Quakers understood the Word of God to be Christ, rather than the Bible

This insight, drawn largely from the opening of the Gospel of John, is one of the central differences between Friends and most Protestants, especially those of the Calvinist strands. Sometimes people will use “the Living Word” to distinguish between Jesus and Scripture, though I usually sense their usage soon becomes blurred.

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At the very end of the big book

The final chapter of the New Testament returns to an expression of Seed – in a multiplicity of varieties, at that:

and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits … and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse … Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life …

In a flash, the Bible leaps from the Garden of Eden to the end of Revelation through the imagery of two trees and their fruit filled with seeds.


A refreshing take

Peterson Toscano is a remarkable Bible scholar, one who frequently opens a passage in a new way to me. Let’s say I quote him a lot. But he’s also, well, as he’s described it, a “quirky, queer, Quaker performing artist and comic” and environmental and social justice activist and a lot more. He adapts readily to any audience, large or small, young or old, indoors or out. Oh, and he is incredibly funny, even when dissecting a Biblical passage. I always find him quite refreshing.

Here he is in the Gonic meetinghouse in Rochester, New Hampshire.

Peterson as himself …


… and as Marvin. Some of his characters, though, as so convincing I can’t see Peterson at all.

The call of freedom

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges — the forerunner of America’s Bill of Rights — the colonial Assembly of Pennsylvania approved the purchase of a great bell for the statehouse, which is today known as Independence Hall.

In 1751, Quakers still formed the majority of the Assembly, and its speaker chose the inscription from Leviticus 25:10, which begins “Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land” in its King James translation.

The bell itself was widely known as the Great Quaker Bell until July 8, 1776, when it was rung to celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and became known as the Liberty Bell.

Here is Everett Fox’s translation of the text:

You are to hallow the year, the fiftieth year,

proclaiming freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants;

it shall be a Homebringing for you,

you are to return, each-man to his holding,

each-man to his clan you are to return.

This, the jubilee year, introduces a revolutionary concept of redistributing all the land’s wealth every 50 years. Likewise, Penn’s Charter was a revolutionary recognition of the rights of individual conscience. And the event celebrated on this day honors a third revolution in human society. All, to be hallowed.

Returning to the Source

My dear friend, never follow a bad example, but keep following a good one; whoever does what is right is from God, but no one who does what is wrong has ever seen God. – 3 John: 11


Once again, we are pointed toward the Source and reminded of our need to walk it that Light.


Listen to Elizabeth Bathurst:

  • Thus having written my Experience of the Quakers Principle, I shall write something to detect the erroneous and false Opinion, that is got up in the Minds of many, concerning the Way and Means by which People come to believe therein.
  • But since I find it was more by Education and Tradition, than any certain Evidence I could have of the Truth of that Religion, I find myself obliged to detect those Errors in publick, which I have heard, divers of them, cast upon the People called Quakers in private, charitably judging they speak not so much against them out of Ill-will, as Ignorance of, and Unacquaintance with.
  • For if a Man abide not in me (saith Christ) he is cast forth as a Branch, and is withered, John xv. 6. and in Vers. 10. he tells them, If ye keep my Commandments, ye shall abide in my Love, even as I have kept my Father’s Commandments, and abide in his Love. Thereby signifying, that if we keep not his Commandments, neither shall we abide in his Love; so then if we abide not in that which keeps us in the Love of God, we cannot abide in God, for God is Love.
  • For that in the Conscience which checks for Sin, and excites to Holiness, is the Voice of the Son of God, by whom in these last Days, the Father speaketh unto us: O! be ye persuaded to hearken diligently unto him; Hear, and your Souls shall live; and I will make an everlasting Covenant with you (saith the Lord) even the sure Mercies of David.

Beyond the hedge

As I said at the time:

As a technical matter, all churches are “denominational,” even if it’s only unto themselves.

Apart from that, I’m glad thee has responded to the invitations – some Friends to the contrary, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying fellowship, even fun and games. (Don’t tell thy father, but the Mennonites up here round me up and drag me along to the Orioles baseball games. Frank says they’ll never get him to go, but I wouldn’t put any money on that – even if it weren’t against our OYM Discipline.) Games kept in perspective can help keep our minds and hearts lively (and we’ve said that in our responses to the queries, too!) and at Winona in the wintertime, when we have our Meetings for Business in members’ homes, we always end the evening with board games. Imagine being a newspaper editor and getting skunked at word games by a bunch of otherwise quiet farmers! Uh . . . no, Becky, please don’t get the Scrabble out in preparation for my next visit . . . no, Becky . . . Becky? Oh, well . . . My cousins used to do pretty well in the Bible Bowls, too – different churches would pit teams against each other, to see who could most promptly and correctly identify certain passages, characters, places, etc. Sarah could wipe them all out, if Rockingham Monthly Meeting should decide to take on all comers. I nominate Faye to coach.

