Who Is Your God

Some Preliminary Matters

My previous post was based on the first part of Steven Davison’s comment. This post continues with a few responses to further ideas he presented. These ideas are widely enough spread to warrant further investigation. Please follow these links to read the original posting, my comment, and Steven’s response, lest I should misrepresent anything he said. Where I quote Steven, I have made the print red to distinguish those quotes from  quotations from other sources.

Since the topic of this post concerns the “kind of God” embraced by the early Friends, I am again turning to material from their writings. I have tried to shorten quotes where I can, but will readily admit to sometimes being unable to do so.

A Definition of Sin

My previous post discussed whether or not the early Friends were preoccupied with sin. A necessary part in this discussion will be to establish a definition of sin so that we can move on to discuss “the kind of God presumed by this sin-salvation paradigm.”

John 1:29 records John the Baptist’s statement, “Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Conventional Christianity has conditioned us to understand this statement in the following two veins:

  1. this is something that happened on the cross when Jesus was crucified. (For this post I am not commenting on the crucifixion of Jesus.)
  2. sin consists of actions we have committed or failed to accomplish.

The foundation of what the Church calls sin is an inward state of being from which all those actions spring. This inward state is what John the Baptist referred to, and what Scripture describes as “darkness” and “death.” We arrive at this state by listening to the wrong teacher. George Fox said:

So here were three states and three teachers. God was the first teacher in paradise; and whilst man kept under his teaching, he was happy. The serpent was the second teacher; and when man followed his teaching he fell into misery…Christ Jesus was the third teacher; of whom God saith, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him:” and who himself saith, “Learn of me.” This is the true gospel-teacher, who bruises the head of the serpent the false teacher, and the head of all false teachers and false religions, false ways, false worships, and false churches. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p. 144)

So the state of being, referred to as “sin,” is an inward condition where we are in darkness and devoid of the life of the Creator. Salvation is receiving the light Christ enlightens us with. By following this teacher we are removed from that inward state of darkness and death. We were created to be living beings, filled with the image of God. If we reside in death, no amount of dressing up our condition makes us acceptable. What is lacking is life, not more fig-leaves. It is this life that Jesus provides, that the apostles and the early Friends testify to. This is the sin-salvation paradigm I see at work in the testimonies of the early Friends as well as in my own experience.

The Kind of God the Early Friends Followed

So, to refresh the topic, Steven said,

My critique focuses on the kind of God presumed by this sin-salvation paradigm, also—a being who is defined primarily in terms of power, as a lawgiver, judge and punisher, whose wery [sic] “love” is inextricably entwined with violence, epitomized in the white hot focus point of Jesus’s death on the cross. I recognize that this was early Friends’ God, but he’s (sic) not mine.

The first question to ask is, “by what authority does one arrive at a sense of the being of God?” Since the days of canonizing the Scriptures (or before) until the advent of Fox and the early Friends, the sources of “knowing God” were predominantly

  1. the Scriptures or
  2. Church tradition.

In the Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp. 11-13, Edward Burrough described the process by which the early Friends came to their sense of who God is. Below are three extracts from those pages.

It is now about seven years since the Lord raised us up…and opened our mouths in this his spirit; and what we were before in our religion, profession, and practices is well known…that generally we were men of the strictest sect, and of the greatest zeal in the performance of outward righteousness, and went through and tried all sorts of teachers, and run from mountain to mountain, and from man to man, and from one form to another…and for one I may speak, who, from a child…set my face to seek and find the saviour, and, more than life and treasure or any mortal crown, sought with all my heart the one thing that is needful, to wit, the knowledge of God….
And after our long seeking the Lord appeared to us, and revealed his glory in us, and gave us of his spirit from heaven, and poured it upon us, and gave us of his wisdom to guide us, whereby we saw all the world, and the true state of things…First the Lord brought us by his power and wisdom, and the word by which all things were made, to know and understand, and see perfectly, that God had given to us, every one of us in particular, a light from himself shining in our hearts and consciences; which light, Christ his son, the saviour of the world, had lighted every man withal; which light in us we found sufficient to reprove us, and convince us of every evil deed, word, and thought, and by it, in us, we came to know good from evil, right from wrong, and whatsoever is of God, and according to him, from what is of the devil, and what was contrary to God in motion, word, and works. And this light gave us to discern between truth and error, between every false and right way…These things to us were revealed by the light within us, which Christ had given us, and lighted us withal; what man was before transgression, and what he is in transgression, and what he is being redeemed out of transgression. And also as our minds became turned, and our hearts inclined to the light which shined in every one of us, the perfect estate of the church we came to know…So that all these things concerning man, and concerning the times and seasons, and the changing and renewing of times, and all things that pertain to salvation, and redemption, and eternal life, needful for man to know, all these were revealed, discovered, and made known to us, by the light which was in us, which Christ had lighted us withal…
And so we ceased from the teachings of all men, and their words, and their worships, and their temples, and all their baptisms and churches; and we ceased from our own words, and professions, and practices in religion…

