Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Here are the quotes from Lewis Benson that deal with how Christian community stands in relation to the Scriptures. I wish I could have quoted the entire works I cite, but space only allows excerpts. However, I encourage all to go and read the original articles by Lewis.
A Universal Christian Faith by Lewis Benson, p. 48
When the church declines or disappears from the historical scene, the problem of renewal is not a problem of restoring a link with some period in the historical past which is regarded as normative, The path of renewal in the day of the new covenant leads directly to Christ who is the new covenant. As men turn to Christ the light, they will be formed into a community — the children of light. Therefore leading people to Christ is the strategy of renewal that belongs to the new covenant. This is a strategy that is as free as possible from the spirit of primitivism. The words, "Jerusalem which is above is your mother," were frequently quoted by Fox, and he believed that the wise seeker for the renewal of the church will look above and not backward for the answers he seeks.
This does not mean that the Bible tells us nothing about Christian community, or that there is any special virtue in being ignorant of church history. It means rather that we must use the Bible, history, and tradition as people who know that the redemptive community of which Christ is the head is rooted and grounded in faith and cannot be separated from faith. It cannot be rediscovered and reconstructed by the most careful biblical exegesis and the most exhaustive knowledge of church history. The Bible is not an encyclopedia of religious knowledge; it is the book which testifies of Christ, that is, leads us to him. He is the substance of that to which the whole Bible bears witness. To use the Bible as if it were itself the eternal word is to mistake the purpose for which it was given. Jesus says, "Come to me of whom the scriptures testify."
The Quaker Vision, by Lewis Benson, pp. 21-22 (the numbers in the text are footnote numbers, which I have not provided)
I have said that George Fox was a Restorationist and he was; but he was a very different kind of Restorationist from the classical type of dissenting Protestant whose principles we have just been reviewing. Fox wanted to see the church restored but he was not concerned about imitating the exact pattern of first century church life. His concern was to restore to the church the power to stand united and not scatter when the time comes to respond in corporate obedience to Christ's commands. The early church was able through faithfulness to overcome the world and not be overcome by the world. It is this world-overcoming church whose validity is not in its form but in power that Fox wanted to see restored.
Fox does not share the view of the typical Restorationist that the New Testament furnishes a pattern of church order which is normative and imitable. ". . . the church in God, is not in imitation, gathered, . . . it is a lie to . . . say, . . . they that are gathered by the form of the letter, is the church of God; for the church is the pillar and ground of truth, gathered by the eternal power that was before letter was". (1655)17 Fox believed that the order of the emerging Quaker community was consistent with the witness of Scripture, but he did not expect that in every particular the Quaker community would be identical with the scriptural account of the early church. He puts his position most plainly and boldly when he asserts: "And if there was no scripture for our men's and women's meetings, Christ is sufficient . . . he is our rock and foundation to build upon".18
Although Fox rejects the view that the description of the early church in the New Testament is to be imitated by all Christians in all ages, his view of the nature of Christian community is firmly grounded on Biblical presuppositions. He understands that the twofold purpose of the Old Covenant was to establish righteousness and to gather a holy people to the holy God. The legalism and institutionalism of the Old Covenant prevented these objectives from being realized, but Jeremiah foresaw that there was to be a New Covenant in which there would be righteousness without legalism and a holy people without institutionalism. The writers of the New Testament proclaim that the time of the New Covenant has begun. What the Old Covenant began the New Covenant was given to complete. The church therefore is the Israel of God extended into a new dimension. Paul says, "if ye are Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise"' And Fox says:
The Quakers are the seed of Abraham . .. in which all nations are blest and (of) the faith of Abraham and never came from the several Protestants nor Papists neither from their evil root nor stock but from the Root of David and the stem of Jesse and from the Light of Christ Jesus. As we believe in the Light as Christ commands and . . . become children of the Light so we are out of all their sects for the Light was never of them.""
In Fox's view the church of the New Covenant must be a holy people established in righteousness. This holy people, which is the true Israel, is only made possible through the continuing presence of Christ in the midst of his church.
Rediscovering the Teachings of George Fox: A Series of 10 Lectures... by Lewis Benson, pp. 22-23
In 1658, Fox told a General Yearly Meeting of Friends that “In this night of apostasy, the pure religion and worship in Spirit … were lost; but now they came to be set up again by Christ Jesus, his messengers and ministers of the gospel, as in apostles’ days. For as Christ sent his disciples to go and preach the gospel in all the world … so now again, the everlasting gospel must be preached to all nations, … that they may come into the pure religion, to worship God in Spirit and in truth, that they may know Christ Jesus, their way to God” (BI:420-421). In a “Warning to the Inhabitants of the City of Hamburg,” written in 1677 from Amsterdam, he wrote:
So all the children of the new covenant, that walk in the new and living way, hear Christ their Prophet, that God has raised up, and anointed to be their Teacher and Priest. So now, God doth speak to his people by his Son, as he did in the apostles’ days. The Lord is come to teach his people himself … and to bring them off all the world’s worships, to worship God in Spirit and truth, which Christ set up above sixteen hundred years since (BII:296).
In the Old Covenant there was a prescribed way of worship, and the Old Testament has much to say about the temple, priests, and cultus of this worship. The New Testament has little to say by way of defining worship in the New Covenant. Jesus says it is not to be temple worship, and that the new worship which God seeks is “in spirit and truth.” But the new practice of Christian worship in the New Testament does not furnish a single definitive, normative pattern of worship for the guidance of the church in future ages. Fox maintained that those who hear and receive the everlasting gospel are constrained to gather together in the name of Jesus to feel his living presence in all his offices. Thus the worship that belongs to the New Covenant is revealed and restored through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the gospel experience. One of the phrases that Fox often used when speaking of the Quaker community was “children of the New Covenant” and he says that the children of the New Covenant can be known and recognized because they gather in the name of Jesus and come to know him in all his offices. In “an epistle to be read amongst Friends” (1679) he wrote:
…[A]ll the children of the new covenant do gather together in the name of Christ Jesus … And being gathered in the name of Jesus, he is in the midst of them the Prince of life and peace, and captain of salvation, and a prophet to open the book of conscience, and the book of the law, and [the] prophets, and [the] gospel, … and a bishop to oversee them, and a heavenly shepherd to feed them in his heavenly pasture of life, and a heavenly King to rule in their hearts (8:166).
If the “gospel fellowship” or “children of the New Covenant” are those who meet or gather “in the name of Jesus,” then it is of prime importance to have a clear understanding of what it means to “meet in the name of Jesus.” There must be many millions of Christians who profess that when they practice Christian worship they are meeting in the name of Jesus. Are all these professing Christians “children of the New Covenant” and are they all gathered into the fellowship of the gospel and into gospel worship? It seems reasonable to infer that when Fox speaks of meeting in the name of Jesus, he means that we must meet to feel the presence of the living Christ in our midst as a king to rule over us, a prophet to open to us, a priest to intercede for us, a shepherd to feed us, a bishop to oversee us. It follows that, in Fox’s view, if we do not gather together to feel the living presence of Christ in our midst in all his offices, then we are not meeting in the name of Jesus.” For Fox, meeting in the name of Jesus has a very definite content, and it has to do with the gospel experience, the experience of Christ as present, and present in a functioning way. I have found 22 references where Fox makes it clear that “meeting in the name” involves such a definite experience.
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