Thursday, 19 June 2014

‘N’ is for Niclaes and the Family of Love – The Missing Link between Anabaptists and Quakers?

a. Introduction

The Family of Love (or Familists) was a sect founded by Hendrick Niclaes (1502-1580) who was born in Munster, Germany to a Catholic family and became influenced by Radical Reformation ideas (Williams 2000, p.724). Initially Niclaes and his followers were active in Germany and the Netherlands but by the late-16th century, groups of Familists had also developed in England. The evidence suggests that they were later absorbed into the emerging Quaker movement.

b. key characteristics

1. A Belief in Transformation/Divinisation

Niclaes questioned whether human sin had actually been improved by the coming of Christ. He came to the view that the destruction of sin by an imitation of Christ’s passion was what was required for humanity to be restored to a perfect state of godliness. He therefore believed that the basis of true righteousness was sanctification in Christ. In this, he appears to have been influenced by the Dutch/Low German Spiritualist Anabaptist David Joris (Williams 2000, p.724). Central to all Niclaes’ thought and underlining all his writings was his insistence on actual righteousness and a physical or experiential holiness, as contrasted with the imputed or forensic righteousness of by now normative or classical Protestantism (Williams 2000, p.726). This was therefore a belief based on experience. George Williams suggests that “Niclaes rejoiced in his experience of divinization and his call as a prophet to communicate the gospel of spiritualisation through divine love” (Williams 2000, p.725). Like the Lollards and the Anabaptists, the Familists rejected predestination, emphasised freewill and attached a high value to works rather than faith alone. Christopher Hill suggests that this represented a sort of pre-Arminianism (Hill 1977, p.72).

2. Christ’s Spirit within all people

For Familists the word ‘Christ’ was a metaphor for the divine spark which exists in every person (Hill 1977, p.73). They believed that, through Christ all could experience a spiritual resurrection in this life (Williams 2000, p.1211). Although the groups that Niclaes established were structured along the lines of a hierarchical family, he did recognise the importance of the inspired utterance of every believer in worship (Williams 2000, p.726).

3. Anti-Clericalism

Like other Radical Reformation groups, anticlericalism was a key aspect of the Familist view. They rejected whole established ecclesiastical edifice as anti-Christian, including tithes and the state-church system.  They asserted that the layman was just as good as a parson and were therefore hostile to the universities as training centres for the clergy. Instead they were strong advocates of ‘mechanic preachers’ who were empowered by the Holy Spirit. These are positions that they share with other groups such as the Lollards, the Anabaptists, the Levellers and the Quakers (Hill 1977, p.71).

4. Anti-Sacramental

The Familists were opposed to both the sacramental and sacerdotal aspects of mainsteam Christianity, using the Bible to criticise the ceremonies and sacraments of the church. They denied that some places were more sacred than others and argued that worship and prayer could take place anywhere (Hill 1977, p.71). They asserted that God’s Spirit was available in all places and not especially in church buildings or the bread and wine of the Eucharist (Hill 1977, p.74).

5. Spirit over Letter

Like Thomas Muntzer and early Anabaptists such as Hans Denck the Familists emphasized the authority of the Spirit of Christ over that of the letter scripture. This is seen again in later radical groups such as the Grindletonians, the Diggers and the Quakers (Hill 1977, p.75).

6. Metaphorical Biblical Interpretation

Niclaes and the Familists appear to have adopted an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. They therefore understood the whole Christian myth as a description of the experiences and conflicts which take place within the believer. In this sense, heaven and hell were not regarded as real places but rather states of mind (Hill 1977, p.75).

7. Nicodemism

When apprehended by the authorities Familists, like the Lollards before them, tended to recant publically to avoid persecution but retain their beliefs inwardly. Christopher Hill has suggested that this reflected their dislike of all established churches, whether Protestant or Catholic (Hill 1977, p.70). Faced with Elizabethan persecution in late 16th century England Familists went underground or outwardly conformed to established church practice (Williams 2000, p.1211). Because they regarded the inward and the spiritual as more important than the outward and the physical, this seems to have been a characteristic of most radical spiritualist groups during the Reformation. They tended to simply disappear from view.

c. Links to Quakerism

In his book The Radical Reformation George Williams argues that the English Familists represented a transitional stage between evangelical Anabaptism and the completely nonsacramental Spiritualism of Quakerism. It does seem to be the case that a number of early Quaker recruits came from Familist groups particularly in the areas of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge and Essex (Williams 2000, p.1209). During the 17th century they seem to have been absorbed by the emerging Quaker movement (Williams 2000, p.1211). We have seen that in terms of their anticlericalism, spiritualist Christology, pneumatology, opposition to sacramentalism and sarcedotalism and approach to scripture, Familist beliefs had a great deal in common with those of the early Quakers (although early Friends firmly rejected Nicodemism and retained a public witness in the face of persecution). In addition, Familists married and divorced by simple declaration before the congregation which could well have been the basis of the later Quaker practice (Hill 1977, p.75). For these reasons Niclaes and the Family of Love may represent the missing link between the various spiritualist Anabaptist groups that emerged during the sixteenth century European Radical Reformation and the Quaker movement that developed in England during the mid-seventeenth century.

d. Passages from Hendrick Niclaes’ Writings

1. The Kingdom of God is to be found within us all. It is here that you will find Christ who can liberate you from sin. There is therefore no point trying to find salvation through any human authority.

It is doubtlessly plain and clearly enough written, that the Kingdom of God is inwardly within us. He is in the middest of you whom ye know not. The same is he, that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. But many (as it well appeareth) know him not. For he, who is the very Image of God; or the Christ, and the Kingdom of the glory of God, hath his going down in us, inwardly and suffereth the death of the crosse, for the sinnes cause. Nevertheless if any man be baptized inwardly in the death of Christ, and with his death be until his burying, planted into him, the same ariseth also with Christ, and liveth. For then, inwardly is God’s Kingdom of Heaven even in him, and not specially, here or there, as among these, or among those: namely, in every one, in us. Now if the Kingdom of God be within us, and that we (as the scripture saith) believe in Christ, then ought we, after the Counsel of the Wisdom, and of the holy understanding, to seek it inwardly there: for even thither shall it come, and so be found inwardly within us. But who seeketh it only at the hands of another, and doth not attend the coming thereof inwardly, according to the direction of the holy word and service of love, the same shall in no wise find it. Glasse of Righteousness, late 1550s (Bradstock & Rowland 2002, p.96)

2. Patiently pay attention to Christ within you, for here is the power that can crucify your old fallen self and raise up a new creation that is free from the ways of the world and in harmony with God.

