Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I know that I’m a little strange, but rather than finding Revelation’s psychedelic imagery off-putting, I am captivated by it. Even before I became a Christian, I was fascinated by the powerful images of this apocalyptic text.
Without initially intending to begin a new organization, Fox attempts to open the scriptures and teach from them to help all people come to the New Testament life. His concern was to pull back the curtain of intellectualism and reveal the Spiritual power that flows from the encounter with the risen Christ of the New Testament.
In accepting the full divinity of Christ, Quakers believe also there is ‘something of God’ in each and every human being. But we are reluctant to extend thoroughgoing special divinity to other human beings (Mary, the saints), even as we recognize that some human beings have a stronger ability to hear or to know the Light within.
What the Apocalypse of John revealed to George Fox was not the end of the world, but its rebirth, a rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples as the disciples act concretely to advance the cause of justice and truth in human society. Using imagery from the Book of Revelation, George Fox describes this struggle for truth and justice as “the Lamb’s war,” a war carried out by the meek through gentleness, nonviolence, self-sacrifice and peace.
For the first Quakers, the biblical narrative of creation, fall and restoration was enacted experientially in their lives. What they believed to be unfolding cosmically was also taking place in microcosm within them. They had been created,they had fallen and Christ had come to restore them again into the paradise of God.
For those of us who see the biblical record as an invaluable channel for God's work within us, it is helpful to explore the precursors in that record to the form of worship that Friends have been given as our most central way of being held, transformed, and taught by the Living Christ.
Quakers, at least unprogrammed Quakers, have experience with the differing degrees of the divine and the human elements in the inspired messages they receive each Sunday. We need to listen to the Bible with the same discerning ear we use in Meeting for Worship.
Do I trust a human being to tell me that the bible has been adulterated? Why would I believe a group over another? We have to remember that the bible can only be studied with the guidance of the one that inspired it, the Holy Spirit. We should trust the Holy Spirit over any teaching of any man. The bible and the Holy Spirit will never contradict each other.
Early Friends did not use this kind of language in discussing the Bible... But [they] did seem to see the book as containing truths that needed to be "interiorized." I think the most important books of the Bible to Fox and early Friends were Genesis and the Gospel of John, so going over Genesis will take a while - especially the first several chapters.
OK, so let's get started. I remember the day in 1986 when I stood up before a fresh class of Friends Academy (Locust Valley, NY) 7th graders and started to teach Quakerism for the first time. And since the early Friends writings that had been so critical to me in returning to Christ were so inaccessible to young readers, I decided to just use the biblical narrative to introduce them to Quakerism. We started talking about the Bible as if it were just another book you would take off the shelf, and I surprised even me when I realized that it is a narrative that starts at the beginning of the creation and ends at the end of that same creation. It presents itself as if it were the complete story.
Early Friends did not use this kind of language in discussing the Bible. Like others of their time they did not use that kind of language - describing the Bible as a "narrative" - that language is comfortable to me because of the reading I've done in "narrrative theology" and in particular in reading Stanley Hauerwas. But early Friends did seem to see the book as containing truths that needed to be "interiorized." But we'll get to that as we go.
I think the most important books of the Bible to Fox and early Friends were Genesis and the Gospel of John, so going over Genesis will take a while - especially the first several chapters. The Bible I use is the Jerusalem Bible, but I often check multiple translations when the translation is particularly important.
Genesis 1 - There are two accounts of the creation in the first two chapters of Genesis. There is so much in the first chapter, that I will just deal with it today. In the first God creates the universe and the earth through the power of his Word, and the first "thing" created is Light - not the light of the sun or the moon - those lights come later, on day four. The separation of the waters below the dome of heaven and above it comes on day two, the gathering of the waters beneath the dome and the proliferation of the earth's vegetation comes on day three, the sun and moon and stars - necessary for calculating time and seasons - comes on day four, the teeming forth of life comes on day five, and then on day six, God creates the human species - both male and female - "in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them" (27). They are given the power to "conquer" the creation or "subdue" it, an authority early Friends saw as a power to both use and to care for, be responsible for. God rests after man is created.
For me the most interesting insights I've had on the first creation story are the following:
1. The creator in this story is fundamentally "other" that everything we can see. God is not created, not contingent in any way. But we are created and contingent, and there is no other way of our understanding any part of God's nature without accepting the lines that we are somehow "like" Him - male and female, we share qualities with God. Ludwig Feuerbach and later Karl Marx wrote that God was merely our "projection" of our human nature out onto the universe. The Bible supports this, and it will be for us one of the critical ways we come to understand anything about God or ourselves.
2. When you consider how ancient this literature is, it is amazing to me how profoundly "modern" it is - modern in the simultaneity of the creation of male and female, modern in the closeness to what evolutionary theory says about the order of things in the creation of the universe - not exact but close.
3. It gives us a view of "man" that is not easily charicatured. It claims for man a dignity and goodness that defies all that we know of man in the history that will unfold for him, but it shows us God's divine intention, the impetus and engine of the divine determination to redeem what he has created when it disappoints Him, a determination that we will see played out in the biblical narrative
So that is some of what I see in this chapter. I would love to know what others see that is important to them personally.
What does it mean to you that we are "created in God's image"?
To put all this very simply the incarnation means “Love was the first motion.” This is a version of the Quaker abolitionist John Woolman’s favorite phrase “motion of love.” This isn’t about some lofty doctrine of God. As Vincent Harding says “Love trumps doctrine” and this is the point of the incarnation. God left the heavens and moved in next door.