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September 20, 2006

Early Quakers, Version III

The telling of Quaker history I presented yesterday, while maybe more interesting than "the early Quakers were great, but then..." story, is still a brilliance followed by decline story. I don't find that to be a fair appraisal.

While there was definitely a shift in Quaker views from the early enthusiasm to the developing sect, there's also a much larger perspective that needs to be considered, putting Quakerism into the context of Christian history, especially the Reformation that it was a late part of. Some of this reflects my earlier post on Tradition, Scripture, and Spirit, but it's worth considering how early Quakers achieved their unique synthesis.

So this version, which steps further back from the specifics of Quakerism, reads like:

Christianity in Western Europe had for centuries meant Catholicism, a single enormous Christian community that was organized around a strong Church. That Church mediated salvation for the many people under its care, managing their spiritual (and often other) parts of their lives. This large community included many strains of Christian thought, but the Church managed those strains, setting boundaries it deemed appropriate. The Church handled the processes leading to salvation, could grant exceptions, and dedicated parts of the community to a more holy lifestyle in order that these holy people could intercede for the rest.

As abuses of this system mounted, reformers shifted from wanting to remedy the abuses to questioning the entire system that had placed the human Church between people and their God. Luther, Calvin, and their many followers focused on a direct connection between the faith of the believer and his or her salvation by God's grace. Their churches were there to guide believers toward salvation, not to deliver holiness from cloistered groups or to manage sacraments that added up to salvation.

While the reformers described a very different approach to salvation, they weren't prepared to let go of the church's power and authority. Luther in particular held on to as much tradition as he could manage, but few (broadly successful) reformers were willing to discard the church as an organization, and replaced the authority of the hierarchy and tradition with the authority of Scripture. Luther and many of his fellow reformers were appalled by Anabaptists and others who took the call for reform more radically than most reformers, and Anabaptists remained outcasts even after the early violence settled.

England had had an especially slow reformation. Henry VIII cast off Rome, but largely so he could take control of the church's property and power. Succeeding monarchs oscillated between Catholic and Calvinist sympathies, though none of them went far enough for the English reformers to be happy until about 1688. Elizabeth I and James I fought to retain the powers of the hierarchy and the strength of central control, with the King James Version of the Bible a determined effort to rid the country of the Geneva Bible with its Calvinist commentary.

In the 1640s, this all came to a head in the English Civil War, and Charles I was executed by a Puritan parliament. Removing the king (and eventually replacing him with a Lord Protector) didn't take England along a clear path to a government of Saints, as many had hoped. Instead, it created a seething cauldron, a tremendous opening of divergent views and different practices. Anglicans became Presbyterians became Independents became Baptists became Seekers became...

Quakers. George Fox's message that "Christ has come to teach his people himself" completed the shift toward individual responsibility and away from a church that the reformers had started. It worked most powerfully with groups - Seekers, Ranters, "shattered Baptists" - who had already thrown off hope in institutions and their role in religion. Quakerism spoke powerfully to people who found ministers distant, who felt oppressed by tithes that forced them to support churches they couldn't in good faith attend, who knew that the old answers weren't working any more in this time of chaos.

Fox and his many supporters preached across the country, and were seen as a danger to both religious and civil order. Their message overthrew the many compromises reached by earlier reformers, challenging both doctrine and structure in the name of the Light, breaking that Light free of its limited use to validate Scripture. By rejecting the remaining "outward ordinances" of baptism and communion, and making them spiritual and inward, they removed the need for a formal church and its "hireling ministry" to administer them.

While these core views persisted for a few centuries with most Quakers, the costs of this approach became clear very early. Without a central authority or shared understanding of a writtten text (Scripture), pretty much anything could happen. Inspiration didn't strike everyone consistently, and power struggles ensued in disputes over whether particular views were inspired by the Light or were mere "Ranterism".

James Nayler's reenactment of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, staged in Bristol with himself as Christ, took early Quaker views of the relation of Christ and the believer to the breaking point. The many years of persecution required the group to hold together tightly, something that became more and more difficult as enthusiasts like John Perrot (who had gone to Rome to convert the Pope, after all!) insisted on a more individualist approach.

The genius of Quakerism lies not in its early enthusiasm, but rather in its having visited the brink of extreme religious individualism, gathering the fruits that lie there, and retreating to create a new system which encourages such gathering. The new system, meetings, supports its members in their communications with the Light, guiding the meeting to come together without establishing a formal creed and guidelines of right belief. Gathering as a group, and recognizing each other's varied capabilities for discernment helps everyone to distinguish what is the Light - which should be a shared, unified experience, even if individuals experience it differently - from false leadings and individual opinions.

Yes, Quakerism changed between 1656 and Fox's death, quite dramatically. Barclay and Penn reflect the later Quakerism more than the early Quakerism, the synthesis rather than the enthusiasm that led there. While I doubt Fox moderated his early beliefs substantially, he clearly changed his perspective on how to integrate them beyond the individual. He set up meeting structures designed both to nourish and contain the power of his core ideas, while managing to extract himself from their operation.