Now when you have thus received or put on the serviceable gracious word of the Lord, the true Christ after the flesh, in your hearts or inwardness, then apply your selves therewithal, in your inwardness, to the good being which the gracious word of the Lord requireth in his service, for to overcome in like manner with Christ, everything that is against him, to the intent of his enemies, for a footstool; may be laid under his feet. And when you exercise your selves herein, be ye likewise baptized in the death of Christ (that is, in his patience) and with like death or patience be ye planted into him: and so overcome ye through the belief, with the like crosse or patience of Christ, the sin, death, flesh, and the world, Devil and Hell, and all sensuality, which ariseth out of your own wisdom of the flesh: and be ye likewise in your inward man; renewed unto righteousness, in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lo, thus doth the Scripture teach us, if it were but rightly understood. When we are now passed through this, and have through the death of Christ, even until his Resurrection, overcome all those deadly things, then have we peace with God the Father, and stand firm in the love, which is the end or fulfilling of all the spiritual Testimonies. And therin is comprehended the perfection… Glasse of Righteousness, late 1550s (Bradstock & Rowland 2002, p.97)

3. When Christ appears within people and raises them to new life they overcome the ways of the world.

For Christ in the appearing of his coming, raiseth his deceased from the dead, to the intent that they should reign alive, with him over all his enemies: and condemneth all the ungodly, which have not liked of him. Glasse of Righteousness, late 1550s (Bradstock & Rowland 2002, p.98)

4. There is no need for human masters or teachers. God teaches his people himself so pay attention to this teaching and understand the way of God.

Who so liveth therein, or in obedience to the same life, the gracious word, loveth the same life, and with a lowly and humble heart, applieth himself obediently thereunto, such a one shall become wise in the hidden wisdom of God. For the obeying… doth make the man wiser than all his chosen Masters or Teachers, and in that manner commeth he to the holy understanding of the godly wisdom… Therefore let no man be negligent in such an appeared Grace: but every one give God the Honour, and so sigh over his wretchedness, that he may be reformed of his errors. Glasse of Righteousness, late 1550s (Bradstock & Rowland 2002, pp.99-100)

e. References

Bradstock, Andrew & Rowland, Christopher (2002) Radical Christian Writings: A Reader (Blackwell)

Hill, Christopher (1977) Milton and the English Revolution (Faber and Faber)

Williams, George Hunston (2000) The Radical Reformation (Truman University Press)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

‘M’ is for Müntzer and the Radical Implications of Mysticism

A. INTRODUCTION

Thomas Müntzer (1489-1525) was a German Radical Reformation theologian, who became a rebel leader during the Peasants' War. Initially he was a follower of Martin Luther. However he felt that the questioning of authority promoted by the Lutheran Reformation should be applied to the economic as well as the spiritual sphere. Luther disagreed and asserted that the Reformation he supported was only spiritual in nature. Following the Battle of Frankenhausen in May 1525 he was captured, tortured and decapitated. Müntzer promoted a radical apocalyptic message of the coming kingdom of God as an egalitarian society in which all things would be shared in common. Although disputed by some scholars, it is likely that Müntzer’s ideas influenced the early Anabaptist movements and in particular the thought of Hans Denck, Melchior Rinck and Hans Hut.

B. THE RADICAL REFORMATION THEOLOGY OF THOMAS MÜNTZER

What were the key dimensions of Thomas Müntzer’s Radical Reformation theology?

1. Anticlerical - The priests claim that divine revelation has ceased but the true shepherd turns people to God’s living presence.

Thomas Müntzer signed the Prague Declaration “Thomas Müntzer, who wants to worship not a mute but a speaking God.” He asserted that the clergy had not yet heard voice of God and had closed their ears to it claiming that God long ago stopped the outpouring of his Spirit. True shepherds educate the people in such a way that they hear God in their own hearts: “all of them shall have revelations.” So the authority of the priests is shattered by the experienced authority of the speaking God (Goertz 2007, p.25).

2. Mystical – The Holy Spirit undermines the Authority of the Church because it makes God directly available to all people

Müntzer drew deeply on the language and substance of medieval mysticism. Mystical piety placed the laity in a living, existentially experienced relationship with God. Direct communication with God (the basis of the priesthood of all believers) was the work of the Holy Spirit alone. Access to God was not mediated through the Holy Scriptures but through the divine Spirit alone. Scripture was only a testimony of the working of the divine Spirit (Goertz 2007, p.26).

3. Charismatic - The Holy Spirit has the power to transform people, bring them into right relationship with God and liberate them from fear of the powers of this world.

The divine Spirit permeates the person from within and restores the original harmony between creature and Creator. Faith creates a new spirit-filled person who obeys only God. This inner event is revolutionary for it destroys people’s dependence on and fear of the powers of the world. Instead it erects a new authority that consists of the fear of God.  
“…fleshly, earthly people should become God through the incarnation of Christ, and thus with (Christ) become God’s pupils, taught by him, deified by him, and indeed, much more, completely transformed into him, so that earthy life changes into heavenly.” (Goertz 2007, p.27).

4. Apocalyptic - Inner transformation brings outer transformation leading to the establishment of the kingdom of God

For Müntzer, the inner transformation includes a transformation of the outer life. The renewal of the individual leads logically to a renewal of the church, the government and society. The movement of the Spirit in the individual is therefore linked to the coming of the kingdom of God. This kingdom is established in the hearts of human beings, equipping them with new insights into the conditions of this world. God alone will establish his kingdom; the human being is merely his tool in this undertaking. The Spirit of Christ active in each of the elect will smash all the earthy powers, especially the state-church system. The Spirit penetrates the world, starting with transformation within the human heart. So, in Munster’s theology the mystical and the apocalyptic impulses are fully intertwined (Goertz 2007, p.28-29).

C. THOMAS MÜNTZER AND THE EARLY QUAKER VISION

In terms of the anti-clerical, mystical, charismatic and apocalyptic aspects of his theology, Muntzer’s vision appears to share a great deal in common with that of the early Quaker movement. It is clear that Han Denck was influenced by Müntzer and in an earlier blog posting (‘D’ is for Hans Denck, 12 February 2014) we noted the similarities between the theology of Hans Denck and that of early Friends. In particular, by maintaining a rigorously biblical and Hebraic understanding of the Holy Spirit, Müntzer appears to have avoided the dualism associated with many of the other Radical Reformation spiritualists. The key area on which Müntzer and early Quakers diverge is on the method by which the kingdom of God will be established on earth. Both Müntzer and early Friends believed that the people of God (the elect) would be called to work with God to destroy evil. For Müntzer this required an outward war involving the physical destruction of the powers of this world (the princes and the priests) whereas for early Friends, the Lamb’s War was to be a spiritual struggle focused on destroying the spirit of wickedness within the human heart and within the whole creation. The Quakers’ Lamb’s War was a new covenant war and so did not involve fighting with outward weapons. It is not surprising however that early Quaker apocalyptic language often led those in power to fear that the movement was intent on violent insurrection and revolution.

