In a recent blog post, For the Love of Stories: Imagining Quakerism Beyond Belief, The Armchair Theologian posits the need to return to the stories of our beginnings, to sit with these stories even if they are uncomfortable to our modern ideologies, to live these stories. This advice he directs to Universalist, Christian, and Non-theist Friends. In this three part series, it is not my purpose to summarize his blog post. Part one will consider the source of these stories, part two will look at the belief that undergirds the stories, and part three will focus on the consequences of living these stories.
First, these stories are the direct result of God-initiated encounters with Jesus Christ where he revealed himself to those people who came to be called Quakers. They are neither works of fiction nor of exageration. Whether one is “Christian, Universalist, Non-theist,” or any other religion, these stories can not be lived except by encountering the same Jesus Christ and to know his work to proceed within. Now many would think that this would be broadly accepted by those calling themselves “Christian,” but the bitterest enemies of the Quaker movement and their worst persecutors were members and leaders of “Christian” churches, whose undergirding theology has not changed since the 1600s.
Lets look at Margaret Fell’s testimony of Fox’s visit to Ulverston Steeple House, quoted in the blog post above. This excerpt begins with Fell quoting what Fox had to say to the people gathered in the steeple house.
‘He is not a Jew that is one outward, neither is that circumcision which is outward; but he is a Jew that is one inward, and that is circumcision which is of the heart.’ And so he went on and said that ‘Christ was the light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world, and that by this light they might be gathered to God,’ &c. I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine; for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, ‘The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord:’ and said, ‘Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light, and hast walked in the light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?’ &c. This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly, we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly; and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.’ So that served me, that I cannot well tell what he spake afterwards; but he went on in declaring against the false prophets, and priests, and deceivers of the people. [I have added beginning quote marks to quoted passages]
This passage encapsulates the challenge of these “stories” to all people: Christian, Universalist, Non-theist, or whatever religion you please. The inherent questions are: “Have you returned to the beginning where what you speak is inwardly taught you by God? Are you clothed with the life rather than with the sewn-together fig leaves of man’s inventions?”