In this broader perspective, Quakerism completes the Reformation's stepping away from the power of the Church, more completely discarding traditional notions of the church and authority than other reformers. Rather than leading to complete anarchy, however, Quaker views on the importance of right discernment lead back into self-managing community.

That's probably too broad and sweeping, and certainly over-simplified, but it's a story that I think holds up pretty well, even when the synthesis breaks down and different branches of Quakerism emerge. The freedom Quakers gain from their direct individual connections to the Light lets them reconsider Christian doctrine in a way that isn't strictly Protestant or Catholic. This freedom is shared across a community, which reinforces both the possibilities of this approach and its boundaries.

The key word for me in all of this is discernment. Fox was renowned for his discernment, but a key question in making this work is our ability to discern the Light, to separate what it tells us from the many other voices leading us in other directions. Time and wisdom can help with discernment, but an active community sharing its strength can develop strength in discernment greater than that of its members. That seems to me to be at the heart of the Quaker approach to worship, respecting the contributions of its members but seeking for a whole much greater than the sum of the parts.

I'll have a lot more to say about this, but it feels right to have it out in summary form at least. (I doubt very much that I'm the first to say this, either.)

September 19, 2006

Early Quakers, Version II

Yesterday I looked at the classic "early Quakers created this, and then we've..." story of Quakerism, with its varied conclusions explaining why modern Quakerism isn't quite like early Quakerism.

For this second telling, I'm going to change one key point in the story: when that change happened. Instead of early Quakers forming a single story up through Fox's and Penn's death, this version tells of dramatic change in the late 1650s and early 1660s, in which 'genuinely early Quakerism' is changed, or even betrayed, to become something more respectable.

In the late 1640s and early 1650s, the English Civil War had shattered people's expectations of an orderly world and collapsed their hopes for a rule of Puritan saints. Many sects developed in this chaotic period, some with prophets, some tied to continental Anabaptist radicals, and some denying the value of law entirely. Some Puritans became Baptists and then became Seekers or Ranters, losing layers of trust in their earlier, usually Calvinist, belief structure.

Out of this chaos, the early Quakers emerged. They evangelized, arguing that "Christ has come to teach his people himself," not as a luminous second coming (as groups like the Fifth Monarchists thought) but rather as a Light available to everyone. Christ's guidance wasn't limited to the Church, but was available to everyone, of whatever station, so long as they were willing to listen.

"Put yourself aside, and listen for the Light and where it leads," (to paraphrase) was a powerful message. This message built Quakerism even as persecutors imprisoned its members for their refusal to recognize rank or take oaths and their continued holding of open meetings.

Even as this powerful message was transforming thousands, however, both the growing persecution and splits within the ranks of Quakers led to a dramatic pullback from the original message. The split between James Nayler and George Fox demonstrated how Fox insisted on being in control of the movement (telling Nayler to kiss his boot?). Nayler's blasphemy trial left Fox in greater control. It also drove Fox away from the open individual embrace of Christ and the Light within to a more controlled approach, in which elders could control the meeting's direction and keep members in line.

As the Civil War came to a conclusion and the Restoration approached, Quakers tried one last round of radical politics, reaching out for allies and some even joining the army, but when it became clear that the King was returning, Quakers retreated. The issuance of the letter establishing the Peace Testimony, while a key document in the pacifism of Quakerism, was simultaneously a retreat from the promise Quakerism had shown in leading England in a new direction.

As the Restoration continued to persecute Quakers, Quakers shifted their message and reorganized their group. It become less of a movement and more of a sect, with Fox and his supporters ejecting those they saw as dangerously individualist (notably John Perrot and the participants in the Wilkinson-Story separation). They took greater care in aligning their rhetoric and their theology with more orthodox perspectives, especially when Fox was traveling in places where Quakers might be seen as a threat to order, like Barbados.

The later Fox, who outlived so many of the other early Quakers, and the more aristocratic second generation of Quaker writers - particularly William Penn and Robert Barclay - described Quakerism in terms more amenable to the Christian perspectives Quakers had discarded early on. Their quest for respectability and an end to persecution meant that the more extreme claims of early Quakerism had to be watered down, especially those relating to perfection and a direct line of communication between individuals and God.

In service of this Fox (and his wife Margaret Fell) censored his letters, removing language that referred to him in language normally reserved for Christ. (Fox and Nayler both had supporters who saw them as Christ-figures.) Fox's Journal tells the story of the 1640s and 1650s from a much later perspective, though the earlier inspiration still comes through at times (and despite further censorship from Quakers of the day). Similarly, Quaker publishers edited tracts from the 1650s when they later reprinted them, something historians didn't realize until recently. Barclay's codification and Penn's writings took Quakerism away from enthusiasm and toward a more settled and respectable state.

By the time of Fox's death, then, Quakerism had lost its original power. Rather than evangelizing the countryside, Quakers were organizing meetings that controlled who could and could not minister. Death and schisms had taken away a number of Quakers whose early energy had propelled the movement furthest toward emphasis on the individual's relationship with the Light, and what was left was a quiet echo of the origins.

