Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Doug Shoemaker, the Superintendent of Indiana Yearly Meeting, has been writing a series of ‘letters to George Fox’ that appear in the IYM Communicator. I find interest in these letters in considering whether I agree with them and also whether I think he construes George Fox in a way Fox would want to be understood. In his recent, eighteenth letter, Shoemaker addresses the possibility of human’s achieving perfection, or ‘entire sanctification.’
As a young man I remember quoting the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” A Quaker leader I respected a lot quickly cautioned me that none of us will attain perfection in this life. I’ve been trying to decide who I should believe, my beloved Quaker friend, or Jesus. I think I know a bit about how you felt when you often taught we are called to a level of Christian experience you called “perfection” while the rest of the church seemed to be lowering the bar to accommodate our human limitations.
In your Journal you wrote: For of all the sects in Christendom (so called) that I discoursed with, I found none who could bear to be told that any should come to Adam’s perfection, - - into that image of God, that righteousness and holiness, that Adam was in before he fell; to be clean and pure, without sin, as he was. You consistently raised the bar, calling us to a relationship with God that not only results in forgiveness from sin, but also power over sin. Holiness revivals of the 19th century didn’t shape Midwestern Quakerism as much as they resurfaced the heart of what you called us to. “Thank you” for calling us to a transforming knowledge of God that holiness preachers later described as “entire sanctification.” Your goal wasn’t to just stumble into heaven by the grace of God. Thanks for pointing us to a better way.
So what should we think? Is perfection in this life possible? Did George Fox believe it was?