Something to Say…Part2:The Gospel, the Power of God

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 KJV)

This post continues my series in response to James Tower’s blog post of 2012 entitled Something to Say About Silence. After re-reading some of James’ comments, on my previous post, I realized that I needed to insert a different post for part 2 than I had originally planned. (James’ comments will be in red type.) He stated:

…While I too am critical of Evangelical Friends on many points, [I] 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?…

James raises an excellent question, one that could be argued legitimately from either side: Did Fox proclaim a different gospel or did he reclaim the power of the gospel that had previously been suppressed or ignored? Certainly, the professing Christians of Fox’s day claimed to have the gospel as in:

…the tongues [i.e. those who know Greek, Latin, and Hebrew] may say,…what, have we not had the gospel all this while? I say no, they that went from the spirit of the Lord, and ravened from the spirit of God, they went from the power of God, which is the gospel… (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p. 228)

The argument, “what, have we not had the gospel all this while?” presupposes that the gospel consists of the story about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. An often used phrase by Fox is “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” Sometimes it is shortened to “the gospel, which is the power of God,” and sometimes it is lengthened to include “to them which believe.” If you take this statement seriously, as did Fox, then you can’t have the gospel and not have the power. If you do not have “the power of God unto salvation” then you are proclaiming something other than the everlasting gospel. Fox is saying, “The good news is that here is the power of God unto salvation from death, salvation from the image of Satan, salvation from the curse, salvation from the teaching of Satan, salvation from sin.” So this leads to the question of how do we access this power of God unto salvation?
Lewis Benson stated:

At least from the fifth century onward the church had been teaching a doctrine of “justification by grace” and representing the new covenant as a “covenant of grace.” The doctrine of “justification by grace” defined the human problem as: How can a person be found innocent before the bar of God’s final judgment? (Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2, p. 28)

The Richmond Declaration of Faith, a document that forms the basis of both Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International does not differ much from the above. It states:

“…We believe that justification is of God’s free grace, through which, upon repentance and faith, He pardons our sins, and imparts to us a new life. It is received…in the unmerited mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Through faith in Him, and the shedding of His precious blood, the guilt of sin is taken away, and we stand reconciled to God. The offering up of Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world is the appointed manifestation both of the righteousness and of the love of God….to the humble penitent whose heart is broken under the convicting power of the Spirit, life is revealed in that death. As he looks upon Him who was wounded for our transgressions, (Isa 53:5) and upon whom the Lord was pleased to lay the iniquity of us all, (Isa 53:6) his eye is more and more opened to see, and his heart to understand, the exceeding sinfulness of sin for which the Savior died; whilst, in the sense of pardoning grace, he will have joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement (Rom 5:11)…(You can read more of that document at http://www.quakerinfo.com/rdf.shtml#JustSanc)

According to this, the power of God is accessed through accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and believing that we are forgiven and made new creatures in Christ. Jesus’ saviorhood is seen to consist in His priestly office of the atonement.

Everything looks good until we run into, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father.” So now, fifth-century-theology and Richmond-Declaration-of-Faith, how am I to know the will of the Father and where do I find the power to do that will?

George Fox’s approach to the question of how are we to access the power of God unto salvation is quite different than that proclaimed by fifth century theology or by the Richmond Declaration of Faith. Lewis Benson wrote in his QRT article,

Although Calvin introduced the prophetic office of Christ into dogmatic theology, he made no theological use of it. For Calvin, Jesus’ messiahship was determined by his priestly and kingly offices. When Calvin thought of Jesus the Messiah he thought of a priestly and kingly figure, and in so doing he was conforming to the main tradition in the church from the second century onward.’ Unlike Calvin, Fox gave full theological weight to the office of Christ as prophet. When he thought of Jesus the Messiah and saviour, he was thinking of a figure who was as much a prophet as he was a priest and king. He was fully aware that in his teaching about “Christ the prophet” he was inaugurating a revolution in the way people understand who Christ is and how he saves men. He knew that he was building on a very early apostolic tradition; and he knew his teaching about Christ would bring with it a need to challenge the accepted traditional meanings of salvation, saviour, gospel, belief, faith, new covenant, the righteousness of Christ, and the nature of the church of Christ. (Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2, pp. 21-22)
The doctrine of “justification by grace” defined the human problem as: How can a person be found innocent before the bar of God’s final judgment? Fox defined the human problem as: How can a person know and do the will of God in this life? [emphaisis mine] He preached Christ as the teacher and prophet who saves us from captivity to sin and not as a saviour who saves us while we remain under the power of sin. He called Christ the “teacher that bringeth salvation.”…It is because Fox proclaimed that Christ is saviour as he is revealer, that he interpreted salvation by Christ in a way that was radically different from the churches of the Reformation. (ibid., p. 28)

