Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
There is an old Indian proverb that goes something along the lines of, “he who rides a tiger, can never dismount…” I have recently read Derek Guiton’s book “A Man that looks on Glass: Standing up for God”, and the way he has documented the working out of a liberal belief system, reminded me of the proverb. Once we start down some paths, there is no returning, and so when it is that an institution places its faith in something other than Christ. The title also reminds me of James words, “For anyone who hears the Word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and after observing himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like…”
Derek’s book is essentially an examination of the spiritual state of his own Yearly Meeting, Britain Yearly Meeting, of which he has been a member for many years. This book ought to be compulsory reading for those who think that dollops of ‘tolerance and inclusivity’ are the answers to all our spiritual problems, because it is salutary reminder of the what the end product of a too open and undiscerning liberalism can be; confusion, lack of discernment and over-reliance on human wisdom.
Although Derek makes some points that I cannot agree with, I recognise that Derek Guiton’s book is a spirited and passionate defence of what he believes to be essence of Quakerism, a faith in a living God that is both within us and outside of us, a God who calls us to listen to His Voice. In that, I think that Derek’s book is one of the more positive signs of spiritual life in Britain Yearly Meeting and I appreciate his passion and conviction. Derek has acquitted himself well, but I suspect that his defence will be the last of its kind in Britain Yearly Meeting, and I also suspect his book will not have gone down too well in some parts of that institution. Derek’s observations, particularly the one where he reports a recent that belief in God is attributable to only 56% of Britain Yearly Meeting membership, which actually less than that of the general population in the UK, might be 'too close to the bone'.
Derek studiously charts the growth of atheism, which he terms ‘non-theism’, and describes its effect on the Yearly Meeting over the last 20 years or so. He outlines the debate that has taken place between the rapidly growing atheist movement, the Non-Theist Friends Network, and the ‘traditional’ theist side. He very cogently describes how quickly faith has been supplanted by ideology. On occasion, a militant and unrelenting atheism with an entryist agenda. Derek describes how, David Boulton, one of the leading proponents of the Non-Theist Friends Network, described faith in God as “a lie”.
He is forced to posit the question; “No longer having a shared belief in God or any transcendent reality beyond the human, and treating our core beliefs as outmoded constructs without relevance for our future, we are left pondering the question, wherein lies our unity?” That is the central question of this book, and surely, as the New Foundation, our ministry has been to speak to this, to point to the power and presence of Christ in our midst, as the source of that unity.
What I would like to be clear about is that generally, I don’t waste my time or energy in absorbing myself in the wrangling’s of liberal Quaker institutions. I gave up on that over 10 years ago, when it became clear to me that I could not function as a Christian and remain in membership in Britain Yearly Meeting. I simply could not find the eldership and support I needed, and grew tired of being told how ‘outmoded’ and ‘simplistic’ my faith in Christ was.
On this occasion, I feel that the book is useful for us in the New Foundation in terms of reminding us of how far some Quaker groups have gone from the original message proclaimed by George Fox and the Early Friends, also it gives some insight into the liberal mindset, but also to sketch out some of the pitfalls of having a church which does not have Christ, or in this case, even a belief in God at its centre.
It seems Britain Yearly Meeting is going through fundamental change, much of which is propelled by a group of militant atheists, described by Derek who he describes as openly advocating the removal of any references to God from Britain Yearly Meeting’s faith and practice. Derek fears this process which will lead to an accelerated weakening in the understanding of Quaker fundamentals, such as Meeting for Worship, Ministry and Meeting for Worship for Business. His prognosis is not at all a positive one.
Much of the book is dedicated to exploration to the use of language to describe spiritual experience and a refutation of what he terms ‘non-realism’. It is interesting but is of less relevance to our work, but I was struck by some of Derek’s insights. He says of atheism, “There is a string in the psychology of atheism that is afraid to hope, afraid to take risks, afraid to plumb the depths, because of the swirls of uncertainties it might stir up…”
Derek has outlined how the progress of ‘non-theism’ has led to a prevalence of moral relativism in the Yearly Meeting, my truth, your truth, and everybody elses’ truth even if they lead to diametrically opposed faith and action. This sounds sadly familiar. This is in stark contrast the Truth that we learn, when we hear and obey Christ, which is for all people and all times, which we in the NFF made the cornerstone of our message.
