Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: Introduction

The past few weeks have been incredibly busy, as I’ve moved across the country, celebrated my sister’s wedding, and started a new job, but in the midst of that I’ve also been writing a bit about the charismatic spirituality of Quakerism. I know many post/ex-Evangelicals and folks in general have a bitter taste of the Charismatic Movement, whether it because of abusive experiences or disagreements with their theology, but I ask that you give me a chance in these series of posts to explain why I very much consider Quakerism a charismatic movement.

Gracechurch Street Meeting, London ca.1779.

Gracechurch Street Meeting, London ca.1779.

What is the Charismatic Movement?

Many people make sweeping statements about the Charismatic Movement without much comprehension of the diversity among Charismatics, as evidenced by the multitude of books cautioning believers of this broad movement. In 2013, neo-reformed Baptist preacher and author John MacArthur held a conference that attracted thousands of participants that was dedicated to villifying the excesses of Pentecostals and Charismatics. This conference, “Strange Fire”, assumed Charismatics to be at least gravely deceived, if not hell-bound and blasphemers.

Thankfully, this sort of rhetoric is not as commonplace as it once was in the Church and is progressively losing its steam, as about 26% of the global Church is considered charismatic, and as different charismatic practices have been normalized and adopted by non-charismatic traditions (such as “listening prayer”, “prayer teams”, raising arms in worship, and even speaking in tongues, or the more sanitized “prayer languages”.) That said, people still have strange assumptions about what charismatic spirituality is, and many often are shocked when I claim that Quakerism is actually a thoroughly charismatic tradition.

The Charismatic Movement was initially a renewal movement across the Church rather than a distinct denominational tradition. In many ways it was influenced and informed by its predecessor, the Pentecostal Movement, but was distinct from Pentecostalism because its malleability and its desire to not start a new religious group but instead renew the participants’ respective churches in the power of the Holy Spirit. Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and virtually every Church tradition was impacted by this movement.

Charismatic Catholics in New Orleans, 1979

Charismatic Catholics in New Orleans, 1979

The Charismatic Movement introduced many Christians to the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, an experience theologically nuanced in different ways throughout the Movement but could be summed up as a “stirring” or “activation” of the Spirit within. This experience is often ecstatic or euphoric, and those who have received such an experience often claim to have felt God’s love and/or power in those moments as well as have manifested the gift of tongues or, to a lesser extent, prophecy.

The Renewal was not simply for the sake of a personal mysticism but was always meant to revitalize and bless Christian fellowship. The Charismatic Movement touched whole churches, bringing forth the corporate use of the charismata (a Greek word used by Paul that is roughly translated as “grace-expression” or , more commonly, “spiritual gifts”) Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, which include prophecy, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so on, to denominations that were not associated with such phenomena.

The use of these “supernatural” gifts and these “charismatic” experiences are not at all foreign to the Church. This charismatic thread has been an aspect of the Church since Christ’s ministry of healing the sick and casting out demons. Though the use of these gifts have waned throughout Church history, there have been several resurgences of charismatic phenomena, such as the healing revivals St. Augustine witnessed (Augustine, Book XXI, City of God), the ecstatic and miraculous experiences among medieval mystics (such as with Bernard of Clairvaux and Hildegard of Bingen), the modern Pentecostal movement, and countless other movements that believed the Spirit’s miraculous and emboldening power is a timeless gift for the Church.

The charismatic conviction that every individual may access God’s power and hear God’s voice, whether it be for the sake of building up and encouraging the Church, or the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel, or even for an individual’s edification, is at the heart of Quakerism and, in my opinion, qualifies it as a charismatic tradition.

The charismatic thread in Quakerism

Quakerism follows this thread seen throughout the Church history where disciples sought the Spirit’s power for their lives and ministries so ardently that the intervention of God became expected. This is evident in Friends history from the very beginning with George Fox. Miracles placed a huge role in Fox’s ministry, giving him the reputation of being a healer. Fox’s own ministry was sparked by a revelatory experience where God spoke to him that only Christ could speak to his condition, revealing that there was no need for earthly mediators to connect to God.

Fox was not the only early Friend who experienced the power of the Spirit in such a spectacular manner, as meeting was widely experienced as a space for the Spirit to dramatically touch lives and empower the body of believers, and visions and rapturous experiences were frequent in the early days of the Society.

