What makes someone Christian?
The next section (6A) of the book looks at some writing by Robert Barclay, from his Apology. His answer about what makes someone Christian is:
if we make a definition of a Christian which is scriptural, that a Christian is one who has the Spirit of Christ and is led by it, we will have to divest many [so-called] Christians…of that designation.
Ouch, burn! 🔥 Early Quakers would divide people into “professors” and “possessors.” Professors only talked the talk. Possessors walked the walk. Remember: we named ourselves “Friends” because Jesus said “you are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you.” So, obedience is super important. They were not afraid to call other Christians apostates. (Correspondingly, other Christians have never been afraid to call us apostates and heretics.)
Many Christians today would still say Quakers aren’t Christians. They might point to our lack of water baptism, or that we don’t make a habit of communion with physical elements. Or that we don’t have Apostolic succession for our ministers. And then there’s the non-creedal thing. We we refuse to point at and adopt a specific creed, such as the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed. Thus, they’d say we are outside of the faith. Today, we learned Mackenzie can no longer keep those two creeds separate in her head, but Micah can. He even knows the new translation of the Nicene Creed.
Martin Luther, the guy that started the Protestant Reformation, says a church is a place where the Word is preached and sacraments are properly administered. By that, he meant the Bible is preached, which isn’t exactly how Quakers have traditionally defined the Word of God.
Barclay compared not being moved by the Spirit to being a corpse. 💀
Take away the Spirit and Christianity is no more Christianity than a corpse is a man, once the soul and spirit have departed. And a corpse is a noisome and useless thing which the living can no longer stand and bury out of sight, no matter how acceptable it was when it was actuated and moved by the soul.
Early Quakers weren’t interested in defining what makes someone a Quaker. However, they had definite opinions on what makes someone Christian. They were just way more concerned with what it means to follow Jesus. Quakers organized into a sect with clearly defined rules and lines later. George Fox’s denunciations of Catholics and basically every other denomination really wouldn’t go over well with modern Quakers. Anyone want to speculate on what Fox would say about modern Quakers?
At the time, these denunciations were a challenge to the power of the Church of England. That challenge changed the community relationship to the other people your geographic area. Micah wonders what relevance this question has today, when there isn’t a monopoly church to be in or out of community with?
- Jon Watts song “Don’t Doff Your Hat“
MacKenzie: Welcome back to Quaker Faith and Podcast with Mackenzie and Micah. Today we are going to look at section six A in traditional Quaker Christianity. This section is called Christ’s people. It’s a big long quote from Robert Barclay who we’ve mentioned before. He was a Quaker theologian in the 1600’s, who was known for having written one that’s called the apology for the true Christian divinity. The people of God called Quakers or something like that.
Micah: I’m sure there’s a paragraph that comes after it.
MacKenzie: Yeah, they’ve got really long titles back then. And the other one is a Quaker catechism, which I can’t remember the exact title of, but it’s just referred to as Barclay’s catechism. Anyway, in this big long quote, really he’s talking about what does it mean to be a Christian and what is Christianity.
Micah: Which is interesting to think about because so often among Quakers, particularly liberal Quakers, but not only liberal Quakers, it is a really frequent conversation to talk about what makes someone a Quaker. But what makes someone a Christian is perhaps an even more difficult and interesting question than what makes someone a Quaker.
MacKenzie: Right. And outside Quakers, too, of course, you have the what makes someone a Christian conversation, yet there are plenty of people in other denominations who would give their definition and say Quakers don’t meet it. We’re a bunch of heretics or apostates or whatever. But in here, Barclay says as his definition that, “A Christian is one who has the spirit of Christ and is led by it.” And he says, “We will have to divest many so-called Christians of that designation.”
Micah: Yeah. The early Quakers were not hesitant to say that others were not actually Christians, that others who professed to be Christians were in fact not possessors of that faith.
MacKenzie: Yes. It’s really common when you’re reading this old-time Quaker stuff to see them talk about professors. They’re saying, “Okay, they talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.”
Micah: Right. Also, to be frank, when I first started reading George Fox’s journal, that was one of the thing that was most difficult for me, that most turned me off to George Fox was that he had like absolutely no problem saying that all the other people call themselves Christians and the Jews and all these other religions. They’re all walking in darkness and only, we, the Quakers really have the truth and they all need to receive it.
MacKenzie: Oh, god, he’s holding [inaudible 00:02:57]. They’re all a bunch of phonies.
Micah: I’m not familiar.