This book has relevance to us because it should remind us that we still have work to do, and that our message is still relevant. In many ways, I feel vindicated by Derek’s book.
I lived through an earlier period of revision when Friends who described themselves as ‘Universalists’ aggressively pursued change to Britain Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline. They made it clear that they wanted Christian language to disappear, because they felt it ‘excluded’ people. They got their way: ‘Christian Faith and Practice’ became ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’. I well remember Joe Pickvance standing up at a Quaker Conference and shocking the audience merely by asking whether there was actually such a thing as ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’.
The justification for this was, as is now, ‘openness’, ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘tolerance’. But also, “we must not discourage those who cannot use the name, ‘Christ’”. Those of us in the NFF in the UK, including myself, sounded warnings that such changes would bring about a weakening of the spiritual life in the Yearly Meeting, a decline the depth of our worship and ministry.
We were not heard, and thirty years later, Derek describes the end result, and writes what may turn out to be the last spirited defence of a faith that is still in some sense, recognisably ‘Quaker’. Britain Yearly Meeting is about to taken over by atheists, it would seem.
I cannot avoid feeling a sense of irony in that those who were so ready to expunge what they saw as out-dated and outmoded Christian language, are now forced to defend themselves from a similar onslaught from groups who are even more liberal than them. Derek’s quote of G.K. Chesterton, “…those who marry the spirit of this age, will find themselves widows in the next…” is entirely apposite.
One of the things, I like about Derek’s book is that he is relies much on passages from Early Friends to outline what he sees as important aspects of Quaker faith. I think this is significant in that people are still able to recognise the power that comes through such text, and how we can see and explain their relevance for today.
Derek’s book is available from online bookstores;
Published: 20 October 2015
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Allistair, what is there in BYM that would cause some NFF folks to withdraw from the work because "our message is no longer needed." These are the words of someone who wrote to me recently. Derek Guiton's book does not seem to give that claim any substance at all.
I have ordered this book and will get back about it later.
If Derek's book is any indication of the current state of BYM, (I believe it is), I would say that our message is just as needed as it ever was.
It may be of interest, but Derek Guiton has been in contact and responded to my review, and my review misrepresents some of his insights. He says
"You say it's my belief that the Society is about to be taken over by atheists and that I equate atheism with non-theism. I thought I was being careful to avoid sweeping statements of that kind. I felt I had made an important distinction in the book between non-theists who are open to the possibility of transcendence (transcendence being David Boulton's sticking point) and those who are closed to any such possibility - the 'religious' humanists. My strategy was to separate out these groups - so that Friends could see them for what they were, and not merge them together..."
I have read through the book, though have been pushed for time, so did not spend as much time as I would have liked which will hopefully be rectified later, but I must say I am shocked that quakerism in the UK has fallen so far down.
But I am not surprised when I think about it.
I think it was on the cards from early on, that the door would stand wide open one day to the forces that have taken over. And I believe that the thing that has enabled it has been the doctrine 'that of God in every man' which I believe is not scriptural.
Please don't get me wrong, the scriptures state that the light lightens every man that comes into the world. Every child is born innocent and because there is no sin in its heart, the Spirit of God is there. However, when every child gets to the age of accountability, around 4ish, sin enters in and where there is sin, the Holy Spirit cannot dwell so leaves. It is Adam and the fall acted out in all of us.
What is left is darkness and a hole where the HS once dwelt so that the person feels the loss and spends the rest of his or her life seeking something to fill the hole, without knowing what they seek, and hopefully will come to Christ when someone shows the way.
David pleads with God in Psalms, not to take the HS from him so we know that He can leave. I just feel that the eQuakers got this one wrong though they got most things right and have taught me much and Fox has given me light that I had not received myself on many things. But no-one is right about it all.
If you would know what Fox had to say about "that of God in every man," see from the 8 volumes of his Works:
VII: 68, 142, 143, 144, 186, 192
VIII: 13-14, 128
III: 286, 371
See Romans 1:19 and surrounding verses.
I believe that the eQuakers misinterpreted Romans 1. Lets look at the verses in question:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Paul is speaking about those who knew God, who held the truth because God had shown it to them, and they became vain and changed the truth.