D. Passages from Thomas Müntzer’s Writings

1. The Fall of the Church – Turning from the living word to human authority

I have read here and there is the history of the early fathers, and I find that the immaculate, virginal church, after the death of the pupils of the apostles, soon became a whore because of the seductive priests. Prague Manifesto, 1521 (Matheson 1988, p.370)

2. The Priests stand as a barrier between God and his people

In short, each man must have the spirit seven-fold, otherwise he cannot hear or understand the living God. I declare freely and frankly that I have never heard any donkey-farting doctor whisper the tiniest fraction or slightest point about the order (established in God and all creatures) for less speak openly about it. Not even the most distinguished Christian (I mean the hell-grounded priest) have ever caught a whiff of what the whole is, and what is incomplete, how a measure distributed in equal parts is superior to all its parts. Time and again I have heard mere scripture from them, which they have stolen in rascally fashion from the Bible like confidence tricksters and cruel murderers. They are accused by God himself for such theft, for he declares in Jeremiah 23: know this, I have said to the prophets: they steal my words, each from his neighbour, for they betray my people; I have not spoken to them at all but they dare to use my words, making them taste rotten with their stinking lips and whore-sick throats. For they deny that my Spirit speaks to them. Then with scornful keen words of derision they jab at one, at those who say that the Holy Spirit gives them invincible testimony that they are not the children of God. Prague Manifesto, 1521 (Matheson 1988, p.363)

So as long as heaven and earth stand these criminal, turn-coat priests will not be of the slightest use to the churches for they deny the voice of the bridegroom, which is the real and certain sign that they are devils pure and simple. Prague Manifesto, 1521 (Matheson 1988, p.365)

3. God speaks to, teaches and transforms his people himself

So that virtually the whole world come to think that it was not necessary for Christ himself to preach his own gospel to the elect. I affirm and swear by the living God: anyone who does not hear from the mouth of God the real living Word of God, and the distinction between Bible and Babel is a dead thing and nothing else. But God’s Word, which courses through the heart, brain, hair, bone, marrow, sap, might and strength surely has the right to canter along in quite a different way from the fairy-tales told by our clownish, testiculared doctors. Otherwise no one can be saved; otherwise no one can be found. Prague Manifesto, 1521 (Matheson 1988, p.368)

God’s messengers had listened to the bearer of the gospel himself; Christ told Peter that neither flesh nor blood had revealed the truth to him but God himself… For the living Word which brings life is heard only by the soul which has been purged. So let us be led by the teaching of the Spirit and not by the flesh. On Counterfeit Faith, 1524 (Matheson 1988, pp.217-218)

God’s true reign is truly and joyfully inaugurated when the elect come to see what God’s work reveals to them in the experience of the Spirit. Those people who have not tasted the reverse, bitter side of faith do not know this, for they have not believed against belief, or hope against hope, or met God’s love with hate (1 Cor. 2). Hence they do not know what harms or profits the people of Christ, not having put their faith to the test. They do not want to believe that God himself in his zealous, unceasing goodness will instruct man and tell him what he needs to know. This is why the world lacks the chief point of salvation, which is faith, not being able to credit that God would deign to be our schoolmaster (Matt. 23, James 3). Oh how great and stiff-necked is that unbelief which contents itself with the dead letter and turns its back on the finger which writes in the heart (2 Cor. 3)… So it is all important that we allow God to rule; that we know for sure that our faith does not deceive us, having genuine suffered the working of the living Word and being able to discriminate between the works of God and that of his creatures. An Open Letter to Brothers in Stolberg, 18 June 1523 (Matheson 1988, pp.62-63)

4. Salvation means deification (theosis)

Just as happens to all of us when we came to faith: we must believe that we fleshly, earthly men are to become Gods through Christ becoming man, and thus become God’s pupils with him – to be taught by Christ himself, and become divine, yes and far more – to be totally transfigured into him, so that this earthly life swings up into heaven (Phil. 3). Testimony on the First Chapter of Luke (Matheson 1988, p.278)

5. Destroy the evil: working with God to establish the kingdom

Go to it, go to it, while the fire is hot! Don’t let your sword grow cold, don’t let it hang down limply! Hammer away ding dong on the anvils of Nimrod, cast down their tower to the ground! As long as they live it is impossible for you to rid yourselves of the fear of men. One cannot say anything to you about God as long as they rule over you. Go to it, go to it, while it is day! God goes before you; follow, follow! To the People of Allstedt, 1625 (Matheson 1988, p.142)

E. References

Hans-Jurgen Goertz (2007) Karlstadt, Müntzer and the Reformation of the Commoners, 1521-1525 in Roth, John D. and Stayer, James M. (2007) A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700 Leiden (Brill)

Peter Matheson (1988) The Collected Works of Thomas Müntzer (T&T Clark)

Snyder, C Arnold (1995) Anabaptist History & Theology: An Introduction (Pandora)

Stayer, James M (1994) The German Peasants' War and Anabaptist Community of Goods (McGill-Queen's University Press)

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

'L' is for The Lamb's War against the Man of Sin

A. INTRODUCTION

The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin is one of James Nayler’s most important tracts. It was written and published in 1657 not long after his cruel and unusual punishment and imprisonment at the hands of Parliament that had found him guilty of ‘horrid blasphemy’. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this tract. It stands as a clear and uncompromising statement of early Quaker apocalyptic beliefs and expectations. In particular, it explains how God is acting through Christ the Lamb to defeat evil within the creation and establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. The American Quaker historian Hugh Barbour has argued that this tract is probably the first systematic public declaration of the peaceable principles of the early Quaker movement.   

