Friends of Martin Luther? Quakers and the Protestant Reformation


This article was first published in The Friend on 27 October 2017.

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther published his Ninety-five Theses (also known as the Disputation on the Power of Indulgences), an event that has come to symbolise the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Emerging a little over a hundred years later, the Quaker movement was one product of these momentous changes. Despite this, the Quaker response to Luther’s ideas, particularly as they were later developed and intensified by John Calvin, was not altogether positive.  So, how do Friends relate to Luther and the Protestant Reformation? Are we Friends of Luther or not?

Early Friends were part of what has been called the Radical Reformation. Dissenting groups, such as the Anabaptists and Quakers, agreed with Luther and Calvin about the need for reform, but wanted more substantial change than the mainstream reformers were prepared to contemplate. At the same time, these groups retained a commitment to certain aspects of the Catholic heritage that Luther and Calvin rejected. Luther’s starting point was to argue that the Church had become greedy and corrupt, concerned only for its own wealth and power, and that the selling of indulgences (a payment to the Church that purchased an exemption from punishment for some types of sins) was an example of this corruption. There is no reason to believe that early Friends would have had any disagreement with Luther’s ninety-five theses. Such a critique of the abuse of wealth and power in the Christendom Church was shared by all the Radical Reformation groups. However, as time went on, the reformers developed doctrines and practices that served to distinguish Protestantism from Catholicism. Firstly, in place of the Catholic emphasis on the role of the church, its priesthood and sacraments in offering people access to God and the source of salvation, the Protestants asserted that everyone had a direct relationship with God and that salvation was by faith alone, albeit subject to God’s predestination. Secondly, instead of the authority of tradition (i.e. teachings agreed by the Church hierarchy), the Protestants gave priority to the authority of the Bible. Thirdly, rather than accepting the possibility of holiness (i.e. through the Church, people could come into perfect conformity to the will of God), the Protestants asserted that human nature was totally depraved (i.e. so corrupted by sin that people were incapable of responding to God’s call). Freed from the confines of a single institutional Church, the Protestant movement resulted in the fracturing of Christendom and, as a consequence of ongoing doctrinal disputes, produced further separations and the formation of many new denominations. The Quakers developed as one, among many, of these new groups.

The Quaker movement, as it emerged in seventeenth-century England, represented a particular response to the Reformation. Early Friends rejected what they called ‘man-made’ religion. They proclaimed that God was available to everyone inwardly; that the living Word of God had priority over both the institutional church and the Bible; that Christ had come to teach his people himself as eternal priest, prophet and king; that the church was not a physical building but rather a temple of living stones; that all people were of equal value before God; that liberation from sin was possible in this life, and that the kingdom of God was currently being established, first within God’s people, and then within the world. These positions were common within the Radical Reformation, and Quakers shared a family resemblance with the various Anabaptist groups who, along with Friends, became known as the Historic Peace Churches. 

Quakers found themselves in accord with Luther, Calvin and other Protestant reformers on a number of significant points. They agreed with their criticisms of a Christendom Church corrupted by wealth and power and went further with a more general condemnation of all institutional Christianity. They agreed that all people could stand in a direct, unmediated relationship with God and went further by asserting that the Spirit of Christ was available to everyone, including Jews, Muslims and Pagans. They agreed that all believers were part of the priesthood and went further in affirming the capability of all people, including women, to be prophets and preachers. They also agreed that the Bible should be available in local languages and that all believers had the right to interpret it, and went further by denying that formally educated scholars had any privileged role in this.

Despite these many important points of agreement, based on their life-changing spiritual experiences and their discernment, Quakers became highly critical of a number of Protestant doctrines associated with Luther and Calvin. Although they accepted the reality of human sin and darkness, they could not accept that human nature was totally depraved. People were faced with a choice: turn to the Light or remain in darkness. While people may be incapable of transforming themselves, humans have sufficient free will to make this fundamental choice, and when they do, by God’s transformative power, it is possible for them to come into perfect conformity to the will of God (i.e. holiness or perfection). They also denied that God predestined some people to salvation and (in the case of Calvin) the rest to damnation. Because the Holy Spirit had been poured upon all flesh at Pentecost, and because they believed that this Spirit had the power to transform, Friends affirmed that salvation was available to everyone without exception. Because of this, Friends also rejected the idea that salvation came by faith alone, where this meant belief in the atoning work of Christ as a remote legalistic transaction. Quaker experience implied a genuine participation in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection as an inward and spiritual experience of regeneration. Quakers challenged the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura and proclaimed that, since Christ was the Word of God, and this Word inspired the writing of the Scriptures, the Bible could only ever be a secondary authority. Finally, Quakers rejected the mainstream Protestant view on the relationship of church and state. Luther’s position was based on the idea that God ruled via two kingdoms; a secular kingdom based on law and government: and a spiritual kingdom based on the gospel and grace. This led him to advocate a state-church alliance and to justify its use of violence. Quakers accepted the existence of two kingdoms. However, they believed that the earthly and the heavenly kingdoms were fundamentally in conflict with one another, and that Christ had returned in order to replace human power structures with the peaceable kingdom of God. They, therefore, opposed any formal relationship between state and church and the use of coercion or violence in matters of faith and conscience. 