Lewis Benson concludes his article with:

In what has been set forth here I have tried to show that Fox’s teaching about Christ was not appropriated from his religious environment but was a fresh and distinctive view of Christ, which he proclaimed in the form of a challenge to the teaching of the churches. In the third section I have indicated some of the principal scriptural sources from which his doctrine of Christ was drawn. He believed that he had recovered important parts of the New Testament witness that had been neglected or ignored by the churches. If we are to recover this long-lost teaching of Fox today, it is most important for us to see, as Fox did, that his teaching about Christ is not an appendix to the orthodox teaching of the churches that merely increases our knowledge of Christ by a process of simple addition. Fox’s fresh insights brought him to a greatly expanded view of Christ’s power to lead men to a new-founded righteousness and a new-founded community. The recovery and re- proclamation of the gospel that he preached will surely have revolutionary consequences for those who have ears to hear it and the grace to receive it. (ibid., p. 42)

Some of the scriptures that Fox draws upon for his teaching about Christ as prophet and teacher are:

  • Deut. 8:3
  • Deut. 18:15-18
  • John 1:1-18
  • John 10:10
  • John 12:46-50
  • Peter’s speeches in Acts 3 and 4
  • Stephen’s defense in Acts 7
  • Titus 2:11-12
  • Heb. 1:1-2
  • Heb. chapter 3

In Vol. VII of his Works, Fox stated the following things that had been “lost since the apostles’ days.” (Worship was mentioned twice as indicated below.) These are:

  • men’s meetings in the power of God to relieve widows, strangers, and fatherless (p.15)
  • the public worship of God (p.235)
  • The true hope (p.322)
  • the true cross (p.322)
  •  the true way (p.322)
  • the true faith (p.322)
  • the true worship (p.323)
  • the true religion (p.324)
  • the image of God within (p.325)
  • the true praying (p.325)
  • the true fellowship (p.326)
  • the righteousness (p.327)
  • the sanctification (p.327)
  • the sanctifying belief (p.327)

The covenant-of-grace theology came into being with the demise of the apostolic gospel and is responsible for the loss of the above items. The only means of restoring these lost items to the lives of individuals and the life of the church as a whole is to come to wait for and to experience the working of Jesus Christ in and among us in all his offices. All these items are part of the Salvation that the true gospel, the power of God, brings us to.

In 36 years of hearing an average of two sermons per week, (that amounts to about 3700 sermons) I can’t think of any that dealt with the importance of knowing Jesus present in our midst as our prophet and teacher, let alone pointing out that experiencing Jesus in these offices (and others) in and among us is of vital importance to our salvation. If Pastoral Friends can legitimately claim to have the same gospel proclaimed by George Fox and the early Friends, then it would make sense to me that these vital subjects should be central to what is being proclaimed in our day.

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?

The question of true Christians or true believers now can be answered. Fox stated concerning true believers:

for [true believers] believe in the true Christ the light, and bid people believe in the light that doth enlighten every man that cometh into the world, that all men through him might believe… (Works, Vol. III, pp. 309-310)

They are the ones who experience this power of God unto salvation, who know the work of Christ in and among them in all his offices to restore to them the image of God, the righteousness of God, the sanctification and holiness without which none can see God, the true faith that overcomes the world and protects from the god of this world, the true worship in spirit and truth into which the Devil can’t come, and so on. All these things are known and seen in and by the light of Christ which He has enlightened us with.

Further reading:

  • Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2.
  • Lewis Benson’s letter to a friend containing further information regarding his paper on Christ as Prophet.

In the next post I will look at Fox’s Firbank Fell sermon, Edward Burroughs account of the rise of the Quakers in the north of England that was the result of that sermon and compare that with a statement from an evangelical Friends pastor.

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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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2 Responses to Something to Say…Part2:The Gospel, the Power of God

  1. Ellis Hein says:

    Correction: Lewis Benson’s letter to a friend, mentioned above, contains additional information on his QRT article concerning “That of God in Every Man: What Did George Fox Mean by it?” and not about his “Christ as Prophet” QRT article.

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  2. 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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