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Government and the State in Early Quakerism

This article was first published in Anabaptism Today, Volume 1, number 2 (2019)

The status of the sword of earthly government and the appropriate relationship of Christians to temporal authority has been a significant focus for scholars of Anabaptist history and theology, particularly in the work of James M. Stayer and Gerald Biesecker-Mast.[i] It has been suggested that early Anabaptists and Quakers shared ‘fundamentally the same theology, which grew in different cultures and therefore acquired slightly different shapes’.[ii] It may be that, since Quakerism emerged within the more pluralistic and democratic context of seventeenth-century England, its attitude towards the world was less hostile and polarised than that of early Anabaptists.[iii] This article summarises the range of positions on the sword, separation and nonviolence that existed during the Reformation, provides an analysis of James Nayler’s political theology, and highlights the similarities that can be discerned betwee…

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