Bring people to Christ / Leave them there

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.

London Yearly Meeting, 1865.
Lon­don Year­ly Meet­ing, 1865.

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.

Christian revival among liberal Friends

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.

These are indi­vid­ual respons­es, how­ev­er. Turn­ing to col­lec­tive Quak­er bod­ies there are few if any beliefs or prac­tices left that lib­er­al Friends wouldn’t allow under the Quak­er ban­ner if they came wrapped in Quak­erese from a well-connected Friend; the social tes­ti­monies stand in as the uni­fy­ing agent; it’s still con­sid­ered an argu­ment stop­per to say that any prof­fered def­i­n­i­tion would exclude some­one.

I’d argue that lib­er­al Quak­erism is becom­ing ever more lib­er­al (and less dis­tinc­tive­ly Quak­er) at the same time that many of those in influ­ence are becom­ing more Chris­t­ian. It’s a very pro­scribed Chris­tian­i­ty: cod­ed, ten­ta­tive and most of all indi­vid­u­al­is­tic. It’s okay for a lib­er­al Friend to believe what­ev­er they want to believe as long as they don’t believe too much. Whether the qui­et influ­ence of the ris­ing gen­er­a­tion of conservative-friendly lead­er­ship is enough to hold a Quak­er cen­ter in the cen­trifuge that is lib­er­al Quak­erism is the $60,000 ques­tion. I think the lead­er­ship has an inflat­ed sense of its own influ­ence but I’m watch­ing the exper­i­ment. I wish it well but I’m skep­ti­cal and wor­ry that it’s built on sand.

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.

Google can’t be wrong

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.

Michael Kinsley: Did it matter if Iraq didn’t have WMD?

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.”

Here’s a nos­tal­gic list­ing of Bush Admin­is­tra­tion quotes assur­ing us WMDs exist­ed. (Thanks toStuffed­Dog for the link)