This is a fairly recent perspective, though it reflects many of the tensions that Quakers have struggled with in the centuries since. It's a strong telling of various threads in New Light on George Fox (especially Richard Bailey's contribution) and George Fox's Legacy: Friends for 350 Years. It recognizes that most of the early splits (Nayler, Perrot, and Wilkinson-Story) reflected Friends who weren't inclined to accept Fox's claims of leadership or efforts to institutionalize leadership.

It also reflects, in my own reading, the differences between Fox's early letters and writings like 1659's The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded; and Antichrist's Kingdom Revealed Unto Destruction and his later work, especially the Journal.

Is it the right telling, though? I agree that there's clearly a change between the 1650s and the 1660s and later, but I don't find the quest for respectability or generational change enough of a motivating force. I'm sure there are Quakers who would argue that the problems of Quakerism stem from these changes in the late 1650s and 1660s, and that the earlier individualistic enthusiasm needs to return for the movement to revive.

Still, there's another way to tell this same story, which will be the next installment, and maybe help explain some of why I'm writing this strange and frequently difficult weblog.

September 18, 2006

Early Quakers, Version I

Early Quaker history is rich enough for its tellers to find different things in it with every telling. Quakers did all kinds of things and left behind all kinds of writing, and it's not all perfectly cohesive.

As an experiment, I'm going to tell the story three times. I believe that all of these tellings are close enough to what happened to be properly 'historical', and none of them are so terribly far off the mark that they can be dismissed immediately. The stories they tell and the ways in which they would have us relate to the early Quakers' experience are quite different, however.

The first story is the story I've seen most frequently when a brief explanation of early Quakerism is needed, and it's usually the conclusion that shifts to match the teller's perspective.


In the 1640s and 1650s, amid the tumult of the English Civil War, a small group of dedicated religious seekers came together to listen to the Inward Light because "Christ has come to teach his people himself."

Their claims that this Light gave them direct communication with God and that this Light was to be held above Scripture or rituals like baptism and communion led to persecution. They were accused of quaking before God, hence the name Quaker, which was not intended to be flattering. Their persecution continued from the first meetings through the Restoration all the way up to the Act of Toleration passed during the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Despite the persecution, Quakers held together. Quakers died in jails and more went to take their place. Unlike other sects who met privately to avoid persecution, Quakers continued to meet openly, and made themselves obvious targets with their use of 'thee' and 'thou', their refusal to doff their hats to those of higher rank, and their plain attire.

While many Quaker leaders died in prison (or of plague, war, or the other troubles of the time), one of the strongest, George Fox, survived into the 1690s, writing his famous Journal and organizing the structure of meetings that continues to this day. Other notable Quakers included William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania as a haven for Quakers while writing regularly on Quakerism, and Robert Barclay, whose Apology is a classic statement of early Quaker belief.

After Fox's death, Quakerism settled down. It was no longer a movement claiming to reignite Christianity in general, but rather a sect that built walls against outside influence. Members prospered, but the energy of the sect declined, settling into a long quiet.

Familiar? I hope so, since this is the general story I heard for a long time before looking into early Quakerism more generally. Depending on the storyteller's perpective, the next parts of the story are usually about how later generations lost the thread because they:

  • Weren't Christian enough.

  • Spent too much time reading Scripture and not enough with individual Spirit.

  • Insisted that (or rejected that) the Light is reason or conscience.

  • Lacked the fire to continue spreading their message.

  • Weren't disciplined enough.

  • Focused too little on the life of the spirit rather than money or politics.

  • Lacked knowledge of their own history to know what the early Quakers had really said.

  • Were corrupted by outside influences, whether Catholic-derived Quietism or Wesleyan revivalism.

(Yes, I'm sure I've forgotten a few.)

As you've probably guessed, this isn't the way I think the story should be told. The next two versions will present less common - and likely more challenging - tellings, though there's still plenty of room to discuss which of these is right. None of them are wildly wrong.

September 13, 2006

William Penn on salvation

Last week I started writing on early Quaker views of salvation, Thomas Hamm described differences between the earlier Quaker perspective and the more traditional Protestant view of Joseph John Gurney and Quakers who followed him, differences that aren't often described.

The early Quaker view is - rightly, I find - different, but it's also fascinating to see how Quakers came to that view while remaining within the framework of salvation by grace, with only Christ as saving. Direct access to the Inner Light changes the Quaker description of how salvation works while retaining the same recognition that Christ is saving.

In his introduction to Fox's Journal, William Penn gives a brief overview of how he saw this working in the 1690s:

Two things are to be briefly touched upon, the doctrine they taught, and the example they led among all people. I have already touched upon their fundamental principle, which is as the corner stone of their fabric; and indeed, to speak eminently and properly, their characteristic, or main distinguishing point or principle, viz. the light of Christ within, as God's gift for man's salvation. This, I say, is as the root of the goodly tree of doctrines that grew and branched out from it, which I shall now mention in their natural and experimental order.

