This, the last episode of season 2, is from Traditional Quaker Christianity‘s section 3J, titled Knowing Christ in Us. We’re looking at two readings from George Fox’s Journal.
Sure Word of Prophecy
In the first, Fox relates hearing a priest in a steeple-house preach that we have “a more sure Word of prophecy” and then claim that that “sure Word” is (wait for it) the Bible. Y’all, didn’t we cover in episode 1 that Christ is the Word? Right, so back to that. Christ in us is our guide. Fox, being Fox, does what we’ve all come to expect (say it with us now): he interrupted the priest. Right. He explains that the Scriptures can’t be read right without the Spirit, and so the Spirit is the “more sure Word.” As an example, he gives Jews who had the Scriptures and yet did not conclude that that Jesus guy who died last week was the Messiah.
Now, this is the part where we need to pause and comment on Fox’s references to Jews and the Gospel of John’s references to Jews. First off, we do not endorse any antisemitic readings of Scripture. We also acknowledge that antisemitism tainted Fox’s writings. Quakers, especially early Quakers, are fond of the Gospel of John. Unfortunately, John sloppily shorthanded “the Jews” when referring to a small elite (like saying “the Catholics” when you mean the Pope and some cardinals) within Judaism, and that opened the door to later Christian persecution of Jews. That persecution continues today. Hey, look, another reason it’s important to read the Bible in the Spirit it was given (for example, in context) rather than all willy-nilly.
Ok, ok “bibliolatry” is 11 letters, not 9. Don’t @ me. I will be very impressed if you use it in Scrabble. Take a photo of that if you do.
Taking the Bible seriously and taking the Bible literally are not the same thing.
Christ in us, the body as the Temple of God
This time, Fox tells the people that the church building (what he’d call a steeple-house) is not God’s dwelling place. No, God’s dwelling place is in each person. There is Christ in us. He tells them to give up Jewish customs (such as the mikvah of baptism) and heathenish customs. “Heathenish customs” can be him just plain insulting Catholicism for the way it remixed Pagan cultural festivals to aid conversion. It could also be the really obviously Pagan traditions that were still hanging around in the 17th century without a Catholic reimagining, such as midsummer bonfires (which Mackenzie mixed up with Beltane bonfires—oops). Examples of Catholic reimaginings of Pagan practices would be things like Christmas trees.
Mackenzie also mixed up Hezekiah versus Haggai. This was the last episode out of like 9 we recorded that day. The brain was a little fried. They both start with H and are names in the Bible.
Pagan things Quakers don’t do
(Or at least, at some point we didn’t do them) Christmas trees and the Easter Bunny are not Quaker traditions. Having holidays like Christmas and Easter set aside, versus parts of Jesus’ life we just remember all the time, is not a Quaker tradition. Plenty do nowadays, but traditionally, they’re not our bag. And then there are the Pagan names of the days of the week:
- Sun’s day
- Moon’s day
- Tyr’s day
- Woden’s day
- Thor’s day
- Freya’s day
- Saturn’s day
Micah admits to celebrating Lent. *gasp* Very few Quakers today actually name the days of the week as “first day,” “second day,” etc. and months as “first month,” “second month,” etc. outside of official meeting records. Actually carrying on conversations that way seems to be a peculiarity of Conservative Friends.
We’re not actually as puritanical as our reputation would suggest. Even the ones that are still hardcore about no pagan influences? They’re just kinda weird.
No, I don’t know what next episode will be on. We have two weeks to figure that out and record the next one. So…surprise for you and us!
- Down by the Riverside
- Haggai 1:8
Mackenzie: Welcome back to Quaker Faith & Podcast with your hosts Mackenzie and Micah. We are going to be wrapping up our series on the spiritual search from the book of traditional Quaker Christianity. This last section here is titled “Knowing Christ in Us”, and for this we are looking at a couple of things written by George Fox.
