Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Randal Ott Espinoza said:
Two important differences between Anabaptists and Quakers are (1) that much of the Liberal branch of Quakers has gone in the complete opposite direction, almost completely disregarding the Bible as a useful account of truth, and (2) that the "Old Order" (Conservative) branch is a miniscule and dispersed remnant rather than a set of cohesive and concentrated (and GROWING!) communities.
-------I believe you're right about this... and the trouble is, the Bible is a distorted, but much needed pointer to essential truth: That we and our physical environment are embedded in a vastly larger consciousness, aka God, which wields ultimate determining power over our lives, from outside as well as inside our bodies and minds...
Further, that God has many times enlightened people -- any human being who would 'listen' -- with as much truth, framed in a form they could find digestible, as they were prepared to receive.
And that this is because God loves us, helps us to the maximun extent actually helpful to creatures such as ourselves and our long-term flourishing. That we can resist, and make this harder on ourselves, or cooperate... but that in any case, the power and wisdom working towards our ultimate good is far greater than we can imagine.
The details of the Bible are mainly hints of how this has developed (with various setbacks) from all-too-human vantages...
But that sense that life is Good News, not Bad, is sorely needed -- too hard to absorb in the forms that worked for earlier times, yet hard to convey without some such embodiment...
Although there's value in tracing the decline of a faith tradition (whether Mennonite or Quaker), as has been done here, it would then be good to see an account of the right relationship between the Christ and the Scriptures that the early Friends knew, a relationship that is not only possible today but necessary for the individual Friend and the community to which he or she belongs, reasons for this necessity being given in the Fox quote that follows.
One's choice of engagement with scripture does not fall to one of two equally erroneous options: fundamentalism or liberalism, both religions produced from the will of man and into which a tradition declines when the original power and life have been lost. Nor is a third option that we see among many Quakers any more valid: the creation of a new, personal religion by anyone who comes into the Society and has the will and imagination to do so.
In contradistinction to these too typical new forms of apostacy that have overtaken our Society, there is an authentic approach to scripture, exemplified by early Friends and described in a short presentation titled "Early Friends Use of the Scriptures," given by Gene Hillmann at Gwynedd Meeting (N. Wales, Pa.) on 11/10/02, found here: http://www.gwyneddmeeting.org/history/hillman.htm
Hillman quotes a passage from Fox's Journal that describes the need for coming to the Spirit of God in oneself in order to know God and Christ and the scriptures: (from the Nickall's version, page 136, underlining is mine):
I was moved of the Lord to speak; and as soon as I began, priest Marshall, the orator for the rest of the priests, went his way. That which I was moved to declare was this: that the holy Scriptures were given forth by the Spirit of God; and that all people must come to the Spirit of God in themselves in order to know God and Christ, of whom the prophets and apostles learnt: and that by the same Spirit all men might know the holy Scriptures. For as the Spirit of God was in them that gave forth the Scriptures, so the same Spirit must be in all them that come to understand the Scriptures. By this Spirit they might have fellowship with the Father, with the Son, with the Scriptures, and with one another: and without this Spirit they can know neither God, Christ, nor the Scriptures, nor have a right fellowship one with another.
People naturally prefer to distinguish "our Scriptures [produced by the will of God]" from "their scriptures [produced by the will of men]"
but typically these are produced by human beings (not usually altogether humane) working with God's help to share what God has been able to convey to their minds, hearts, spirits.
What makes scriptures and human approaches to them 'authentic', so far as they can be, is God's inescapable engagement in befriending and enlightening people by any suitable means available, no matter how marvelous (or less than marvelous) the means may appear.
Since the Spirit of ["image of"] God is in fact present in all human beings [however much injured and concealed]the notion of a merely personal religion vs some more genuine collective religion is a misconception.
Nobody's beliefs or interpretations of their experience could be entirely personal, nor could anyone eliminate the personal elements from their version of a shared tradition. For better or worse, we're wrestling with this stuff together; and nobody, no person and no tradition, has a monopoly on the Reality Who Works It All.