B. The Lamb’s War – Key Points in Summary

Here is a summary of Nayler’s key points in The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin:

  1. The Fall and its consequences - Ever since humans turned from God and rebelled against the order that God has given to the creation there has been a very sharp distinction between the way of God and the ways of the world.
  1. The ways of the world - The ways of the world are characterised by human idleness, vanity, greed, deceitfulness, violence and injustice.
  1. Conflict is inevitable - In these circumstances there can be no peace between God’s people and the world, conflict is inevitable.
  1. Persecution and suffering is inevitable - The world is opposed to the way of God and so God’s people will inevitably experience opposition and persecution.
  1. Christ the Lamb and Saviour - God sent Christ the Lamb into the world to liberate the creation from the spirit of wickedness, to destroy evil and to establish God’s kingdom.
  1. Inward cleansing and liberation by the Spirit - Through the Spirit, Christ has the power required to liberate people from the ways of wickedness and to cleanse them of sin.
  1. What is this war for - The Lamb’s War is the struggle to liberate humanity and the whole creation from the spirit of wickedness that enslaves and corrupts it.
  1. First an inward Lamb’s War - The Lamb’s war must first of all be fought and won within the heart of each person, destroying the evil within them and bringing them into harmony with God.
  1. A visibly Transformed Life - Those who have been transformed by the inward Lamb’s War reflect the way of God in their outward lives.
  1. Members of the Lamb’s Army - Those who have been transformed by the inward Lamb’s War work with the Lamb to defeat evil in the whole creation.
  1. A nonviolent spiritual conflict - God loves humanity and the whole of creation and does not wish to harm them. Therefore, the Lamb’s War is not like the wars of the world. It is a spiritual conflict and does not use physical force or violence.
  1. How victory is achieved - The followers of the Lamb use the power of gentleness, meekness and faithfulness. Like Christ, they are victorious through suffering love.
  1. We have a stark choice - This means that we all have a stark choice to make. In the Lamb’s War, do we fight with the Lamb or do we side with the world?
  1. Many will flee the cross - Many people will refuse to join the Lamb or will fall away when the going gets tough because being on the side of the Lamb leads to ridicule, suffering and persecution at the hands of the world.
  1. The Lamb’s victory is assured - The world seems to be undefeatable but, despite appearances, it is the Lamb that has the real power. It is beyond doubt that the Lamb and his followers will be victorious, evil will be destroyed and the God’s kingdom will be established on earth.
  1. The Kingdom of God is coming now - Even though this process will involve much conflict and suffering, the kingdom of God is coming here and now!
C. The Lamb’s War Against the Man of Sin (1657) – A Paraphrase In Modern English

Introduction

God is active in the creation through his Son, the Lamb. Through the Lamb God makes war on the god/spirit of this world. Humans have turned away from God and departed from the order that God gave to creation. They are separated from God and worship the god/spirit of this world instead. They use the creation in a way that is against the intentions of the creator. The Lamb fights against this rebellion and seeks to bring humanity back into harmony with God.

1. The objective of his war is to show that the god/spirit of this world is evil and draws humans away from what God originally intended them to be. To those who will follow him, the Lamb offers liberation from this bondage and reconciliation with God. Through the Lamb, God will restore the creation to its original order and all that is contrary to God will be destroyed.

2. The manner of his war is that God acts justly by providing all people with his light within them that reveals what is against God’s order and what is in harmony with it. All who are willing to follow this light will be empowered by God to join in the struggle to restore all things to their original order and harmony.

3. What they are to war against is everything that is contrary to God. This is not a war against human creatures but against the spiritual wickedness that is within them (that makes them think that they are gods themselves and do not need God the creator). The Lamb and his followers live in harmony with God’s order based on a covenant relationship. They come into conflict with the world because they work to replace the kingdoms of the world with the Kingdom of God, where God rules in the hearts of all his people and all live in harmony with God and the divine order.

4. What their weapons are. The Lamb and his followers do not seek to destroy people’s lives and so their weapons are not physically harmful to living things and to the creation. The Lamb puts spiritual weapons into the hearts and hands of his followers. So when they make war with the Lamb’s enemies, they do not employ the violent ways of the world but rather use the power of the Spirit and the word of truth. Having confronted the wickedness within people and having offered them a way to become reconciled with God, the Lamb and his followers patiently endure the rage, hatred and persecution that this provokes so that they overcome evil with good. In the end, all that is contrary to God will be destroyed.

5. The Lamb’s followers communicate the way of God to the world. Those who follow the Lamb and obey him are transformed and in their new lives they communicate the way of God to the world. Ultimately, those who reject the Lamb will be defeated and will be destroyed.

What his kingdom is

The kingdom of the Lamb cannot be understood using normal human reason. He becomes known within us when he makes us aware of our rebellion against God. Although his mighty power existed before creation, established creation and fills creation, the Lamb makes war on evil by means of meekness, humbleness and patience.

The Lamb’s kingdom in this world can be found in the hearts of those who follow him. His followers are purified of all sin and their bodies are made a temple fit for God to dwell within. They are released from their own wills and brought into obedience to God’s will. They are made aware of the new covenant and God’s law is written on their hearts. If they follow the Lamb’s guidance they are secure in the kingdom. However, if they ignore his teaching then the Lamb makes them know they have done wrong. They come to share the same mind as the Lamb and their transformed outward appearance and behaviour (humbleness in mind and meekness of spirit) is clearly visible to all people. The Lamb leads them out into the world and gives them the power to fight again evil.

There are many who falsely claim to represent Christ on earth and they fight among themselves about doctrine. However, all this must be tested against the eternal and unchanging spirit of Christ that dwells within all people. Only this comes from God.

 You will know that you have found the true Christ if his guidance is consistent and unchanging over time. Does Christ lead you to fight against the ways of the world that are contrary to God (e.g. human pride, fashions and customs) and does he make you willing to die rather than be disobedient to God? Does he bring you to a life that is comparable to that of the prophets, the apostles and the saints of biblical times? Does he liberate you from the slavery and corruption of this world? Does he put God’s law within you and destroy all that is contrary to God within you? Does he give you a new nature that is opposed to your old worldly nature? Has he invested you with the power of God to overcome evil with good? Do you take on his likeness and witness to this before the world?

Are you working for the true God or for the god/spirit of this world? The Children of Light have come to make war on the god/spirit of this world and suffer great persecution as a result. Whose side are you on? Are you willing to sacrifice your security and comfort to take up the cause of the Lamb and be obedient to God? You will convince your enemies through your gentleness, meekness and faithfulness. If you are resisting this call you are separated from God and from Christ. Many will take up this work but fall away when the going gets tough. Some only give half-hearted loyalty to the Lamb because they want to maintain their reputation in the world. Others try to follow the Lamb but are deceived by evil and led back to the world. So, many are called but few prove truly faithful. Many feel ashamed and afraid because following the Lamb brings them ridicule and persecution at the hands of the world. However, in the end the Lamb will be victorious and if you suffer with him you offer no comfort to his enemies.

