Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The fellowship of the cross of Christ…is not of man, nor by man; for it is in the everlasting power of God; therefore, no longer do you keep in fellowship, but as you keep in the cross of Christ (Works, 8:67).
“Restoring the Church of the Cross" is the title of the eighth lecture in the series Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox given by Lewis Benson in 1982 at Moorestown (N.J.) Meeting. In this lecture, Benson explores the meaning and relevance of these theological terms: the cross of Christ; the Church, as fellowship of the cross; the righteousness that is given through Christ, and defines the community; and the consequent suffering entailed in bearing witness to the Truth in a world devoid of understanding.
People gather and come together for many different reasons, but the Church, as George Fox averred, was a coming together and fellowship of people who knew—understood through experience—the cross of Christ, and kept to it. Since the days of the apostles, the knowledge of the cross as the defining characteristic of the faith community had been lost, said Fox. This loss was called “the apostasy.”
Here began the apostasy…when they…apostatized from the true cross, the power of God, and from the true church (4:171).
It was Fox’s mission to bring people out of the apostasy, to gather a people to Christ by the power of the gospel. Benson writes:
[Fox’s] gospel message that “Christ has come to teach his people himself” is a call to people to become disciples of Christ, to be taught the principles of God’s righteousness by him, and to come into a fellowship that learns together, obeys together, and suffers together.
First Friends had discovered the one thing needful: the living purveyor of righteousness. Without the coming of Christ to teach his people his righteousness, no valid claim to righteousness could be--or can be--made: neither the Old Testament law in the apostles’ days; nor the Bible’s prescriptions in the seventeenth century; nor the testimonies and self-edification of our own times. Christ, the Lord of righteousness, “is not of man nor by man.” Nor is the fellowship of Christ determined by man’s rubrics.
He that is in Christ, is at the end of the law, and the precepts, and the statutes, and the ordinances, and the commandments, and is in the substance, God’s righteousness (3:270).
Suffering for bearing witness to the Truth that comes from God and Christ is a well-known part of Quaker history, and Benson spends much of the latter part of this lecture discussing what precipitates suffering and how suffering for righteousness of Christ is distinct from other kinds of suffering. He writes:
Thus Fox is teaching that suffering, in the Christian sense, is for the sake of bearing a faithful testimony to the Truth that comes from God and Christ, and especially for the righteousness that comes from God and Christ.
Ample supporting quotations in this and other lectures of this series may mislead readers into thinking that Benson’s work is primarily a scholarly endeavor. Although he does present modern Friends with information and analysis of our Society’s beginning, his intent is not confined to presenting his scholarship. Benson had undergone the inward dying to self that results from a keen drive to have something solid on which to stand as one assumes inward maturity, as well as gazes out and navigates life with all its pitfalls. Benson, as many others, had discovered the life that Fox, too, had discovered. For both men, the purpose and direction of the remainder of their lives was set: to communicate and to challenge lost and fearful humanity, floundering in apostasy, to once again come to the great discovery: Christ in whom there is “no shadow, variableness, nor turning” (7:295).
This lecture can be found at the New Foundation Fellowship website at nffquaker.org, under the Resource tab under the listing of Lewis Benson’s writings: eighth lecture.