"Primitive Christianity", What Did Original Friends Mean by it?

As I read the original Friends, they thought most Christian sects had missed the boat, and as some of those Friends said explicitly the Reformation had failed to go far enough.  They, unlike the "professors" of Christianity, did not take belief as the be all and end all, and instead focused on the experience of God.

Today, however, I have found many members of Friends who take their beliefs (including their lack of beliefs-- atheism and agnosticism) as definitive of themselves.

Without getting into a historical debate about whether Friends were correct in thinking they agreed with the earliest Christians, I would like very much to hear what Friends who are drawn to the distinctive message of original Friends think those Friends meant by "primitive Christianity."

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Interesting that I'm the first to come forward on this one. I need to confess that I don't feel particularly eloquent on the subject.

Early Friends were both Biblical and experiential. I think their image of "primitive Christianity" was strongly influenced Acts 2 - the Pentecost story - as well as Paul's description of spiritual gifts within community - 1 Corinthians 12-13.

In short, I think early Friends envisioned primitive Christianity as a covenant community that gathered to listen for the voice of the inward Christ and to faithfully respond to that voice.

 

It was less a matter of "agreeing with" the early Christians than recovering the close communion with God they had reportedly enjoyed.

 

Fox was one of many of his contemporaries searching the NT for clues as to how the Church & its services had been organized in the past; but his basic difference was the sense that Christ had returned and was leading him and the Quaker movement to recover the previous state of human/divine intimacy. His objection to other forms of worship... was that they were not functioning, did not lead people to close alignment with God and God's purposes.

 

What intrigues me about early Friends is the fact that many of them obviously had connected with God and were working toward divine purposes under guidance.

 

"The distinctive message" in terms of doctrines and practices seems to me to have largely failed; it has not, for most people, continued to produce the same spiritual attunement.

 

I am wanting to improve my own attunement-- to have the logs cleaned out of my own eyes, the better to join in some process helping more people move in that direction.



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

Interesting that I'm the first to come forward on this one. I need to confess that I don't feel particularly eloquent on the subject.

Early Friends were both Biblical and experiential. I think their image of "primitive Christianity" was strongly influenced Acts 2 - the Pentecost story - as well as Paul's description of spiritual gifts within community - 1 Corinthians 12-13.

In short, I think early Friends envisioned primitive Christianity as a covenant community that gathered to listen for the voice of the inward Christ and to faithfully respond to that voice.

 

 

Yes, I have found many references to the Pentecost Story in the writings of early Friends.  I have found fewer references to spiritual gifts [other than 

 

These talents that were given to the Lord's servants, and to every one according to their several abilities, was the Lord's heavenly treasure, and was not their own but the Lord's; and they were, and are, to improve this heavenly treasure for the Lord, and to put it forth . . . But the wicked and slothful servant (he is called a servant too) hideth the Lord's talent in his earthly napkin, and did not improve the Lord's heavenly treasure; and he was cast into utter darkness; and therefore all are to consider, whom the Lord hath given more or less of his heavenly treasure to, how you do, and how you have put the Lord's heavenly treasure forth and have improved it. (George Fox, 1687).]

 

Of course that does not mean they did not attend to spiritual gifts in their practice.


 

 



Forrest Curo said:

It was less a matter of "agreeing with" the early Christians than recovering the close communion with God they had reportedly enjoyed.

 

Fox was one of many of his contemporaries searching the NT for clues as to how the Church & its services had been organized in the past; but his basic difference was the sense that Christ had returned and was leading him and the Quaker movement to recover the previous state of human/divine intimacy. His objection to other forms of worship... was that they were not functioning, did not lead people to close alignment with God and God's purposes.

 

What intrigues me about early Friends is the fact that many of them obviously had connected with God and were working toward divine purposes under guidance.

 

"The distinctive message" in terms of doctrines and practices seems to me to have largely failed; it has not, for most people, continued to produce the same spiritual attunement.

 

I am wanting to improve my own attunement-- to have the logs cleaned out of my own eyes, the better to join in some process helping more people move in that direction.