So, although Radical Reformation groups emerged out of the Protestant Reformation, they were often at odds with the mainstream Reformers. Because of its emphasis on discipleship and spiritual regeneration, Luther dismissed the Anabaptist movement as a ‘new monkism’. Anti-Quaker writings in the seventeenth century made similar accusations about Friends (e.g. the tract The Perfect Pharisee under Monkish Holiness from 1654). However, with the appearance of the Wesleyan Methodist movement in the eighteenth century, a Protestant group developed which, while strongly influenced by Luther, also affirmed the universal availability of salvation, the possibility of holiness, and the binding together of piety and social action. It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that the Wesleyan tradition has exercised such a profound influence on global Quakerism during the past two hundred and fifty years.

Comments

  1. I am in complete unity with the spirit of your article. I think you did a wonderful job articulating Friends tradition and its relationship with the Radical Reformation. Your statement “Spirit of Christ was available to everyone, including Jews, Muslims and Pagans.” Personally I find this statement troubling. While I deeply understand the meaning and universality of the statement.I feel associating christocentric language with non-Christian religions colludes with a form of christian hegemony.

    I have a deep appreciation for these words from Vatican II, ''The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men" (Nostra aetate, #2)The '' ray of truth'' for many Christians and Quakers in particular is the incarnated Jesus in the holy spirit. Non Christians the '' ray of truth' will have a different name.

    Again, I found your article to be one of the best I've seen in a long while, Quakers and the radical reformation.

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  2. Thank you for your comments Paul. Much appreciated! I wonder if we may be entering a new Reformation; one that will give priority to following the way of Jesus, regardless of the doctrinal differences between traditions? Shalom, Stuart.

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  3. "While people may be incapable of transforming themselves, humans have sufficient free will to make this fundamental choice, and when they do, by God’s transformative power, it is possible for them to come into perfect conformity to the will of God (i.e. holiness or perfection). "

    Stuart, your stating that Quakers believed that "humans have sufficient free will to make this fundamental choice" is not accurate. Nayler writes:

    There is no will free for God but that which is free from sin, which will man lost in the fall, when he let in the will of the devil and entered into it; wherein man became in bondage. And all that man in that state knows of the free-will, is that which moves in him against the will of the flesh and of the devil, which is seen in the light of Christ (Works, III, 132-3).

    Man is either in the will of the devil or he is in the will of God, the latter moving in him against the will of the devil. There is no neutral state from which man chooses the one or the other. To claim otherwise encourages "self-willed" man to remain self-satisfied, imagining himself in an innocuous, autonomous state, rather his true state of being poor, helpless, blind, and naked, and without God.

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    1. Hi Pat,

      Thank you for your comment! I am aware of this Nayler passage, which I think comes from 'Love to the Lost'. However, I cannot believe that Nayler means what you suggest he means.

      Since early Friends rejected Calvinist double predestination, logically, they had to accept that there was a degree of human cooperation with God in the salvation process. They much have accepted the need for a human response to the divine offer. If not, there would have been no point launching the massive preaching campaign during the 1650s. The essential exhortation to turn away from carnal things and toward the light of Christ in the conscience, requires a response from its hearers.

      I agree that they limited the extent of free will (and saw human wilfulness as a key aspect of sin). However, no free will, no choice to turn to Christ, only God's action (which in this sense would have to be coercive, and against the free choice of the individual, which then leads to the problem of explaining why God might force this on some but not on others, bringing us back to the issue of predestination).

      Shalom,

      Stuart.

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    2. Hi Pat,

      I have been doing some research on how human 'will' was understood in the early modern period. It seems that 'will' primarily related to human to our emotions, motivation and affections, rather than agency or the capacity to make choices. On this basis, I can agree with what you have said about the position of early Friends without rejecting my belief that Friends accepted that humans could make a choice about whether to respond to God's offer of regeneration and salvation.

      Essentially, I think we were simply defining the term 'free will' differently.

      Shalom,

      Stuart.

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    3. Stuart, your new definition of "will" does not affect the argument that there is no neutral ground from which to exercise free will, which is the position of first Friends, which I've explained. It is not possible to "choose," because the will is captivated until it is set free by Christ, the truth. Here's Penington's clear refutation of the will standing of itself "free to both equally":

      But as for your speaking of free will, ye do not know what you speak of; for the will with the freedom of it, either stands in the image and power of him that made it, or in a contrary image and power...[Mark this.] The will is not of itself, but stands in another, and is servant to that in whom it stands, and there its freedom is bound and comprehended. For there is no middle state between both, wherein the will stands of itself, and is free to both equally, but it is a servant and under the command of one of these powers...such free will as men commonly speak of is mere imagination (1860, I, 116).

