Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Ellis has made a comment on my latest post, posing three important questions. He has given me permission to include the full text of his comment here. In this post, I’ll attempt to address those questions. Hopefully this will be helpful to other readers as well. Here is his comment:
Comment by Ellis Hein
You stated: "Preterism gives powerful biblical support to some of Fox’s most controversial ideas." I am coming from a background where, upon reading Fox, I could exclaim, "Now this makes sense." So I am at a loss to grasp what you see as Fox's "most controversial ideas." Can you give examples?
Again you state: "In my last post I pointed out that he viewed the time of the Revelation to John as coinciding with the coming of Christ (as do preterists)." I have been looking for this in previous postings and have not been able to come up with it. I must be reading over it and missing it. Can you give examples from Fox that point to Fox viewing the timing of the Revelation to John coinciding with the coming of Christ?
And, you stated: " Fox’s theology drew heavily on John’s gospel, just as it did the book of Revelation." Here I want to point out that Fox's understanding of Scripture was based upon openings he received from Christ rather than being the result of careful study. I'll try to provide a few quotes that I hope will make the point plain.
I had great openings concerning the things written in the Revelations ; and when I spoke of them,the priests and professors would say, that was a sealed book, and would have kept me out of it. But I told them, Christ could open the seals, and that they were the nearest thing to us; for the epistles were written to the saints that lived in former ages, but the Revelations were written of things to come. (vol. 1, p. 72)
When I had openings they answered one another, and answered the scriptures; for I had great openings of the scriptures... (vol. 1, p. 73)
These things I did not see by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter; but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his immediate spirit and power, as did the holy men of God by whom the holy scriptures were written. Yet I had no slight esteem of the holy scriptures, they were very precious to me ; for I was in that spirit by which they were given forth ; and what the Lord opened in me, I afterwards found was agreeable to them. (p. 89)
I'll look forward to your answers and return comments.
I’ll answer your questions, to the best of my ability, in reverse order:
First, I understand very well that Fox’s insights were due to his prophetic openings, and they didn’t spring from a process of Bible interpretation or exegetical analysis. Nor were they the result of consultation with biblical scholars and theologians. This is true of the biblical prophets as well… Fox’s use of the Bible was a lot like the way the Psalmists used the books of Moses, or the way Paul and Peter applied the Old Testament scriptures in their teaching. From their example we can see that true prophets build and expand on each other, but they never contradict each other when understood contextually.
Whenever I remark that Fox drew on particular biblical material I don't mean to imply that he was interpreting it in a systematic way or approaching it according to a set of hermeneutical rules. Fox was a remarkably gifted man of God. He was (in my opinion) a true prophet who drew on scripture through prophetic inspiration, not with human techniques of biblical analysis, and he did so in a very rich, creative and perceptive way.
However, the point I’m trying to make is this: just as all the biblical prophets can be understood, affirmed, and harmonized by studying and comparing their messages contextually (seeing their consistency and their common, cumulative truth) so we should be able to study Fox and find that same underlying consistency and commonality with the biblical writers. This is because the same Holy Spirit was at work in all of them; we should be able to see how all the prophets dovetail together when taken seriously within their own contexts. The fact that these prophetic openings (both those of the biblical prophets and of Fox) were given in supernatural power does not nullify the importance, or the validity, of trying to make the best sense possible of them with good scholarship and sound methods of contextual study.
It may be difficult for you to see the value in such a process, Ellis, because you’re already a convinced and deeply committed follower of George Fox. But people who are from entirely other backgrounds and contexts (like myself) cannot reasonably be expected to embrace Fox as a legitimate prophetic figure until they’ve been able to see how his teaching is consistent with a rational, systematic approach to biblical interpretation. This approach does not detract in any way from Fox’s message or from the unique value of his prophetic gift (any more than it would from that of the biblical prophets). It simply puts Fox and his message in a context that is reasonable, understandable and accessible to people in the wider world. It is a way of bringing them the message in a language that is comprehensible to them, thus making it possible for the Spirit to eventually lead them to a place of embracing it. This is my burden, and I believe it was also Lewis Benson’s burden. Benson often approvingly quoted select nuggets of truth from contemporary theologians and scholars in order to highlight the remarkable insights that Fox was given prophetically.
To answer your second question, you must read carefully what Fox is saying in the passage I quoted in my fourth post to see its significance, giving special attention to the biblical material he uses. The passage is from Fox’s Gospel Truths, Edition 1706, found here: https://books.google.com/books?id=3JoqAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA17&lpg=...
When you read this passage with great care, noting the contexts of the scriptures he refers to, it becomes clear that Fox is affirming a First Century coming of Christ that is coincident with Christ's giving of the Revelation to John. The second paragraph in my quotation in Post # 4 is especially enlightening. Note particularly how Fox goes about contrasting the last supper which John celebrated with Jesus before His crucifixion (the one with real bread and wine) with the spiritual supper that is revealed to John in his Revelation vision (Rev. 3:20).
But before doing so, please consider some very important and highly relevant biblical/historical background:
At the “last supper” Jesus told his disciples that He would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until He did so with them in His Kingdom (Matt. 26:29). In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul (writing about 25 years after the crucifixion and perhaps 10-12 years prior to the giving of the Revelation to John) picked up on that statement and re-stated it, saying that their continuing practice of eating the meal together was an ongoing opportunity for remembrance of Jesus “until He comes”. So Jesus had clearly not yet come when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians (mid-fifties AD). Keep this in mind as you read what Fox says.