 

Yes, I think attunement to the Spirit is what characterizes original Friends and that is what I seek.  I see stories of those Friends sending women to Margaret Fell for what today might be called spiritual direction.  I found some of that expressed in Michael Birkel's 

Pendle Hill pamphlet #398, The Messenger That Goes Before: Reading Margaret Fell for Spiritual Nurture and would welcome knowing what others have found.



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

Interesting that I'm the first to come forward on this one. I need to confess that I don't feel particularly eloquent on the subject.

Early Friends were both Biblical and experiential. I think their image of "primitive Christianity" was strongly influenced Acts 2 - the Pentecost story - as well as Paul's description of spiritual gifts within community - 1 Corinthians 12-13.

In short, I think early Friends envisioned primitive Christianity as a covenant community that gathered to listen for the voice of the inward Christ and to faithfully respond to that voice.

 

 

I think you responded quite eloquently Friend!

I wasn't just referring to the gifts of the Spirit when I mentioned 1 Corinthians.  It also speaks of being part of one body and being equal before God.

Caroline Whitbeck said:


Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

Interesting that I'm the first to come forward on this one. I need to confess that I don't feel particularly eloquent on the subject.

Early Friends were both Biblical and experiential. I think their image of "primitive Christianity" was strongly influenced Acts 2 - the Pentecost story - as well as Paul's description of spiritual gifts within community - 1 Corinthians 12-13.

In short, I think early Friends envisioned primitive Christianity as a covenant community that gathered to listen for the voice of the inward Christ and to faithfully respond to that voice.

 

 

Yes, I have found many references to the Pentecost Story in the writings of early Friends.  I have found fewer references to spiritual gifts [other than 

 

These talents that were given to the Lord's servants, and to every one according to their several abilities, was the Lord's heavenly treasure, and was not their own but the Lord's; and they were, and are, to improve this heavenly treasure for the Lord, and to put it forth . . . But the wicked and slothful servant (he is called a servant too) hideth the Lord's talent in his earthly napkin, and did not improve the Lord's heavenly treasure; and he was cast into utter darkness; and therefore all are to consider, whom the Lord hath given more or less of his heavenly treasure to, how you do, and how you have put the Lord's heavenly treasure forth and have improved it. (George Fox, 1687).]

 

Of course that does not mean they did not attend to spiritual gifts in their practice.


 

 



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:
I wasn't just referring to the gifts of the Spirit when I mentioned 1 Corinthians.  It also speaks of being part of one body and being equal before God.

Caroline Whitbeck said:

I guess I don't fully understand the formatting of the exchange.  Sorry, if my response is in the wrong place.

Can you tell me what verses of  1 Corinthians 12-13 you have in mind and what translation you are using?   I think I understand being part of one body quite well, but that speaks to me of a diversity of spiritual gifts, rather than equality.  All are beloved of God, but I think it significant that the word "equality" does not appear in either the KJV or the Geneva Bible (the two translations that early Fiends used) in this sense.  As I read original Friends, they recognized differences even in the "measure" of spirit in people and did not suggest that peoples spiritual gifts were the same, or measurable, or measurably the same (as "equal" means).  I read Paul's emphasis on the importance of the difference between different body parts as contradicting the idea that all gifts are the same, despite there being one spirit.  

My concern in raising the issue about diversity is that many U.S. Friends have mistaken the Jeffersonian ideal of equality (which has become  an assumption of individualistic U.S. popular culture ) for a Friends ideal.  The practical result of that mistake is that we lose sight of what it is to be in genuine community with people whose gifts are quite diverse and so Meetings are often tempted to "give everyone a turn" on those committees seen as the most "important", rather than placing people  where their particular gifts will build up the body. 

I take 1 Corinthians 12-13 to heart, but I want to avoid prejudging the question of whether, for example, Paul's emphasis on spiritual gifts and their diversity was shared by original Friends.



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

Interesting that I'm the first to come forward on this one. I need to confess that I don't feel particularly eloquent on the subject.

Early Friends were both Biblical and experiential. I think their image of "primitive Christianity" was strongly influenced Acts 2 - the Pentecost story - as well as Paul's description of spiritual gifts within community - 1 Corinthians 12-13.