Do you feel comfortable when Christ’s people are viciously persecuted for doing his will and condemning the ways of the world as contrary to God? If you seek to avoid persecution and blame the victims for their own suffering, you are worse than those who openly do the persecuting. Are you like Pilate letting others do the persecuting while trying to wash your hands of any guilt?

The true followers of Christ suffer like he did. Are you prepared to do this too or do you merely profess Christ and befriend the persecutors? Are you not supporting the devil in his fight against the Lord? The followers of the Lamb endure this persecution and by doing so give a public witness against the evils of the world. Examples of this can be found throughout the Bible.

How long will it be before those who profess Christ are willing to suffer with him and join in the sufferings of his true followers? Your persecution of them is your own condemnation, because it demonstrates that you do not have the Spirit of Christ in you. God will judge you for this. It is amazing how you can teach others about the scriptures yet so openly disregard Christ’s teachings in your own lives. You clearly hate and reject the teachings of Christ within you.

How long will it be before you hear and obey what the Lord is saying within you? This would reveal how enslaved you are by evil. Oh, if only you would see and hear. Then you would become soldiers of Christ using spiritual weapons to fight against the spiritual wickedness within people that prevents them from serving God. The true warfare involves the use of spiritual weapons that bring people into obedience to Christ and showing that disobedience brings God’s condemnation.  This is the only way to cleanse the heart of all that is contrary to God. Humans cannot do this by their own efforts. Only Christ can achieve this in us. Those who join the Lamb’s war against evil in the world are Christ’s chosen and faithful people.

If you proclaim that God’s kingdom is coming, be aware that his kingdom must come within you first. The Lamb’s war must be fought and won within you before you can enter God’s kingdom. The Lamb will eradicate all evil within you and you will be transformed into a new person with a new heart, new thoughts and a new obedience to God. This is what brings the kingdom of God within you.

The few who remain faithful to the Lamb will wage war against the world without compromise until Christ rules in every heart. If you want to show that you dwell in God’s kingdom you must join the Lamb in his fight against evil. If you are content with the ways of this world you are not part of God’s kingdom. Living in the kingdom involves suffering and the death of the inward man of sin, including death to the world’s ways and fashions.

Those who want to make peace with the world (i.e. compromise with its ways) betray the Lamb because they make peace with his enemies. You may argue that God is love and commands us to seek peace with all. However, God loves Christ and his faithful followers but the world hates and persecutes them. Christ and his faithful followers have always suffered persecution and death at the hands of the world. Do you proclaim the words of Christ and the apostles but fail to follow their example?

The Lamb does not fight against the creation and physical things. If he did he would use physical weapons just like the powers of the world do. Instead he fights against the spiritual powers of wickedness that oppose God’s rule in creation and produce the lusts of greed and covetousness that in turn lead to outward war. There can be no true peace until this battle is won. Our love of God and our neighbour requires us to be faithful fighters in the Lamb’s war. God has never commanded us to compromise with the world, because if you love the world you cannot love God.

You may not be aware of it but there is all the difference in the world between human people and the spirit of wickedness that keeps them in bondage and separates them from God. If you love the spirit of wickedness, you hate both God and humanity. Those who fight in the Lamb’s war understand this. At the moment the whole of creation is enslaved by spiritual wickedness and the few who are obedient to God are persecuted for showing how this evil destroys people’s souls, separates them from God and spoils the creation. If you proclaim Christ’s kingdom but then twist God’s commandments about peace and love in order to justify supporting the spirit of this world, God will find you out.

The kingdom of Christ is coming now. A people are being raised up to fight spiritual warfare against the world using the sword that comes out of Christ’s mouth. Humans are separated from God by the god/spirit of this world. This is a war to reconcile God and humanity. The followers of the Lamb are prepared to lay down their lives in order to reconcile people with God even though these people are their enemies. This is what true love looks like. Are you willing and able to join this battle or are you content to remain separated from God?

This is a time of great strife with much violence and deceit. We are living in the last times and there is much evil all around. The powers of the world present temptations to all of us. They attempt to draw people away from the Lamb who is seeking to reconcile God and humanity. Scripture is used to defend pride, greed, deceit, false forms of worship and disorder. This justifies a life that is clearly contrary to what scriptures teach us.

Without the power of Christ within them, humans are enslaved by the spirit of wickedness in the world. Outward wealth breeds pride, idleness and vanity and a disregard for the lowly and meek just as it did in Dives (Luke 16). The business of trading becomes so filled with deceit that those who behave with integrity cannot make a living by it. The only solution is to follow the guidance of Christ within you at all times. This will protect you from the evil in the world.  The light dwelling within you will bring you to the eternal life and the true freedom of God. His kingdom, his power and his glory rules over all creation.

As the Lamb brings righteousness from heaven so his enemies gather to fight against him. Those who walk in the light of the lamb are protected from his enemies and are spiritually cleansed so that in them God finds a fit place to dwell. Those who are cleansed join the Lamb’s army doing battle with evil. His enemies, although they are full of confidence and vanity, will be defeated. The righteous will then replace the wicked and God’s rule within creation will be unopposed.

D. THE FULL TRACT AVAILABLE ONLINE

If you would like to read the full original tract, it is available online as part of the Earlham School of Religion Digital Collection. Use the link below:

Monday, 9 June 2014

‘K’ is for the Kingdom and all who would know the way to it

A. INTRODUCTION

George Fox’s tract To all that would know the way to the kingdom (whether they are in forms, without forms, or are above all forms. A direction to turn your mind within, where the voice of God is to be heard, whom you ignorantly worship as afar off; and to wait upon him for the true wisdom. That you may know truth from error, the word from the letter, the power from the form, and the true prophets from the false) was written and published in 1654 just as the ‘Valiant Sixty’ Quaker ministers were beginning to unleash their vigorous and wide-reaching preaching campaign on the world. It is therefore an extremely important articulation of key aspects of the early Quaker message.

B. THE KEY POINTS IN SUMMARY

In summary, Fox makes the following eight points:

1. The Spirit is available to all people- Fox proclaims that the new covenant has come in which the Spirit of God becomes available to all people since it has been poured out on all flesh. Divine revelation has not ended and God now speaks to all people through the Spirit which is Christ.

