradition, silence was simply not enough to meet the discipleship needs of the day. The Gospel needed to be preached as well as lived, the Bible needed to be taught, and the pastoral system became the norm…

First, let’s dispense with the “background” question. James comes from an Evangelical Friends tradition. I spent my first 36 years as part of Evangelical Friends. James attended Barclay College in Haviland, Kansas. I graduated from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. Both of these schools are associated with Mid America Yearly Meeting. At this point our paths diverge. James received a call to pastoral ministry. I am called to the ministry of the everlasting gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. Plus God called me out of Evangelical Friends, much as He called Abraham out of Ur. Suffice it to say, I do not “argue for my position” on the basis of a culturally different background, but on the basis of a different understanding of what Fox and the early Quakers were about.

I understand James to have said that the pastoral system has been superimposed upon a basically unchanged Quaker understanding of who Jesus is and how He saves mankind. This move did not spell the death of real Quakerism. It was merely a cosmetic adaptation to fit differing circumstances.

My conviction is quite different.

The distinctions between the pastoral system and the early Friends understanding of the gospel is illustrated by the following vignette from Fox:

At another place, I heard some of the magistrates said among themselves, If they had money enough, they would hire me to be their minister.’ This was, where they did not well understand us, and our principles: but when I heard of it, I said, ‘ It was time for me to be gone; for if their eye was so much to me, or any of us, they would not come to their own teacher.’ For this thing (hiring ministers,) had spoiled many, by hindering them from improving their own talents; whereas our labour is, to bring every one to their own teacher in themselves. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.128) (For a more in-depth treatment regarding our teacher, see my post on The New Covenant.)

Lets consider the case of Stephen Crisp. (I have put Crisp’s words in blue type.) At twelve years of age, his “constant cry was after the power by which I might overcome corruptions…” He wandered from group to group, thinking each time he had found that which would minister to his cry. However, once he had mastered the techniques of that particular group, he came to realize they were empty of any real substance. So he came to the point of giving up on overcoming vice, giving himself more and more to pleasure seeking. But the Lord convicted him of that route. He turned to some who said that he must be obedient to the “commands and ordinances of Jesus Christ, and to be conformable to the primitive saints, in walking in church-order and communion…So I took up that ordinance as they called it, of water baptism, expecting then to have found power more than before.” But his will was the only force sustaining him in the effort, and will is not strong enough. In 1655 James Parnell came to Colchester (where Crisp lived) and though Crisp argued with Parnell, he could not withstand the spirit of sound judgment in Parnell, “and the witness of God arose in me, and testified to his judgment, and signified I must own it; it being just and true, and I the same day and hour testified that all our rods of profession would be lost or devoured by his rod, alluding to that of Moses, and the magicians of Egypt…” And so he (Stephen Crisp) strove to master the “Quaker techniques” [my term, not his] but could not. He was brought under severe, inward judgment and was somewhat brought through all that, yet when in meeting, he could not keep his mind from wandering. whereupon he stated:

And upon a time being weary of my own thoughts in the meeting of God’s people, I thought none was like me, and it was but in vain to sit there with such a wandering mind as mine was, while though I laboured to stay it, yet could not as I would; at length I thought to go forth, and as I was going, the Lord thundered through me, saying, that which is weary must die; so I turned to my seat and waited in the belief of God, for the death of that part which was weary of the work of God…” (The Christian Experiences, Gospel Labours and Writings, of That Ancient Servant of Christ, Stephen Crisp, Phila, 1822, p.30)

Where this is relevant is the assertion that the rise of the early Quaker movement and worship depended upon a culture of Biblical literacy that was lacking in the American west, thus necessitating the abandonment of our testimony of Christ as our teacher to take up the pastoral system so that the gospel could be preached and the Bible taught. The “Biblically literate” of the 1600s were just as ignorant of the true gospel preached by Fox and the early Quakers like James Parnell as any Biblically illiterate person you were likely to encounter west of Saint Louis, Missouri. The “Biblically literate” of the 2000s are no more inclined to receive the true gospel  than in the 1600s. Biblical literacy or its lack has nothing to do with it. The burning question is, “Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness?” (I treat this topic in my post on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Part 3.)