MacKenzie: You didn’t have to read Catcher in the Rye in high school?
Micah: Yeah. They’re all a bunch of phonies. That’s about right. That’s how George Fox felt. That’s obviously how Robert Barclay felt, that the world is full of people who call themselves Christians. In fact there is over a billion Christians in the world. Or is that two? I think there’s like a billion Catholics.
MacKenzie: I know half the world’s Christians are Catholics. That’s the extent of my statistician’s stuff for wider Christianity.
Micah: In that case there’s probably over two billion people in this world who consider themselves Christians, but how many of them are actually living the faith that they profess? For the early Quakers, the answer was not very many. Most people in the minds of the early Quakers were living a form of Christianity and living according to a set of rules that their false leaders got for them out of the pages of that book. But they didn’t know Jesus. For Robert Barclay, for the early Quakers, what really defined a Christian is someone, is a people because they define this is corporate terms. Christians are a people who know Jesus and obey him.
MacKenzie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s where the official name for Quakers is the Religious Society of Friends. That’s taken from a bit in … I think it’s John 15:15 if I’m remembering right where Jesus-
Micah: You’re my friends if you do whatsoever I command you.
MacKenzie: There you go.
Micah: Which is how I speak to my friends. You’re my friends if you do whatsoever I command you. That’s how you know if you’re Micah’s friend.
MacKenzie: Yeah. It’s not happening.
Micah: To be fair, Jesus had a lot more authority to say something like that than I would. But, yeah, the core of the Quaker movement is this idea that you are a follower of Jesus when you follow him. You are a friend of Jesus when you know him. If you don’t know him … Frankly, as bad as it sounds to my ears and to many, this whole idea of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and even the personal part. I think, though, many Quakers they would not use the Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior language. I sure wouldn’t use that language for a variety of reasons, which I might get into in another podcast. That actually is not too far from the teaching of early Quakers in the sense that Quakers demanded that you have a personal conversion, that you have a personal encounter with Jesus.
MacKenzie: As opposed to, “Well, I was baptized as a baby. And I’ve been told this all my life, so, yeah, I’ve been a Christian since I was eight days old or something.”
Micah: Right. It turns out that Quakerism and revivalist evangelical Christianity of Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior fame have something in common in that they both demand a personal encounter with Jesus and a conversion to his way and not merely being a formal part of a community and doing the stuff.
MacKenzie: Those evangelical sorts would also talk about being born again whereas when you look at a lot of friends from earlier days and I know even up through Elias Hicks, the guy who gets his name tacked on to liberal Quakerism, he would talk about crucifying the old man because you have a new life in Christ. I don’t think he used the words new life, but he would talk definitely crucify the old man is the thing he would say. And I think that’s a phrase he was using that goes all the way back to early Friends.
Micah: This is the really interesting thing. This is why for me, who is a Christian or what is a Christian is a more interesting question than who or what is a Quaker, because the early Quaker movement wasn’t concerned with who was a Quaker. Again, as I’ve mentioned in previous podcasts, I’m most interested in what the early movement was about. The early movement’s what’s most fascinating and inspiring to me. The early movement of Quakers was not interested in defining who was a Quaker. They were interested in defining who was a Christian, who is a follow of Jesus. Who actually walks in the light that we’re all talking about here in our steeple houses?
MacKenzie: We’ve mentioned at the beginning of this that in other denominations they might not consider Quakers, in general, to count whether we’re looking, regardless of what branch we’re looking at, they might not consider us because of not doing water baptism generally like we talked about in episode something teen. It was like 15 or 16. Something like that. Or the communion with physical elements, Eucharist. Or because for a lot of Christians what makes you a Christian is subscribing to a particular creed. And it’s been a really long time, so I might get this wrong, but the Apostle’s Creed says, “I believe in God the Father and Jesus Christ, his Only Son, Our Lord, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate, was died and was buried. On the third day he rose again-
Micah: He descended into the dead.
MacKenzie: Right, right. He descended into the dead.
Micah: “On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and he is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.”
MacKenzie: Okay. Thank you, Micah.
Micah: I know that one too.
MacKenzie: Sweet. See, I’ve gotten all screwed up because I actually … growing up I mostly only went on weekday masses where they don’t do the Nicene Creed. But then every now and then, I’ve gone to enough Sunday masses that now the Nicene Creed is trying to break into when I attempt to do the Apostle’s Creed. Anyway. The Nicene Creed is way longer and has things like seen and unseen or now they retranslated it to visible and invisible.