The first one, he says that he was in a church and the priest took for his text these words of Peter: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy where unto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a light that shineth in a dark place until the day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts.” And he told the people that this was the scriptures by which they were to try all doctrines, religions, and opinions.
Micah: And wait, so this was the scriptures, he means the scriptures are the sure word of prophecy?
Mackenzie: Right. Continuing.
“Now the Lord’s power was so mighty upon me and so strong in me that I could not hold, but was made to cry out and say ‘Oh no, it is not the scriptures!’ And I told them what it was, namely the Holy Spirit by which the holy men of God gave forth the scriptures, whereby opinions, religions, and judgements were to be tried. For it led unto all truth, and so gave the knowledge of all truth. The Jews had the scriptures and yet resisted the Holy Ghost and rejected Christ, the bright morning star.”
Well, he continues on with saying, and this is an outdated opinion, but he says, “They persecuted Christ and his apostles and took upon them to try their doctrines by the scriptures, but they erred in judgment and did not try them aright because they tried without the Holy Ghost.” And I say this is an outdated opinion because the idea that blaming Jews for the Roman persecution of the early Christians is a little off.
Micah: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say, just to speak this question, because Jewish things come up in the next thing we’re going to read, too.
It’s been said that Quakers were a Johannine movement, meaning they were extremely influenced by the Gospel of John and by John’s letters. And the Gospel of John has an interesting way of talking about the Pharisees and the Sadducees and religious authorities in Israel at that time. John just refers to them as, “The Jews.” And it’s really weird because, of course, Jesus was a Jew, his disciples were Jews, everyone around them were Jews. But John talks about the people who opposed Jesus just as, “The Jews.” And there’s a whole historical reason for this that I don’t need to get into right now, but –
Mackenzie: I mean I thought the reason was that Rome didn’t want the blame, basically.
Micah: No. Now that you ask, the reason that John refers to the people that oppose Jesus as, “The Jews” repeatedly is that the Johannine community was living in the midst of a schism where the Jewish establishment was forcing Christians out of the synagogues by … basically the Jewish religious authorities, when they realized the Christian movement was becoming a thing, started putting into the liturgy something where if you were standing there and you were participating in the liturgy you would have to say that Christians are cursed.
And so it was at this time that Christians were basically being excluded … Jewish Christians were being excluded from the Jewish community.
Mackenzie: Okay, so it’s the point where you go from Messianic Jew to Christian, as being like distinct … because there was like this Messianic movement within Judaism that was the early Christianity, and then eventually they get distinct groups.
Micah: Exactly. And it’s because the people who are today considered Traditional Jews, they were the leaders of the synagogues, and the Christian Jews were a minority religious view and were pushed out explicitly.
Mackenzie: Right, told, “Hey, you’re doing something else different than us. Go and do your own thing in your own place.”
Micah: Well basically saying, “If you want to hang with us, you have to say, “Christians are cursed.”
So that’s the context in which John talks about the people who were against Jesus just as, “The Jews,” when of course Jesus was a Jew and his disciples were Jews.
Mackenzie: Right, and so really he means more of the Jewish leadership, so it’s kind of like saying, “The Catholics” when you mean the Pope and some cardinals.
Micah: Exactly. Especially it would be like talking about, “The Catholics,” when you’re talking about the Catholics persecuting a monk who disagrees with the Pope.
Micah: Right. So anyway when Fox talks about the Jews persecuting Christ, it’s coming out of that reading of John where that’s how John refers to it. And George Fox is so steeped in the bible, and I think particularly steeped in John as a gospel, that it just sort of naturally comes out that way. But I think you need to have that context to understand what he’s talking about there. But I also think that Mackenzie flagging it is really good, because the fact is that throughout Christian history there’s been a really serious problem with theologically based anti-Semitism. And we need to name that and not pretend that wasn’t there.
Mackenzie: Right. I have a friend who has been called a really terrible slur by one of his Commanding Officers when he was in the Marines, on the basis that he’s Jewish, and so therefor he is responsible, personally, for Jesus’ death.
