Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
What do you think the Church is?
One of the distinct aspects of the Gospel of Early Friends, and a matter of faith that George Fox was most clear on, was his conception what it is that constitutes the True Church.
A good starting point to reach clarity on this point is to ask ourselves the question, what is the Church?
There are many misleading answers offered by various counterfeit versions of Christianity. They tend to fall into three main categories;
Although, these seem quite modern views of what constitutes the Church, they have been around for quite a long time.
In one of his most important tracts, published in the Doctrinals, “To All that would know the Way to the Kingdom”, George Fox speaks to the first two misconceptions directly, he writes, “the Church in God are not in imitation gathered from the letter and a high-flown people in their imaginations, but are those who are born again of the immortal Seed, by the Word of God, which lives and endures for ever, which the world knows not.” [Emphases, mine].
There is a common view in Christianity that the bible provides a pattern or blue print for the New Testament Church, and it is necessary to follow that pattern to be the True Church. This is to seriously misunderstand how God gathers and orders His People. This understanding is vested in the faith that human power creates the Church not God’s Power.
The other extreme is addressed by the phrase, “…and a high-flown people in their imaginations…”
Individualism is highly prized in our modern culture. This individualism finds expression in many modern religious groups, where people are simply left to get on with following God as they see fit, with little or no interference from that religious institution. The consequences of this kind of fellowship came to me most forcibly several years ago, when I suggested that an unruly member of the meeting, I belonged to, at that time, badly needed eldering. I cannot remember the exact response, but I can well remember the indignation of one person, who responded along the lines of, “…you can’t tell people what to do….” In the absence of any clear commitment to follow Christ, this kind of fellowship descends into moral relativism, as in “my ‘truth’ is different from your ‘truth’, and 'how dare you question my truth’. This is essentially a moral free for all that is not rooted in unity in God’s Power.
The third popular misconception is that the True Church can only ever be the ‘Invisible Church’. The ‘Invisible Church’ is based on the idea that there is an invisible group of true believers, known only to God, but not to each other. The ‘Invisible Church’ is by definition invisible and can never be an outward objective community in history.
Although George Fox never used the term ‘Invisible Church’, he was in no doubt that the Gospel that had been committed to him, had the power to gather people into the True Church, and that through the power of the ministry of Early Quaker preachers, the True Church had been indeed been gathered in the UK, America and other places where Friends had travelled, and where people had been convinced. In 1686, he wrote to Friends a Yearly Meeting in Yorkshire;
“And you that believe in the light, have the light of life, and are clothed with the son of God that doth not change, and are the true and living members of the church of Christ Jesus, that is in God, and have the moon (that is changeable) under your feet. So all changeable religions, worships, ways, churches, and teachers, which are like the changeable moon, and the changeable world, with its changeable fashions; the true church of Christ, that is clothed with Christ, the son, that doth not change, hath all these changeable things, like the moon that changes, under her feet.”
In the next part of this article will look at Early Friend's understanding of what is the True Church...
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