2. Only the Spirit of God can bring people to the Kingdom – Fox asserts that only the Spirit of Christ has the capacity to transform people if they follow its guidance. This Spirit has the power to bring people into the kingdom of God. It reveals sin and provides the power to overcome it.

3. The nature of sin and salvation – Fox suggests that sin results from people ignoring Christ as their inward teacher and as a result becoming separated from God. Therefore, salvation comes by turning to the transformative power of the inward teacher. He rejects the idea that salvation comes by grace alone because this allows people to justify continuing to live in sin. Salvation always involves real transformation through the power of God.

4. Outward physical things do not have the power to save - Fox states that God is a Spirit that is present within us all. Therefore, God cannot be known through outward physical things. Only the inward spiritual power of God can teach and transform us. God is the Word and the primary authority rather than the scriptures or human ideas and institutions.

5. The nature of the True Church – Fox makes clear that the true church is formed when people are gathered to be taught directly by Christ who is their only leader and source of authority. The true church is not based on outward human authority, physical buildings or the letter of scripture.

6. The nature of the false churches – Fox accuses the ‘false churches’ of adopting old covenant ways. He states that they are focused on man-made practices and physical things that by their nature lack divine power. This includes church buildings, the letter of scripture and human authority. The gospel is freely given as a gift but the priests of the false church preach it for financial gain.

7. Spiritual Counsel – Based on these understandings, Fox gives some simple spiritual counsel. He asserts that people need no other teacher than the Spirit of Christ (e.g. it is only the Spirit that can interpret and make sense of the Bible). He therefore encourages people to pay attention at all times to the guidance of the Spirit that is within them. People need to take time to listen to this guidance. This is what really matters.

8. The Kingdom of God is coming on earth – Fox argues that the final defeat of evil is coming very soon because God is about to establish his rule on earth. He states that, when this happens, the power of unjust government and the false churches will be destroyed. For the people of God, loyalty to the way of the Kingdom inevitably brings them into conflict with the world.

I have produced a modern English paraphrase of this text which is set out below.

C. To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom - A Paraphrase in Modern English

We all require a baptism in the Spirit if we want to know and enter the Kingdom of God. It is through the Spirit that the things of God are made know. It was through the Spirit that the apostles were able to see the Kingdom of God and live within it. (Rev 1:9 & Col 1:13). It is possible on earth here and now for us all to receive the Spirit of Christ which has the power to bring us into the Kingdom and to make us sons of God. (John 1:12-13)

The Spirit of Christ is available to everyone. If you pay attention to this Spirit and are guided by it you will become what God intended a human to be (e.g. it will teach you what is good and make you aware of what is bad). The Spirit of Christ will draw you away from the idolatry, division and evils of ‘the world’ and take you instead to the ways of God and God’s Kingdom. The things of the world are corrupt and perishable; the things of God are pure and eternal. Those who focus on the things of ‘the world’ give priority to the letter of scripture over the Spirit of Christ (the Word of God) but God’s Kingdom cannot be known through such outward things.

In the old covenant, although Abraham, Moses and the prophets were guided directly by the power of the Spirit, the Jews generally focussed on outward things that have no power rather than the Spirit and this lead them to reject Christ. Today, those who focus on outward things also reject Christ. However, those who are guided by the Spirit of Christ (the real power) reject the ways of ‘the world’ and grow closer to God all the time. This causes conflict with ‘the world’.

The Spirit of Christ will show you the falseness of all those who base their faith on the things of ‘the world’ rather than the things of God. The Spirit of Christ is eternal and unchanging and if you follow it you will be led in unity to the one true way. This will free you from the temptations and evils of ‘the world’ and from all false man-made religion. Instead you will become part of the one true church that is gathered and taught directly by God (rather than by outward things and human teachers).

The Spirit of Christ is always with you whatever you are doing. Rather than dwelling in your own thoughts and wandering mind, pay attention instead to the Spirit which will reveal what is wrong in you and teach you what is right. The first thing you must do is take time to listen for and hear the Spirit of Christ working within you. This will reveal what is wrong in you and give you the power to overcome it.

Our ‘worldly’ ways of reasoning and understanding cannot comprehend God. The true church cannot be established by the letter of scripture or by clever human ideas. It can only be gathered by the living Spirit of Christ working within us. The Spirit undermines all our ‘worldly’ assumptions and ways. The Bible is not the Word; the Bible itself says that God is the Word. The Word of God which came in a human form in Jesus Christ is the head of the church. The church is not a building; it is a gathered people led by the Spirit of Christ (which is the Word of God). The false church of outward buildings and the outward scriptures is not acceptable to God.

God will soon act decisively to defeat the evil and disobedient powers of the ‘world’ and to overturn all the false churches. When this happens God’s rule will be established on earth forever and the power of unjust government and false church (that have always worked together) will be undermined and destroyed. The old outward forms (such as formalised prayers, preaching and singing) will be seen to be worthless because they lack the living spirit of Christ (the Spirit that inspired the scriptures). Christ is available to you and can transform you into the sons of God. In this way God will govern his people and be the head of his church.

Christ enlightens every one of us and if you recognise the Spirit and follow it you will be transformed. However, those who reject the Spirit and ignore the evil it reveals in them will remain separated from God. You will find that the teaching of the Spirit within you will be consistent with the teaching of Jesus Christ. When you do wrong you will know it is wrong because the light within you will tell you so. If you reject your inward teacher you are showing your contempt for God.

I am not promoting the idea of human free will. The Spirit of Christ is contrary to the human will. The Bible cannot free you from sin, only the living Spirit of Christ can do that. The Bible is a declaration of the Spirit that existed before the Bible was written; it does not have the power of the Spirit. The Spirit inspired the writing of the Bible but the Bible is not the Spirit itself. The living Spirit of Christ is scripture within you and it will enable you to understand the meaning of the outward scriptures. Christ is able to free you from sin.

You do not need to ask God to show you your wrongs for these are already revealed to you by the Spirit working within you. Not only does the Spirit reveal sin but it provides the power to overcome it. Yet those who say that we are saved by God’s grace alone often use this as an excuse to continue in sinfulness. This abuse cannot continue any longer. It is useless to build up status and wealth on this earth for only God is worthy of such glory.

The guidance of the spirit that is made available to all is a gift of grace from God. The root cause of all the evils of ‘the world’ (e.g. drunkenness, swearing, pride, haughtiness, oppression and injustice) is that humans ignore their inward teacher that was given by the grace of God. But God will have victory over evil. God is pouring out the Spirit on all and men and women are being called to proclaim the way of God through their actions and their words. This is a cry for justice, righteousness and equity.