The purpose of gathering to hear Christ our prophet like Moses, whom God raised up for us to hear in all things is well illustrated by Stephen Crisp’s Sermon XIV, The Kingdom of God Within. (Please read the complete text, as I have had to cut many useful parts out of the quote below.)

…We all know, and we must confess, that we have been subject to the man of sin,…We have seen the reign and government, the rage and tyranny of the wicked one, that hath led us into rebellion and disobedience to the Lord our Maker. How do we like that government, to be ruled by the devil, and to be led captive, and to be made to do his will, and to rebel against God that gave us our life, and breath, and being?…I hope we do none of us like it….they…have many cries and wishes in their souls, that they were freed and delivered from it, and brought under the government and obedience of Christ Jesus…
This hath been the cry of some ever since they have known the word ; and I am persuaded it is the cry of many at this day. I have good news to bring you; not that the day of your redemption draws nigh, but that…the day of redemption is now come…
But may not some say, how shall this great work be wrought? For it is a great work, and we verily think that nothing but an Almighty Power can effect it. For there are many in this assembly have been trying to no purpose, and done what they could in their own strength, to deliver their own souls from death, and yet they find themselves in bondage still; nay, they have called in the help and assistance of those that they thought to be stronger than themselves, and all have failed, and they are yet weak and entangled, and they cannot find themselves at liberty to serve the Lord as they ought to do.
I am of this mind, that nothing but the Almighty Power of God can do it; and when you have come to my experience, to know this as I have done, then I hope you will seek after that, and you will see good reason for it; and you will then come to this profession, if the Lord puts not forth his Almighty Power, I must then perish, for there is no other power can deliver me. When you come to know this, what must you do? Why you must wait for the revelation of that power that will take you off from all trust and confidence that you have ever had in any thing else: a man that hath nothing to trust to but the Almighty Power, and mercy, and goodness of God, he puts his whole trust and confidence therein, or else he knows he must perish.
When a man or woman comes to this pass, that they have nothing to rely upon but the Lord, then they will meet together to wait upon the Lord: And this was the first ground or motive of our setting up meetings;…we should use them as poor desolate helpless people that are broken off from all their own confidence and trust, and have nothing to rely upon but the mercy and goodness of God; and if he pleaseth to reveal his power among us, we know that he is able to save us. (Scripture Truths Demonstrated, in Thirty Two Sermons or Declarations of Stephen Crisp…, 1787, pp 158-159)

In my years of participating in Evangelical Friends, I have talked with many pastors who claim that the aim of their ministry is to bring people to the same foundation on which the early Friends were built. But I can’t think of one sermon specifying that the purpose of our gathering was to wait for and experience the power of God to bring us salvation from our slavery to Satan. This people has something else to rely upon than the Lord; they, therefore, do not gather to wait upon the Lord to appear among them to teach them and to deliver them. When I circulated a questionnaire in a particular congregation asking, “Why are you here?” Not one person answered, “Where two or three are gathered in His authority, Christ is present in their midst. We are come to hear His teaching.”

It is my contention that Evangelical Friends, like those of other persuasions, have come to their position by a process of abandoning the everlasting gospel preached by George Fox and replacing it with another gospel. Adopting the pastoral system or throwing out the pastoral system is not going to  make any critical difference. What is needed is to lay again the foundation of knowing and experiencing Jesus within as well as knowing and experiencing Him present in the midst in all his functions. And not as a museum piece showcasing antiquity, but as a living reality that is the proclaimed driving-center of the people of God. (See #2 below for more information regarding the offices or functions of Christ. Also see my post regarding Who is Jesus Christ? and How Does He Save Us?)

