Bring people to Christ / Leave them there: One thing I love to do is track back on cultural Quaker turns of phrase. Here I looked at a phrase sometimes attributed to George Fox and find a largely forgotten British Friend who laid much of the groundwork for Quaker modernism and the uniting of American Quakers.
It’s one of those quotes we frequently hear: that George Fox said a minister’s job was “to bring people to Christ, and to leave them there.” But when I go to Google, I only find secondhand references, sandwiched in quote marks but never sourced. It turns up most frequently in the works of British Friend William Pollard, who used it as kind of a catch phrase in his talks on “An Old Fashioned Quakerism” from 1889. Suspiciously missing is any search result from the journal or epistles of Fox himself. It’s possible Pollard has paraphrased something from Fox into a speech-friendly shorthand that Google misses, but it’s also possible it’s one of those passed-down Fox myths like Penn’s sword.
So in modern fashion, I posed the question to the Facebook hive mind. After great discussions, I’m going to call this a half-truth. On the Facebook thread, Allistair Lomax shared a Fox epistle that convinces me the founder of Friends would have agreed with the basic concept:
I’m guessing it is paraphrase of a portion of Fox’s from epistle 308, 1674. Fox wrote “You know the manner of my life, the best part of thirty years since I went forth and forsook all things. I sought not myself. I sought you and his glory that sent me. When I turned you to him that is able to save you, I left you to him.”
Mark Wutka shared quotations from Stephen Grellet and William Williams which have convince me that it describes the “two step dance” of convincement for early Friends:
From Stephen Grellet: “I have endeavoured to lead this people to the Lord and to his Spirit, and there is is safe to leave them.” And this from William Williams: “To persuade people to seek the Lord, and to be faithful to his word, the inspoken words of the heart, is what we ought to do; and then leave them to be directed by the inward feelings of the mind;”
The two-step image comes from Angela York Crane’s comment:
So it’s a two step dance. First, that who we are and how we live and speak turns others to the Lord, and second, that we trust enough to leave them there.
But: as a pithy catch phrase directly attributed to Fox it’s another myth. It perhaps borrowed some images from a mid-19th century talk by Charles Spurgeon on George Fox, but came together in the 1870s as a central catch phrase of British reformer Friend William Pollard. Pollard is a fascinating figure in his own right, an early proponent of modern liberalism in a London Yearly Meeting that was then largely evangelical and missionary. Even his pamphlet and book titles were telling, including Primitive Christianity Revived and A Reasonable Faith. He had an agenda and this phrase was a key formulation of his argument and vision.
He is hardly the first or last Friend to have lifted an incidental phrase or concept of George Fox’s and given it the weight of a modern tenet (“That of God” springs to mind). More interesting to me is that Pollard’s work was frequently reprinted and referenced in Friends Intelligencer, the American Hicksite publication (and predecessor of Friends Journal), at a time when London Friends didn’t recognize Hicksites as legitimate Quakers. His vision of an “Old Fashioned Quakerism” reincorporated quietism and sought to bring British Friends back to a two-step convincement practice. It paved the way for the transformation of British Quakerism following the transformational 1895 Manchester Conference and gave American Friends interested in modern liberal philosophical ideals a blueprint for incorporating them into a Quaker framework.
The phrase “bring people to Christ/leave them there” is a compelling image that has lived on in the 130 or so odd years since its coinage. I suspect it is still used much as Pollard intended: as a quietist braking system for top-down missionary programs. It’s a great concept. Only our testimony in truth now requires that we introduce it, “As William Pollard said, a Quaker minister’s job is to…”
And for those wondering, yes, I have just ordered Pollard’s Old Fashioned Quakerism via Vintage Quaker Books. He seems like something of a kindred spirit and I want to learn more.
There’s an interesting discussion in the comments from my last post about “Convergent Friends and Ohio Conservatives” and one of the more interesting comes from a commenter named Diane. My reply to her got longer and longer and filled with more and more links till it makes more sense to make it its own post. First, Diane’s question:
I don’t know if I’m “convergent,” (probably not) but I have been involved with the emerging church for several years and with Quakerism for a decade. I also am aware of the house church movement, but my experience of it is that is is very tangentially related to Quakerism. I really, really hope and pray that Christian revival is coming to liberal Friends, but personally I have not seen that phenomenom. Where do you see it most? Do you see it more as commitment to Christ or as more people being Christ curious, to use Robin’s phrase?
As I wrote recently I think convergence is more of a trend than an identity and I’m not sure whether it makes sense to fuss about who’s convergent or not. As with any question involving liberal Friends, whether there’s “Christian revival” going on depends on what what you mean by the term. I think more liberal Friends have become comfortable labeling themselves as Christ curious; it has become more acceptable to identify as Christian than it was a decade or two ago; a significant number of younger Friends are very receptive to Christian messages, the Bible and traditional Quaker testimonies than they were.
Some of the Christ-curious liberal Friends are forming small worship groups and some of these are seeking out recognition from Conservative bodies. It’s an achingly small movement but it shows a desire to be corporately Quaker and not just individualistically Quaker. With the internet traditional Quaker viewpoints are only a Google search away; sites like Bill Samuel’s “Quakerinfo.com”:www.quakerinfo.com and blogs like Marshall Massey’s are breaking down stereotypes and doing a lot of invaluable educating (and I could name a lot more). It’s possible to imagine all this cooking down to a third wave of traditionalist renewal. Ohio Yearly Meeting-led initiatives like the Christian Friends Conference and All Conservative Gatherings are steps in the right direction but any real change is going to have to pull together multiple trends, one of which might or might not be Convergence.
Our role in this future is not to be strategists playing Quaker politics but servants ready to lay down our identities and preconceptions to follow the promptings of the Inward Christ into whatever territory we’re called to:
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:21 – 28.
I usually think cyber-pranks are just silly. But I have to laugh at this one: Enough bloggers have linked to President Bush’s official bio with the words “miserable failure” that if you now type that phrase into Google our President comes up as the very first return. More on this “Googlebomb” from this Newsday article. And just to help the results along, I’ll concur that I think he’s a miserable failure.
By now, WMD have taken on a mythic role in which fact doesn’t play much of a part. The phrase itself – ‘weapons of mass destruction’ – is more like an incantation than a description of anything in particular.”