Micah: Right, so I think we here at Quaker Faith & Podcast denounce any such ideas that Jewish people today are personally responsible for the death of Christ.
So where were we? Now that we’ve got that very interesting side note.
I actually love this passage, despite the little trip up with George Fox saying, “The Jews.” But I love this passage from George Fox’s journal, because he goes into this meetinghouse where –
Mackenzie: Steeple house.
Micah: Steeple house, there we go, this steeple house. He goes into this steeple house and the priest says, he read from Peter, which Peter says, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in dark place.” And the priest says that this ‘sure word of prophecy’ is the bible. But of course George Fox knows that the bible isn’t talking about the bible when it talks about a sure word of prophecy. And he said, “It’s not the scriptures, it’s the Holy Spirit that is the sure word of prophecy,” And the results of not having the Holy Spirit and just thinking the scriptures are enough is killing Jesus. Because the people who killed Jesus, or the people who wanted him killed, at least, the Jewish religious authorities, they had the scriptures. But they weren’t listening to the spirit.
Mackenzie: And of course there are lots of people who have the scriptures and are not necessarily listening to the spirit. The Lord’s Resistance Army, for another example. Which, if you all are not familiar, they’re- I don’t know what country, Sudan? Is it Sudan?
Micah: I don’t know. I think they actually move through several different countries.
Mackenzie: Okay. Well they’re a group that calls themselves Christian and certainly have the bible and don’t have anything of the spirit, because they do an awful lot of killing.
Micah: So in this passage … we’ve talked in a much earlier podcast, I think it was the first podcast-
Mackenzie: Yeah, the first episode was from the section that is, “Jesus Christ is the Word of God,” is what that was. And we talked a bit about bibliolatry there. Which is a fun word. Don’t forget it when you’re playing Scrabble. It takes nine letters, so you’re going to need to match up with some things.
Micah: We’re sort of swinging back to this really core, and actually I think this is one of the most, if not the most important Quaker doctrine as a matter of fact, is that the bible isn’t the word of God. Jesus is. And so here George Fox connects it to the Holy Spirit, and says that, “If not the sure word of prophecy isn’t the bible, it’s the Holy Spirit who inspired the bible.”
And for some of us today this may seem like sort of a quibbling distinction. ‘Oh sure, bible, Holy Spirit, whatever,’ but I still think it’s a very important distinction. And certainly for folks in that time, the priests held the bible and used the bible as a weapon, and as a source of their authority, when, in many cases, they didn’t know anything about God, or they weren’t interested in knowing anything about God. They just want to know what the rules are and how they could be in charge.
And that’s a central insight of the Quaker movement, and of other spirit led movements in the past: that you can’t get a lock on God but just sort of holding the bible and saying, “Well it says here…” because the Holy Spirit is really the authority, not the written words.
Mackenzie: Right, and I think that’s something that comes up in a lot of culture wars that are going on in Christianity today. Where one side or the other of any given piece of culture war will say, “Well, you see, here’s the difference between you and me. My side is biblical, and yours isn’t.” And completely ignoring that maybe the other person is also looking at the bible, and seeing something different than you are.
Micah: Right. Yeah, it’s a problem, and I think it can be a problem on all sides. That we assume that those we disagree with are not taking the texts seriously, when in fact they are taking it seriously, but they are reading it differently and in a different tradition and context.
Mackenzie: And mixing up the ideas of literal and serious.
Micah: Yeah, that’s an important distinction. It is possible to read the bible seriously-
Mackenzie: But not literally. Or to read it literally and not seriously.
Micah: Right, well I don’t think it’s possible to read the Book of Revelations literally and seriously. If you read the Book of Revelations literally, you’re not taking it seriously.
Mackenzie: Well, there’s that whole “Left Behind” series thing.