Voices of proclamation

Just listen to Elizabeth Bathurst (1655?-1685):


John the Evangelist calls him the true Light that lighteth every Man that cometh into the World, John i. 9. The other John, or John the Divine, saith, This is he which was, and is, and is to come, Rev. i. 8. And now since he is come to a Remnant, and they have believed in his Light as manifest in them, they are not ashamed to confess that in the Mind, which gives a Discovery of Sin, to be the Power of God, the Appearance of Jesus, and that the Light of the Lamb, which the Nations of them that are saved must and shall walk for ever in, according to Rev. xxi. 23, 24. Neither is this any new Doctrine, Opinion or Principle, other than that which Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with all the Holy Patriarchs of old, were led and guided by, in Things relating both to Faith, Life and Worship: For what else could be a Rule unto them in Matters of Salvation but this Divine Principle, when as they had no written Laws nor Ordinances amongst them? Which Principle is Christ, the Light and Leader of People in all Ages of the World, who is one in all, never was divided, though variously described; being the same, who by his Light sheweth unto the Wicked, and condemns them for the Vanity of their Thoughts; who also by the same Spirit comforts and consolates his Peoples Hearts, that so as many as whose Minds are turned to this Light of Jesus, and stayed in it, though it be but small in its first Appearance, yet shall they see a Growth and Increase of it.

Terms of human titles

I have some trouble with the idea of addressing anyone as “Pastor So-and-so,” much less “The Reverend.” To me, these expressions fall under those Jesus banished in Matthew 23:8-12. Ditto for addressing Ph.D’s as “Doctor So-and-so.” (One radio preacher the other day: “People ask why I don’t use ‘Dr. Howard’ [or whatever] or even ‘the Rev. Dr. Howard.’ Know what I tell them? ‘I’m not even a nurse, much less a doctor.’” Amen.) And a definite no-no for any priest, seeking the honorary “Father.” Traditionally, Friends didn’t even use “Mr.” and “Mrs.” – and employed Doctor only in a professional relationship with a physician or dentist. Finding ways around these are not always easy, though. Care to really miff some puffy profs? (Might be healthy for them, though.)

Of the living omnipotent Power

Just listen to Elizabeth Bathurst (1655?-1685):


Thus it appears, that the Light of Jesus in the Conscience is no natural insufficient Thing, as some have sought to render it, being something of God placed in every Man, to witness against all Sin, convincing and reproving for that which is Evil; contrariwise, prompting, exciting and enclining to that which is good: So that as many as yield to the Motives of it, it is sufficient, not only to condemn and destroy, but also to justify and save; being a Measure of the living omnipotent Power of that One Law-giver, who is able to save, as well as to destroy, see James iv. 12. which Power is Christ, as saith the Apostle, 1 Cor. i. 23, 24. We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a Stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks Foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God: Who, as he was once manifest in the Flesh, so now is he manifest in the Spirit, to be that Covenant of Light, which the Father promised by the Mouth of his Holy Prophet, Isa. xlii. 6. And this Light, Power and Arm is, in measure, extended and reached forth, at one Time or other, unto all People, for the gathering unto him, in whom the Election stands; that so as many as obey his Call, in yielding themselves to be gathered by this gathering Arm, may make their Election, and consequently, their Salvation sure in him: For this is he who would have gathered Jerusalem, and saved her from that Ruin and Destruction which afterwards came upon her, because she knew not the Time of her Visitation: ‘Tis the very same Jesus and no other, whom we believe in for our Saviour, who by his spiritual Appearance in the Hearts of the Children of Men, gives Light, gives Life, gives Power and Victory over Sin, to as many as follow the Leadings and Guidance of this immaculate Lamb) for ’tis given to the Lamb and his Followers to overcome; and whoso overcometh, shall sit down with the Lamb in his Throne, and live and reign with him for evermore: Even the same which was with his Church in the Wilderness, being that spiritual Rock that followed them, of which they drank by the Way, and were refreshed in him, who is the Rock of Ages, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the first and the last; the Ancient of Days; whose Dominion is an everlasting Dominion, which shall not pass away, and his Kingdom that which shall not be destroyed; whose Goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting: For he is the blessed and only Potentate, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who only hath Immortality and eternal Life; to whom be Glory and Honour, Dominion and Power, henceforth and for ever.