The Light, unsurprisingly, is central to Penn's view of salvation. Next Penn describes the operation of that Light. Note the opening "repentance from dead works to serve the living God", clearly echoing Protestants since Luther, and "forgiveness of the sins that are past through Christ, the alone propitiation". Justification is here, but as a three-step process, with no statement that it happens just once as the believer accepts Christ.

First, repentance from dead works to serve the living God, which comprehends three operations. First, a sight of sin. Secondly, a sense and godly sorrow for it. Thirdly, an amendment for the time to come. This was the repentance they preached and pressed, and a natural result from the principle they turned all people unto. For of light came sight; and of sight came sense and sorrow; and of sense and sorrow came amendment of life. Which doctrine of repentance leads to justification; that is, forgiveness of the sins that are past through Christ, the alone propitiation; and the sanctification or purgation of the soul from the defiling nature and habits of sin present; which is justification in the complete sense of that word, comprehending both justification from the guilt of the sins that are past, as if they had never been committed, through the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus; and the creature's being made inwardly just through the cleansing and sanctifying power and spirit of Christ revealed in the soul, which is commonly called sanctification.

Sanctification, "being made inwardly just", is here connected to the process of justification. Sanctification for the early Quakers especially led to a further doctrine that didn't go over so well with their fellow Christians:

From hence sprang a second doctrine they were led to declare, as the mark of the prize of the high calling to all true christians, viz. perfection from sin, according to the scriptures of truth, which testify it to be the end of Christ's coming, and the nature of his kingdom, and for which his spirit was and is given. But they never held a perfection in wisdom and glory in this life, or from natural infirmities or death, as some have with a weak or ill mind imagined and insinuated against them.

This they called a redeemed state, regeneration, or the new birth, teaching every where, according to their foundation, that unless this work was known, there was no inheriting the kingdom of God.

A "born again" Quaker in this sense is not merely forgiven, but actually perfected, arriving in the kingdom of God, if not in this life. Penn's claim that "they never held a perfection in wisdom and glory in this life" probably doesn't stand up against Quaker claims in the 1650s, as Richard Bailey's "The Making and Unmaking of a God" in New Light on George Fox finds, but it does seem to accurately describe their position when Penn was writing.

Thirdly, this leads to an acknowledgment of eternal rewards and punishments, as they have good reason; for else of all people, certainly they must be the most miserable, who for above forty years have been exceeding great sufferers for their profession, and in some cases treated worse than the worst of men, yea, as the refuse and off-scouring of all things.

"Eternal rewards and punishments" aren't a common topic in Quaker discussions, but Penn acknowledges them here, without spending much time on it.

The last paragraph (before Penn starts describing doctrines more specific to the Quakers) makes clear that Penn sees this perspective as what Christians have believed to be true, but which was lost as they followed their own wills rather than the will of God or the mind of Christ.

This was the purport of their doctrine and ministry, which, for the most part, is what other professors of Christianity pretend to hold in words and forms, but not in the power of godliness, which, generally speaking, has been long lost by men's departing from that principle and seed of life that is in man, and which man has not regarded, but lost the sense of, and in and by which he can only be quickened in his mind to serve the living God in newness of life. For as the life of religion was lost, and the generality lived and worshipped God after their own wills, and not after the will of God, nor the mind of Christ, which stood in the works and fruits of the holy spirit; so that which they pressed was not notion but experience, nor formality but godliness; as being sensible in themselves, through the work of God's righteous judgments, that without holiness no man should ever see the Lord with comfort. (xiii-xiv)

That last phrase - "without holiness no man should ever see the Lord with comfort" - is an admonition both frightening and alluring. It's possible to read Penn here - like many of his Puritan contemporaries - as setting a high bar indeed for salvation. At the same time, though, I think his fellow Quakers, who had experienced the operation of the Light within themselves and its transforming power - would not likely be so worried.

September 8, 2006

From the Apostles to the Seekers

After telling of the dispensations and how God's interactions with humans have changed, William Penn's introduction to George Fox's Journal continues with a look at what has gone wrong in the current dispensation, the "falling away from the power of godliness."

The problems were seen almost from the beginning:

But alas! even in the apostles’ days, (those bright stars of the first magnitude of the gospel light,) some clouds (foretelling an eclipse of this primitive glory) began to appear, and several of them gave early caution of it to the Christians of their time; that even then there was, and yet would be, more and more, a falling away from the power of godliness, and the purity of that spiritual dispensation, by such as thought to make a fair show in the flesh, but with whom the offence of the cross ceased: yet with this comfortable conclusion, that they saw beyond it a more glorious time than ever, to the true church.

Though Penn isn't citing scripture explicitly here, but echoes warnings from the epistles of the New Testament, reflecting the challenges the church had even in Acts. The Apostles "saw beyond it a more glorious time than ever," after all of these problems were resolved, and the later parts of Penn's introductions suggest that Quakerism is bringing us closer to that time.

Next, Penn describes the deterioration, focusing (as he had in the dispensations on the substitution of outward observances for inward. From this stems worldliness, loss of contact with the spirit, strife, and opposition to the true church.

Their sight was true, and what they fore-told to the churches, gathered by them in the name and power of Jesus, came so to pass: for Christians degenerated apace into outsides, as days, and meats, and divers other ceremonies.