Thus the early Friends knowledge of God’s character came by revelation and experience. This is inline with Psalms 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Fox put it this way:

‘I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh, in the last time,’ saith the Lord, which is the true christian’s time, God’s sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and old men shall dream dreams ; and on my servants and handmaids I will pour out of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy. Now friends…every one to feel the spirit of God, by which you may see the things of God, and declare them to his praise…this is beyond that brain-beaten-heady stuff, which man has long studied, about the saints’ words, which the holy men of God spake forth as they were moved by the holy ghost:…So with the holy ghost, and with the light and power of God, do you build upon Christ the foundation, and life… (Works of Fox, Vol. VIII, pp. 19-20)

If you have a bail-out-price, where you declare to God, “the cost is too high, forget this!” you will never come to the knowledge of God Edward Burrough wrote about. Instead you will be left with what Fox described as “that brain-beaten-heady stuff.”

Therefore, the second question to ask to all who come to read this blog post is “How important to you is it that you come to the knowledge of God?” Edward Burrough records how they were  willing to forsake (and did forsake) all that stood in the way between them and the Lord.

Here, in Burrough’s words, is the description of  the early Friends experience of God.

The Lord God everlasting, who is true and faithful, hath fulfilled his promise in us, and unto us, and we are gathered from the mouths of all dumb shepherds, and out of the mouths of all hirelings, who have made a prey upon us, and fed themselves with the fat, and devoured souls for dishonest gain. And we are come to the fold of eternal rest, where Christ Jesus is the chief shepherd…that feedeth his flock with living bread that nourisheth us unto life eternal….
And atop of the world hath the Lord set us, on the mountain of his own house and dwelling; where we behold and feel the life, and glory, and crown of the world that hath no end;…And as for all that which this perishing world brings forth, which men seek after only, it is reckoned our temptation,…But of that birth are we which hath no crown, no glory, nor rest under the sun: a birth is brought forth amongst us which is heir of another kingdom, and possessor of another crown, whose glorying is in the Lord all the day long; and he is our refuge, our rock, and our fortress against all our enemies. (Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp. 5-6)

If you would know the truth, and I don’t mean their truth, or your truth, or my truth, I mean if you would know the truth, it only comes through the one who is the truth. Friends and others have often repeated, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” But that statement from Jesus was conditional, it depended upon something that had to come first. If you abide in my teaching must be fulfilled before knowing the liberating truth. You can read from the quotes above and from many others that could be instanced that this teaching is only available in the “light Christ has enlightened us withall,” not scripture (which points to Christ), nor the testimony of others. If you reject the light of Christ, Scripture and the testimony of others becomes a ball and chain rather than a source of liberty.

The final question, then, is “How hungry are you?” You have eaten from many tables, but if it is righteousness and truth you  hunger and thirst after, it is served only on the table of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Posted in Salvation, Sin, Understanding early Friends | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Were the Early Friends Preoccupied with Sin?