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    4. Well we'll just have to agree to disagree on this issue.

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  4. I think if you read through the section titled Concerning Free-Will in Love to the Lost, you will see that I am correct in saying that Nayler asserts there is either God's will or the devil's will, with no free will (in our contemporary understanding of the term as autonomy) that stands apart from the two. The passageway from one to the other is given through the quickening word of God. Nayler writes:

    and as the spiritual man is quickened by the word of God, and that man born which is not of the flesh, nor of the will of it; so is that will seen again in man which is free, wherein the creature is made free from the will of the flesh, which is bondage (133).

    As it is not within man's ability to give birth to himself, it cannot be he who autonomously wills to be born from above; he is born of God. To be born of God occurs not from the will of the flesh, nor the will of man (Jn. 1:13). It was the Word of God that seventeenth-century Friends preached, to the end that others could feel the quickening seed of God within (as they themselves had been given), and feeling that quickening they found entry into God's will, and thus experienced their freedom, which hitherto they had not known.

    So man hath not free-will further than he is free-born from above of the seed that sinneth not (134).

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    1. My view has always been that the Early Quaker position was closer to that of Wesley than to Calvin. However, I need to be open to the possibility that their roots in Calvinist Puritanism left a legacy in their faith and practice.

      My interpretation of Nayler's words are that he is emphasising the view that salvation comes by the work of God alone and not by the effort of the individual. I agree with this and feel that it is consistent with the early Quaker position generally.

      Early Friends were clearly very 'black and white' in their understandings; one was either in darkness or in the light, in God's will or the devil's will, in the first birth or the second birth etc... That need not imply that they did not feel that all people were faced with a choice; to turn to God or to remain in darkness. Such a choice presumes a degree (however limited) of free choice.

      However, that does not resolve the very serious problem I outlined in my first response, which you have not answered. If humans have no free agency or choice in the salvation process, then we are left with the Calvinist positions of predestination and irresistible grace. This implies that God chooses some for salvation and others for damnation, without any human choice or decision.

      I cannot accept that this was the message of the first Friends.

      Shalom, Stuart.

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  5. The Cain and Abel story offers information on how to understand Friends perspective on God's acceptance of man, or lack thereof. Following the telling of each brother's sacrifice, God's respect to Abel's but not to Cain's, and Cain's anger, He speaks:

    If thou doest well, shall thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door (Gen. 4:7).

    What is interesting here is God's speaking as though Cain knows what doing "well" entails, and is not doing it. The text presents what appears to be identical behaviors between the two brothers: They both bring offerings of their labor, described with almost identical words, but only one's is accepted while the other's is not. We can't see what's amiss with Cain's offering, but God can and does, and furthermore knows Cain does as well, and holds him accountable. By having nearly identical descriptions of the brothers' sacrifices, but God's judgment differing towards them, we see a narrative device by which the difference between the brothers is located: the difference between them lies within, invisible to us on the outside (and invisible to those who prefer darkness to light) but visible to God, who knows the heart.

    Where has Cain failed? A strong clue is the word Jesus uses in Mt. 23:25 to describe his brother: "righteous Abel." God expects Cain (and each of us) to live up to the capacity given: first, to love truth/righteousness; second, to recognize our limits in knowing truth/righteousness; and third, to hunger and thirst after righteousness (Mt. 5:6), that we might be filled. This love of truth requires an inward sacrifice, and Fox affirms Cain's lack of it when he wrote in The Papist's Strength, "he (Cain) observed outward things, and comes not to witness the spiritual sacrifice" (51).

    "I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not" (Isa. 65:1) is a verse that points to the heeding of the seed of God within before it is known that there is such a thing; it is those who heed and love and seek a place to stand that only truth can provide, that mourn its lack with heart, mind, soul, and strength; it is these who come to be comforted through the mercy of God in his sending of His Spirit. It is not our choice or decision to suffer such need; but sensing its truth, we do not muffle or darken, obscure or deny, but instead, feelingly know the emptiness of the heart, which cannot, should not, and will not be placated by any means at our disposal or will.

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    1. I am currently doing research for a book on James Nayler's theology and so will need to address this matter.

      I agree that the work of salvation is God's work alone, and not about our personal effort, but maintain that, unless we at least have the freedom to respond to God's offer of salvation, we are left with the irresistible grace of Calvinism.

      Early Friends, like many others, separated from their parish churches and were seekers of truth. That seems to imply an act of choice, even if it was divinely guided. Fox exhorts people not to quench the Spirit, which implies a decision not to follow its leadings. The very act of Adam's disobedience implies making a choice against the way of God.

      If no-one has choice, no-one can be held responsible or accountable. They could do nothing else.