Fox clearly states that the time for that communal meal of literal bread and wine (which Christians had been practicing as a remembrance since Jesus’ resurrection) was ended when John received his Revelation of the risen and ascended Christ. Fox says: “for its (speaking of that “last supper” which John had celebrated with Jesus and the disciples) like (that is, the New Testament practice described by Paul in 1 Corinthians) they had taken the Bread and the Cup in remembrance of Christ’s death till He came, and now (that is, at the time John received the Revelation) John tells them Christ is come. Later in the same paragraph Fox doubles down on this same thought. Speaking of his contemporaries in traditional Christendom as “Reprobates”, Fox says “May not Reprobates take the elements of Bread and Wine in remembrance of Christ’s death, and say they will do it till Christ come, yet Christ sayeth Behold I stand at the door and knock (remember Christ first said this at the time of the giving of the Revelation to John) and though He is come yet they will not open the door and hear His Spiritual voice…”
You see, Fox could not be saying that the practice of the communal meal among early Christians (before the giving of Revelation to John) was invalid at that time. Jesus had instructed them (in AD 30) to remember Him in that communal practice until the full coming of His Kingdom. Paul clearly said that the practice was still valid in his day (mid-50s AD), and would continue to be valid until Christ came. What Fox must be saying then is that the purpose of the old literal practice of the communal meal had come to its end when John received his vision on Patmos of the risen and ascended Christ (this was probably no more than 2-3 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70). Thus Fox identifies the coming of Christ and the fulness of His Kingdom with the appearance of Christ to John in the first chapters of the book of Revelation. It’s clear that, in Fox's thought, Christ had come at that point because this is when He invited all to open the door to Him in His resurrected and ascended spiritual presence (parousia) and to join Him in the true spiritual Supper. Jesus had told His disciples that he would not sup (drink the fruit of the vine) with them until He could do so with them in the Kingdom. So this invitation extended in Revelation 3:20 signified that His Kingdom was arriving in power and fullness at that very time. As I also noted in my fourth post, Fox’s application of the biblical imagery of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is another way he ties Second Coming events to the time of Jesus’ visionary appearance to John. That is, he equates the spiritual fellowship Jesus offers us in Revelation 3:20 with the Marriage Supper (which is set squarely in the midst of the symbolic picture of the Second Coming in Revelation chapter 19).
As to your first question, Ellis, the answer is related very much to your final question (which I answered first!). What I mean is this. As you readily admit yourself, you are necessarily viewing things from the standpoint of your own Quaker background and perspective. For you, everything you read from George Fox makes perfect sense! But this is not the case for the typical Christian, and especially for those who are very Bible-oriented Christians (most of whom tend to read the Bible very “literally” as their default method). And yet, it is these very people who would be most inclined to embrace the Christ-centered message and power of the early Quakers if only they could see how biblical it really is (and if it could be made understandable to them in their “language”).
Here is a short list of a few of the "controversial" ideas found in George Fox and early Quakerism which need to be addressed biblically:
1. Most controversial of all – the Second Coming has already happened and is in ongoing fulfillment!
2. Related to Point 1 – celebration of the eucharist is no longer necessary; it was only to be practiced “until Christ comes.”
3. Related to Point 2 – the true Supper is spiritual, not literal and material; it is the real substance of Christ’s presence, not the shadow.
4. The New Heavens and Earth, and the New Jerusalem, are symbolic of the present New Covenant Age (spiritual realities here and now), not a yet future literal change in the state of the material Universe.
5. Related to Point 4 – the New Creation in Christ is now available to transform our lives, and to give us an intimate relationship of real interaction and dialogue with the Voice of Christ (and this is what the New Covenant is really all about!).
From where you stand, Ellis, all of these ideas may make perfect sense and seem unquestionably true. But you certainly must know that for the typical, traditional Christian these ideas are unorthodox and controversial in the extreme. If you can’t make a reasonable case for them with sound biblical exegesis, and in language that is familiar and understandable, what are the odds of these folks ever giving Fox and the Quaker message a second glance, much less a fair hearing? I know for a fact that the chances are slim to none, because this is the world I’ve lived in.
As things stand now, given the chaotic, hopelessly confused and diverse state of sectarian Quakerism, what real prospect is there for the message to be heard? The world deserves to have the opportunity for an honest exposure to the Christ-centered Quaker message. But truthfully, it seems to me that in the current Quaker climate the world has no way of even knowing that such a message exists. Millions of people are out there wandering like sheep without a shepherd. I believe Jesus has compassion on them, just as He did when He was here in the flesh (Matt. 9:36). I also believe that God has a multitude of people dwelling in Babylon, who love Christ and are honestly following the best light they have. If this were not so, He would not call them “My people” in calling them out (Rev. 18:4). But they need to hear! Many are longing for the full gospel message and, like George Fox, don't even know what it is they're longing for (this was me). Lewis Benson put the situation this way:
“I believe that the most important church activity within the compass of gospel order is the work of preaching the everlasting gospel to the inhabitants of the earth. The foundation of gospel order is the gospel, and this gospel foundation cannot be laid just once with the expectation that it will furnish a foundation for all future generations. If the gospel is not preached, it gradually ceases to be the rock and foundation on which the whole superstructure of the church is built. The gospel is not “the power of God” unless it is proclaimed.” (Benson, What Did George Fox Teach About Christ? , page 32).
For centuries God’s poor lost sheep have been misled, in one way or another, by the Babylon of institutional religions (including institutional Quakerism!). There’s a gigantic communication and culture gap between Fox’s world and our world today. The question I’m asking is this: “Who’s going to stand in the gap? Who will care enough to bridge this chasm? And who will God hold accountable if no reasonable attempt is made to do it?"