The Genesis of this post

I left a comment on Steven Davison’s blog, to which he responded:

You know, the early Friends’ preoccupation—one might say obsessions—with sin and sinfulness just does not work for me. I am not saying that we humans do not sin, or that sin doesn’t matter, or even that the traditional Quaker solution for the problem of sin is false. This is a deep subject with many facets, so I can’t address it or them here in a reply to a comment. I can see, rather, that it deserves a series of future posts.
But I want to touch on it here. My critique focuses on what I see as a false presumption of a “Fall” in which humans lost some original intimacy with God and became inherently disobedient—there was no garden, no Adam and Eve, no serpent; we started out as pre-human primates who were probably already capable of doing the wrong thing. Meanwhile, while sinfulness is inherent in “human nature”, so is love, community, cooperation, creativity, art, healing, and compassion. Why pathologically focus on the darkness within us without working at least as hard to raise up the light within us?…

Therefore, my purpose in this post will be to showcase passages from the writings of early Friends and suggest others people may want to examine. So, long quotes are the object here, with minimal interjection on my part.

The early Friends and sin

I agree with Steven’s assessment. The subjects he has introduced are too big to take up in a series of comments.

So, to begin with, lets look at Fox’s commission. This is a logical place to start since it marks the division between Fox’s period of preparation and the work he devoted his life to doing. This commission, therefore, marks the beginning of the early Quakers. If there were a preoccupation with or obsession with sin, it ought to show up here. However, I read in these pages of his Journal a message of hope for all mankind. If there is any preoccupation or obsession portrayed it is a preoccupation with the power of God to take mankind as they are and make them into creatures conforming to the “OEM specifications” (Original Equipment Manufacturers specifications).

I was sent to turn people from darkness to the light, that they might receive Christ Jesus; for to as many as should receive him in his light, I saw he would give power to become the sons of God; which I had obtained by receiving Christ.

Was God’s judgment correct that people were in darkness? to the extent that He needed to prepare and send George Fox to turn them from darkness to the light of Christ, from the power of satan to the power of God? Is there any evidence here of a [pathological] focus on the darkness within us without working at least as hard to raise up the light within us? Read the testimonies of the several people who contributed testimonials to George Fox to be included in the front matter of Vol. 1 of the Works of Fox. Read Edward Burrough’s description of the rise of the Quakers in the North of England, which is the preface to Vol. 3 of the Works of Fox. Something dramatic, perhaps we should say apocalyptic, happened in their lives as the result of being “turned from darkness to the light.” Read Stephen Crisp’s account of his encounter with James Parnell or William Penn’s hearing Thomas Loe’s sermon on the Faith that overcomes the world and the faith that is overcome by the world. There are a number of people alive today who can add testimony to the power of this message. It was not just a 17th century phenomenon. So, friends, this commission, this message, is something we must take seriously.

I was to direct people to the spirit, that gave forth the scriptures, by which they might be led into all truth, and so up to Christ and God, as those had been who gave them forth. I was to turn them to the grace of God, and to the truth in the heart, which came by Jesus; that by this grace they might be taught, which would bring them salvation, that their hearts might be established by it, their words might be seasoned, and all might come to know their salvation nigh. For I saw that Christ had died for all men, was a propitiation for all, and had enlightened all men and women with his divine and saving light; and that none could be true believers, but those that believed in it. I saw that the grace of God, which brings salvation, had appeared to all men, and that the manifestation of the spirit of God was given to every man, to profit withal.

Later comes a listing of specifics Fox was sent to bring people off from and what he was to bring them to. The “off” part includes most of what constitutes the practice of Christianity. No wonder the priests and professors, magistrates and people raged like the waves of the stormy sea. They were shown to be trees without fruit, cisterns without water. This is a necessary step, but neither a preoccupation nor obsession with sin and darkness. Fox’s commission does not end in “off” but with a declaration of the authority and power of God that sent him forth.

OFF FROM TO
all their own ways Christ the new and living way
their churches, which men had made and gathered the church in God
the world’s teachers made by men learn of Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life
all the world’s worships know the spirit of truth in the inward parts, and to be led thereby
all the world’s religions, which are in vain know the pure religion
all the world’s fellowships, prayings, and singings, which stood in forms without power holy ghost, the eternal spirit of God; that they might pray in the holy ghost, sing in the spirit, and with the grace that comes by Jesus; making melody in their hearts to the Lord
  • Jewish ceremonies
  • heathenish fables
  • men’s inventions and windy doctrines, by which they blowed the people about, this way and the other way, from sect to sect
  • all their beggarly rudiments, with their schools and colleges, for making ministers…of their own making, but not of Christ’s
  • all their images, crosses, and sprinkling of infants, with all their holy-days, (so called.) and all their vain traditions

Now that you have had the chance to read the portions of Fox’s commission I have lifted from the full text, what do you see regarding the focus of Fox’s commission?

Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand

William Penn, in his preface to Vol. 1 of the Works of Fox, wrote what I consider some of the finest descriptions the heart and soul of that people of God in scorn called Quakers. The first of the following two passages express the overall sentiment felt by the early Friends concerning the people of their day:

It were fitter for a volume than a preface, but so much as to repeat the contents of their cruel sufferings, from professors as well as from profane, and from magistrates as well as the rabble: so that it may well he said of this abused and despised people, they went forth weeping, and sowed in tears, bearing testimony to the precious seed, the seed of the kingdom, which stands not in words, the finest, the highest that man’s wit can use, but in power; the power of Christ Jesus, to whom God the Father hath given all power in heaven and in earth, that he might rule angels above, and men below; who empowered them, as their work witnessed!, by the many that were turned through their ministry from darkness to the light, and out of the broad into the narrow way of life and peace, bringing people to a weighty, serious, and godly conversation; the practice of that doctrine which they taught.
And as without this secret divine power there is no quickening and regenerating of dead souls, so the want of this generating and begetting power and life is the cause of the little fruit that the many ministries that have been, and are in the world bring forth. Oh! that both ministers and people were sensible of this! My soul is often troubled for them, and sorrow and mourning compass me about for their sakes. Oh! that they were wise! Oh! that they would consider and lay to heart the things that truly and substantially make for their lasting peace! (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p. xli)

The second passage is a fitting description of true repentance:

Well! and what does this blessed light do for you? Why, 1. It sets all your sins in order before you. It detects the spirit of this world in all its baits and allurements, and shows how man came to fall from God, and the fallen estate he is in. 2. It begets a sense and sorrow, in such as believe in it, for this fearful lapse. You will then see him distinctly whom you have pierced, and all the blows and wounds you have given him by your disobedience; and how you have made him to serve with your sins, and you will weep and mourn for it, and your sorrow will be a godly sorrow. 3. After this it will bring you to the holy watch, to take care that you do so no more, and that the enemy surprise you not again. Then thoughts, as well as words and works, will come to judgment, which is the way of holiness, in which the redeemed of the Lord do walk. Here you will come to love God above all, and your neighbours as yourselves. Nothing hurts, nothing harms, nothing makes afraid on this holy mountain. Now you come to be Christ’s indeed, for you are his in nature and spirit, and not your own. And when you are thus Christ’s, then Christ is yours, and not before. And here communion with the Father and with the son you will know, and the efficacy of the blood of cleansing, even the blood of Jesus Christ, that immaculate Lamb, which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel, and which cleanseth from all sin the consciences of those, that, through the living faith, come to be sprinkled with it from dead works to serve the living God. (Vol. I, p xlviii)

Penn lays out in specific detail what the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, and the early Friends meant by “repent.” It begins with a sight of our condition, but the process is preoccupied with the end result, which is the only way to raise up the light within us.

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Who Is Jesus Christ? and How Does He Save People?

Introduction to the Reader

If you are among the Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians, you may think the title questions absurd. You will assume that you already know the answers. If you are among the more liberal Christian groups, you may think these questions rather off-putting. In either case (or in those cases inbetween) you may well find something in the following that you had not anticipated. Is it a good bargain?

Who Is Jesus?

The scriptures have much to say concerning who Jesus is.