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  6. Your reasoning is sound, Stuart, but it starts from the wrong premise. We are not like a King who sits on a throne deciding and choosing what will be the law of his land: God's salvation or the devil's perfidy. Rather we are like a subject deep in a pit with no way out. It is not by choice or decision that we see our pitiful state, because, in truth, it is impossible not to see it--for those who have eyes to see. We do not choose to mourn our condition, as, in truth, it is impossible for a creature not to mourn its captivity--for those who have a heart that feels. "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:24-25) Paul is showing the necessity of seeing and feeling our true state, and the means of our deliverance. Truth, truth, truth from first to last, from captivity to freedom!

    I've tried to show that there is another way to understand the solution to our condition other than (1) a participatory use of human will, or (2) election via the doctrine of predestination. I am convinced that it is the one understood by first Friends, and is also in accord with Scriptures. I'm grateful for this opportunity to have discussed the issue with you.

    May the love of Christ be with us.

    Patricia

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  7. Thank you Pat, I am certainly willing to take account of the perspective you have outline. In any event, I need to do more work on this issue.

    In the love of Christ,

    Stuart.

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  8. Choice Broad Church Quakerism:

    When I was in college the local Lutheran church was a very conservative church. (missouri synod) There was no Quaker Meeting in the town. So I attended the local Anglican-Episcopal Church. The Church was within the Broad Church tradition of Anglicanism. As many of you know within Anglicanism of you have Anglo-Catholic, Broad and Evangelical Episcopal Churches. The Broad church movement embraced all expressions of Christianity within one Church.

    The Religious Society of Friends in the US we have two similar church parties. Unprogrammed and programmed traditions. Some Friends have been called to live out their faith within syncretism- universalism faith narrative. At the opposite end of the spectrum other Friends have been called to embrace evangelical faith.

    Between these two poles I feel are a great many Quakers, perhaps the majority, who like myself have been called into a "broad" tradition to see some truth in both directions, we take our christian roots seriously. And at the same we feel that our experience of that tradition per se carries us to see truth outside of that tradition.

    That being said, Stuart you shared on a facebook post,"We all inherit (i.e. are socialized into) the flaws, crimes and mistakes of our ancestors (e.g. their use of violence, their iniquity, their patriarchy, their racism, their exploitation of other animals, their destruction of the creation)

    This condition has not only tainted our choices but has left our minds clouded. Even the choice on were we fall on the spectrum of faith is not our choice.But a calling of the one who said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.”

    Coming out of a Lutheran background "decision theology" was a big no no. There were no altar calls in the Lutheran church. We don’t come to Jesus, Jesus comes to us. Whether it be in the reading of the scriptures, in silence , the eucharist or in the face of universalism. Regardless the Spirit does her part, and we do ours, by deciding to accept the choices and the her gifts she offer us.

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  9. Dear Paul, thank you for your reflections which I found very interesting. Shalom, Stuart.

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  10. I have two points to raise, both of which begin with quotes from your original post.

    "Freed from the confines of a single institutional Church, the Protestant movement resulted in the fracturing of Christendom and, as a consequence of ongoing doctrinal disputes, produced further separations and the formation of many new denominations. The Quakers developed as one, among many, of these new groups."

    I am wondering how you arrive at this position of asserting that the Quakers developed as one, among many, of these fractured, splintered groups. Or am I guilty of misunderstanding what you are saying and putting words into your mouth? I am sure you are quite familiar with Fox's testimony: "But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.’ When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have pre-eminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let it? This I knew experimentally. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not but by revelation, as: he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his son by his spirit." (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p. 74)

    I am also sure you are aware of Fox's commission as related in Vol. I, pp.89-91, which I am not quoting here. (If anyone wishes to see that text, I have posted it at https://thiswasthetruelight.wordpress.com/george-foxs-commission/) These two passages (and many others) portray a different starting point and a different path than that coming out of the fracturing and splintering of the reformation.

    You also state: "However, with the appearance of the Wesleyan Methodist movement in the eighteenth century, a Protestant group developed which, while strongly influenced by Luther, also affirmed the universal availability of salvation, the possibility of holiness, and the binding together of piety and social action. It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that the Wesleyan tradition has exercised such a profound influence on global Quakerism during the past two hundred and fifty years."

    Are you aware of the comparison Lewis Benson made of Fox and Wesley? It is only a beginning, as Lewis stated in his letter to Ursula Windsor. If you care to read that, you can find it at https://thiswasthetruelight.wordpress.com/fox-vs-wesley/

    I hope you will take the time to comment on these two points.

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  11. Dear Friend Ellis,

    Thank you so much for your comments which are much appreciated.

    I fully accept that early Friends asserted that their understanding of the true faith was a response to divine revelation rather than of human origin, and that this understanding led them to separate themselves from other groups and churches who claimed to be 'Christian'. It is also true that, following the initial schisms from the Roman Catholic Church (whether by Luther or by Henry VIII etc...) began a process of fragmentation within western Christendom in which an increasing number of groups and sects developed. Therefore, whether one takes the view that early Friends had discovered true Christianity by divine revelation or that they were just one more group emerging from the progressive fragmentation of Christendom is a matter of faith rather than fact.

