"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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As for moving beyond exclusivism, Robert Barclay in his Apology lays out  a "Christian universalism" quite explicitly, but I see that view as implicit also in the way in which Margaret Fell, in the first generation of Quakerism, framed her arguments in writing for the Jews in the Netherlands.

Do all Friends today share a structure ?  I am not sure they do.

I am drawn to the writings of early Friends, because they describe the sort of encounter with God that I have experienced. As for "primitive Christianity revived", both the Mormon churches and the Disciples of Christ have made similar claims, and I don't worry about it. God is not so small as to be tied down so easily. But like Elijah in the cave this is where I have heard that still small voice, and I wrap myself in my mantle and it doesn't matter that Moses heard God from a burning bush.

Do we Friends have a spiritual practice to help people experience that (or any other) encounter with God?  

In my experience, most liberal (i.e., FGC) Friends who have any spiritual practice--and not all do--have taken theirs from a tradition other than Friends.  

I have found the writings of original Friends helpful in drawing my attention away from the idols of popular culture (such as, winning) to the Divine.

Although am very grateful for the Timeless Quaker Wisdom CD that at least serves up some wonderful short quotes, I don't know where in the future Friends are going to find the power that I have found in the full statements. 

I would say that we offer a setting in which to do a spiritual practice. It isn't a demanding schedule...

 

but finding God seems to require yearning for God. Given that yearning, it should happen. Until a person has that, it remains unlikely.

 

And the important thing is not "finding God through Quaker practice," but "finding God."

Do you think that there is nothing distinctive that Quakerism has to offer?

I feel that we have something in trust (which has been crucially important to me) and which we/I should help make it available to those who come after us.

It would be hard to find one doctrine which has not diffused into other modern Christian churches since the Quaker movement began. Maybe "continuing revelation"?-- but that in itself implies that what we've inherited was a root or a seed, not the final plant. It's also hard to find much that wouldn't be rejected by a large number of modern Friends.

 

I'd say the core-- is the understanding that God is accessible to all, is not some occult secret that has to be distributed through expert, priestly intervention. Core-- because given that, "all things take their place." But it's precisely this core-- that there exists such a living Being at the center of life-- which many people who want to "belong" among Friends find most objectionable.

 

As the set of methods we inherited have so obviously failed to "replicate"-- these are not where our Life is to be found. It's like what Fox (and many contemporaries) said about the scriptures, that it took the active presence of God in a person to make them useful.

A F/friend of mine described our "method" to a curious Buddhist, "we just throw them into the deep end of the silence and see if they sink or swim."

G. Fox did give advice on how to sit in worship. His letter to Lady Claypoole and his Epistle X come most immediately to my mind.


Caroline Whitbeck said:

Do we Friends have a spiritual practice to help people experience that (or any other) encounter with God?  

In my experience, most liberal (i.e., FGC) Friends who have any spiritual practice--and not all do--have taken theirs from a tradition other than Friends.  

I have found the writings of original Friends helpful in drawing my attention away from the idols of popular culture (such as, winning) to the Divine.

Although am very grateful for the Timeless Quaker Wisdom CD that at least serves up some wonderful short quotes, I don't know where in the future Friends are going to find the power that I have found in the full statements. 

We may be standing too close to see what we have to offer others. I was recently told that a protestant denomination (I think it was the Methodists) has Margaret Fell's entire "Women's Speaking Justified" on their website. A professor in a Lutheran Seminary has recently published a book on Fell's theology.

Caroline Whitbeck said:

Do you think that there is nothing distinctive that Quakerism has to offer?

I feel that we have something in trust (which has been crucially important to me) and which we/I should help make it available to those who come after us.

I have been looking quite a bit at what is going on in Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings with the essential "dissolving" of these Yearly Meetings and possible major realignments. Some believe they are the "true" QUAKERquakers while others believe that they are the "true" quakerQUAKERS. The terminology is clearly NOT what has been used and I apologize if I am misusing quakerquaker, but the "Truth" is what the different "sides" see as the issue. There has even been some "argument" over whether "continued revelation" or "continuing revelation" is the "correct" term since this appears to be a major theological concern to some. To me this sounds like very "primitive" squabbling and I find it difficult to understand how "we" keep getting into such disagreements to the point of being willing to "cast out" (my words) Meetings from a Yearly Meeting.