Micah: Begotten, not made. Of one substance with the Father.
MacKenzie: Yeah. Anyway. There’s this long recitation of if you believe this checklist, congratulations, you’re a Christian.
Micah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And in the liturgical tradition, and if you do these procedures.
Micah: You recite the creed. You say you believe the creed. You do the procedures. You take the wafer. You drink the wine. You do these things-
MacKenzie: You get sprinkled or dunked. Pick one.
Micah: Exactly. That’s what makes you a Christian. For the vast majority of the church throughout most of European history, what made you a Christian was that when you were a baby they sprinkled some water on you. And then when you were 13 you agreed to be confirmed in the church.
MacKenzie: Which gets you anointed with oil.
Micah: Right. That’s what made you a Christian. Of course belief was a part of it. Of course all sorts of other things were a part of it, but when it really came down to it, what mattered was you had the proper … As Martin Luther says, and Martin Luther is the one that founded Protestantism, his definition of the church was a place where the word is preached and the sacraments are properly administered. That’s his definition.
Micah: Quakers have a very different definition. You could preach the word. And for Martin Luther when Martin Luther said preach the word, he meant preach from the Bible, right? Which, of course Quakers have a different understanding of the word of God. Which I think we’ve-
MacKenzie: See episode one, Jesus Christ is the Word of God.
Micah: Right. For Martin Luther, if the Bible was being preached, if you were preaching out of the Bible and if the sacraments were properly administered meaning people got their water baptism, they got their bread and wine, et cetera. Then that was effectively the church. The early Quakers said, “No, you can do that stuff. You can preach out of the Bible. You can administer your rituals, and this still isn’t the church because Jesus isn’t known, loved and obeyed as teacher and Lord here.”
MacKenzie: I was going to say, also, if you want a modern example of what makes somebody a Christian there’s a thing in evangelical churches of saying the Jesus prayer or the sinner’s prayer. I don’t know what this sounds like. I assume you might have some more familiarity than I do.
Micah: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner.
MacKenzie: That’s it? Okay. I know there’s some short thing that you say it and that’s supposed to be the accepting Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior thing. Then, tada, you’re a Christian.
Micah: It’s a good prayer. And that prayer has a long history in the contemplative Christian tradition of being almost a mantra where you can say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God have mercy on me a sinner.” And then as you keep saying it to yourself throughout the day you might be honing in on a smaller phrase like, “Have mercy on me.” And then you might even get down to, “Mercy.” Or whatever particular word it is that has really resonated with you. The sinner’s prayer is widely used in contemplative practice to focus on God.
Micah: And obviously it’s to prostrate oneself before God as a sinner in need of salvation.
MacKenzie: Okay. In this big quote from Barclay that is in the book, there is a … I just want to pull out this little couple of lines where it says, “Take away the Spirit and Christianity is no more Christianity than a corpse is a man once the soul and spirit have departed. And a corpse is a noisome and useless thing, which the living can no longer stand and bury out of sight no matter how acceptable it was when it was actuated and moved by the soul.”
Micah: Barclay had a way with words.
Micah: But that’s right. The spark that lit the early Quaker movement and that has lit reforming and revitalizing Christian movements throughout the church’s history was the spectacle of seeing the church, the visible church, as a corpse, as just all these people who get together and read out of this book and read about Jesus and do these rituals but don’t know Jesus in a personal way and don’t obey him, don’t listen to him, don’t follow him. It’s a mockery that’s worse in many ways than if the church so-called didn’t even meet.
How do we think this applies to today? Would George Fox be justified today in saying, “Oh, those Catholics, they’re not really Christians. Those Lutherans with their word and sacraments, they’re not really Christians?” George Fox would have said these things in his time.
MacKenzie: Oh, and he did.
Micah: Yeah. George Fox had this analysis and the early Quakers in general had this analysis that was unsparing that said, “If you’re not really living in the life and power of Jesus Christ as we see it, you’re not really a Christian.” I think most Quakers today would be like, “Oh, that’s a horribly divisive and how could you possibly say that?”
MacKenzie: And intolerant.
Micah: And intolerant. How does that speak to us now as modern day Quakers, who at least for me, I’m inspired by the early movement?
MacKenzie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I guess I wonder whether Fox encountered people within other denominations who would say, “Okay, well, this one is a Christian as opposed to the bulk of that denomination.” You know what I mean?