    Thank you for pointing me to Lewis Benson's letter to Ursula Windsor. I was not aware of it and it is very interesting. Again, I fully recognise the very significant differences between the early Quaker understanding and that of John Wesley. However, it is also factually true to say that, during the past 250 years some Friends have found, in the Wesleyan tradition, something that had real resonance (e.g. in the formation of the 'Quaker Methodists' as a group operating in the North of England in the early 19th century or the significant impact of Wesleyan theology on the Gurneyite form of Quakerism). Again, whether one regards this as the merging of incompatible positions leading to the corruption of the true Quaker way, or as an example of fruitful ecumenical interaction and mutual enrichment, has been a contentious issue among Friends during this whole period.

    Thank you again for your contribution to this discussion. I value the points you have raised as, along with Patricia's points (above) they help me to explore these issue more deeply.

    Shalom,

    Stuart.

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  12. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, Peter and his brother Andrew. Elias Hicks and many in the unprogrammed tradition today stress the importance following one's own inner light before these words of Jesus. But Stuart, In George Fox Epistle 216: "And as many as received the Light, Christ Jesus, the Power of God, which he has lighted you with. . . he will give you Power to become the Sons [Daughters] of God." Here, Fox seems to clearly be saying that that light which shines within us is none other than Christ Jesus. So I'm wonder if Quakers who are faithful to the inner light are mistakenly following Jesus?

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  13. oops Epistle 217
    And as many as receive the light, Christ Jesus, the power of God, which he hath lighted you with, (who hath all the power in heaven and earth given him [Mat 28:18],) he will give you power to become the sons of God [John 1:12]. Therefore every one receive Christ the light, that hath enlightened you [John 1:9], and ye shall feel the power, in which light ye shall all have fellowship; which light will give every one of you the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus [2 Cor 4:6], your saviour.

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  14. Thanks for your comments Paul!

    Early Friends do seem to suggest that Christ in Spirit is available to all people whether or not they have access to the Bible or know about the historical Jesus. In this sense it is possible, but by no means inevitable, that people who do not outwardly recognise Christ Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, may still be following his Spirit in practice. The key test of this is the fruits of the Spirit revealed in their lives.

    Shalom,

    Stuart.

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    1. I do not separate Christ and Jesus. For me they are one. (yes your friend could be a closet Gurneyite Quaker. Just tar and feather right now Lol)

      I've prayed and thought about this hellenistic eternal-cosmic Christ for a long time. For me it smacks to much of Pauline christianity. And not the religion of Jesus. The holy spirit? Using a Lutheran sacramental(Lutherans believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms" of consecrated bread and wine) using this paradigm in regards to the holy spirit The holy spirit is present in, with, and under the blessed community.

      What about non Theism and non Christians?? The words from Vatican II speaks to my heart. '' Lumen Gentium'' Non Christians;‘’ we read,Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.’’ Non Theism: ’Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.

      I feel theses words speak directly to non Christians including many in the RSoF. In the liberal unprogrammed tradition in particular. Who for whatever reason or past hurts cannot embrace the gospel like you and me. But who seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

      And for the nontheist including some in the RSoF: Again these words again from Lumen Gentium; ‘’Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.

      My heart the delights greatly in these Catholic teachings. I now that this form of universalism isn’t an innovation of Vatican II, ''For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”—1 Corinthians 15:22.

      Who is Adam? As you have shared Stuart couple years ago "We all inherit (i.e. are socialised into) the flaws, crimes and mistakes of our ancestors (e.g. their use of violence, their iniquity, their patriarchy, their racism, their exploitation of other animals, their destruction of the creation).

      Christ? A title given to the one who was without measure of the Light." John 3:34

      I have come to also believe Jesus knew that his death was not going to dissolve us from living in a racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist, and privileged society. Salvation is not a one-time event. We ALL(theist, nontheist, christian and non christian) come alive from the life long work of the holy spirit in us. Urging, nudging pulling, and sometimes dragging us to be agents for social change. In building the beloved community on earth. Personally I have felted this to be draining, daunting, and sometimes disconnected me from the one who is calling us to this life. So I guess that's why we have each other and the church or Meeting community.

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    2. Thanks Paul, we remain flawed and limited creatures (hence the racism etc...). The divine Spirit, because it is characterised by what James Nayler calls 'everlasting love unfeigned', has the power to overcome the selfish and hateful spirit that corrupts us. However, this Divine Spirit of love will not force itself on us, we have to be prepared to surrender ourselves to it.

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  15. Great conversations with you Stuart. Apologies for my thinking out loud on some heavy theological topics on your blog I realize also I totally got off your original message. Again apologies.