God is coming to destroy evil and to reign on earth. Those who follow the Spirit of Christ will be part of this process. Those who reject the Spirit of Christ and continue to persecute the saints will be condemned.

Those who reject the Spirit of Christ within them have chosen to value human pride and vanity. They choose to believe those who tell lies about the nature of God (Jer 5:31). They are only interested in their own gain (Isa 56:11) and do not follow the way of God (2 Pet 2:15). They follow those who judge, preach and prophesy for financial gain (Mic 3:11 & Ezek 34:2-15). When we follow the Spirit of Christ we follow the same Spirit that inspired the prophets, the apostles and those who wrote the scriptures. We don’t need paid judges, priests and prophets because we all have direct access to Christ ourselves. Therefore those who seek to make money from what is freely given (i.e. the clergy) are evil. For if we support these evil people then we would be evil too.

 If we agree with those who argue that God no longer reveals himself to humans we would be denying Christ because it is Christ who continues to reveal God to us (e.g. Paul did not become an apostle until Christ was revealed in him). You cannot be a minister of Christ if you deny that God continues to reveal himself to us through the Spirit of Christ.

The true prophets speak the words of God. However, the false prophets only speak their own words. The true prophets have always condemned this.

God is revealed to us as a free gift through the Spirit of Christ working within us. Those who seek payment for their preaching and rely on the letter of scripture rather than the living Spirit of Christ are shameless people. You need no other teacher than the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit will be your teacher and will make sense of the Bible for you. If you reject your inward teacher you will be condemned by God who is coming soon to establish his reign on earth.

God who created all things is not to be found in physical buildings and special places (like temples and church buildings). People can only know God when they have received God within because the human body is the real temple of God.

If you reject the Spirit of Christ within you, it will not be possible to understand the scriptures or to enter the Kingdom of God. The Spirit of Christ provides the only way to God. Without the Spirit of Christ you will not be able to understand what the prophets and the apostles have said for it was the Spirit that produced their words.

Those who accept the Spirit of Christ and believe it, become the sons of God because God is working through them.

D. THE FULL TRACT AVAILABLE ONLINE

If you would like to read the full original tract, it is available online as part of the Earlham School of Religion Digital Collection. Use the link below:

Friday, 6 June 2014

‘I’ is for Islam and ‘Indians’ and ‘J’ is for Judaism – Early Quaker Encounters and Spiritual Equality

A. INTRODUCTION

In this posting I want to look at how the early Quaker commitment to the spiritual equality of all people impacted on their attitudes towards and relationship with people of other faiths and ethnicities. In particular I will look at Quaker engagement with Judaism, Islam and Native Americans. Finally I will look at the issue of slavery which seems to have posed a particularly difficult dilemma for George Fox.

B. Spiritual Equality in the New Covenant

Like all other essential features of the early Quaker vision, the commitment to the spiritual equality of all people is based on the new covenant apocalyptic. If at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh, then God might teach, transform and speak through any person God chooses regardless of class, status, education, gender, ethnicity or religion. This is reflected in the following four Bible References:

28 Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. Joel 2:28-29/Acts 2:17-21

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Acts 10:44-46

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:28-29

34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. Acts 10:34-35

This understanding of the new covenant enabled early Friends to undermine many of the social distinctions of their day. We can see this in relation to issues of faith and ethnicity.

C. Other Races and Faiths

1. Early Quakers and Islam

Justin Meggitt has provided a fascinating insight into Quaker interactions with Islam in the 17th century in his recent book Early Quakers and Islam. He explains that between the 16th and the 18th centuries over one million Europeans found themselves sold in the slave markets of North Africa. Of these about 5-10% came from the British Isles (Meggitt 2013, p.19 & 21). This became known as ‘Barbary Slavery’ and was practiced by both Muslims and Europeans. By 1675 there were about 20 Quakers enslaved in Algiers (Meggitt 2013, p.44) and a number of George Fox’s epistles were addressed to Quaker slaves in Barbary including his final epistle in 1690 (Meggitt 2013, p.42). In this small but fascinating book Justin Meggitt engages in an exercise of ‘micro-history’ in which a focus on the small scale and specific can enable bigger questions to be posed. (Meggitt 2013, p.17). Using the example of Quaker-Muslim encounters in the seventeenth century he seeks to consider how differences in religious experience and belief can impact on interfaith relations, specifically Christian representations of Islam and relationships with Muslims in the early modern period. In particular he asks why the representations of Islam in the writings of early Quakers were so different from those dominant in Europe at the time. Meggitt suggests that this can be understood on two main levels:

1.    The Quaker Apocalyptic – Because early friends believed that the new covenant had been established where God writes his law on people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31) and that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on all flesh at Pentecost (Joel 2 & Acts 2) this “removed any particular preferential place for Christians, moving the locus of faith from a response to propositional knowledge of the Christian gospel to response to an experiential dispensation that they believed was available to all people” (Meggitt 2013, p.57).

2.    Religious Toleration – At a time when Quaker worship was unlawful in England, the Quakers in Algiers, although they were in bondage, were allowed the freedom to worship in the manner of their choosing. This led George Fox to write in a letter to Quaker slaves in 1683, “I think you have more liberty to meet (for worship) there than we do here; for they keep us out of our meetings, and cast us into prison and spoil our goods” (Meggitt 2013, p.54).

It seems clear that early Quakers were able to free themselves to a significant extent from the highly negative European attitudes and representations of Islam that were common at the time. Meggitt includes the following two examples. After her audience before the Turkish Sultan Mehmet IV in 1658, early Quaker minister Mary Fisher wrote “they are nearer the truth than many nations, there is a love begot in me towards them that is endless”. It is worth noting that she had previously suffered beatings at the hands of Quaker opponents both in England and in the American colonies (Meggitt 2013, p.60). In Fox’s epistle of 1680 To the Great Turk and King in Algiers he includes thirty direct quotations from the Qur’an in arguing that Muslim treatment of Quaker slaves fell below the moral standards that their sacred scriptures demanded of them (Meggitt 2013, p.66).