Micah: That’s not taking it literally. The “Left Behind” series, as blasphemous and evil as it is, is very imaginative with the text. They reinterpret all sorts of things.
Mackenzie: Okay. I’ve never read it, or seen it, or whatever. I just know that there are people who believe that one day all the sinners are going to walk into their living rooms and find their mother’s empty clothes because she’s gone all disappearedified.
Micah: She doesn’t get to take her clothes to heaven?
Mackenzie: Well she’s going to get the starry robes, right?
Micah: Well that’s fair.
Mackenzie: “Put on a starry robe, down by the river side.”
Continuing on with this little section. The next reading we have from George Fox in here, and again mentions Jews, although this time not nearly so ickily, says, “I was sent by the Lord God of Heaven and Earth to preach freely, and to bring people oft from these outwards temples made with hands, which God dwelleth not in. That they might know their bodies to become the temples of God and of Christ, and to draw people oft from all their superstitious ceremonies, Jewish and Heathenish customs, traditions and doctrines of men. And from all the world’s hireling teachers that take tithes are great wages, preaching for hire and divining for money, whom God and Christ never sent, as themselves confess when they say they never heard God’s or Christ’s voice. I exhorted the people to come off from all these things, directing them to the spirit and grace of God in themselves, and to the light of Jesus in their own hearts. That they might come to know Christ, their free teacher, to bring them salvation, and to open the scriptures to them. Thus the Lord gave me a good opportunity to open things largely unto them. All was quiet, and many were convinced. Blessed be the Lord.”
Now, just since we mentioned the Jew thing before, I’m just going to jump back in here and say what Jewish and Heathenish customs. We talked way back in the baptism episode about how baptism was a Jewish custom, the mikvah, there’s also circumcision, Kosher laws, et cetera, that are not generally followed by Christians. They’re Jewish traditions, Jewish customs. However, we he says, “Heathenish customs,” a lot of the time he’s talking about Catholics.
Micah: He’s also probably talking about things like Christmas trees. Christmas trees are definitely a Heathenish custom.
Mackenzie: Yes. The Baal bush.
Mackenzie: Right, I forgot about Maypoles. And there were still Beltane. Jumping over the fires.
Micah: The Yule log.
Mackenzie: No, Beltane is summer. Midsummer jumping over the fire and the spirits are … that was still a custom that was still happening during George Fox’s era.
SO I think for me the big take away from this passage is Fox saying … The building they were meeting in, because of course the priest, just as many of us, including Mackenzie and I both sometimes will refer to a building as a church. My son, by the way, I’ve got a two year old, and when we walk by any church building, he’ll point at it and go, “Church! Church!” Because that’s just sort of what we do. It’s an easy way of talking about a building that the church meets in. But back in George Fox’s day, and I think probably still in some communities today, there is a belief that … I mean I know in the Episcopal Church today, as a matter of fact, among many others, the building it seems is being actually like a holy place that has special rules around it.
Mackenzie: Right, Catholic churches are consecrated and before … When their building stops being used for church, then they have to do a decommissioning where they un-consecrate it.
Micah: I heard a suggestion that the National Cathedral should be deconsecrated after Trump had his inauguration prayer service there.
Mackenzie: Lots of Presidents have done that, so you know … Politics inside the National Cathedral is perfectly normal apparently, as weird as that seems.
Micah: Maybe the National Cathedral was already deconsecrated by so many politicians doing their political stuff there.
Mackenzie: Yeah, anyway. I know that … well at least my dad tells me that up in Pittsburgh when a Catholic church was … Because the Catholic church has been shrinking, and so they close things and sell off the properties. But there’s a Catholic church in Pittsburgh that is now “The Church Brew Works.” And that when that was sold to a brewery, my dad says that there were nuns picketing outside. And of course it’s been deconsecrated, but still, the idea that that place that had been considered a holy place for so long [crosstalk 00:16:19] bar.
Micah: I was actually just in New York City in Manhattan yesterday, and I saw a church building that had been repurposed as a gym. And I got to admit, it made me uncomfortable.
