A Birthday; and Back to Barclay on the Bible
So now I want to go back to Barclay. This actually is somewhat timely. Where we come back to is Proposition 3, Concerning the Scriptures. I will look at what Barclay says and, in light of recent events, compare it with the Richmond Declaration.
So here is the text to Barclay's Third Proposition:
From these revelations of the Spirit of God to the saints, have proceeded the scriptures of truth, which contain, 1. A faithful historical account of the actings of God's people in divers ages, with many singular and remarkable providences attending them. 2. A prophetical account of several things, whereof some are already past, and some yet to come. 3. A full and ample account of all the chief principles of the doctrine of Christ, held forth in divers precious declarations, exhortations, and sentences, which, by the moving of God's Spirit, were at several times, and upon sundry occasions, spoken and written unto some churches and their pastors: nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Nevertheless, as that which giveth a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty; for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that guide by which the saints are led into all truth: therefore, according to the scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader. And seeing we do therefore receive and believe the scriptures, because they proceed from the Spirit; therefore also the Spirit is more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale. Englished thus: "That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such."
Barclay's entire discussion of this proposition can be found here.
Thus Barclay is saying that the Spirit is above the Scripture because the Spirit gave forth the Scripture and that it is only by the Spirit that one can truly understand the Scriptures.
But Barclay goes on to say:
We shall also be very willing to admit it as a positive certain maxim, That whatsoever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to the Scriptures, be accounted and reckoned a delusion of the devil. For as we never lay claim to the Spirit's leadings that we may cover ourselves in anything that is evil; so we know that as every evil contradicts the Scriptures so it doth also the Spirit in the first place, from which the Scriptures came and whose motions can never contradict one another, though they may appear sometimes to be contradictory to the blind eye of the natural man, as Paul and James seem to contradict one another.
This is how the Richmond Declaration's section on the Bible begins:
It has ever been, and still is, the belief of the Society of Friends that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God; that, therefore, there can be no appeal from them to any other authority whatsoever; that they are able to make wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Jesus Christ. "These are written so that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name." (John 20:31). The Scriptures are the only divinely authorized record of the doctrines which we are bound, as Christians, to accept, and of the moral principles which are to regulate our actions. No one can be required to believe, as an article of faith, any doctrine which is not contained in them; and whatsoever anyone says or does, contrary to the Scriptures, though under profession of the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, must be reckoned and accounted a mere delusion.
Now in all fairness, this section of the Richmond Declaration ends with this:
The great Inspirer of Scripture is ever its true Interpreter. He performs this office in condescending love, not by superseding our understandings, but by renewing and enlightening them. Where Christ presides, idle speculation is hushed; His doctrine is learned in the doing of His will, and all knowledge ripens into a deeper and richer experience of His truth and love.
Some liberal Friends may find this idea of testing all ideas against the Scriptures as quaint or anachronistic. But it follows from a basic understanding of the nature of God, which is that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. This idea is expressed in the letter to King Charles II which we sometimes refer to as the Peace Testimony:
That the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing a evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.
[Journal of George Fox, Nickalls Edition, p399-400]
It appears to me that many liberal Friends think that continuing revelation means that God will provide us with a whole new revelation that can cause us to abandon what has come before. But that is not how God has acted in the past. Even the new gospel of Christ was also the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. The old was not discarded. In fact, in 2 Timothy, the Hebrew Scriptures are commended as being inspired and “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...” [2 Timothy 3:16] Many Friends today find that studying the Jewish context of Jesus and the early church enriches and deepens their faith. Continuing revelation means that God continues to reveal the Divine Self to us and that over time we come to know more and more about what that means. The original version of Quakerism was radically conservative. It was based on the sense that the new work of God in the 17th century was to recreate the original Christian church.
It is a gross exaggeration that contains a kernel of truth, but it would seem that liberal Friends want to give primacy to the Spirit and ignore the Bible while evangelical Friends would give primacy to the Bible and ignore the Spirit. As a result our disagreements turn into essentially unresolvable disputes about the source of spiritual authority. This is unfortunate because strong Biblical arguments can be made in support of the liberal position, as well as the Guerneyite position, if the liberals would just engage in the work. The whole point of Barclay's endeavor with his Apology, is to provide a Biblical backing for all of the parts of Quakerism that were contrary to the common understanding of the Bible in the 17th century. This included not only Quaker positions on baptism, communion and the nature of worship, it also extended to their views on the role of women in ministry, perfection, and a number of other matters. Both Barclay and the Richmond Declaration assume that proper attention to the Christ or the Holy Spirit will lead all Friends to a common understanding of Scripture. Even if this is a long and slow process it would not hurt for us to be having the discussion in a common language.
Both liberal and Evangelical Friends have been strongly influenced by religious and cultural movements that have arisen since the early days of Quakerism. Liberal Friends have been influenced by modernism and the evangelicals have been influenced by the reaction against modernism. I do not think that the way towards renewal of the Society of Friends lies in following either of these paths. I think that it the Society of Friends will be renewed by our seeking after the transforming power of God that was found by the early Friends and the early church. I would expect such a transformation would be nourished by the words of early Friends and by the words of the Bible but it would be driven by the Holy Spirit blowing new through ourselves today.
This is already getting rather long. Next time I will look some more at Barclay's elaboration on this proposition.