Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Around 26 years after a spiritual impulse, that changed the very nature of their conscious and conscience, manifested within a group of individuals (who called themselves Children of Light) in England a disunity happened among them over whether there was a role for the establishment of outward doctrine, tradition, and institutional structure. Some in the gathering affirmed a role and others in the gathering did not.
It is compelling that for at least around 30 years there existed a gathering of individuals who did not recognize outwards forms and institutional structure as the foundation of their spiritual life. This gathering focused literally and exclusively on the spiritual impulse in their conscious and conscious as the only Rule, Principle, and Doctrine.
And, even more compelling, the fruit of this focus on the impulse within each of them was a patient and long-suffering Spirit that embraced differences in conviction and conscience. It was not that they were unwilling to express and suffer through their differences, it was that the impulse within them was stronger than the differences without them and it was this impulse that marked and distinguished them from Protestantism and Catholicism.
William Rogers wrote a very powerful book entitled "The Christian Quaker Distinguished From the Apostate and Innovator in Five Parts , Wherein Religious Differences Amongst the People Termed in Derision Quakers, are Treated on." His book is full of deep and profound treasures revealing the nature of the experience these founding Friends shared and united around for almost three decades. It is that experience that I wish to highlight in the upcoming months using Roger's words. Here is a mere taste of that which was the distinguishing experience that Marked the Children of Light. This distinguishing mark ... this impulse is still alive today and many of us have heard to call to speak it to the children of men and women. They were lead out of dependency upon all outward forms, insitutions, and persons, under the power of Christ's inward impulse lighting and teaching their conscious and conscience directly and with no mediation and many of them were unwilling to be lead back into that which God had lead them out of.
William Rogers wrote back in 1680:
I doubt not but there are many who are ready to conclude, That an Universal Unity ought to be established in the Churches, by the Assistance of outward Instruments; that as we are Members of one Body, so we may not only be one in Faith, one in Doctrine, but also one in Practice, with relation to Discipline, Order and Outward Forms of Government.
My soul should rejoice to see that Day, wherein we might all be so led by the appearance of Christ’s Spirit in us, under his Government, which ought to be exalted over all, as that this Oneness might thereby be witnessed amongst all the Families of God’s People at this Day. But since it is so with the Church of God at this day, as it was with the Church in the Primitive Days, viz. that there are diversities of Administrations, and diversities of Gifts and Operations in the Body, and through the same Spirit; it behooves every one diligently to watch, that we Judge not one another by reason of these differing exercises; as if these things consisted not with the Unity of the Body.
And since also it is so, that amongst the primitive Believers there were such as practices Circumcision, some made Conscience of keeping a Day, and some that Abstained from eating flesh, and others that did not, and yet a Christian – Liberty and Forbearance was so exercised, as that they were not to be Judging one another about these things, and that we find not that these differing exercises in a Christian – Liberty, did subject any of those Believers exercised therein to the Censure of being out of the Unity of the Body; I therefore do reasonably conclude, that the infallible Mark, whereby any member of the Body is known to be in true Unity with the Body, doth not consist in Profession of Belief of certain Principles and Doctrines, and Practices depending thereon; nor in Obedience to the Measures of others; but in the Circumcision of the heart, and Answer of a good Conscience toward God, and that every Member keeps his own order, Office and Place in the Body, through his Obedience to the Measure and Gift of Grace in himself, which he hath received from God to Profit withal. The most infallible mark and token of a Member in the true Unity with the Body of Christ, is an inward invisible mark that cannot be stamped on any, but by the impression of God’s Power on the heart; and therefore is it, that the outward endeavors of all such Christian Professors, as have been and are in the Apostasy, instead of attaining to an Heavenly Union in the Spirit, have at most but arrived to an Outward Unity, consisting in their Outward Conformities and Uniformities, according to the Commands, Traditions, Decrees, or Examples of Men.
When in the Ages and Generations past, the Apostasy first entered as a Flood, I am persuaded, that all who have known the Truth, and have had the Consideration and true Sense thereof upon their Spirits, do conclude, that the Cause thereof sprang through an Inward Departure from the Anointing in themselves (Obedience whereunto according to the respective Measures of Grace given of God, and received by each Member, was a manifestation of that wherein the Unity of the Body stands) and as the Apostasy entered, no doubt but the Traditions and Rudiments of Men came to be exalted; against which the Apostle Paul cautioned the Colossians, saying, Col. 2.8. Beware lest there be any that spoil you through Traditions of Men, according to the Rudiments of the World, and not after Christ; but yet notwithstanding, I Question, whether any have been greater Pretenders of Unity, than those who have been exalting the Traditions of Men; and shall leave it to the Judicious Reader to consider, whether a sufficient Evidence hereof appears not in divers Apostatized Churches professing Christianity, wherein is established by Outward means what is to be Believed, and what is to be practiced; and yet doubtless as remote from the Unity, wherein the Fellowship of the Saints in Light doth consist, as the East is from the West, and so in their Unity (being but Outward) have found no more acceptance with the Lord, that the Unworthy Eaters did, whilst they discerned not the Lord’s Body.
Many of God’s People yet in the Body are Witnesses that, one part of the Testimony which accompanied the Servants of the Lord in those latter Days was against Outward Forms, Traditions, Prescriptions, Decrees, Ordinances of Men, with relation to Matters Spiritual and Divine, and wherein the Consciences of God’s People might be concerned, as being those Rudiments of the World, and of which he hath determined to gather his People (for to the Children of Light they appeared more agreeable to the Nature, and Tenor of the First Covenant than the Second) and not only so, but to establish his Church on the Rock Christ, that so, as they received him, they might walk in him, according to their respective Measures of Grace given them of God to profit withal, and which, as the Apostle declared, was sufficient for them.
Now, Inasmuch as the Testimony of Truth hath been, that what God leads out of, he rarely leads into again; I appeal to God’s Witness in all Consciences, whether Indispensable Establishment of Outward Orders, Prescriptions, and Decrees for the Members of the Church of Christ to walk by, and submit unto, at this Day, and wherein the Liberty of their Consciences may be invaded (of which my meaning is no other Liberty than what the Gospel allows) doth not seem to exalt that sort of Unity, wherein the Fellowship of the Saints in Light doth not consist, and so consequently may become the means to draw the Minds of God’s People outward, and so cause them to look at Outward things (under the notions of Things established in the Church) more than to the Anointing in themselves; lest God’s Witness in every Conscience Judge.
From: The Christian Quaker - By: William Rogers - Part 3 pgs. 82-85 - Published 1680