Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Fox repeats this call over and over: "Keep your testimony...for your worship in the spirit and in the truth, that Christ Jesus hath set up" (Works, 8:34); "keep up your testimony in the light, power, and spirit of God, for the worship that Christ set up above sixteen hundred years since, in spirit and in truth,...which is a worship that cannot be shaken." (8:84) This is a testimony that the Quakers had before the peace testimony was formulated in 1660, and I think in Fox's mind it was the most important of the Quaker testimonies. It is the thing that brings people to Christ, as they see that we are gathering together to feel his living presence in our midst. -- Lewis Benson
In the fourth lecture of the series Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox given at Moorestown meetinghouse in 1982, Lewis Benson examines the origin and nature of early Quaker worship. His intent is "to get a new perspective on the problems of contemporary Quakerism, and to bring something into the life of the Society of Friends today which is the heritage of all Quakers but has not survived in any living tradition."
There is an assumption among Liberal Quakers that waiting in silence during the hour of worship replicates the early Quaker practice, an assumption which fails to take into account that the intent of early Quakers was entirely different from that of contemporaries, centering on personal reflection, sequentially shared. Early Quaker worship was attended by "people who had heard and received this everlasting gospel and who were filled with a fervent desire to gather together in the name of Jesus to wait to feel his presence in their midst as their living teacher, leader, ruler, counsellor, and orderer." Early Friends gathered together and quieted themselves in order to receive and hear their heavenly prophet, receive intercession from their heavenly priest, be ruled as a people by their heavenly king, and be fed by their heavenly shepherd. Their cohesion was the result of waiting together for guidance, acceptance, and instruction that came from heaven, and not from one another's personal perspectives.
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 (Benson).
That this revolutionary way of worship should have been lost from Quaker communities in the last several hundred years is not surprising; for it had likewise been lost since the apostles' days and not recovered until the early Quakers practiced it 1600 years later. Yet worship in spirit and in truth, meeting "in the name of Jesus," remains forever available to reclaim yet once more by the "children of the New Covenant."
This essay can be found under the Resources tab which features Benson's writings. Here's a link: The New Worship.
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"Early Friends gathered together and quieted themselves in order to receive and hear their heavenly prophet, receive intercession from their heavenly priest, be ruled as a people by their heavenly king, and be fed by their heavenly shepherd."
Your description is beautiful, Pat. My spirit was quickened reading it. I do so much want meeting for worship to be as you say. And you are so correct in your analysis of "Quaker" contemporaries.
Currently, I am in what I refer to as jail (they won't let me participate in worship) in Red Cedar Meeting because of what I say in meeting. I go to meeting and sit in the dining area the whole time. I told them I'll stay in jail for as long as I'm banned from worship.
It's amazing how much their antipathy and behavior corresponds to the treatment George Fox and early Quakers suffered. Of course, my persecution isn't physically manifested as it was for Fox, et al, but mentally and emotionally it's as trying. I have come to realize the description of myself is that I am a devout Quaker and I tell them (those who harass me) or rather ask them, where else does a devout Quaker go but to The Religious Society of Friends; how else does a devout Quaker be but as moved, guided, and led by the Holy Spirit.
I am grieved by the erroneous ideas members of meeting have about Quaker religion, but I understand why they have them. Because when I first went to a Quaker Meeting I had no idea about Quakers and no intention of coming to Christ, for I was still disbelieving in God. And even when I considered God again, I thought myself too far gone to believe in God again. When I asked Meeting members what Quakerism was, they referred me to books, which I read, but that didn't tell me anything I wanted to know. No one in Meeting could tell me what I wanted to know either. So I understand why those who come to meeting because they heard there are no ministers to preach a sermon have no clue what they don't know is Quaker and dislike anyone with the audacity to live and practice her God given faith.
Thank you, Pat, for your post. I greatly appreciate it.
Thanks for the comment, Rhonda. It's good to remember Fox's admonition to Lady Claypoole to look not down at sin but at that which overcomes it. That choice keeps one from becoming a part of the problem and is instead edifying, at least for oneself and possibly for one's surroundings.
I have just finished reading Lewis Benson's Lecture 4 for the I-don't-know-how-many-times. My reaction seems to be the same every time. This is something every profession Christian and every professing Quaker must read and understand. This is of Earth-shaking importance.
Thanks, Pat, for the excellent introduction you have given to the subject.
I have been looking for places to mention Benson's Lecture 4 and to urge people to read it. I searched on Wordpress under the keyword "worship". I was struck with an overwhelming sense of entering a "night of thick darkness." On looking up the epistle in Vol. 7 (p. 241), it seems appropriate to append it to this comment.