  • He is the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) that bruises the serpent’s head.
  • He is the blessing that comes through Abraham that replaces the curse.  (Gen. 12:3)
  • John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” is an announcement that these are now fulfilled. (John 1:29)
  • He is the Passover lamb, whose life (i.e. blood) filling the heart takes away death (i.e. the sin of the world). (John 1:29)
  • Moses told the Israelites that God had humbled them, let them be hungry, and fed them with manna that they might know that man does not live by bread alone. “But by every word proceeding from the mouth of God shall man live.” (Deut. 8:3)
  • God, through Moses, told the Israelites that He would raise up a prophet like Moses. He would put his words into this prophet’s mouth and this prophet would speak to them all the words God commanded. Anyone who would not listen would have to give account to God Himself. (Deut. 18:15-18) Jesus is that prophet. God’s voice sounded from heaven announcing, “This is My chosen one, hear him.” That is, this is the one who will speak to you all the words of God. (Matt. 17:5, Luke 9:35 (NASB))
  • John’s testimony is that Jesus IS THE Word of God, which answers both the Deut. 8:3 & 18:15-18 passages. (John 1:1, Rev. 19:13).
  • Jesus told the Jews that the fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. But he was the bread that came down from heaven that one might eat and not die. (See several portions of John 6)
  • Joel spoke of the days when God would pour out His spirit upon all flesh: sons, daughters, handmaids, servants, young, and old. Jesus told the disciples, “The words I speak to you are spirit and life…” (John 6:63)
  • Jesus is the priest after the order of Melchisedek. (Psalms 110:4, Heb 5:10)
  • He is the faithful shepherd-king. (Ezekiel 34:23, John 10:10)
  • He is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. (1 Peter 2:25)
  • He is the Messiah, the Son of God, spoken of by the prophets (see Matt 16:16)
  • He is the Creator through whom all things have come into being. (John 1)
  • He is the light that brings life. (John 1)
  • He is the light that judges. (John 3)
  • He gives the power to become a child of God, i.e. created in His image. (John 1:12-13)
  • He is the one who reveals the Father to us. (John 1:19)
  • He is the covenant of light (Isaiah 42 & 49)
  • He is the author of the faith that overcomes the world, which is our eternal salvation. This faith is written, by the author, on the heart of flesh instead of stone. (Heb 5:9, Heb 12:2, & Ezekiel 11:19)
  • He is the way to the Father. (John 14:6)
  • He is the truth. (John 14:6)
  • He is the life. (John 14:6)

The above list is a thumbnail of who Jesus is according to the witness of the writers of Scripture. If you follow the logic that Jesus is the substance of all the types, figures, and shadows of the Old Covenant, this list would be much larger. This now brings us to consider salvation.

How does Jesus save people?

For those segments of Christendom that concern themselves with the question of salvation, the long-standing, well established answer is that this is what happened on the cross. Because Jesus died for our sins, we can ask for and receive forgiveness and be assured of a place prepared for us in Heaven when we die.

However, if I am dead in trespasses and sin, as Paul assures me that I was in time past, (Eph. 2:1), then no number of further deaths are going to do me the least bit of good. I need life, not more death. Furthermore, if I am dead in trespasses and sin, I am a derelict wreck of the creation I was meant to be. Forgiveness still leaves me in a wrecked condition, unable to serve the living God.

So how does our concept of “forgiveness” solve our problem. Did the writers of the Scriptures have a deeper meaning for the concept we render “forgiveness?”

Forgiveness

One of the main passages cited to support salvation through God’s forgiveness is Colossians 1:14, which I have quoted below, giving some context. Verses 13 and 14 are in bold print.

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have toward all [the true believers];…For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the [real knowledge] of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and [growing by the knowledge, the real knowledge], of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, unto all steadfastness and patience, joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us [unto the portion of true believers] in light. For He delivered us from the [authority] of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:3-14, New American Standard Bible. Bracketed portions reflect the notes given in the margins of my Bible.)

In all my years of association with Evangelical and Fundamental Christians, I have never heard of any meaning or implication of forgiveness other than “pardon.” Often the two terms have been used interchangeably. Thus we come up with absurd statements such as “we are justified sinners” and “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”

In the New Testament Scriptures there are only two words used that we render as forgive or forgiveness.  #863 in the Greek dictionary at the back of Strong’s Concordance, is used almost exclusively. The other, #5483, is used in the prayer Jesus prayed on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The Colossians text above uses #863 which means to send forth, to forsake, forgive, to lay aside, leave, let alone. let be, let go, omit, put or send away, yield up, and more. So lets rewrite the text above with the sense given by this definition: “For He delivered us from the [authority] of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forsaking, laying aside, leaving, sending away, etc. of sins.

This is much more than the idea conveyed by “forgiveness.” This entails a remedial action on Jesus’ part that removes the condition of sin from within. Where, now, is there any room for the notion of only being “justified sinners” or “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven?