And which was worse, they fell into strife and contention about them, separating one from another, then envying, and, as they had power, persecuting one another, to the shame and scandal of their common christianity, and grievous stumbling and offence of the heathen, among whom the Lord had so long and so marvellously preserved them.

And having got at last the worldly power into their hands, by kings and emperors embracing the Christian profession, they changed what they could the kingdom of Christ, which is not of this world, into a worldly kingdom; or at least styled the worldly kingdom that was in their hands the kingdom of Christ, and so they became worldly, and not true Christians. Then human inventions and novelties, both in doctrine and worship, crowded fast into the church, a door being opened thereunto by the grossness and carnality that appeared then among the generality of Christians; who had long since left the guidance of God's meek and heavenly spirit, and given themselves up to superstition, will-worship, and voluntary humility.

And as superstition is blind, so it is heady and furious; for all must stoop to its blind and boundless zeal, or perish by it: in the name of the spirit, persecuting the very appearance of the spirit of God in others, and opposing that in others which they resisted in themselves, viz. the light, grace, and spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ; but always under the notion of innovation, heresy, schism, or some such plausible name. Though christianity allows of no name or pretence whatever for persecuting of any man for matters of mere religion; religion being in its very nature meek, gentle, and forbearing; and consists of faith, hope, and charity, which no persecutor can have, whilst he remains a persecutor; in that a man cannot believe well, or hope well, or have a charitable or tender regard to another, whilst he would violate his mind or persecute his body for matters of faith or worship towards his God.

Thus the false church sprang up, and mounted the chair. But though she lost her nature, she would needs keep her good name of the Lamb's bride, the true church and mother of the faithful; constraining all to receive her mark, either in their forehead or right hand, that is, publicly or privately. But in deed and in truth she was mystery Babylon, the mother of harlots; mother of those that with all their show and outside of religion, were adulterated and gone from the spirit, nature, and life of Christ, and grown vain, worldly, ambitious, covetous, cruel, &c. which are the fruits of the flesh, and not of the spirit.

The false church arises, but needs to "keep her good name," while "in deed and truth she was mystery Babylon." Thus Penn joins generations of Protestants in condemning the Catholic Church as a poor caretaker of Christian faith, finding it corrupted by worldly power and tempted too greatly by persecution.

Now it was that the true church fled into the wilderness, that is, from superstition and violence to a retired, solitary, and lonely state; hidden and as it were out of sight of men, though not out of the world, which shows that her wonted visibility was not essential to the being of a true church in the judgment of the Holy Ghost; she being as true a church in the wilderness, though not as visible and lustrous, as when she was in her former splendour of profession. In this state many attempts she made to return, but the waters were yet too high, and her way blocked up, and many of her excellent children, in several nations and centuries, fell by the cruelty of superstition, because they would not fall from their faithfulness to the truth.

This "true church" in "the wilderness" continues despite persecution. Penn isn't clear about who was in this true church, but many have suffered for their loyalty.

More recently, Penn sees the Reformation as having helped reopen the path for the true church, though it quickly fell into the same problems that earlier troubled the Catholic Church. He holds most of his fire from the reformers themselves, telling a similar story of a fall along generations leading away from the right path:

The last age did set some steps towards it, both as to doctrine, worship, and practice. But practice quickly failed, for wickedness flowed in a little time, as well among the professors of the reformation, as those they reformed from; so that by the fruits of conversation they were not to be distinguished.

And the children of the reformers, if not the reformers themselves, betook themselves very early to earthly policy and power, to uphold and carry on their reformation that had been begun with spiritual weapons; which, I have often thought, has been one of the greatest reasons the reformation made no better progress, as to the life and soul of religion. For whilst the reformers were lowly and spiritually minded, and trusted in God, and looked to him, and lived in his fear, and consulted not with flesh and blood, nor sought deliverance in their own way, there were daily added to the church such as, one might reasonably say, should be saved; for they were not so careful to be safe from persecution, as to be faithful and inoffensive under it.

Being more concerned to spread the truth by their faith and patience in tribulation, than to get the worldly power out of their hands that inflicted their sufferings upon them; and it will be well, if the Lord suffer them not to fall by the very same way they took to stand.

In doctrine they were in some things short; in other things, to avoid one extreme, they ran into another. And for worship, there was for the generality more of man in it than of God. They owned the spirit, inspiration, and revelation, indeed, and grounded their separation and reformation upon the sense and understanding they received from it, in the reading of the scriptures of truth; and this was their plea, the scripture is the text, the spirit the interpreter, and that to every one for himself.

But yet there was too much of human invention, tradition, and art, that remained both in praying and preaching, and of worldly authority and worldly greatness in their ministers, especially in this kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, and some parts of Germany. God was therefore pleased in England to shift us from vessel to vessel.

The reformers are a step forward, but their doctrine and worship have flaws, though they return the spirit closer to its proper place, letting each person participate. Worldiness continues to be a problem, and Penn now shifts his focus to England, where "God was pleased... to shift us from vessel to vessel", leading eventually to the Puritanization of the English churches, of which Penn writes:

And the next remove humbled the ministry, so that they were more strict in preaching, devout in praying, and zealous for keeping the Lord's day, and catechising of children and servants, and repeating at home in their families what they had heard in public.

