Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
A walk through time out of Time. Manifesting those Quakers out of all Appearances.
Thirty years ago, I had an experience of seeing a different way of being, conscience and consciousness. It was a glimpse of a glimpse that held fast and true in the far periphery of Life; kissing consciousness. In that moment, I became Quaker. However, Quaker of a different sort.
For twenty years I have attended Quaker Assemblies of various sorts. There was a time I almost sought membership in the Ohio Yearly Meeting. Yet, I was not led into membership. Through the appearance of the spirit of Jesus Christ inshining upon my conscience and reforming the very foundation of my consciousness, it was becoming clear I was on a different path. It was not of a communal or autonomous nature. Many convinced Quakers testify to the need for community and how a particular Quaker gathering had supplied that need. I sensed no such need. This experience of conscience and consciousness being nurtured and established by the Spirit of Christ enthroned within, was becoming and became sufficient in itself to satisfy and sustain consciousness and identity in this new Life. It is not that I do not value gathering for worship; it is that my conscience and consciousness is ruled and guided outside of concorporate (communal) and self-regulated (individualistic) contexts or paradigms. The immanent Presence of Christ itself in itself is become the source or seed of consciousness, life, and identity without regard for outward self-centered and/or communal contexts or constructs. I am come out of the communal and individual dynamic. I am of a Christonomous1 nature.
Over time and through study, it has become clear that a different sort of Quakerism has existed (throughout the whole of its history) alongside the outwardly established formal Quakerism. It is a blessing that many Christonomous Quakers navigated the minefield of derision and denunciation that early Quaker establishment Leaders laid before their paths and published their testimony to their witness. It is also a blessing the many establishment Quaker leaders wrote against the Christonomous Quakers. For, in writing against them, they manifest their existence. There is very strong evidence and proof of the Christonomous way, distinct from the way established and enforced by other Quakers led to establish outwardly visible forms, doctrines, and practices to guide the Quaker gathering.
For example, the eminent minister Stephen Crisp wrote in 1666 of some Quakers in An Epistle to Friends Concerning Present and Succeeding Times who ‘… have no Keeper, but the Measure of Light revealed in their Hearts and Consciences …’ (From a 1780 edition, pg 9). Essentially, Crisp is lamenting those Quakers who do not follow or come to the touch of the established Quaker outward forms and ceremonies (for example, not removing their hat during prayer). Crisp here clearly enunciates those people in the gathering who are come out of the process of participation in and identification with all outward forms, practices, and ceremonies. It is telling that the testimony by some early Friends in the gathering of having no *Keeper* but their measure of Light in their conscience is troublesome to Crisp. This short sentence is a precise definition of the Christonomous Friend.
In the very title of another epistle, Stephen Crisp, writes: An Epistle from Stephen Crisp to Friends against such as cry out against the Form of Godliness, as against Meeting at set Times, on First Days, etc. The mere title highlights people in the gathering who scrupled against the very process of establishing Meetings at set times and days. In this tract he writes of those in the gathering who experience ‘… leading out of Formality into the Power.’ Here Crisp specifically manifests a people who were led out of the very process of identification with and participation in Formalities. It is of no matter that Crisp is here interested in denigrating those Quakers who are come out of formalities. The point in this discussion is to show there were in fact many in the gathering who testified to the witness of coming out of Formalities and Crisp gives strong proof of their presence in the Gathering even though he contended with Christonomous people.
It is significant and telling to note that Crisp in the title of the second epistle mentioned writes of … such as cry against the Form of Godliness … For many people in the early Quaker gatherings like Crisp, forms themselves were not so much the issue as whether those forms are Godly or in the Power of God. George Fox in his Concerning those that go out of Unity and Deny Forms writes:
“they go out of all true forms, into confusion and emptiness, without form; then they say, they will not be subject to forms, and cry down all forms with their darkness and a perverse spirit, and so mash all together. “
“For there is a form of godliness, and there is a form of sound words; many have a form.”
They mash all together. That is, those who are come out of forms do not distinguish between Godly and Ungodly forms. Fox is here very perceptive. Not only do they go out of ungodly forms, they are come out of the process of identification with and participation in all true forms. Here again, is a testimony of a contending Quaker bringing light upon people in the gathering of Friends who testify to the witness of coming out of all appearances or forms.
George Fox, in his Journal (1709 Vol. 2 pg. 333), writes of those who deny prescriptions without distinction. That is, they make no distinction between godly and ungodly prescriptions because they are come out of all outward forms and prescriptions to guide their conscience.
There are many many more examples I can document to show the existence of a people in the earliest history of the Quaker gathering who specifically testified to the appearance of the inshining Light upon their conscience and consciousness and the resulting experience of being come out of the process of their relationships and interactions being guided and informed by outward, forms, practices, prescriptions, ceremonies, and institutions. Theirs is a powerful testimony and one that speaks to many people today and all along the history of Quakerism. Those of us who know this christonomous experience can embrace and trace our spiritual heritage back to the first or earliest of Quakers. We can stand in the light of Quaker history and sense our heritage in the words of Nathanial Smith (excommunicated from the gathering by George Fox for his unwillingness to comply with the Quaker establishment), who wrote in 1669:
“Whereas I have given thee an account of their Courts, it is but to let thee understand, that all Sects, Formes, or other Dispensations, if thou please to call them so, (or by what Name so ever) after they have raised to themselves a considerable number of People, then they go about to set up themselves, and make to themselves Laws, whereby they may Govern, and bear Rule one over another; for these People called the Quakers were the only People that did speak against this, and said, That man ought to fear God, and to walk justly before him, and be taught of him; but now they have a Rule or a Light to walk by, (a rather a Law) and if any do not observe this, then he is cast out from amongst them, as not being one of the Flock of God.”
1. I use Christonomous or Christonomy to express the experience of being come out of all visible appearances formalities and institutions to guide and inform human relationships and interactions through the appearance of the immanent Presence of Jesus Christ (being sufficient itself in itself) informing the conscience and anchoring the consciousness.↩