In short, I think early Friends envisioned primitive Christianity as a covenant community that gathered to listen for the voice of the inward Christ and to faithfully respond to that voice.

 

 

Yes, I have found many references to the Pentecost Story in the writings of early Friends.  I have found fewer references to spiritual gifts [other than 

 

These talents that were given to the Lord's servants, and to every one according to their several abilities, was the Lord's heavenly treasure, and was not their own but the Lord's; and they were, and are, to improve this heavenly treasure for the Lord, and to put it forth . . . But the wicked and slothful servant (he is called a servant too) hideth the Lord's talent in his earthly napkin, and did not improve the Lord's heavenly treasure; and he was cast into utter darkness; and therefore all are to consider, whom the Lord hath given more or less of his heavenly treasure to, how you do, and how you have put the Lord's heavenly treasure forth and have improved it. (George Fox, 1687).]

 

Of course that does not mean they did not attend to spiritual gifts in their practice.


 

 

I use multiple translations. I wasn't trying to imply that all gifts are equal, far from it. As I read 12:12-26, each person has a gift to contribute, but a particular gift does not make one person more important than another. Within the the diversity of gifts and abilities there is still an  essential equality wit in the community. "For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." NRSV.

If you have access to the Quaker Bible Index, there's a little over a page of references to early Friends writings that used 1 Corinthians 12-13.

 


Caroline Whitbeck said:



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:
I wasn't just referring to the gifts of the Spirit when I mentioned 1 Corinthians.  It also speaks of being part of one body and being equal before God.

Caroline Whitbeck said:

I guess I don't fully understand the formatting of the exchange.  Sorry, if my response is in the wrong place.

Can you tell me what verses of  1 Corinthians 12-13 you have in mind and what translation you are using?   I think I understand being part of one body quite well, but that speaks to me of a diversity of spiritual gifts, rather than equality.  All are beloved of God, but I think it significant that the word "equality" does not appear in either the KJV or the Geneva Bible (the two translations that early Fiends used) in this sense.  As I read original Friends, they recognized differences even in the "measure" of spirit in people and did not suggest that peoples spiritual gifts were the same, or measurable, or measurably the same (as "equal" means).  I read Paul's emphasis on the importance of the difference between different body parts as contradicting the idea that all gifts are the same, despite there being one spirit.  

My concern in raising the issue about diversity is that many U.S. Friends have mistaken the Jeffersonian ideal of equality (which has become  an assumption of individualistic U.S. popular culture ) for a Friends ideal.  The practical result of that mistake is that we lose sight of what it is to be in genuine community with people whose gifts are quite diverse and so Meetings are often tempted to "give everyone a turn" on those committees seen as the most "important", rather than placing people  where their particular gifts will build up the body. 

I take 1 Corinthians 12-13 to heart, but I want to avoid prejudging the question of whether, for example, Paul's emphasis on spiritual gifts and their diversity was shared by original Friends.



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

Interesting that I'm the first to come forward on this one. I need to confess that I don't feel particularly eloquent on the subject.

Early Friends were both Biblical and experiential. I think their image of "primitive Christianity" was strongly influenced Acts 2 - the Pentecost story - as well as Paul's description of spiritual gifts within community - 1 Corinthians 12-13.

In short, I think early Friends envisioned primitive Christianity as a covenant community that gathered to listen for the voice of the inward Christ and to faithfully respond to that voice.

 

 

Yes, I have found many references to the Pentecost Story in the writings of early Friends.  I have found fewer references to spiritual gifts [other than 

 

These talents that were given to the Lord's servants, and to every one according to their several abilities, was the Lord's heavenly treasure, and was not their own but the Lord's; and they were, and are, to improve this heavenly treasure for the Lord, and to put it forth . . . But the wicked and slothful servant (he is called a servant too) hideth the Lord's talent in his earthly napkin, and did not improve the Lord's heavenly treasure; and he was cast into utter darkness; and therefore all are to consider, whom the Lord hath given more or less of his heavenly treasure to, how you do, and how you have put the Lord's heavenly treasure forth and have improved it. (George Fox, 1687).]

 

Of course that does not mean they did not attend to spiritual gifts in their practice.


