Why not call yourself a christian, like Lucretia?

I keep being surprised that people are surprised to find that christians are not the "straw man" they seem to be expecting. Jesus is reported as starting the saying after all - "Matthew ch7 v21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." I guess it baffles me that so many people amongst Quakers seem to be in the fellowship of the holy spirit, drawn into this church (Quakers) and yet denying that we are christians.

Yes, we aren't necessarily the same kind of christians as some of those centuries-old creeds appear to think are important, or as the straw man in the head of anyone who hasn't done the spiritual work to get through to the god they can honestly worship. I think it's obvious from George Fox's works to the Gospels that we are living a way which is about the truth and cutting back to what is real. Love really exists; it is manifest every day, people do incredible things to feed their children and to help strangers. Praise God, Love is Real! Why is it hard to admit that is following Jesus? To me it comes across as deceit to deny that the experience of unity with Jesus in scripture is the foundation of our church. We need truth in advertising, we can't pretend that Quakers are not christians, the truth is important.

I don't presume that I know the exact limits of that Love, so I am happy to join with all the millions who praise God and save the conversations about what exactly that means for when we need to do creative conflicting together. I don't understand why some of those of you who seem to be in unity with Friends from the way you hang around, seem to also be convinced that the heart of the faith is something alien to you. Do you really not find Jesus in your heart, a model of a man who lived and was faithful to truth unto death, finding resources to transform and heal? Aren't you united in living in the transforming power of truthful love?

I know I've had a lot of encouragement from other Friends to dig deep and understand that we are united. I have benefited such an amount from other christians showing me how scripture can be read from the persepctive of the oppressed - it only make sense to me that way! So I want to pass on to you encouragement to understand that if you love truth and experience the power of nonviolent love and Quaker's stripped-down way of living with God, you are following the way of Jesus and there's no need to feel you aren't.

I guess I sometimes get the impression it's important to some people that you don't mean the same as someone else does when they use the word God or Jesus. I wonder if that's coming from humility and faithfulness to the truth you experience? Maybe it is - but how on earth do you know that other person means something difference? Why not talk to them, united in the body of God, and find how you can light each other to the glory of God?

Lucretia Mott's words quoted recently by Hystery seem to me to be uncontroversial testimony of following Jesus, I know I'm in the same church as her. It puzzles me that there are so many people amongst Quakers who don't acknowledge that this is a church, part of christianity, and that it's fine to be your kind of christian: what is more important is doing what faith requires - following those promptings of God, building peace, feeding the hungry, teaching the impoverished, and raising up the oppressed. We've been given a toolkit of techniques for christian discipine and a manual of scripture to do that job, the most important thing to me is to live it to the glory of God. Enlighten me?

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Comment by James Riemermann on 6th mo. 14, 2009 at 3:41pm
I see your point about the parallel I make, Diane. But no, I mean exactly what I said: Saying "Quakers are Christians" is like saying "Christians are Catholics." Both statements are wrong because there are many, many exceptions. Until fairly recently the Catholic Church was pretty explicit about saying that the only true Christians were Catholics; that non-Catholics calling themselves Christians were pretenders, not the real thing. And many Protestants made the same claim in reverse, that Catholics were pretenders to true Christianity. This sort of nonsense is still taken seriously by all too many Catholics and Protestants.

This is exactly the problem we are seeing here: When someone says, as a universal statement, that Quakers are Christians, they are thereby suggesting that calling yourself a Quaker without being a Christian is pretending. And that statement is both wrong and unfriendly.

On the other hand, there is a big difference between the statement "Quakers are Christians" and the statement "Catholics are Christians." For many centuries Catholicism has intentionally and powerfully bound itself to Christian creeds and catechisms; it has institutionally defined itself around explicit statements of theological belief. You are probably right that there are Catholics who do not consider themselves Christians, but I have never met such a Catholic. The position of the hierarchy would be that, no, if you're not a Christian, you're not a Catholic. Well-known Catholics are sometimes excommunicated for less radical statements of disagreement.

