07 May 2015

Margaret Fell's words to us

One of our Russian Quaker colleagues showed me a brief text in Tom Hamm's anthology Quaker Writings and said, "I want to translate this."

The words she wants to translate are from Margaret Fell, the powerful organizer of the Friends movement and, in later life, also the wife of George Fox. Towards the very end of her life, Margaret apparently realized that many Friends were slipping from dependence on the Holy Spirit in favor of "forms," and issued a strong caution to the Friends movement. I believe she speaks with amazing directness to the full variety of Friends today, and not just to Friends but to organized religion everywhere. In part, here's what she said:
So let us keep to the rule and leading of the eternal Spirit, that God hath given us to be our teacher, and let that put on and off as is meet and serviceable for every one's state and condition. And let us take heed of limiting in some practices, for we are under the Gospel leading and guiding and teaching, which is a free spirit, which leads into unity and lowliness of mind the saints and service of Christ, desiring to be established in the free Spirit, not bound or limited. Legal ceremonies are far from gospel freedom; let us beware of being guilty or having a hand in ordering or contriving what is contrary to Gospel freedom, for the Apostle would not have dominion over their faith in Corinth, but to be helpers of their faith. It's a dangerous thing to lead young Friends much into the observance of outward things, which may easily be done, for they can soon get into an outward garb, to be all alike outwardly, but this will not make them true Christians: it's the Spirit that gives life. I would be loth to have a hand in these things. The Lord preserve us, that we do no hurt to God's work but let him work whose work it is. We have lived quietly and peacefully thus far, and let's not for God's service to make breaches.
I'm thinking about putting some of my thoughts about this diagnosis/prescription in a future post, but for now it might be enough to let Margaret speak for herself. What is she saying to you? To your church or meeting? To the unity-promoters and the breach-makers in your own community?

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Marshall Massey said...

I am respecting your desire that Friend Margaret be left to speak for herself. But since I do hear Friends today echoing her sentiments, and usually in ways that are not just inclusive but also argumentative and divisive, I hope you will open up the discussion at some future date.

Johan Maurer said...

Fair enough.