2. Early Quakers and American ‘Indians’

The significance of the early Quaker new covenant apocalyptic can also be seen in Fox’s arguments with opponents about the spiritual equality of Native Americans. This can be seen in the following extract from his Journal:

Not far from here we had a meeting among the people, and they were taken with the truth; blessed be the Lord! Then passing down the river Maratic in a canoe, we went down 'the bay Connie-oak, to a captain's, who was loving to us, and lent us his boat, (for we were soaked in the canoe, the water splashing in upon us). With this boat we went to the governor's; but the water in some places was so shallow that the heavily loaded boat could not pass; so that we took off our shoes and socks and waded through the water for quite a distance. The governor and his wife received us lovingly; but a doctor wanted to dispute with us. Truly his opposing us was of good service because it gave us the opportunity to explain many things to the people concerning the light and spirit of God. The doctor denied the light was in everyone and affirmed it was not in the Indians. Upon which I called an Indian to us, and asked him,' whether or not when he lied of did wrong to anyone, was there not something in him that did reprove him for it?' He said, 'there was such a thing in him, that did reprove him; and 'he was ashamed when he had done wrong or spoken wrong.' So we shamed the doctor before the governor and people; so much so that the poor man stretched his arguments so far that he ended up denying the scriptures (Fox 1975, p.642).

3. Early Quakers and the Jews

From the late 1650s through to the 1670s Margaret Fell acted as the primary Quaker spokesperson for the Jewish international mission (Kunze 1994, p.215). Her interest in engaging with the Jewish communities in Europe was an expression of her apocalyptic vision (Bruyneel 2010, p.17). This was based on the Apostle Paul’s prediction in his Epistle to the Romans that in the end times the Jewish people would come into the Christian community (Romans 11). However, because of their new covenant understanding, Friends did not see it as necessary for the Jews to convert to Christianity. Instead what mattered was turning them to their inward teacher (the Torah of the Heart). Fell wrote the following five letters to the Jews in which she demonstrated a good deal of religious sensitivity. For example she only used biblical quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures (Ross 1984, p.95):

  1. For Manasseth-ben-Israel, the Call of the Jews out of Babylon (1656)
  2. A Loving Salutation to the Seed of Abraham (1657)
  3. A Call to the Universal Seed of God (1664)
  4. A Call to the Seed of Israel (1668)
  5. The Daughter of Sion Awakened (1677)
This again demonstrated the ability of early Friends, because of their new covenant apocalyptic understanding, to rise above many of the limitations imposed by their cultural context. There is evidence to suggest that this position was also held by other religious radicals during the 16th century European Reformation. George Williams in his book The Radical Reformation notes that “Muntzer, Franck, Castellio, Coornhert and with reserve Denck regarded Muslims along with Jews and righteous pagans, as already a part of the Ecclesia spiritualis insofar as they conformed to the inner Word (Williams 2000, p.1226). In his tract Entblossung Thomas Muntzer writes:

“If we Christians should ever want to unite…..with all the elect of all dispersions, races and religions…we must know how a man feels who was brought up among unbelievers, but has come to know the true work and the true meaning of God (the Holy Spirit) without having been assisted by any book” (from a footnote in Williams 2000, p.1226).

D. The Problem of Slavery

Despite this commitment to spiritual equality early Quaker leaders did not necessarily regard this as inconsistent with the practice of keeping slaves. In her book George Fox and Early Quaker Culture Hilary Hinds addresses the problem that slavery posed for the early Quaker movement (Hinds 2011).

  1. Variations in Quaker Travel Narratives - Hinds claims that Quaker travel narratives recording visits to Barbados in the seventeenth century were quite distinct in character and represented a somewhat exceptional example in which the pervasive early Quaker fusion of spiritual and social distinctions was absent. She notes that the Barbados narratives are extremely bland and lacking in detail compared to other Quaker accounts of the time. Hinds proposes that an explanation for this can be found in the fundamental conflict that existed in the circumstances Quakers found in Barbados between their commitment to universal spiritual equality and the personal interest of some Friends in the slave-based economy.
  1. George Fox and ‘Covenant Slavery’ – Faced with this situation, George Fox asserted the spiritual equality of slaves but at the same time advocated a form of ‘covenant slavery’ which sought to ameliorate the worst excesses of the practice in order to stabilise social relations and maintain public order. Hinds argues that since the principles of spiritual equality and those of covenant slavery were incompatible, they had to be kept separate and this quite exceptional disconnection of the spiritual and the social domains explains the uniqueness of the Barbados accounts. This highlights how early Quakers tried to negotiate the apparent conflicts associated with their claim to live simultaneously in the heavenly life of the spirit and amongst the still fallen life of the world.
  1. Spiritual Equality is not Social Equality - However, the argument that the Quaker response to Barbadian slavery was entirely exceptional is hard to sustain. Although the commitment of early Friends to spiritual equality was radical and ground-breaking for its time, it in no way implied an inevitable reordering of existing social relations and structures. This equality was based on the assertion that Christ might speak through any human vessel, whether young or old, rich or poor, male or female. In Quaker practice this did not necessarily challenge the established roles of women or servants within society or the family. The Advices of the Elders at Balby written in 1556 quotes the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:5-8) to exhort servants to obey their masters.2 By the late 1670s, at the time when Fox was dictating his Journal, in the Apology for the True Christian Divinity, Robert Barclay states that social and economic inequalities were ordained by God. This is not to deny however that the unusual character of the Barbados narratives may be understood as a response to the particularly brutal circumstances Quakers encountered on that island.
It seems clear that, although the new covenant apocalyptic understanding enabled them to rise above much of the prejudice and injustice of their day, early Friends remained people of their time and place and were only partially liberated from the limitations that this time and place imposed on them. Such an observation should prompt us to ask searching and discomforting questions of ourselves; how far has the Spirit liberated us from the ways of the world? To what extent do we remain implicated in prejudice, cruelty, injustice, oppression and the destruction of God’s good creation?

E. REFERENCES

Barclay, Robert (2002) Apology for the True Christian Divinity (Quaker Heritage Press)

Bruyneel, Sally (2010) Margaret Fell and the end of time: the theology of the mother of  Quakerism (Baylor University Press)

Fox, George (1975) The Journal of George Fox, edited by John L. Nickalls (London Yearly Meeting) 

Hinds, Hilary (2011) George Fox and Early Quaker Culture (Manchester University Press)

Kunze, Bonnelyn (1994) Margaret Fell and the Rise of Quakerism (Stanford University Press)

Meggitt, Justin (2013) Early Quakers and Islam: Slavery, Apocalyptic and Christian-Muslim Encounters in the Seventeenth Century (Swedish Science Press)

Ross, Isabel (1984) Margaret Fell: Mother of Quakerism (Sessions of York)

Williams, George Huston (2000)   The Radical Reformation, 3rd edition (Truman State University Press)