I will make them and the region around them a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; and they shall be showers of blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. … they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. I will provide for them a splendid vegetation so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations. – Ezekiel 34:26-29 (NRSV)
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Make no mistake: digging into the Bible can lead to social revolution.
Around 1170, Peter Waldo, a wealthy resident of Lyons, France, began studying the scriptures themselves and presenting them in the vernacular, in effect igniting a radical Christian movement known variously as the Waldensians, Albigenses, Lollards, and many other names. This encounter with Scripture led to many testimonies and practices similar to our own Quaker heritage, including pacifism and a refusal to swear oaths, but also convinced many individuals to live communally. But that, in turn, threatened to undermine the worldly powers that be.
In 1198 Pope Innocent III launched the first inquisition “against this malady.” Despite four centuries of intense, severe persecution, however, the movement somehow survived underground to the time of the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, the Anabaptist strand of the Reformation – Mennonite, Amish, Hutterite, and Brethren – claims the Waldensians as their own root.
The Protestant Reformation itself drew its impetus from a close reading of scripture as expounded by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others in the early 1500s.
Our own Quaker outbreak of the mid-1600s arose not to reform the church, but to renew it: George Fox and other Friends boldly proclaimed that Christianity had been living in darkness and apostacy for twelve to fourteen hundred years; their criticisms of the institutional church of their times is relentless and scathing, thoroughly quoting Scripture for its perspective.
The pursuit of justice so passionately proclaimed by the prophets and an awareness of Divine harmony is an unending mission, one we sometimes fulfill much better than at other times.
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But albeit it hath been so intended, yet through the Mercy of our God, there is a Remnant who have not been so affrighted as to flee from, but have drawn near to see and feel, whether there were any Substance in the same, and such have found to their Satisfaction, that the Substance of Life hath lain hid under this dark Reflection, which through the Cloudiness of the Understanding, and Prejudice that hath been in the minds of People against the Principle of Light, they have enviously cast upon the Professors of it, as the Means whereby they convert and turn People to it. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)