Even after the initial ecstatic period had long passed, revelations remained vital to Quaker spirituality. John Woolman, a Quaker minister and early abolitionist, wrote about an “opening” experience in his journal where he saw the Light manifest and God speak to his spirit. He wrote, “I awoke; it was yet dark, and no appearance of day or moonshine, and as I opened mine eyes I saw a light in my chamber, at the apparent distance of five feet, about nine inches in diameter, of a clear, easy brightness, and near its centre the most radiant. As I lay still looking upon it without any surprise, words were spoken to my inward ear, which filled my whole inward man. They were not the effect of thought, nor any conclusion in relation to the appearance, but as the language of the Holy One spoken in my mind. The words were, CERTAIN EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH. They were again repeated exactly in the same manner, and then the light disappeared.”

Even today, Quaker meetings continue to host the presence of God (though with perhaps a deeper contemplative edge) and the gift of prophecy often manifests among us during worship, often referred to as “vocal ministry”. The model of unprogrammed Quaker meeting, where all can equally be vessels of the Spirit, is in line with what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, where all gathered may be used to manifest the power of God.

Quaker meeting also fully embraces what God granted the Church on the day of Pentecost, which was when the Spirit of God was poured out on the Church to empower the her and grant her the ability to hear God and prophesy. This event is the foundation of the Pentecostal Movement and at the heart of charismatic spirituality. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached as soon as the Spirit was poured out and recounted Joel’s prophecy,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.”

In Quaker meeting, we see this prophecy fulfilled week after week, as we corporately experience the baptism of the Spirit and hear the voice of God from whomever God chooses to minister. We may not be a tongue-talking, holy-rolling bunch of folks, though I wouldn’t mind a little more of that, but one thing we Quakers know is the power and voice of the Spirit. As the Society of Friends, we have a glorious heritage as a people of the Spirit and I’m thankful that even today we continue to reap the gifts of Pentecost in our profoundly charismatic worship.

Read part two, on the baptism of love, here.
Read part three, on the prophetic Church, here.

34 thoughts on “Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: Introduction

  1. Charismatic and pentecostal writers have included early Quakers among the various charismatic renewal movement of earlier times. I think they are correct.

    Waves of renewal need to keep coming. Spiritual movements tend to lose their fire over time, and so they need fresh winds of the Spirit. Certainly this is true of Quakers. In the Western world, Quakers have tended to become scared of the emotions stirred up by the Holy Spirit, and have discouraged charismatic expression. It has often fallen into WASP middle class respectability and notions (a word I’m using in the way early Friends did) of decorum. Does God really want us to sit stiffly without emotion, and to be restrained and respectable when we rise to speak? Or does God want us to worship with all of ourselves, and be uninhibited in our response to the Spirit’s leadings?

    One of Fox’s favorite expressions was “the power of the Lord is over all.” I yearn to see that power expressed without hesitation as we gather for worship, prayer and fellowship.

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  2. Lewis Benson gave a lecture titled “The Gospel by John Wesley and Its Echos in Modern Evangelical Christianity” at Moorestown (N.J.) Meeting on 12/1/85, in which he traced the history of Pentecostalism through Methodism, Revivalism, Chas. Finney and the National Holiness Movement. As Pentecostalism arose out of Methodism with its doctrine of the second work of grace, being the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it was in conflict with Fox and early Friends for whom justification and sanctification are not distinguished from one another. Benson firmly holds that Pentecostalism is not a parallel movement to the Quaker movement of the 17th century; it doesn’t have the same foundation or gospel. Early Quakers experienced Christ as a living reality among his people in all his offices. Pentecostals don’t proclaim Jesus to be alive, do not gather together in New Covenant worship, do not have the Church order of the New Covenant; do not find unity in maintaining corporate testimonies on moral issues. In short, says Benson, Pentecostalism doesn’t offer a real alternative to the Quaker revolution of the 17th century.


    • Hi Patricia, thanks for your comment.

      I did not quite understand what you were trying to get at, but I wanted to first say that I am talking about something broader than the Pentecostal movement and even the Charismatic Movement (which are two separate movements, the latter being much broader), and that is this charismatic thread, which often manifests in egalitarian ministry, ecstatic/mystical experiences, and miracles.