Quakerism, on the other hand, rose out of a strong and intentional rejection of creeds, of "professing." The first Quakers did not only assert that that they did not hold to creeds, but that creeds are bad and harmful and to be resisted. The liberal branch of Quakerism, at least, continues to bind itself to rejecting creeds, and unlike Catholicism has thousands of folks who describe themselves as other than Christian. This rejection of creeds is not mild and secondary but fierce and primary. The point of it is not that Quakers are not Christian--that, too, would be false as a universal statement--but that requiring or focusing on such labels/notions/professions is to be avoided like sin.

Christianity is not my faith tradition. I have never been a Christian, nor have I any desire to be one. Quakerism, of course, has a traditional connection with Christianity that cannot be denied, but that is not my essential point of contact with Quakerism, nor that of many other liberal Quakers.

I must say, there's nothing of humility in saying that everyone should come to the same set of religious beliefs as you.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 6th mo. 14, 2009 at 4:06pm
The Quaker movement rejected creeds because their leadership had glimpsed the reality that creeds were about--and saw that creeds could all too easily become a poor substitute for those actual glimpses.

They were in no doubt whatsoever that coming to know that reality--which some of us now are unable to honestly testify to--was essential to developing our full nature as human beings. They didn't reject creeds from any thought that what they spoke of was either unnecessary or unreal.
Comment by DianeReynolds on 6th mo. 14, 2009 at 5:31pm
from my blog, emerging quaker: I read with interest and appreciation Alice Yaxley's post "Why not call yourself a Christian, like Lucretia Mott?"

I keep thinking about the post and the responses. I love that Alice raised this question and I love her blog.

However, having read the comments, I would frame the question differently. When people responded with the reasons that they did not call themselves Christians, I found myself saying yes, yes, you are right not to call yourself a Christian, you are acting with integrity.

I think the real issue is not whether individuals call themselves Christians, as that is a personal decision about accepting Christ into your heart. The question I would pose is: Why contest calling the Religious Society of Friends a Christian faith? As Alice and others so clearly point out, Quakerism, as a collective , is Christian. The majority of its adherents are self-identified as Christians, and it is historically rooted in Christianity. It was and is an attempt to return to the earliest roots of the Christian faith, before Rome adopted Christianity as the state religion. I have heard that the entire Bible, if lost, could be reconstructed by the writings of the early Quakers. And there is no question in my mind that the early Quakers I have read believed fervently in a risen Christ born of a virgin and a historical Jesus who performed miracles and healings.

That's not to say that every individual within Quakerism is a Christian, any more than every individual within any other Christian denomination is a Christian. But that doesn't mean we don't call those denominations Christian. The community has an identity that transcends any one individual or any one period of time. It is rooted in a history and tradition. When you join that community, you are inevitably joining that history and tradition, regardless of your individual beliefs. I suppose what bothers me is the tendency of some to want to rewrite the history of Quakerism as some sort of universalist faith. It is a uniquely Christian story and that story-not just the "principles" we can cull from it-- matters. Quakerism would not have been Quakerism if Fox and his followers had not been born in the seventeenth century, in England, and were Buddhists rather than Christians. So why not embrace and love the story we have?
Comment by DianeReynolds on 6th mo. 14, 2009 at 5:43pm

I do know Catholics who have lost their faith in God but remain culturally Catholic. I know Jews who are in the same position. Both faiths are foundationally predicated on a belief in a loving and involved Jehovah God, but these people stay identified with the faith despite their lack of faith in a deity. I also understand that the Roman Catholic church distinguishes between corporate beliefs and individual conscience and grants primacy to individual conscience. You can be in moral disagreement with the Catholic church hierarchy and still be a Catholic in the eyes of the church. Also, conversely, you can call yourself a Catholic and behave in a way the vast majority of the world (except for those misinformed about Christianity) would define as extremely non-Christian. For example, a pedophile priest might call himself a Roman Catholic (ie, a Christian) but would not be behaving in a way that the rest of humanity would define as Christian.


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