Monday, May 2, 2011

The Light of Christ: an Integrated Christology Embedded in Quaker Roots

By Wayne Williams

Maurice Creasy, a 20th century Quaker theologian, discusses the original Christological understanding of founding Friends as being able to hold the “particular and the universal, the historical and the mystical emphasis” of Jesus together in unity.  The salvific significance and power of Jesus concerned “the universal and divine light of Christ”.  He argues that the teaching of early Quakers regarding this Light was an understanding that had to do with the action of God, not man.  God showed Godself in Jesus, and what God showed IS in all men.  This Light is innate in everyone, and we all have access to Christ’s Light eternally.

Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:20 NLT)

Jesus’ recorded life in Scripture embodied love and compassion.  Through the Gospel narratives, Jesus exhorted and challenged others and the status quo.  Early Quakers believed the embodied expressions and witness of Jesus as being active and present at all times working in and through all persons everywhere.[1]

Salvation through Christ came not through mere possession of this personal Illumination.  Obedience to the discerned leadings of Christ was required to fulfill God’s purpose.  Early Quakers were concerned with an orthopraxy of ethics and action, not liturgy.  Though every person everywhere has access to this Light, few respond with the required action to manifest Jesus’ saving and transforming Power.  

Creasey writes that early Friends were observing in their contemporaries a lip-service glorification of Christ.  The established Church’s ignorance of Christ’s relation to Creation was evidenced “by an uncritical acceptance of social, political, economic, and military methods.”  Early Quakers also criticized the Church of putting a higher value on the “intellectual apprehension of doctrine” than a Spiritual transformation.  For founding Friends, belief in the Lordship of Christ implied transformation of the total individual through living through the promptings of Christ’s Spirit.

Those who so knew Christ themselves to have been delivered not only from penalty of sin but also from its power.  They found themselves, moreover, gathered into a community in which were to be known, not merely as a doctrine or an idea, but in reality and in daily life, both the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and the power of Christ’s resurrection.[2]

Creasey seems to lament the loss of the original vision that Friends had.  This was an integrated understanding to the saving purpose of Christ.  He argues that the once united interworking concept of Christ embraced the particular and universal, historical and mystical, that these emphases among Friends have become polarized, divided, and in some circles even faded out of view.  It is the component elements’ relationship to one another that gives our comprehension weight and depth.  Our once integrated and comprehensive Christology was a keystone to our Society’s original unity and subsequent growth.  To discuss today our Society’s diverse Christologies (or lack thereof) can occasion division or even offense.  This is saddening, given the fact that Christ once stood as a unifying ideology among our own founding visionaries.  The time is ripe to reconsider our corporate vision of Jesus in relation to our current need for transforming the uncritical social, economic, political, and ethical powers and principalities at work in today’s world.

[1] Creasey, Maurice. Christ in Early Quakerism, (Philadelphia: The Tract Association of Friends, undated).
[2] Creasey, Maurice. Christ in Early Quakerism, (Philadelphia: The Tract Association of Friends, undated).

Wayne WilliamsWayne is a current MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion. He is a member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting, New York Yearly Meeting.

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