    Couple years ago I visited a used book store and came across this book by Kenneth J. Collins “The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s theology. I was astonished to find this scripture passage '' The true light enlightens everyone' 'and these remarks from John Wesley on page 39 in regards to that particular passage. “Every [one] has a greater or less measure of this,”speaking of the Light within Wesley said. Christian and non-Christian alike, he said.. “There is no [one],” he said, “except [those] who have quenched the Spirit, [who] is wholly void of the grace of God.”

    Wesley was an optimist about the Spirit and, thus, an optimist about humanity.The Spirit has not abandoned the world to let it go to hell. (even though it seems like that some days) By a margin of more than 20,000 votes the people of Alabama yesterday did not elect racist and accused pedophile to the US congress ( last days of the election this political candidate had avowed white fascist campaigning for him) Yes, there are times when we feel the fires of hell on earth. And it burns..

    The author of the book continues ,Wesley’s assumption was that the Spirit is everywhere, that it touches every man, woman and child, that the light, the true light illumines everyone, fills the earth. Albert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

    So today I am deeply grateful for folks like Jesus, Wesley and so many others, living in time like this remind us of this ancient truth. The Spirit has not abandoned the world to let it go to hell. Finally I have to also learn to chill out and not get my knickers in a twist. Because some Quakers do not attached the adjective to the word Spirit.

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  16. Hi Paul,

    Yes, it seems that Wesley's conception of 'prevenient grace' meant that, Like Friends, he believed that God reached out to all people without exception (whether they had access to the Bible or Knowledge of Jesus or Christian ideas generally). Obviously, for both Wesley and Friends, this divine initiative required a response if it was to lead to right relationship with God and regeneration in the Spirit. That said, there are significant differences between Quakers and Wesleyans about exactly how this was understood.

    Shalom,

    Stuart.

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    1. A Muslim's wish for Christmas | Columns | The Journal Gazette

      http://www.journalgazette.net/opinion/columns/20171221/a-muslims-wish-for-christmas

      Wise words from my friend Ahmed. I think the holy spirit gives us wisdom,courage and strength to live into what Ahmed writes about in his editorial.

      Stuart may be the Spirit of Christ continue to be born ,grow and walk with you in the New Year.☺

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  17. Thank you Paul. Blessings my Friend, Stuart.

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  18. These exchanges prompt me to ask what happened to the doctrine of perfectability. Nikki Coffey Tousley in the Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies says that early Friends shared much with their Puritan contemporaries but differed on the possibility of perfection and the doctrine of original sin (p.172) but then she goes on to say that Robert Barclay maintained a pessimistic view of human nature (p.176). I like the notion of perfectability in this life and wonder whether we rather understate it these days.

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  19. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I think early Friends hold together a deeply pessimistic view of human nature in the first birth and an optimistic view of the power of the Spirit to transform people into the second birth. They denied the Augustinian view of original sin as transmitted by sexual reproduction. However, this does not mean that they underestimated the reality and depth of human sin. The inner spiritual struggles described in their convincement descriptions, testifies to how painful and difficult they found the path out of sin to the second birth.

    It seems to me that early Quaker emphasis on perfection was somewhat suppressed or played down after the Restoration as it was associated by their opponents with 'religious enthusiasm' when Friends wanted to appear respectable in order to gain toleration.

    We see in the Anabaptist, Quaker and Wesleyan movements an emphasis on the possibility of real transformation in this life that reveals similarities with the doctrine of theosis or deification in the Eastern Church. The West tended to adopt a juridical understanding of salvation (based on some kind of cosmic legal transaction, as in penal substitution atonement) whereas the East focused more on a therapeutic understanding (i.e. salvation was not so much about what needed to happen in order for human sin to be forgiven, as a process of healing of the human will, in which the image of God was fully reestablished in people). Wesley got this directly from reading the Greek Fathers. Anabaptists and Quakers seem to come to such an understanding independently (some might argue by direct divine revelation).

    This commitment to holiness is largely dispensed with in the Liberal Quaker form. It retains its original shape in the Conservative Quaker form and takes on a Wesleyan character within Evangelical Quakerism.

    Shalom, Stuart.

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  20. Hello Stuart, I would like to comment on the dichotomy which is being presented here, of there being two options: either of the Reformed Predestination; or the idea of free will, that the early Quakers spoke against as Pat has shown.

    The middle way, is I believe, is what was spoken of By George Fox as the Day of the Lord, when a man, and that includes all men, will be visited and have the opportunity of accepting the light or turning away from it. That Day is not under the control of men, so no prevenient grace, as man is bound in iniquity and sin under the service of the evil one. When God decides to visit, that encounter will seal our fate, though I think it might be possible to repent on our deathbeds, indeed a nurse told me she had seen this many times. However it is not a good enough idea to wait as it pressumes on God's mercy. This is the Day of Visition which is spoken of in the scriptures in numerous places.

