Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
I've recently been doing a lot of reading regarding the very early Quaker view of the "parousia" (or second coming) and how it provided the original rationale for rejecting ritual sacraments or ordinances - the Mass, Eucharist, or Lord's Supper in particular. It's interesting that by the second generation of Quakers (Barclay etc.) Friends had already pretty much dropped their claim that such ordinances were anachronistic (Paul had said the meal was "to proclaim the Lord's death till He comes", but Christ had truly come already in their individual and corporate experience). That generation began rather to focus on the superiority of the spiritual over the "carnal" and on the New Covenant emphasis on real substance over symbolic or sacramental shadows. Fox's original insight that the eucharist was no longer valid since Christ's coming had already happened was set aside.
The remarkable insight given to Fox and his contemporaries concerning the reality of Christ's real presence (parousia) was such a precious gift, but it became sadly neglected, perhaps because it just seemed too fantastic and counter-creedal a claim to ask the Christian world to accept. But the foundational basis for keeping the sacraments among Christians has remained the belief that the parousia has not yet come. Christ's Kingdom, although perhaps present in some very limited way, is still primarily a hope for the future and will require a catastrophic physical change in "the heavens and the earth." The sacraments are necessary because we are living in the "meantime" or the "already, and not yet."
It's interesting that in the last 20-30 years preterist students of biblical eschatology have essentially uncovered the truth that the parousia was an event expected by the apostles (based on the promises of Jesus Himself) in their own generation, and which did in fact happen. Preterist interpreters rightly see that the events surrounding the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple were the historical fulfilment of this expectation. They also recognize that this event constituted a covenantal change which is symbolically pictured in scripture as the establishing of "a new heavens and earth." Unfortunately most preterists have failed to see what Fox saw about the powerful spiritual reality of Christ's "presence" fulfilling the expectation of His coming.
Many respected biblical scholars believe that John's gospel actually provides the rationale for a spiritual second coming in the "paraclete" sayings of Jesus' farewell discourse (in John chapters 14 -17). They point out that the same characteristics frequently mentioned in John's gospel (which showed Jesus to be "the Prophet like Moses") are attributed to the Paraclete by Jesus. There's much more to the paraclete sayings than a general prediction about the Holy Spirit and the coming outpouring at Pentecost. Reading carefully through John 14 in particular makes it clear that Jesus was identifying himself in a unique way with the Paraclete, and His promise to come again (to receive His people to Himself and to dwell together with them) is almost certainly being conjoined with the coming of the Paraclete. These paraclete sayings were John's somewhat mystical way of teaching about the meaning of parousia, while the earlier Synoptics had used Jewish apocalyptic imagery (Hebrew hyperbolic judgment language) which focused more on the coming historical judgment of Jerusalem and the Temple. I think preterist historical eschatology, current Johannine scholarship, and Fox's unique spiritual insight into the New Covenant presence of Christ with His people make a powerful and convincing case for a rich, contemporary Christ-centered Quaker faith and life.