      Also, I do not know what you mean by Pentecostals not ‘proclaiming Jesus to be alive’, or any of your following statements. Testimonies from Azusa Street Revival, the revival that birthed this movement, reveal the egalitarian, Spirit-filled nature of their worship, as it was often led to prolonged times of silence and gave space for anybody to offer their gifts, whether it be prophecy or tongues or interpretation or healing or preaching. There are a number Quaker-Pentecostal connections in early Pentecostalism, but it is undeniable that Pentecostals were widely pacifists (until WWII), often citing the influence of Quakers.

      Early on Rufus Jones quite aggressively stamped out any Pentecostal influence on the Society. This may have been because of fear of the Society losing its distinctives and that it would be similar to what happened when the Holiness revivals swept across Orthodox Friends. Understandably and he may have been right in some sense but the Pentecostal fire could have aided the Society–but that’s another conversation. There seems to remain a residue of fear when it comes to Pentecostals and charismatics among Friends. When I’ve connected these groups together to Friends, it has often been met with “well, kind of, but not really” in the most condescending tones. I hate to say this, but it seems like many Friends like to think their spirituality is more refined than our tongue-talking brethren.

      And yes, Pentecostalism’s view on sanctification is all over the place (as this was an early division in Pentecostalism), but Quakers today also have a wide spectrum of views on sanctification and justification. Holiness and Evangelical Friends are Quakers. Pentecostals may have more evangelical / holiness roots, but the apocalyptic–almost postmillenial–vision, the Spirit-led worship, the freedom for all to minister and even hear God are unique attributes that are shared in both these group’s histories. I will say that I very much believe Quakers and Pentecostals have the same foundation: the living Christ and his gospel of the Kingdom.


      • William F Rushby says:

        Hye, the suppression of the Pentecostal (or charismatic or prophetic or oracular) spirit among Friends did not originate with Rufus Jones.  It began when the second generation of Quaker leadership reacted against the excesses of Friends like James Nayler, and reined in the free expression of charisma.  They imposed order and authority, and that is why the Society of Friends did not go the way of other enthusiastic movements.  Unfortunately, in the process they “killed off” most of the Pentecostal orientation of the first Friends.  Friends were left with lots of doctrine, but without the spiritual dynamic of the original generation!


  3. I guess it would be fair to note that George Fox himself was a part of this process of imposing order on the somewhat chaotic Quaker movement. One important reason for this toning down of enthusiasm was the very hostile reaction of the British government and public to Quaker excesses.


  4. A pretty good book on what Paul was saying… had it that he wasn’t thinking of the church as a place nor an institution nor a particular group of people; it was wherever Christ was manifestng through charismatic gifts — no particular set of these, but whichever gifts Christ was enacting on that occasion. When Paul successfully argued with the leadership that it was time to let in the goyim — the evidence and the criterion was that they’d witnessed Christ working through such people, even through people who had never been baptized.

    I don’t think it matters what people call it, or even what they may think is happening — but that Christ, even Christ Incognito, feels welcomed to act there.


  5. My intent was to present the thought of Lewis Benson on the subject of the dissimilarity of early Quaker faith and Pentecostalism. Benson felt that the movement begun by the early Friends and carried on today by New Foundation Fellowship could be undermined by subtle forces more than hostile ones. He identified Pentecostalism as one such subtle force, which could subvert the purpose and meaning of Quaker faith.

    “The principle of the Quakers,” says Fox, “is the spirit of Christ who died for us and is risen for our justification, by which we know that we are his.” Quakers did undergo the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit was not the center of their faith: Jesus Christ was.

    This distinction has consequences. The Quakers fellowship was a corporate hearing/obeying relationship with Christ their teacher with a corporate testimony to him and his righteousness. When I read your description of the charismatic movement, I see a focus on the ecstatic occurrence of the baptism itself and vague statements about the function of this gathered body to exercise gifts or “revitalize” fellowship. These activities can be simulated by human agency alone. Among Quakers the activities were secondary, the result of obedience to Christ, which was of primary focus.

    As there is “diversity among Charismatics,” as you say, there is not among them that having been “made perfect in one,” which Jesus identifies as the quality of “those whom [the Father] has given [him]” (Jn. 17:11 and 21), but the diversity savors of the worldly, the self-determination that the world values. The Quakers came out of the worldly confusion and into gospel order as taught them by our living teacher, Christ Jesus.