Further reading:

  1. The Moorestown Lecture Series, by Lewis Benson, on Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox. (Six are currently available for download and others are being added periodically.)
  2. Lewis Benson’s letter to a friend detailing George Fox’s view of Christ.
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About Ellis Hein

I am a woodturner and the author of The Woodturner's Project Book. I have a life-long interest in the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. You can see some of my material on that subject at http://nffquaker.org/profiles/blog/list?user=1zw2th7nj9p89.
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10 Responses to Something to Say About Something to Say About Silence

  1. jtower11 says:

    I look forward to your next post, and thank you for clearing up the matter of background I have been wondering. While I too am critical of Evangelical Friends on many points, it fail to see the distinction of the gospel you are insinuating. I get that the Quaker discovery was that “Jesus came to teach his people himself” and that one of the main differences was that the Quaker way of following Jesus was a living and active faith involved involving listening and obedience, but does this really qualify as a “different gospel” or is it the reclamation of the power of the gospel that had previously been suppressed or ignored? I would argue Fox’s answer to the question, who is a christian, would be something like “one whose life was changed by Christ” and that it was the power of the gospel believed, not the gospel itself, that was changed. In say you are called to preach the gospel Fox understood, and that I felt called to serve as a quaker pastor, I am still at a loss as to the nature of the difference you are implying. Other than name dropping Fox, how is there a try difference in our aims?

    I would also take issue with your insinuation that because I am supported by a church to use my proclamation gifts, that that equates me with a hireling minister, a term Fox did not use to imply paid ministers were wrong to be paid, but that they were false teachers with bad motives like the Sadducees Jesus rebuked for having a form of godliness while denying its power, and whose vested interest and judgment were clouded by positions of corrupted authority. Here is a short article I wrote a while back to explain my understanding of what it means to be a “released minister,” my preferred “title.” I just want you to know when you insinuate someone is serving as a hireling minister, that is inherently to devalue and call into question the validity of their ministry, rather than affirm the radical view of the priesthood of all believers the early Quakers proclaimed. https://practicingresurrectiontogether.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/released-ministry-from-theory-to-practice/amp/

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    • Ellis Hein says:

      First of all, James, I want to thank you for your response. I think what you have stated in your comment and the article you recommended at the end of your comment (on released ministry) will provide us with much material for good discussion. I am going to break this down into more than one response since you have introduced what I feel are three distinct topics:

      1. The distinction between the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers and that proclaimed by evangelical Friends
      2. Differing aims between the minister of the everlasting gospel preached by Fox and that preached by the “typical evangelical pastor,” if such can be said to exist.
      3. The effects of hiring ministers.

      Concerning #1, This is the subject of my next post, and I would like to delay discussing this point until that has gone public. It will appear on Friday, the 21st. If it would be of use to you, I can try to send you a preview. The obstacle would be my lack of technical understanding. So let me know how you would like to proceed.
      I am now going to sign off on this comment and my next one will cover #3.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ellis Hein says:

      I would also take issue with your insinuation that because I am supported by a church to use my proclamation gifts, that that equates me with a hireling minister

      I must confess that this has me baffled. As I read my post, I see no insinuation or allusion to hireling ministers. The only possible thing that I can figure is that you, James, have misunderstood the quote from Fox:

      At another place, I heard some of the magistrates said among themselves, If they had money enough, they would hire me to be their minister.’ This was, where they did not well understand us, and our principles: but when I heard of it, I said, ‘ It was time for me to be gone; for if their eye was so much to me, or any of us, they would not come to their own teacher.’ For this thing (hiring ministers,) had spoiled many, by hindering them from improving their own talents; whereas our labour is, to bring every one to their own teacher in themselves. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.128) (For a more in-depth treatment regarding our teacher, see my post on The New Covenant.)

      Where I think the misunderstanding lies is who has been spoiled in the above quote. Fox is speaking about the people doing the hiring that are liable to be spoiled, because they do not come to their own teacher in themselves and do not improve their own talents. So please correct me if I am wrong in my analysis of the difficulty. It is entirely beyond the scope of what I was given to enter into any consideration of whether or not you qualify as a hireling.