But even as these grew into power, they were not only for whipping some out, but others into the temple.

The Puritans are more humble, more devout, and more zealous, but in becoming so they not only drive people out of the churches, but insist that others be forced into their churches, a key point of conflict between Quakers and the Presbyterians and Anglicans of the 17th century. Nonetheless, while there were problems, this period saw tremendous possibilities opening:

And they appeared rigid in their spirits, rather than severe in their lives, and more for a party, than for piety; which brought forth another people, that were yet more retired and select. They would not communicate at large, or in common with others; but formed churches among themselves of such as could give some account of their conversion, at least of very promising experiences of the work of God's grace upon their hearts, and under mutual agreements and covenants of fellowship they kept together. These people were somewhat of a softer temper, and seemed to recommend religion by the charms of its love, mercy, and goodness, rather than by the terrors of its judgments and punishments; by which the former party would have terrified people into religion.

They also allowed greater liberty to prophesy than those before them; for they admitted any member to speak or pray as well as their pastor, whom they always chose, and not the civil magistrate. If such found any thing pressing upon them to either duty, even without the distinction of clergy or laity, persons of any trade had their liberty, be it never so low and mechanical.

These people reject the Puritan model of enforced participation, coming together to worship in groups bonded by God's love rather than worldly concerns or constraints. They are likely those whom Fox and other early Quakers called "tender", ready to receive the Spirit, and seem to be particularly Baptists, though possibly other non-conformists. Even this group has its problems, though:

But, alas! even these people suffered great loss; for tasting of worldly empire, and the favour of princes, and the gain that ensued, they degenerated but too much. For though they had cried down national churches, and ministry, and maintainance too, some of them, when it was their own turn to be tried, fell under the weight of worldly honour and advantage, got into profitable parsonages too much, and outlived and contradicted their own principles; and, which was yet worse, turned some of them absolute persecutors of other men for God's sake, that but so lately came themselves out of the furnace; which drove many a step farther, and that was, into the water: another baptism, as believing they were not scripturally baptized, and hoping to find that presence and power of God, in submitting to this watery ordinance, which they desired and wanted.

These people made also profession of neglecting, if not renouncing and censuring, not only the necessity, but use of all human learning as to the ministry; and all other qualifications to it, besides the help, and gifts of the spirit of God, and those natural and common to men; and for a time they seemed, like John of old, a burning and a shining light, to other societies.

They were very diligent, plain, and serious, strong in scripture, and bold in profession, bearing much reproach and contradiction. But that which others fell by, proved their snare. For worldly power spoiled them too, who had enough of it to try them, what they would do if they had more; and they rested also too much upon their watery dispensation, instead of passing on more fully to that of the fire and holy ghost, which was his baptism who came with a 'fan in his hand, that he might thoroughly (and not in part only) purge his floor,' and take away the dross and the tin of his people, and make a man finer than gold.

Withal, they grew high, rough, and self-righteous, opposing further attainment, too much forgetting the day of their infancy and littleness, which gave them something of a real beauty;

The cycle of decay over time has reversed, however, and from the Baptists' self-righteousness springs a step closer to worship with the Spirit, as many of those 'shattered Baptists' step into new groups which will be ready to receive the message of the early Quakers.

insomuch that many left them, and all visible churches and societies, and wandered up and down as sheep without a shepherd, and as doves without their mates, seeking their beloved, but could not find him, as their souls desired to know him, whom their souls loved above their chiefest joy.

These people were called Seekers by some, and the Family of Love by others... (v-ix; paragraph breaks added)

And here Penn arrives at the origins of Quakerism, which he places in the hands of the Familists and Seekers. Their practices - especially waiting together in silence - will be joined with Fox's message that "Christ is come to teach his people himself" to eventually produce the Religious Society of Friends.

(Penn's inclusion of the Family of Love, who had Anabaptist roots, and his discussion of the true church in the wilderness raise a lot of questions. Historians lately seem to think that Quakerism developed purely from extreme Puritanism, Protestantism taken to the limit, discounting Rufus Jones' suggestions of connections to earlier Christian mystical roots. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between, with Quakers reinventing some of those roots but learning from others.)

September 7, 2006

Quaker dispensations

I normally think of dispensationalists as premillenialist Left Behind folks who jump back and forth between Revelation and Daniel with quotes from whatever other books they need to build an argument about who exactly is going to attack Israel and trigger the second coming.

The general notion of dispensations - different periods in God's relationship with humanity - is useful outside of that context, however. William Penn, in his introduction to Fox's Journal, talks about a number of different dispensations. (It's worth noting that this use of "dispensation" is different from the notion of dispensations granted by a bishop, and has nothing to do with the idea that the present age is some kind of parenthesis.)