Here now you have a Description, and that in Scripture Dialect, concerning the Principle of our Faith; something I have writ as to the Nature of it, which, though at first it causeth Grief, and brings in Sorrow upon the Soul, yet doth this Sorrow work Repentance, never to be repented of; after which cometh reviving: So that it was truly said, tho’ Weeping may endure for a Night, yet Joycometh in the Morning; for they that sow in Tears shall reap in Joy; he that goeth forth weeping, bearing precious Seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his Sheaves with him. And such shall truly say, In the Lord have we Righteousness and Strength; for in the Lord shall all the Seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory (in him) not in Wisdom, Wealth, nor Strength, but in this, that they know him to be the Lord, who exerciseth Loving-kindness, Judgment and Righteousness in the Earth, as saith the Prophets. And this is he whom we acknowledge to be our Judge and Law-giver; yea, he is our King, and he will save us: For to this End he hath appeared by his Light in our Hearts, and for this End doth he appear in the Hearts of all Men, that as many as bow down to the Measure of his Appearance in them, may thereby see and be enabled to forsake their Ways and Doings, which have not been good, whereby they may be saved from Sin; and by the same saving Power and Spirit in their Hearts, come to be led into the Way of all Truth, which Way of Truth is Christ, our Mediator and Intercessor with the Father, through whom Man comes to be accepted of God, as he cometh into him, in whom alone the Father is well pleased: For ’tis no other Jesus, concerning whom I write, but the same that was born of the Virgin, even the Lord’s Christ, who hath made himself known unto his Servants by such peculiar Names as suited the particular Circumstances of their Souls; and according to their several Experiences of him, so they reported concerning him, Isaiah describes him to be as the Shadow of a great Rock in a weary Land, a Resuge from Heat, a Cover from Rain and from Storms, Chap. iv. Vers. 6. and Chap. xxxii. Vers. 2. Again, he speaks of his being to his People, as a Place of broad Rivers and Streams, Chap. xxxiii. Vers. 21. David calls him the Shepherd of Israel, which leadeth Joseph like a Flock, Psal. lxxx. 1. He also calls him the Watchman of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, Psal. cxxi. 4. Paul speaks of his being our High-Priest, yea, a Priest for ever, after the Order of Melchizedeck, Heb. v. 6. And likewise calls him the Minister of the Sanctuary, and of the true Tabernacle which God hath pitched, Chap. viii. 2.

Addressing the queries and advices

Let us leap ahead briefly to the exercise of queries and advices, which are such an integral part of our Quaker discipline. (Keep in mind, too, that what we refer to as our Book of Faith and Practice was previously known as our Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline, a term some other Yearly Meetings continue to use.) An assiduous application of queries and advices led to The Reformation of American Quakerism, 1748-1783 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), which Jack D. Marietta argues preserved the integrity of Friends’ testimonies but at the expense of closing our ranks, into sect rather than expanding as a denomination. This sect/denomination dichotomy, incidentally, arises from Max Weber’s sociological model, which unlike the popular usage does not have a negative connotation. It merely refers to the ways in which religious groups organize themselves. Donald B. Kraybill and Donald R. Fitzkee, both of the Church of the Brethren, write: “Sects often emerge as a protest movement within a larger religious body in a quest to renew the original vision of the group’s religious heritage. Sectarian groups typically establish exclusive membership requirements, reject hierarchial levels of authority, emphasize voluntary membership, protest dominant social values, disdain professionally trained leadership, encourage high levels of lay involvement, prefer small-scale organization, and censure deviant members. The list of sectarian traits varies by theorist. … Observers of the so-called ‘sect cycle’ have noted that over time sectarian religious groups tend to ‘grow up’ organizationally and become sects.” This sectarian process, applied to the Society of Friends, encouraged an exercise of applying the queries stringently; without it, the peace testimony would have no doubt fallen in the Revolutionary War and our stand against slavery likely would have not taken shape. And yet, the very process of strengthening our group discipline and unique identity may have set the stage for calcification that made the separations and splinterings of the next century inevitable. A central question for us today, then, is what are our testimonies in this age – and how strongly do we hold them?