Micah: I can’t think of specific example. But I do feel like reading through his journal there are times … He remembers some people more kindly than others. This is a part of the reason why I do think looking back, the early Quakers weren’t interested in the early movement in defining what a good Quaker is. They were interested in defining what a follower of Jesus is, what a Christian is, what true religion is. When you read George Fox’s journal, he does encounter people who are faithful who don’t call themselves Quakers. They might be a radical dissenter.
MacKenzie: I haven’t actually read the entirety of his journals. It’s really long.
Micah: It is really long. Yeah. For the very early movement, later it became a sect. Pretty quickly it became a sect. But in the very early movement, it wasn’t about who’s a Quaker and who’s not a Quaker. It’s about who are people who are being faithful to Christ and who are not. And it just happened to be that most of the people being faithful to Christ were in fact joining the Quaker movement. But I think that distinction is meaningful that it wasn’t about initially, it wasn’t simply about a membership in a particularly brand or organization.
MacKenzie: Right. Sort of gets into institutions versus people. He’s calling out corrupt institutions and institutions which he doesn’t really see much life.
Micah: Oh, he was calling out people too.
MacKenzie: Well, yes. But, that an institution seems dead or lifeless does not mean that it is completely lacking in people who are faithful and living in the life of the Spirit.
Micah: And the other part of that too is that … Quaker’s primary evangelism was to people in the existing church structure. Like George Fox’s, in his first years of ministry, George Fox’s primary form of evangelism was to go and interrupt established church services and preach an alternative message.
MacKenzie: I’ve heard that apparently if they waited for, like Episcopalian churches, Episcopalian churches and I think the church of England as well have a response time after the sermon. And if he waited until then, he wouldn’t get arrested. But there was a law that was on the books from the time of Mary, the Catholic queen, that said interrupting a sermon got you thrown in jail. He interrupted the sermon and then he would have to go to jail or didn’t get permission from the priest to speak. Quakers actually then ended up, they got lawyer Quakers, I mean, they got some lawyers and magistrates. Became Quakers and then with their help they were arguing that, “Well, since England is a Protestant country and that’s a law about church made by Mary, the Catholic, it shouldn’t apply.”
Micah: Right. Good example of this. George Fox would frequently with permission, like Mackenzie says, there in English church tradition, there was a designated time where the congregation could respond. I think as you said, they probably had to be acknowledged by the priest. You would ask to be acknowledged by the priest. The priest would acknowledge you and then you could speak. Quakers took great advantage of this. However, there is one case pretty early on in George Fox’s journal where he just can’t contain himself because the priest said something so wrong. The priest said something so wrong. He bursts out and starts speaking. And it actually does have to do, I think we probably covered it in episode one, has to do with who the word of God really is. Occasionally George Fox would just burst in on a sermon and he would get beaten up and arrested.
MacKenzie: Yeah, I really like the imagery that’s at the beginning of John Watt’s song, I think it’s Don’t Doff Your Hat where he’s talking about George Fox walking in and interrupting the preacher. If you haven’t heard that song, I recommend going and listening to it.
Micah: I guess really the question for me is, and this is one of the most difficult questions of my life, this is something I think about all the time is in the early Quaker movement and in most other times in Christian European history, the life of faith, the life of the church was deeply significant in that if you were to undermine the credibility, say, of the church of England that was actually a radical act that had practical, political, social, economic consequences. Right? It actually affected power structures. It affected who rose and fell in power. It had real outcomes because the life of religion, the life of faith was so deeply interwoven with everything. Right? Today, in the United States and in Europe, that’s not the case. For the most part, religious beliefs and religious communities have been relegated to the realm of private and do not touch, especially in Europe but increasingly in the United States, do not touch our shared life as nations. There are pros and cons to this. This is a unique situation in history. This is the first time in 2,000 years or much longer than that where this has been the case that religion has been separated in this way. Or that theistic religion, let’s say, has been separated from our corporate life as nations.
What does it mean for us to define what is a Christian in this context? Because in George Fox’s day, to say to be a follower of Jesus, to be a Christian, to practice true religion you must know Jesus and you must obey him and here’s what that looks like. That was not merely sort of a philosophical opinion that you could take or leave. This was actually a statement about what it meant to live as a member of the community as a whole, as a nation even. What’s the practical import of figuring out who’s a Christian these days? What’s the practical import of being a Christian these days? That is a deep and troubling question for me that I don’t have a clear answer to and I continue to search for. What is the political, economic, social, emotional community relevance of our faith?
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