At first I was inclined to skip this kind of thing, but the more I've read of Fox and the early Quakers, the clearer it becomes that their perspective on biblical dispensations and then church history (which I'll discuss later) are critical components of the way they look at key questions, not to mention defining components of the language they speak. This isn't Barclay's more formal theology, but rather a retelling of the Bible story that provides the foundation for Quaker perspectives.

(I think, though I'm not certain, that this telling works well both for the early enthusiastic Quaker writings of the 1650s and the later works of Fox, Penn, Barclay, and others in the more toned-down post-Restoration world.)

The first word, in a modern spelling, would be "diverse":

Divers have been the dispensations of God since the creation of the world, unto the sons of men; but the great end of all of them has been the renown of his own excellent name in the creation and restoration of man: man, the emblem of himself, as a god on earth, and the glory of all his works.

The world began with innocency: all was then good that the good God had made; and as he blessed the works of his hands, so their natures and harmony magnified him their Creator. Then the morning stars sang together for joy, and all parts of his works said Amen to his law. Not a jar in the whole frame, but man in paradise, the beasts in the field, the fowl in the air, the fish in the sea, the lights in the heavens, the fruits of the earth; yea, the air, the earth, the water, and fire worshipped, praised, and exalted his power, wisdom, and goodness. O holy sabbath! O holy day to the Lord!

Penn, like most others, opens with Eden, and innocence, before describing the paths that God offers back toward that state.

But this happy state lasted not long: for man, the crown and glory of the whole, being tempted to aspire above his place, unhappily yielded against command and duty, as well as interest and felicity; and so fell below it, lost the divine image, the wisdom, power, and purity he was made in. By which, being no longer fit for paradise, he was expelled that garden of God, his proper dwelling and residence, and was driven out, as a poor vagabond, from the presence of the Lord, to wander in the earth, the habitation of beasts.

Yet God, that made him, had pity on him; for he seeing man was deceived, and that it was not of malice, or an original presumption in him, but through the subtlety of the serpent, (that had first fallen from his own state, and by the mediation of the woman, man's own nature and companion, whom the serpent had first deluded,) in his infinite goodness and wisdom found out a way to repair the breach, recover the loss, and restore fallen man again by a nobler and more excellent Adam, promised to be born of a woman; that as by means of a woman the evil one had prevailed upon man, by a woman also he should come into the world, who would prevail against him, and bruise his head, and deliver man from his power: and which, in a signal manner, by the dispensation of the son of God in the flesh, in the fulness of time, was personally and fully accomplished by him, and in him, as man's saviour and redeemer.

Here Penn uses the original story of the Fall to point toward redemption through a "second Adam", using one of Fox's favorite stories, about "bruising the serpent's head," from Genesis 3:15. (So far as I know, Quakers don't have a general thing against snakes, but reading Fox, one could get other ideas.)

But his power was not limited, in the manifestation of it, to that time; for both before and since his blessed manifestation in the flesh, he has been the light and life, the rock and strength of all that ever feared God: present with them in their temptations, followed them in their travels and afflictions, and supported and carried them through and over the difficulties that have attended them in their earthly pilgrimage. By this, Abel's heart excelled Cain's, and Seth obtained the pre-eminence, and Enoch walked with God. It was this that strove with the old world, and which they rebelled against, and which sanctified and instructed Noah to salvation.

But the outward dispensation that followed the benighted state of man, after his fall, especially among the patriarchs, was generally that of angels; as the scriptures of the Old Testament do in many places express, as, to Abraham, Jacob, &c.

In this patriarchal dispensation, Penn sees angels guiding the leaders, walking with them in the world, and leading them out of the darkness. The next dispensation broadens God's guidance, but not in a way that Penn sees favorably:

The next was that of the law by Moses, which was also delivered by angels, as the apostle tells us. This dispensation was much outward, and suited to a low and servile state; called therefore, by the apostle Paul, that of a schoolmaster, to point out and prepare that people to look and long for the Messiah, who would deliver them from the servitude of a ceremonious and imperfect dispensation, by knowing the realities of those mysterious representations in themselves. In this time the law was written on stone, the temple built with hands, attended with an outward priesthood, and external rites and ceremonies, that were shadows of the good things that were to come, and were only to serve till the seed came, or the more excellent and general manifestation of Christ, to whom was the promise, and to all men only in him, in whom it was yea and amen; even life from death, immortality and eternal life.

Here Penn largely follows Paul in criticizing the law, though there is a shift of emphasis that is distinctively Quaker. Note the "outwardness" of "the law was written on stone, the temple built with hands, attended with an outward priesthood, and external rites and ceremonies," and all of these were merely "shadows of the good things that were to come." By including these outward things in his criticism of that dispensation, Penn lays the groundwork for later arguments that they don't belong in the current, Christian, dispensation.

This the prophets foresaw, and comforted the believing Jews in the certainty of it; which was the top of the Mosaical dispensation, and which ended in John's ministry, the forerunner of the Messiah, as John's was finished in him, the fulness of all.

Here Penn argues that during that dispensation of the Mosaic Law, the prophets had foretold Christ's appearance as the messiah.

