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.
…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?)
- 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.)
- Lewis Benson’s letter to a friend detailing George Fox’s view of Christ.