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    1. Dear Brenda,

      Thank you for your comment. I think this is indeed a legitimate way to interpret the early Quaker position. I am currently doing detailed research into the theology of James Nayler and will be writing more about this issue in due course.

      Shalom,

      Stuart.

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  21. I've done a quick review of Nayler's use of the term 'day of visitation' along with its use by the Hebrew prophets and in the New Testament. I have to say that it seems quite clearly to be used in apocalyptic/eschatological terms. Nayler is asserting that the Day of the Lord has come, all things are about to change, so you'd better make sure that you're in right relationship with God before it's too late. I think therefore that its wrong to interpret the 'day of visitation' in an individualistic way. I can give plenty of examples of Nayler warning people not to resist the Lord's action. To me this implied choice and therefore a degree of free will. That said, Nayler does not seem to be Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian. The initiative lies with God but a response is required from the human. In this sense, Nayler is semi-Augustinian in his view.

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  22. Hello Stuart,

    How the early Friends avoided doctrines exhibiting"the Scylla of Pelagianism...and the Charybdis of a mistaken moral determinism" (109-10) is through (1) having experienced God's mercy in sending his son inwardly to redeem them out of the slavery of sin and into perfect freedom, and (2) forming doctrines according to their experience. I recommend reading Brunner's _The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption_ chapter three, "Man as Sinner" to clear up confusion on this topic. Brunner will help you see how Man in the first birth cannot be other than sinner, regardless of whether he chooses to be a "virtuous" or a "vicious" one. Here's a link: https://books.google.com/books?id=ak4NBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA89&lpg=PA89&dq=Brunner+Christian+doctrine+of+creation+and+redemption+man+as+sinner&source=bl&ots=bbfRlInYKa&sig=-S0b8ySbMmI5wuZkAQ2a20wxscE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwimrdvvkuzaAhUynOAKHZOaCNcQ6AEIPDAF#v=onepage&q=Brunner%20Christian%20doctrine%20of%20creation%20and%20redemption%20man%20as%20sinner&f=false

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    1. Hi Pat,

      I agree that early Friends were not Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian. Instead, I believe that they were semi-Augustinian (i.e. human salvation requires divine initiative followed by human response/cooperation). If you look at the section on 'free will' in Nayler's Love to the Lost you will see that, although he denies free will (because he asserts that a human is either in the will of God or in the will of the devil) he also emphasises human response/choice (to cooperate with God's initiatrive or to resist God's initiative) using words such as 'if you it diligently mind', 'were it minded and obeyed' and 'they that resist free grace'.

      Shalom,

      Stuart.

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  23. "The will of the flesh, which is bondage" can be exercised virtuously as well as viciously. For example, Paul kept to the law assiduously, and the young ruler, whom Christ loved, kept all these things from youth onwards. Likewise, the will of the flesh can choose to diligently mind (that is to say to leave the mind open to receive) the light of Christ. The will of the flesh, however, is never free, for it is only "the spiritual will which is free, and that is from above" (Nayler). Again I recommend chapter three of Brunner's_ Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption.

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    1. Thanks Pat. I honestly don't think that my previously message contradicts your point.

      Stuart.

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  24. As the early Friends stated, Stuart, apart from God's will, Man has no freedom of will, even when he chooses that which is virtuous.

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    1. I agree Pat. However, I don't think that this undermines my assertion that early Friends were semi-Augustinian in their approach to salvation. It is God's work, God takes the initiative and all people have the choice to either respond or to resist. If that is not so, then there was no difference between early Friends and their Calvinist Puritan opponents (we are left with predestination and irresistible grace).

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  25. Stuart, the Day of the Lord, is ever present and came to those in NT times, the ones that is, who did not resist. That is all man can do - resist or accept what God has initiated. The early Quakers believed that the kingdom comes for each of us individually and that Revelation is about this holy war. Calvinists say we have no choice.

    Tell me please, what do you undestand abouit Pelagianism?

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  26. Vol. 4 of the Works of Fox p.47: For the God of power, light, and glory, hath raised up a light in his people, and gathered their hearts together to himself, and hath discovered unto them the vanity of all things, wherein they have lived, and shewed them his way and truth, where they should walk and glorify him, and serve him in holiness and newness of life ;1 and with eternal food, the bread of life, doth he feed us, whereby we become wonders to the world, 2 as he hath raised his seed to his praise and glory, and is adding daily to his church,3 and the strong man bows himself, and the keepers of the house tremble4 and the powers of the earth shake, and the glory of the Lord is rising, and is risen, which terribly shakes the earth, that the idols of gold and silver are cast away,5 and God alone loved, who is Lord of heaven and earth; and the works of the Lord are strange and wondrous, as ever were, as the scriptures witness. When Daniel heard the voice, he fell down and trembled, and his strength was gone.6 And Paul, when he heard the voice, he fell down, and trembled :7 and Habakkuk, when he heard the voice, his lips quivered, his belly shook, rottenness entered into his bones, that he might rest in the day of trouble.8 And David when he heard the voice of God in the holy temple, and his prayers came before him, the earth shook, and David his flesh trembled. 9 And work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Now these workings are strange to them, where the strong man keeps the house, and who are in the earth ; but who are rising up out of the earth, witness the power of the earth to be shaken ; and who are raised up out of the earth, witness these things, and have a cloud of witnesses to witness them,10 passing through the same door, 11 to the same rest ; and so we witness the scriptures, and the power of Christ, and them to be fulfilled, and fulfilling ; praises, praises be unto the Lord God Almighty for ever. We witness the happy day of the Lord is come, the good and happy day, and glad tidings to souls, the day of Christ ;12 praises, praises, be to him for ever. All ye children of the Lord, praise the Lord for ever, sing praises unto the Lord for evermore. This is the day of salvation, and the everlasting gospel, 12 glad tidings are come into our souls, free pardon of sin by Jesus Christ, who is come to take away sin, and to destroy the works of the devil; thus do we witness the scriptures fulfilled by God alone, therefore deny all the ministers of the letter.14