These are not the men who have fallen at an early age and have entered into darkness and are lost, and the only thing remaining is an imprint on their souls that one day there was something but now it is gone. These men do not hold the truth in unrighteousness because the truth left them long ago, before they even understood it.
However, men who hold the truth in unrighteousness, are men and women who have had an encounter with Christ, have received the light and the truth, calling themselves Christian, but have turned from it by believing that man cannot stop sinning in this life when it is commanded that they do not sin.
They denied that truth and so fell into darkness and even darker darkness than the unsaved, unconverted because they are not ignorant of the truth.
So Romans 1 is about carnal Christians, not quite Christians, sinning 'Christians' and they are the ones who have the anger of God upon them. They are the ones who think they are okay with God and that He will deal with their sins one by one, and are quite settled on their lees.
When God grants revival, and revival at the time Fox preached against the sinning 'Christian' the power of God falls and these people are convicted of their sinfulness in putting Christ at back onto the cross and are in agony until they are transformed into the likeness of Christ. Sadly this is not happening today.
I don't plan to read this book, primarily because I've discovered experientially the reason for Fox's admonishment to not focus on sin; for thereby one is likely to be "swallowed up in it" (Nickalls, 348). We NFF workers have had enough exposure to the confusion and corruption of the Liberal perspective without documenting and wallowing in every last jot and tittle of its manifestation, documentation, and description. I'm not criticizing you, Allistair, for writing the review and bringing to the attention of those who are not as familiar as we workers are with this modern apostacy.
Instead of focusing on the particulars of this all-too-present condition of British/FGC Quakerism, we need to keep before us "the light that discovers them, that makes them manifest; and with the same light...feel over them, to receive power to stand against them" (347). We are a small group of people who have come into the fellowship of Christ, our head. Therein is our unity as you have stated well in your review: "as the New Foundation, our ministry has been to speak to this, to point to the power and presence of Christ in our midst, as the source of that unity."
These words from Penington are pertinent to the prevalent, routine problems of the human condition, and to the right response of the faithful who across time will always be in unity, strength, and fellowship in their stand against the inward violation of the truth as it is in Christ:
And the fellowship of the saints is in the life, and in the light, which is this mystery. The fellowship is not outward, but inward. All they that meet together in the outward place, are not in the fellowship, or worship; but only they that meet together in the inward life and Spirit. "They that worship the Father, must worship him in spirit and truth." Look, there is the worship, there are the worshippers; they that are in the Spirit, in the truth; they that meet in the Spirit, in the truth, they meet together in the one spiritual place, as I may call it. And so we own no man after the flesh, no man according to the appearance; but in the righteous judgment of the Spirit, those only who are of the Spirit.
Indeed we are tender where there is the least beginning of the work of God in any heart; yea, where there is but so much as a conviction of the understanding; but men are not presently of us, who own our principle in words or outward appearance, but only such as are inwardly changed thereby in the heart. It is true, persons may walk among us, and afterwards go out from us, who were never of us (as it was in the apostles's days), that were never in the fellowship of life with us, whom we could never own in the sight of the Lord, as being born of him; though we were willing to wait and watch for their good, that they might come to winess the true birth.
Now from such come the offences, even from the falling off of such as never were truly ingrafted, and also from the slips of such who are not watchful to that which preserves. And woe is to the world, because of the offences which cannot but come.
For they which are to be approved in the sight of the Lord, must not somewhat or other happen to make them manifest? And when they are made manifest, the world's eye is offended, and is apt to think hardly of and reproach the truth itself, because of them. Blessed is the eye which sees into the mystery, into the life itself, where there is no offence. Truth is one and the same for ever (Works, III, 318).
"Paul is speaking about those who knew God, who held the truth because God had shown it to them, and they became vain and changed the truth."
Yes, Brenda, but how do people 'know' God? See Titus 2:11 and John 3:19-20
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men
John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Allistair, these verses speak to me about the Day of the Lord, which comes to all fallen men for them to turn to it, the light or away from it into darkness. Some get so far but then turn, the ones who hold the truth in unrighteousness, who could say 'Lord Lord' but will not enter the kingdom and these I think have the greatest judgement against them. They will deny that God's judgement is against all sin and if any sins remain in us, then we are serving sin and not God. They think that there is a gradual sanctification or they move the goalposts of what sin is.