 

I think you are right about that others have learned from Friends (but mostly their "views" rather than the ways of living in the Light that original Friends manifest)-- I see Friends views only as useful as a hedge against other views, and no substitute for faith/Living in the Light.

I am not surprised that many sects have now come to hold views for which many original Friends died in filthy prisons, nor that non-Quakers learn from the work of Margaret Fell (despite the Great Man theory of history that leads many to regard George Fox as the Great Man who 'invented' Quakerism).  

My immediate concern is what ought I do to pass on to young Friends, including FDS classses, what I am so grateful for having received from Friends who came before me.  

 

Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

We may be standing too close to see what we have to offer others. I was recently told that a protestant denomination (I think it was the Methodists) has Margaret Fell's entire "Women's Speaking Justified" on their website. A professor in a Lutheran Seminary has recently published a book on Fell's theology.


My immediate concern is what ought I do to pass on to young Friends, including FDS classses, what I am so grateful for having received from Friends who came before me. 

The only thing of use... is something I read on 'Will T's blog this morning:

"For many people, religion has been taught as something that they have to accept on authority. Sometimes it is the authority of a book, be it the Bible, the Koran, or the Torah. Sometimes it is the authority of a person, be it the Pope, an evangelist, or a pastor. Sometimes the authority is tradition. Anyone who teaches that ultimate authority rests with any outward authority and not with the Spirit as heard in the heart is teaching something less than the full Christian message. Quakers say that you can hear God yourself . As Robert Barclay says, “It is the privilege of the Christian to know the Shepherds voice.” Learning to know this voice is a process and, as in any learning, there are bound to be mistakes. Knowing that we are all learning, we need to be gentle with ourselves and each other when mistakes are made. But as we progress in our discernment we are able to say, as George Fox did, “And this I know experimentally.”

I think we are drifting a bit from your original question.  Fox said that the "apostasy" away from "primitive Christianity" began forty years after the death of Jesus.  He meant that once the temple in Jeralem had gone, as predicted by Jesus, there should have been no retuend to Old Covenant ways.  Then, his deep understanding of Paul's Epistles led him to say that things were going wrong even earlier, "in the days of the apostles". 

 

he Quaker took off as a coherent mouvement as a result of what Fox said, and more importantly from the spirit in which ne said it, on Firbank Fell.  He did no not invent it; he was "answering" what was was already there in those who heard him but but he was able to bring it all out and set it it before them.  Silent worship and our gospel order came anout as a result of the shared experience and theway they got togther to worhip and work together.  They did not copy it from the primotive church but they met in the same "life and spirit that the apostles wre in."   Margaret Fell came a few weeks later but I agree , wthout her, things might might have spluttered out.

 

I have just finished a study of what Fox was getting at on Firbank Fell and something struck me very forcibly : his central accusation adainst other Christians was their "apostasy from the Cross".  He opposed the use of the cross as a symbolic picture or object because he thought they had misinterpreted and perverted what Jesus had meant by the way he went to his death. There is no once and for all sacrifice that saves us from futurepunishment for all the sins we go on committing.  If we follow Christ we are no longer sinners -- but it will cost nothing less than our life -- the old life we must exchange for a new one.  This is oo much for modern Quakers perhaps but that was what the "primitive Christians thought and it is there in the New Testament.     

Caroline Whitbeck said:

I think you are right about that others have learned from Friends (but mostly their "views" rather than the ways of living in the Light that original Friends manifest)-- I see Friends views only as useful as a hedge against other views, and no substitute for faith/Living in the Light.

I am not surprised that many sects have now come to hold views for which many original Friends died in filthy prisons, nor that non-Quakers learn from the work of Margaret Fell (despite the Great Man theory of history that leads many to regard George Fox as the Great Man who 'invented' Quakerism).  

My immediate concern is what ought I do to pass on to young Friends, including FDS classses, what I am so grateful for having received from Friends who came before me.  

 

Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

We may be standing too close to see what we have to offer others. I was recently told that a protestant denomination (I think it was the Methodists) has Margaret Fell's entire "Women's Speaking Justified" on their website. A professor in a Lutheran Seminary has recently published a book on Fell's theology.


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