And then God, that at sundry times, and in divers manners, had spoken to the fathers by his servants the prophets, spoke to men by his son Christ Jesus, 'who is heir of all things;' being the gospel day, which is the dispensation of sonship: bringing in thereby a nearer testament, and a better hope, even the beginning of the glory of the latter days, and of the restitution of all things; yea, the restoration of the kingdom unto Israel.

Christ appears here, starting the new dispensation, "of sonship". There is no discussion here of how Christ "restor[es] the kingdom unto Israel," but rather that suggestion leads into discussion of a new kind of life.

Now the spirit, that was more sparingly communicated in former dispensations, began to be 'poured forth upon all flesh,' according to the prophet Joel, and the light that shined in darkness, or but dimly before, the most gracious God caused to shine out of darkness, and the day star began to arise in the hearts of believers, giving unto them the knowledge of God in the face (or appearance) of his son Christ Jesus.

Here Penn argues that the Spirit or Light spreads widely - "the day star began to arise in the hearts of believers, giving unto them the knowledge of God in the face (or appearance) of his son Christ Jesus." In this telling, Quaker precepts have held since the day of the Apostles, this knowledge of God available to everyone. (Angels, perhaps, are no longer needed for this communication.)

Now the poor in spirit, the meek, the true mourners, the hungry and thirsty after righteousness, the peace makers, the pure in heart, the merciful, and the persecuted, came more especially in remembrance before the Lord, and were sought out and blessed by Israel's true shepherd. Old Jerusalem with her children grew out of date, and the new Jerusalem into request, the mother of the sons of the gospel day. Wherefore, no more at old Jerusalem, nor at the mountain of Samaria, will God be worshipped above other places; for, behold, he is, by his own son, declared and preached a spirit, and he will be known as such, and worshipped in the spirit and in the truth. He will come nearer than of old time, and he will write his law in the heart, and put his fear and spirit in the inward parts, according to his promise. Then signs, types, and shadows flew away, the day having discovered their insufficiency, in not reaching to the inside of the cup, to the cleansing of the conscience; and all elementary services were expired in and by him that is the substance of all.

Here Penn is clear that this Light signals the end of the old practices, ending the need for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem (or Samaria), and signaling that God is actually closer, more available in this new dispensation than he was in the previous one. That latter part is a direct challenge to those who claim the age of prophecy and direct insight is over, and who would make the scriptures alone the new Law.

And to this great and blessed end of the dispensation of the son of God, did the apostles testify, whom he had chosen and anointed by his spirit, to turn the Jews from their prejudice and superstition, and the Gentiles from their vanity and idolatry, to Christ's light and spirit that shined in them; that they might be quickened from the sins and trespasses in which they were dead, to serve the living God in the newness of the spirit of life, and walk as children of the light, and of the day, even the day of holiness: for such ‘put on Christ,’ the light of the world, ‘and make no more provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.’ So that the light, spirit, and grace that come by Christ, and appear in man, were that divine principle the apostles ministered from, and turned people's minds unto, and in which they gathered and built up the churches of Christ in their day. For which cause they advised them not to quench the spirit, but wait for the spirit, and speak by the spirit, and pray by the spirit, and walk in the spirit too, as that which approved them the truly begotten children of God, 'born not of flesh and blood, nor of the will of man, but of the will of God;' by doing his will, and denying their own; by drinking of Christ's cup, and being baptized with his baptism of self-denial: the way and path that all the heirs of life have ever trod to blessedness. (iii-v)

And here, in the last part of his positive telling of this story, Penn tells of the early Christians' direct communion with the Spirit, "drinking of Christ's cup" spiritually, and of a different kind of baptism: "being baptized with his baptism of self-denial: the way and path that all the heirs of life have ever trod to blessedness."

September 1, 2006

Barclay's Apology

Whenever I have a question about Quaker theology, I revisit Robert Barclay's Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678). Quaker Heritage Press has kindly made it available online, and they also sell it in hardcover for $24.99. The online version is good for reference, but the physical book is much better for reading, especially as I find I want to go back and forth among sections.

It's definitely an apology meaning "argument", not an apology meaning "I'm sorry".

Barclay's writing style and approach are very different from other early Quakers, and I recognize that it isn't a summation or even necessarily a consensus position of early Quaker beliefs, (It's a reasonable summation of post-Restoration Quaker perspectives, which are significantly toned down from the 1650s.) Nonetheless, it's a very useful book for specifying both Quaker beliefs and backing for those beliefs

Barclay was an unusual Quaker for his time, having come from a Calvinist family, then studied at the Catholic Scots College in Paris before becoming a member of the Society of Friends. The Apology reads more like regular theology than Quaker missive, and Barclay's awareness of multiple religious and intellectual traditions means that the book is written with a wider range of possible objections in mind.

His Theses Theologicae are an excellent summary for me of early Quaker beliefs, though the book provides much more backing for them. If you need to think through Quaker doctrine in a more structured way than Fox's letters or even Penn's essays offer, the Apology is an excellent place to start.

(There's also a version called Barclay's Apology in Modern English. I don't find Barclay's English difficult to start with. Quaker Heritage Press has more concerns about that version.)