 

 

In considering the "equality" of spiritual gifts and the people entrusted with them:

 

All of them are, literally gifts, in God's power to give or withhold. (No matter how much or how little work may have gone into developing them.)

 

If you've ever thought about "Which part of my body would I rather give up?"-- The obvious answer is, "none ." I'm given to understand that God feels the same way about us!

Thank you, Forrest. You expressed it much more clearly than I did.
Thank you for your response and for the lead to the Quaker Bible Index, which I found at http://esr.earlham.edu/qbi/main.htm.

Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

I use multiple translations. I wasn't trying to imply that all gifts are equal, far from it. As I read 12:12-26, each person has a gift to contribute, but a particular gift does not make one person more important than another. Within the the diversity of gifts and abilities there is still an  essential equality wit in the community. "For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." NRSV.

If you have access to the Quaker Bible Index, there's a little over a page of references to early Friends writings that used 1 Corinthians 12-13.

 


Caroline Whitbeck said:



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:
I wasn't just referring to the gifts of the Spirit when I mentioned 1 Corinthians.  It also speaks of being part of one body and being equal before God.

Caroline Whitbeck said:

I guess I don't fully understand the formatting of the exchange.  Sorry, if my response is in the wrong place.

Can you tell me what verses of  1 Corinthians 12-13 you have in mind and what translation you are using?   I think I understand being part of one body quite well, but that speaks to me of a diversity of spiritual gifts, rather than equality.  All are beloved of God, but I think it significant that the word "equality" does not appear in either the KJV or the Geneva Bible (the two translations that early Fiends used) in this sense.  As I read original Friends, they recognized differences even in the "measure" of spirit in people and did not suggest that peoples spiritual gifts were the same, or measurable, or measurably the same (as "equal" means).  I read Paul's emphasis on the importance of the difference between different body parts as contradicting the idea that all gifts are the same, despite there being one spirit.  

My concern in raising the issue about diversity is that many U.S. Friends have mistaken the Jeffersonian ideal of equality (which has become  an assumption of individualistic U.S. popular culture ) for a Friends ideal.  The practical result of that mistake is that we lose sight of what it is to be in genuine community with people whose gifts are quite diverse and so Meetings are often tempted to "give everyone a turn" on those committees seen as the most "important", rather than placing people  where their particular gifts will build up the body. 

I take 1 Corinthians 12-13 to heart, but I want to avoid prejudging the question of whether, for example, Paul's emphasis on spiritual gifts and their diversity was shared by original Friends.



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

Interesting that I'm the first to come forward on this one. I need to confess that I don't feel particularly eloquent on the subject.

Early Friends were both Biblical and experiential. I think their image of "primitive Christianity" was strongly influenced Acts 2 - the Pentecost story - as well as Paul's description of spiritual gifts within community - 1 Corinthians 12-13.

In short, I think early Friends envisioned primitive Christianity as a covenant community that gathered to listen for the voice of the inward Christ and to faithfully respond to that voice.

 

 

Yes, I have found many references to the Pentecost Story in the writings of early Friends.  I have found fewer references to spiritual gifts [other than 

 

These talents that were given to the Lord's servants, and to every one according to their several abilities, was the Lord's heavenly treasure, and was not their own but the Lord's; and they were, and are, to improve this heavenly treasure for the Lord, and to put it forth . . . But the wicked and slothful servant (he is called a servant too) hideth the Lord's talent in his earthly napkin, and did not improve the Lord's heavenly treasure; and he was cast into utter darkness; and therefore all are to consider, whom the Lord hath given more or less of his heavenly treasure to, how you do, and how you have put the Lord's heavenly treasure forth and have improved it. (George Fox, 1687).]

 

Of course that does not mean they did not attend to spiritual gifts in their practice.


 

 

To me "primitive Christianity" and the "long night of apostasy" refer to the "community" of "believers" in which they believed Christ was present in ALL his "offices" and thus no other prophet, priest or king was needed. Thus the King was here and now, the only priest needed to "administer sacraments" was Christ in his presence. I also believe that the "exclusiveness" of Christ's message to only those who know the "name of Jesus" was superceded by the belief that Christ could and does speak to anyone regardless of their knowledge of "Jesus."

 

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