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    1. Hi Brenda,

      I agree that , for early Friends, salvation is entirely God's initiative and that all the creature can do is to either respond or resist. My ongoing discussion with Pat on this threat is about whether early Friends allowed for a degree of free will (defined as the ability to make that choice) or not.

      I am currently doing some detailed research into the theology of James Nayler. It is work in progress but my sense is that after 'Bristol and all that' Nayler's position on salvation changed in emphasis. There is less stress on God's wrath and more of an emphasis on salvation as an ongoing process (e.g. that our errors and failings can contribute over time to our ultimate salvation and that God doesn't play games with us by only offering one opportunity). I think this contradicts the idea of the 'Day of Visitation' as a one-off individual opportunity. Speaking personally, I have to say that I find this interpretation of the Day of Visitation to be deeply offensive, since it portrays a God who plays game with humanity rather than a God of love who wills the salvation of his creatures. If it does exist within early Quakerism, I suggest that it's the remains of the Calvinism that dominated Puritan religious culture within the 17th century.

      Full Augustinian Position - humans are entirely unable to contribute to their own salvation and this is entirely a matter for God (hence, predestination and irresistible grace).

      Semi-Augustinian Position - salvation is the work of God but people need to respond and cooperate. God's grace enables people a choice about whether to respond or not.

      Semi-Pelagian Position - humans can work out their own salvation but require the assistance of God's grace in doing so.

      Full Pelgian Position - as a result of the work of Christ, people are capable of working out their own salvation without any further divine assistance.

      Shalom,

      Stuart.

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    2. Thank you Stuart. You said "There is less stress on God's wrath and more of an emphasis on salvation as an ongoing process (e.g. that our errors and failings can contribute over time to our ultimate salvation and that God doesn't play games with us by only offering one opportunity). " There is a sense of ongoing salvation, as in staying saved to remain in that position, that is to say, being united with Christ with the holy temple being pure and holy - that is, no sin. A lot of confusion is around this issue imo. If the Day of the Lord, is not that deciding encounter (which could occur over a few days, it does not have to be 24 hours) for man either to follow Christ or not, then what is it? In the NT Christ said to follow him, and we do not see the disciples offered nummerous opportunities.

      In order to understand Pelagianism and which is regularly misunderstood regarding his theology, (but which I think you are confusing with Arminianism) you need to show what his interpretation of Romans 7 is - the battleground of theologians.

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    3. Hi Brenda,

      It seems that we disagree about the nature and extent of God's grace. That's ok.

      Shalom,

      Stuart.

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    4. But Stuart, that means you disagree with the early Quakers as well. Their urgency was for this reason. That's not OK. Brenda

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  27. Dear Brenda, well we will have to agree to disagree on this. I believe that their urgency was based on what they believed to be the impending Day of the Lord as the final establishment of the Kingdom of God. They wanted all people to share in this experience rather than face destruction. Hence the massive preaching campaign of 1654-56 sought to turn people to God and away from sin and false practices. No-one was excluded from this opportunity but everyone had to make a choice. There's no point preaching repentance if salvation is not actually available.

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  28. Hi Stuart, yes agreed, and mass salvation and sanctification happens at revivals. The Quakers knew that God was using them for revival so the message was urgent. At other times where the power of God is not so prevelent, there are less people who are faced with the Day of the Lord but it must be preached anyway as we do not know whether those whom we come in contact with will be blessed by an encounter with Him.

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  29. Thanks Brenda, although I have serious reservations about the perspectives that you and Pat have expressed, they have provided very useful challenges to my assumptions. This has been helpful because it has forced me to think more deeply about them. I have been dipping into Melvin B. Endy's book 'William Penn and Early Quakerism' and he expresses similar views about Nayler's theology.

    This is work in progress as I have a contract with the publisher Brill to write a short academic book on Nayler's theology.

    Shalom,

    Stuart.

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