Salvation-through-forgiveness makes the assumption that man’s problem is guilt. If I can just be delivered from guilt, I will be OK seems to be the attitude portrayed. This assumption requires a major blindness to all the other problems man has to deal with. We have a hole in our being that corresponds to all the things Jesus is.

  • I was made to live by every word proceeding from the mouth of God. Where and how do I access this word of God?
  • I was created to be a living being, but I wander in the darkness of death. How can I find life and light?

and so on down the list.

The being of Jesus is fits all the deficits I have in my being. This is a salvation that means something, that has a real and discernible effect on the life of the individual and on the church. This salvation comes only by knowing Jesus present within and among us performing all the above mentioned functions, not through the formulaic presentation of most of Christendom. Jesus instructs all would-be-followers to believe in the light that you may be children of the day, because it is by encountering his light within us and believing what we are told by this light that we are delivered us from the [authority] of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forsaking, laying aside, leaving, sending away, etc. of sins.

Suggested further reading: Lewis Benson’s lecture #3 of the series of 10 Moorestown lectures.

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The New Church Order

The New Church Order

When George Fox emerged on the scene, something new appeared in Christendom. The message Fox was commanded to preach laid an unheard of foundation for one’s life in God. So unheard of that it was often labeled “the Quaker’s new gospel.” The scriptures record the voice of God saying on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my son, my chosen one. Hear him.” Fox maintained by argument and convincing demonstration that the builders of the churches of his day began by rejecting God’s cornerstone of hearing and following the voice of the Son.

Fox often returned to the theme of three teachers. God was the first teacher in Paradise. As long as man adhered to the teaching of God, they abode in the image of God. The Serpent the second teacher who taught man to disobey God and brought them into death. Christ is the third teacher, by whose teaching we are brought out of death, away from the Serpent’s teaching, and renewed up into the image of God. It is to this end that God’s command was “Hear him” and Christ’s command is “Learn from me.” Therefore, when Fox preached the gospel, his purpose was to show people where they could find this teacher that would deliver them from the teaching and power of the Serpent. This message was not only unheard of, it greatly offended the Church leaders of his day.

But this is only half of the story. The other half is the subject of Lewis Benson’s Moorestown Lecture #5.

But George Fox saw that the great work to which he had been called was to go farther than restoring the lost gospel worship and gospel fellowship…The “great people” that Fox saw was to be raised up by the power of the gospel was not, in his vision, to be a great sect or great denomination, but a restoration of God’s people in the New Covenant, which would be ordered by the order that belongs to the gospel and that covenant.

This lecture along with chapter three, The Quaker Conception of Christian Community and Church Order, in Catholic Quakerism (4th printing, 1983, starting on page 43) do an excellent job of introducing the reader to Fox’s teaching and understanding of the role of the Church. The experience of the gospel, i.e. hearing and following the voice of Jesus Christ, leads to the community that hears and follows the voice of Jesus Christ. This leads to the question: Why is this is not common among all the churches of Christendom?

This heavenly order of the gospel is only possible when the individuals and the community are built upon God’s cornerstone. Where some other order is displayed, some other foundation is beneath it.

Penington says that the sign by which the church is known and “which distinguisheth her from all other assemblies and gatherings” is “the nature, life and presence of the head with her and in her. This none hath but the true church, the gathered body.…” (Catholic Quakerism, p. 52)

Our testimony for our meetings, gathered in the authority of Jesus, is not only a testimony to the presence and power of Christ. It is also a testimony against the falseness of man-made religious institutions, commonly called churches. If we live in the power of hearing and following the voice of the Son, by word and deed we show the emptiness and the powerlessness of all other builders building upon some other foundation.