      So on the subject of hiring ministers, I can say this. I have never been on your side of the fence. But I have been involved on “the other side of the fence.” No matter what the minister’s viewpoint, for many congregations, hire is a more appropriate word than release. If the minister preaches acceptable sermons etc. he has done what we hired him to do. If he does not, we can fire him. I have talked with people and with ministers in many parts of the country over the course of several years, and these are the conclusions I have drawn from my observations. When “we” have someone paid to tend to ministry, “we” can sit back and relax knowing we are fulfilling God’s expectations and all is well.

      Are you aware of the preaching work that was undertaken in the first generation of Friends? Even though the people may have been “biblically literate” does not mean that they had the least idea from their previous teaching of what the gospel Fox preached was. But here I must resist the temptation to get ahead of myself.

      I hope you will take the time to read my introduction to Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox. It is included with Lecture 1. All those lectures are excellent.

      There are many directions this could go, so I will stop here and see what response you care to make.

      Again, thanks for the interesting dialogue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jtower11 says:

    Ellis, I am not trying to misconstrue your argument. I do not take issue with the words of Fox, but the implications of the contrast you make in our backgrounds and in applying the words of Fox as being for your position and against those of people in my shoes. You write:

    At this point our paths diverge. James received a call to pastoral ministry. I am called to the ministry of the everlasting gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. Plus God called me out of Evangelical Friends, much as He called Abraham out of Ur. Suffice it to say, I do not “argue for my position” on the basis of a culturally different background, but on the basis of a different understanding of what Fox and the early Quakers were about.

    I understand James to have said that the pastoral system has been superimposed upon a basically unchanged Quaker understanding of who Jesus is and how He saves mankind. This move did not spell the death of real Quakerism. It was merely a cosmetic adaptation to fit differing circumstances.

    My conviction is quite different.

    The distinctions between the pastoral system and the early Friends understanding of the gospel is illustrated by the following vignette from Fox:”

    From then on, am I not to conclude that Fox’s words are somehow arguing against me, and that his gospel is somehow different from the one I myself proclaim? Your contrast seems to imply a kind of mutual exclusion of the possibility that a pastoral Quaker could be serving the same ends as Fox did, and that Fox’s words about hireling ministers of his day should be applied to pastoral Quakers of the free church tradition with equal measure as they applied to those pastor’s of Fox’s time before Quakers had their hard one religious freedom.

    In using Fox’s words to sum up your argument, can you now see how I might assume you thought I was a “hireling minister?” A friend of mine who read your first post assumed you meant the same thing I assumed, and likely not because of what Fox said but because of how you are framing what Fox said in the context of your argument

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    • Ellis Hein says:

      OK, I do apologize for misleading anyone. In my understanding, the pastoral system is not primarily about pastors. They form a minority of the population involved, in some ways an influential minority, in other ways not so influential. Pastors come and go in the life of the congregation, but the persistent influence resides in the individuals who comprise the congregation, who have been there their whole lives. They serve on the committees, they teach the Sunday School classes, they rock the cradle, they rear the children, and they influence the community in ways the pastor can’t, primarily because of the position he or she occupies. So this is not about you, or what you teach. It is about the system you are part of which is comprised mostly of people who are not pastors.

      Fox’s sermon to the thousands at Firbank Fell was preached to people of the free church tradition, not the state church. We will get into that sermon briefly in my next post, so I will not say more about it here. Also, are you familiar with Fox’s commission? Both of these, the commission from God and the Firbank Fell sermon, give an understanding of what the early Quakers were about that I find to be quite different than what I have encountered among Quakers of today, with or without the pastoral system. (Here, I am again getting into the next post, so must stop that line.)

      Have you read the suggested readings mentioned above? It might help clear things up or at least show some of the basis I am working from.

