Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Early Quakers and the Kingdom of God

There has been a suggestion that early Friends made a fundamental distinction between the dominant ways of 'the world' and the ways of God's kingdom.  I have looked at that contention in the light of Gerard Guiton: The Early Quakers and the ‘Kingdom of God’ (Inner Light Books, San Francisco, California 2012).  Unlike Douglas Gwyn (1995) Guiton takes a theological rather than an anarcho-Marxist approach, and more fruitfully analyses Quakers’ use of language.

The peace testimony is less an oppositionist or revolutionary stance as pointing to the permanent need for networks for resolving conflicts.  Quakerism is creative rather than revolutionary.  For Guiton, central to the Quakers’ salvific programme is the Kingdom of God, or a convenant of love, a pentecostal-paracletal movement revived from the days of the Apostles and a ‘pearl of conciliation’. Guiton refers to spiritual maturity, which well describes the religious virtues of creativity and responsiveness.  The spiritual journey goes from pride to humility accompanied, paradoxically, by a sense of the worth of self and others in a community.  Guiton sees a dynamic of inner and external challenge in early Quakerism which is inherent in organisations and, if managed well, is a source of growth.

Guiton systemises themes in early Quakerism as follows:

v  Faith and worship

Ø  A particular view of prayer

Ø  Silence, waiting and listening

Ø  Obedience to the spirit or Christ

Ø  Confidence and trust in God

Ø  Inward security, donning the mantel of a conflicted person who trusts completely in God

Ø  Apocalyptic hope

Ø  Spiritual renewal

v  Theology and Christology

Ø  Concentration on the light of Christ

Ø  Present and future kingdom

Ø  Salvation, wholeness or perfection or maturity in the spirit

Ø  Repentance and suffering

Ø  Revival of the way of Jesus (see Matt 5-7)

v  Practice within and outside the Movement

Ø  Love of each other and neighbours

Ø  Coherence or agreement

Ø  Righteousness and true justice i.e. salvific or ethical justice

Ø  Equality, inclusiveness and the tradition of wisdom (rejects Calvinist doctrine of the elect)

Ø  Good works as social justice

Ø  Plain speech, simplicity and humility

Ø  Prophetic declarations of the peace testimony as a religious commitment

Ø  The Lamb’s War to deliver Love, a non-violent confrontation with empire

Ø  Staunch refusal to be second best i.e. standing firm

Ø  Rudimentary ecumenism, especially in the case of the second generation of Quakers (Penn and Barclay)

These multifarious themes counter the simplistic portrait of Quakers as following the ways of God rather than those of the ways of the world, a portrait which gives rise to the angry and accusatory tone of the followers of Walter Wink, about whom I have blogged separately.  Rather, Quakers offer a life of faith and practice. A study of their history and of religion generally reveals cultural and social institutions which are the rich output of human creative life and society, of our inner and social lives, not separate 'systems' or ring-fenced areas of absolute righteousness.  Quakers meet to praise, give thanks to God and celebrate (QF&P 6.01; last sentence).  Those who think that Quakers meet merely to point the finger at everyone else should ponder our fine tradition of love and truth.

Karen Armstrong: Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (2014) sees a closer tie than I do between religion and violence.  I hope to blog about her book separately.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this review Mark. As you know, we differ on the issue of the Quaker relationship to the world. If you look at the writings of early Friends, it is very hard to avoid the prophetic denunciations of the ways of the world. A good example is James Nayler's tract from 1653 'A Discovery of the First Wisdom from Below and the Second Wisdom from Above' (you can find this in the first volume of the collected works online at the Quaker Heritage Press website. As the title suggests, Nayler makes very stark distinctions about life in the first birth (the ways of the world) and life in the second birth (the ways of God's kingdom). I agree that early Friends drew their lines rather too neatly and and fundamentally and that we are all a mixture of the two influences to varying degrees. A couple of years ago I wrote a review of Guiton's book for the Journal of the Friends Historical Association. They are quite sow at getting the journals published so this may not yet be in print. I will send you a copy by email. Shalom, Stuart.

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