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Seeing Through New Eyes

Lewis Benson began his 1964 lecture series at Woodbrooke with a lecture on The Place of the Quakers in Christian History. (These five lectures were later published under the title Catholic Quakerism, (Catholic meaning universal).) In this lecture, Benson stated,

In order to understand Catholic Quakerism in all its comprehensiveness one must be willing to make the effort to look at Christianity with new eyes and to see it as a new thing. For those who are steeped in the Roman Catholic or Protestant traditions this requires nothing less than a major reorientation to the Christian revelation. (Catholic Quakerism, p. 16)

Fox underwent such a major reorientation as described in the early part of his Journal. In a later publication,Lewis Benson described this in the following terms:

In his early years Fox’s seeking was directed toward two major objectives. He was in deep personal trouble. He lived for years on the brink of total despair and was tempted to do away with himself. The crisis in his personal life was not resolved until he had reached the point where he lost all hope of getting any help from the Christian leadership of his day. He was brought through his long ordeal by means of a personal encounter with the living Christ. Christ, he says, ‘opened the door of light and life unto me … he it was that opened to me when I was shut up and had not hope nor faith.’ He found in Christ a teacher who opened the truth of God’s righteousness to him and showed him that, through Christ, we can experience the power of God for righteousness which is greater than the power of temptation, sin and evil.

The second part of Fox’s quest was concerned with the nature of the church. Why, he asked, had he not been instructed by church leaders that Christ has the power not only to forgive and pardon for past sins but to deliver his people from captivity to sin? Why had he not learned from `experienced’ Christian leaders that Christ is alive and present in the midst of all who gather in his name as a teacher of God’s righteousness and as a leader, governer, ruler and orderer of his new covenant people? His encounters with the church of his day caused him to ask whether it bore the marks of God’s new covenant people.  (The  Truth Is Christ by Lewis Benson, New Foundation publications #5, p. 48-49. Available at http://www.foundationpublicationsnffusa.org/publications/)

We now come to the part of Fox’s Journal where he is sent by God to proclaim the gospel. And it is this part that is especially relevant. Fox’s commission is the lens through which we can begin to view Christianity with new eyes. By his own experience of consulting the notables of the Christian Church, the established Church as well as the Separatists, he had proven them no better than miserable comforters. There was nothing there that could speak to the problem of man, that could release man from the death-grip of the Serpent and renew him into the image of God. Yes, the Church could advise “sing songs, take tobacco, join the army, get married.” But they could point to no escape from temptation, show no way to be remade into the image of God.

So, when God sent Fox into the world to proclaim the everlasting gospel, Fox said:

When the Lord God and his son Jesus Christ sent me forth into the world to preach his everlasting gospel and kingdom, I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation and their way to God; even that divine spirit which would lead them into all truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any.

What follows is a list of things Fox was to call people out of, and this list includes most of what comprises current practice of the Christian religion. Along with the I-was-to-bring-people-off list is a list of what he was to bring people to. Fox states, “But with and by this divine power and spirit of God, and the light of Jesus, I was to bring people off from:”

  • all their own ways to Christ the new and living way
  • from their churches, which men had made and gathered, to the church in God, the general assembly w ritten  heaven, which Christ is the head of
  • off from the world’s teachers made by men, to learn [from] Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life…
  • off from all the world’s worships, to know the spirit of truth in the inward parts, and to be led thereby…
  • off from all the world’s religions [including the Christian religion], which are in vain; that they might know the pure religion, might visit the fatherless, the widows, and the strangers, and keep themselves from the spots of the world…
  • off from all the world’s fellowships, prayings, and singings, which stood in  forms without power, that their fellowship might be in the holy ghost, the eternal spirit of God; that they  might pray in the holy ghost,, sing in the spirit, and with the grace that comes by Jesus; making melody in their hearts to the Lord…
  • off from Jewish ceremonies, from heathenish fables, from men’s inventions and windy doctrines, by which they blowed the people about, this way and the other way, from sect to sect;
  • off from all their beggarly rudiments, with their schools and colleges, for making ministers of Christ, who are indeed ministers of their own making, but not of Christ’s
  • off from all their images, crosses, and sprinkling of infants, with all their holy-days, (so called.) and all their vain traditions, which they had got up since the apostles’ days, which the Lord’s power was against.

For the complete text, go to Fox’s Commission.

 In the dread and authority thereof was I moved to declare against them all, and against all that preached and not freely, as being such who had not received freely from Christ. (Works of Fox, Vol. I, pp. 90-91)

This brings us to the point of this blog post, which I will make by asking the following questions:

  • Was Fox mistaken in his discernment of the commission God gave him?
  • If he was mistaken, by what power did he gather the early Quakers?
  • If he was correct, what does that say about current practice of Christianity?
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