On Gospel Order
When many of us affiliated with the Religious Society of Friends, we were informed that the basis of Quakerism is “that there is that of God in each of us.” Is it any wonder, therefore, that we assumed that natural goodness pervaded our inner souls? That is why we assumed that the power of evil, Satin himself, could not influence us even though during the last century we witnessed two world wars in addition to the Korean and Vietnam:place>:country-region> conflicts. We assumed, nonetheless, that George Fox and other early Friends preached the notion that concept of that of God within us was central to early Friends’ vision.
Fortunately, 30 years ago - this is the twentieth year of his death, I heard a man, Lewis Benson, who challenged this misconception of early Quaker writing and vocal ministry. Because he could not accept the premise that our early ministers limited our society to just enunciating a limited revelation of God’s Kingdom, he undertook the study of the works of George Fox and his contemporaries. Lewis could not imagine how Quakers, in the seventeenth century, could attract so many adherents with a narrow vision.
And, Yes, Lewis, after much arduous reading and participation in many workshops, discerned that there is much more to Gospel Order than our individual connection to God. For example, George Fox emphasized in his writings that God witnesses to each of our souls informing us what is right and what is wrong. We need to listen prayerfully, in other words, to what God, in Christ is revealing, as well as what he revealed to other, earlier generations, if we aspire to be disciples of the beloved God.
Fox, too, struggled to discover the meaning and implications of Order. He was nurtured by a peasant family who were sincere Christians. As a youngster, he attended church service (so called) where the pastor’s sermon was the centerpiece. He heard scripture read without much discernment. This did not satisfy his yearning for God’s presence, let alone Church order.
Small wonder Fox ceased attending formal church services and sought help from so called independent ministers. They proved unhelpfull, also. Then this itinerant minister visited the woods with the Bible at his side. One day, he heard the voice of God proclaiming “that there is one - even Christ Jesus - who [could] [and did] speak to [his] condition.” His heart leaped with Joy because, like the apostle Paul, he found Jesus present and leading him.
Fox had found his True teacher, who is still teaching us today; that is, if we are obedient. Christ taught him as He taught the prophet Isaiah with these ringing words, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” Yes, Christ opened the scriptures to George Fox after a period of true worship. Today, we also need to “wait upon the Lord” for love, grace, truth and power if we wish to be ordered in Christ’s gospel. Like Fox, we need to discover that we are a poor, desperate people in dire need of Jesus’ guidance.
This same Christ Jesus revealed to George Fox that the Lord was not speaking merely to him, but to all humanity. Yet George needed further seasoning before undertaking the task of preaching this message to the world. That is why, after Fox climbed Pendle Hill, that God afforded him a vision of the Shepherd caring for his flock. Then the Lord impressed upon Fox the necessity of bringing the people to the Government of
Christ Jesus before he restored Gospel Order which was lost soon after the demise of the apostles. And it took George Fox and his friends over twenty years until God established Gospel Order among Friends, Friends of Jesus, that is.
At that time, Fox was in a true relationship with Christ. This magnificent servant of God understood the functions of Christ in our midst through the work of the Holy Spirit. In his famous sermon at Firbank Fell, Fox elucidated that Christ is the heavenly prophet who reveals God’s Truth. In addition, He is the Shepherd who consoles us, He is the King who eliminates the evil within, He is our rock, our enabler and our true peace. What Fox preached is that Jesus, in love and power, serves us in our desire for righteousness.
Fox alone could not travel enough to reveal his message to all people. God, therefore, established a Meeting of Ministers to undertake the necessary travel to bring people to Christ and leave them there for Jesus to reign.
Because Friends began functioning under the Gospel in Friendship with Jesus, God initiated Gospel Order, establishing Monthly and Quarterly Meetings to do the work of Christ Jesus. As long as they were faithfull, Friends know that Jesus ruled the meetings that enacted the business of Friends. They waited on Him for divine guidance.
While they waited on the Lord with great anticipation, they understood that Christ overcame their sinfullness. Of course, these loyal members of the body of Christ experienced the temptation of sinfullness. At that time as well as today, hireling preachers proclaimed - and they are still proclaiming - that sin will pervade our lives no matter the extent of our faithfullness. Early Friends rejected this pernicious assumption because our beloved Savior not only forgave them for past disobedience but eliminated their capacity to be estranged from God. This is why first generation Friends relied on the Lord for His insights, not on their own.
That is why the clerks did not attempt to impose their will on the meeting but merely recorded decisions of the Lord which the meeting, usually after some labor, recognized as divinely inspired.
Let us understand that there were Quaker worship groups before the Lord initiated Gospel Order among Friends which, among other activities, fed the economically deprived as well as supporting able ministers who were laying the foundation for Christ’s eldership.
Once that Foundation (Christ Jesus present in the midst) was received by devout Friends, God initiated Monthly and Quarterly Meetings as well as British Yearly Meeting to fulfill the endeavors revealed by our living Lord, Christ Jesus.
Early on, meetings did considerable work overcoming conflicts among Friends. They did recognize Jesus’ admonition for Friends to settle conflicts by themselves before involving the Church Body. If they could not hear God clearly, these Friends in unity with Jesus invited Friends from the Quarterly Meeting to welcome the Lord’s input together to discern true justice. Above all, Friends eventually recognized the calling to remain faithfull to Christ’s order, and preserved their unity in God.
Because Fox and his contemporaries adhered to Gospel order, they recognized that the Peace testimony as proclaimed by Peter as well as Fox belonged to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus proclaimed that we are required by the Lord to love our enemies, if we are to follow Jesus. Jesus does not speak of immediate success in such obedience. But our peace testimony admonishes us to listen to Christ. Jesus, moreover, teaches his disciples to “turn the other cheek” when threatened and not, of course, to resort to violence. These Friends, because they were in the power of Christ, were willing to accept the physical as well as mental abuse for Christ’s sake.
Christ also taught His English Friend s to forgive those who afflicted harm on them. Forgiveness is an essence of God’s Truth and not a political weapon. We forgive because that is God’s teaching to his followers, which early Friends knew to be true. It is not [and] cannot be an instrument of manipulation. That would be contrary to the Lord.
- Arthur Berk