Mackenzie: Sweatin’ with the Spirit, huh?
Micah: Yeah. It just made me uncomfortable, because they had banners outside and it still really looked like a church building.
Mackenzie: There’s a lot that get turned into loft apartments and things.
Micah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). For some reason that doesn’t that doesn’t bug me quite as much. I don’t know why. There’s nothing rational to it. But I think a person from the Roman Catholic tradition or the Episcopal tradition might say there’s actually something very rational about it, because that is a holy place. And it has been sanctified by the prayers of the saints, and by the performing of the sacraments, and it’s a holy place. And you should feel uncomfortable they turned that into a gym. And whether they’re right or they’re wrong, I admit, I get the feeling.
But Fox’s point here, which I think is important, is that at the end of the day, granted or not, that buildings can become holy places, at the end of the day, the true temple of the living God is not a building. It is the people of the church, that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Because that was the point of the temple in the Old Testament, was to be a dwelling place for the Spirit of God. And in our time, and in this covenant that we are in with God now, as followers of Jesus, the dwelling place of God, the temple of God is us. The spirit lives in us.
Mackenzie: And if you believe that God is omnipresent, everywhere, then the idea that he needs a specific house seems a little odd.
Micah: It’s always been kind of a weird concept. And I mean I think you get indications even in the Old Testament that God thought it was kind of a bad idea to build a temple.
Mackenzie: Well except in Hezekiah where he’s like, “Hey! You haven’t built it yet!”
Micah: Right. I think this distinction’s important, where, again in the context of the early friends, the steeple houses, or these church buildings, were locus’s of power and authority for the priestly elite. And George Fox was protesting that pretty vigorously here, saying, “These priests don’t have a monopoly on God. These buildings are not where God lives. God lives in you if you’re following Jesus and if you’re being obedient to the light within you.”
Mackenzie: At the beginning of this episode, Micah said he was in a meeting house where the priest was, I was like, “No, no, he was in a steeple house!” And from that is where the old time-y Quaker references of houses of worship with steeples as being steeple houses comes from. Whereas we meet in meetinghouses. Although I do know one in Virginia that has a steeple, because it used to be a Catholic church. I think Catholic? Methodist? Something. It used to be some other kind of church.
Mackenzie: Yeah, anyway. The idea that the church and the way that word, which I think is “Ecclesia” is used in the bible, refers to the people-
Micah: The assembly.
Mackenzie: -not to the building. Because of course plenty of people throughout time have had worship in a field, under a tree, in peoples living rooms, whatever. And so the church is the people and building is either a meetinghouse or a steeple house.
Micah: Right. I’ll often say, ‘church building’ just to …
Mackenzie: Right, to specify. The building that belongs to the church.
Micah: Exactly. It’s an important point now that the church is the people, not a building, not an institution, but it’s the people. It’s the assembly of God. It’s the people of God, people assembled together, assembled together in the Holy Spirit. I think it’s an important point today, it was an important point when George Fox made it in the context of the institutional church and all their buildings and all their riches being a state power that was coercive. Probably even more relevant at that point. But maybe it’s equally relevant too, because although in this country there’s not a coercive state church, to bring it back to the prosperity gospel, there are a lot of churches where the building has become the message and the institution and the structures and the pay structure for staff has become part of the message and I think it’s healthy to question that.
Mackenzie: So we touched on the Christmas tree thing, but I suppose this is a good chance to talk about, because it fits in here, to talk about the … On the list of things Quakers don’t do, because we always talk about our faith in terms of things we don’t do.
Micah: Do we have to?
Mackenzie: Traditionally, the not having Christmas trees.
Micah: Not having Christmas.
Mackenzie: Yes, not having Christmas at all. The day some call “Christmas”-
Micah: The day the world calls “Christmas.”