      Thanks for pointing out how I misled you and perhaps others.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jtower11 says:

        I actually have not. In fact, I didn’t even realize you could read the sermon he preached at firbank fell… Really I am mostly familiar with Fox’s journal. I have studied Barclay, Richard Foster, and especially Thomas Kelly a lot more than actually studying Fox…

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        • Ellis Hein says:

          We only have a summary, a reconstruction Fox did some years later of the Firbank Fell sermon. It is included in the Works of Fox, Vol. I and maybe in the Nickalls Journal also. It was a three hour sermon and I am sure would have made quite good reading, judging by the summary. I used to read such writings as Fox’s summary of his sermons and my heart would break within me that I had been born at this time instead of in those days. For I found in the descriptions of the lives of the early Friends a glimpse of something vital, something of infinite value that we did not possess today. The story is too long to relate in a comment here, but you can read the summary of that process below my picture on the head of my blog posts. “Not their bones, but yours must live today.” OK, enough for today.

          On Tue, 18 Apr 2017 03:10:35 +0000 from This was the true light… (John 1:9)

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Ellis Hein says:

    Point number two, What is the difference between the aim of the minister of the gospel preached by Fox and the aim of the pastor of pastoral Friends?

    The inherent limitations of this discussion are the two, very wide brushes I am painting with. The first brush is that all ministers of the gospel preached by Fox are the same. There were itinerant ministers who devoted their entire lives to traveling and preaching, there were ministers who were moved on occasion travel to other meetings to speak or to seek opportunity to deal with certain people. There were ministers who were charged with oversight of their meeting, in other words a pastoral role. But that did not necessarily involve preaching sermons, but to be aware of and to discern the conditions of the people in the meeting, to encourage the gifts of members that all may walk in the order of Christ.

    The second brush is that pastoral Friends can be talked about as a lump, as though they were all the same. However one thing makes this somewhat easier. The norm was, perhaps still is, to roll many of the above tasks into the role of the pastor.

    I undertake this task with the overwhelming sense that anything I can say is inadequate and will leave many questions untouched.

    Lewis Benson’s article in QRT Vol. 12, no. 2, spring 1970, That of God in Every Man – What Did George Fox Mean By It? should be required reading for all members of Friends meetings. To attempt to summarize that would mean leaving out stuff that should not be left out. I can’t do it. According to Benson’s article, the goal of the Quaker minister was to awaken people to the hunger for God within themselves, i.e. the hunger and thirst for righteousness. I don’t suppose this would cause any storm of controversy among Quaker pastors. But the means of filling that hunger and thirst proposed by Fox are very different than those proposed by the theology of pastoral Friends as illustrated by the comments and rebuttal in this issue of QRT.

    For Fox, righteousness and salvation depend upon knowing (i.e. experiencing) Christ as prophet, shepherd, bishop, orderer, king, overseer, priest, etc., within and among us. The emphasis is placed on knowing Christ as prophet as it is the prophet who brings us the word of God. Here, I strongly urge the reader to find Quaker Religious Thought (QRT) Vol. 16, nos. 1 and 2, winter 1974-75, which contains several articles on the theme of Christ as Prophet. This issue also is very illustrative of the difference between the position of Fox and that of pastoral Friends.

    For the Quaker pastor, painting with my wide brush, righteousness and salvation depend upon Christ’s atonement.

    More accessible resources are: my page containing Lewis Benson’s letter to Ursula Windsor of the UK concerning the difference between Fox and Wesley, and my page containing a letter from Lewis Benson to an unnamed friend concerning the “That of God” article mentioned above in which Lewis details Fox’s view of Christ.

    I will stop here and see what direction this conversation needs to take before going any further. I realize that I am not providing quick answers and this may discourage some readers from pursuing this further. However, for those who are hungry enough to find the above resources, they are a rich feast!

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  4. Pingback: Something to Say…Part2:The Gospel, the Power of God | This was the true light… (John 1:9)

  5. Pingback: Something to Say…Part 3: The Vitality of George Fox’s Message | This was the true light… (John 1:9)

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