Mackenzie: Yeah, the day the world calls “Christmas,” yes. Just like we were saying, that there’s not the specific holy place of a steeple house. But traditionally, friends have not had Christmas trees, not had Christmas as a specific set aside day, versus a things that you’re supposed to just plain remember always. Same thing for Easter. The Easter Bunny is not a Quaker tradition.
Micah: The Easter Bunny shouldn’t be anybody’s tradition. The Easter Bunny is just weird.
Mackenzie: Well that too. Oh, the days of the week thing.
Micah: Oh, yeah. I mean traditionally Quakers refer to the days of the week not by their Pagan names, like “Thorsday” and-
Mackenzie: Freya’s Day.
Micah: Right, but instead as “First day, second day, third day, fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, seventh day.” Seventh day being Saturday, first day being Sunday.
Mackenzie: Right, because it says in the bible that on the first day of the week Jesus rose from the dead. Therefor, Sunday is the first day. That’s how that one gets … and so they’re like, “Oh, we’re just using the names they use in the bible, first, second, third.”
Micah: I think the early Quakers were … they grew up in a liturgical tradition that had a liturgical calendar and seasons. And I understand and honor why they broke away from it, but I think they threw the baby out with the bathwater. I personally, and I think a lot of Quakers today, follow liturgical seasons. I pay a lot of attention to liturgical seasons. I celebrate Lent, I celebrate Holy Week and Easter and I love Good Friday. I think most of us today celebrate Christmas. I think the liturgical calendar is really great. And I think a lot of Christians in general, a lot of Protestants that sort of jettisoned it when they left the liturgical camp, I think a lot of us are getting back into it, because it is valuable. From my perspective, as long as it’s seen as a tool rather than a rule.
Mackenzie: Personally I was very surprised the first time I walked into the meeting room for the meeting I go to now during December. Because I walked in and there was a Christmas tree in the meeting room. And I was like, “What? But Quakers!” And I think maybe my old meeting had one in the basement, but it seemed different to have one in the meeting room, especially when we don’t actually have any spare seats, versus in the basement.
Micah: Not that the Christmas tree is a particularly Christian symbol.
Mackenzie: Well right, because back to the Heathenish part.
Micah: Right, the Christmas tree is just a seasonal symbol of, “Hey, it’s winter. We’re at the winter solstice. Cool.”
Mackenzie: And so nowadays most Quakers don’t maintain any of those traditions. The exception is some conservative friends, because they’re traditionalists.
Micah: Well I would say, actually, quite a few Quakers that even that aren’t in the conservative branch will still use like “First day” or “First month” for example. They’ll still use that in official writing for their meeting, or in the minutes for their meeting they might just say “First day” or “First month,” things like that.
Mackenzie: Right, whereas it’s only among conservative friends that I’ve heard people actually chatting, like having one tell me, “Well, we can put thee up on sixth day night, but we have somebody else staying on seventh day night, so you’re going to have to find somewhere else to stay.” I’m like “…sixth day, seventh day… Friday, Saturday, got it, okay!”
So if just from hearing that you have the impression that you’re going expect to run into some very strict puritanical stuff among Quakers, if you’re somebody who hasn’t visited among Quakers yet and you’re going to go try out going to meeting, don’t expect that strict puritanical-ness, because most of us don’t have that. That’s very rare now-a-days.
Micah: Even those that do are not puritanical about it in general. They’re just weird.
Mackenzie: Yeah they are just weird. Also, personally to me it seems very odd that in the liberal branch we still do the “First month, first day,” et cetera things in our meeting minutes when we have actual pagans in the room. Like when your meeting includes Wiccans. It does not make sense to be like, “Well, we’re abstaining from that Pagan stuff,” You have a Wiccan! No you’re not! Anyway. This concludes the whole series on spiritual search through knowing Christ in Us.
Mackenzie: You can find us on the web at QuakerPodcast.org, as @QuakerPodcast on Twitter, Facebook, or Patreon, and on I-Tunes.