    If the desire of the Charismatic Movement is “not [to] start a new religious group but instead renew the participants’ respective churches in the power of the Holy Spirit,” as you say, what will be done with the doctrines, traditions of these respective churches, many Protestant churches holding to sin for term of life, predestination, Christ’s having justified mankind on the Cross at Calvary, and salvation only after death? The early Friends went to the root of the apostasy, which, it seems, the Charismatic movement doesn’t find necessary.

    Man-made religion, whether of the mind, the emotions, the culture, or the State is always a threat to the true religion that comes down from above. A preoccupation with the ecstatic and the miraculous signs and wonders is problematic, not only for the individuals who are waylaid by them but for their families and the larger society. One needs to distinguish between the thing itself and the secondary characteristics that accompany it (the sense of purpose, community, joy), for the latter can and will be appropriated by adherents to man-made religion.


    • All religions (like anything else, from hummingbirds to rattlesnakes) are God-made, and suitable for the people they’re suitable for. Human beings certainly participate in the process; people are mistaken to think of God’s part and our part in Creation as disjunct. Truth is better or worse served by different formulations — but I have found, throughout my life, that the statement that God is present and teaching us was true at every stage of that process. Some learning is University level, and some is strictly for kindergarten…

      (and factuality varies, depending on how much that matters to the people concerned)

      but people gravitate to the material they’re ready for, shun whatever they can’t digest yet.

      Stephen Gaskin explained once that Yoga teachers (in India) traditionally taught ethical precepts and a right way of living before anything else — because it was dangerous to ‘get up a little energy’ while a person was still of a mind to harm others and self-destruct with that energy. People who are just ‘hooked on the juice’ could well be drawn to a movement that emphasizes that element and neglects the essential sense of kinship and mutual obligation between us — but God will continue to teach that sense (the hard way, if need be, alas!)

      Quakers have variously ‘come out of the worldly confused’ and gone right on being enthralled by Powers & Principalites (our own institutions and shibboleths among these) but God is not done with us yet. Fox was right that we can avoid ‘sin’ aka ‘missing the target’ in so far as we succeed in following Christ’s inspirations and leadings… but most of the time, most of us at least — We follow as erratically as children; and continue to skin our knees from time to time. Doctrinal purity has never made anyone free of that condition, nor have errors stopped God’s grace for anyone.


  6. I experienced the impact of the Charismatic movement on the Conservative Friends of Ohio Yearly Meeting. While the movement’s consequences for OYM were mixed, by and large it was an immense force for Christian renewal. I cannot say the same for the New Foundation effort!

    I have never fully “bought into” either of these attempts at renewal, but I have been influenced by both of them! I find Lewis Benson’s emphasis on the “prophetic” basis of Quaker theology very insightful but, for a real Quaker spiritual dynamic, we need to look elsewhere! The Charismatic movement offers something approaching such a spiritual dynamic, and the attempt to wall it off by Benson and his inner circle is IMHO quite misguided.


  7. I wouldn’t call it an attempt “to wall it off by Benson and his inner circle,” Bill. Rather Benson was looking at the facts about the movement’s history, faith, and practice, and presenting what he saw as different from the early Quaker message. He offered his understanding in the form of ideas, which could be refuted by those with ideas which opposed his own. As for NFF not having much effect over the decades, there have been many times when the truth the apostles and early Friends held was dismissed by the mainstream. Any prophet or prophetic fellowship will tell you that popularity never did count for much.


    • Patricia, the Charismatics and Pentecostalism represent such a mass of humanity and are so diverse, it would be extremely difficult to paint the whole movement with one brush. We are talking about millions of people and hundreds of thousands of different churches! You say that numbers don’t matter, but I think they must have some significance!

      I quote from Chris Newsam:

      From: “Chris Newsam” a href=”http://groups.yahoo.com/group/QuakerSpirituality/post?postID=NPYCLFw1Ni1cSm3KsfUWc3Xk0yY3M9iPE-pfFhQSZkqM2KbyxfphwaTn9hrrGjB6IX1qfu44PzhPS4DXzZQaeUk”>cnfriendchris@y…>
      Date: Tue Dec 7, 2004 12:04 pm
      Subject: where is the quaking?
      Over the last few weeks I have been attending, with a friend, an Elim Pentecostal church and have been impressed by the variety and numbers of people attending. The question I ask is why are these services full and lively whilst down the road at the Meeting House just a few elderly Friends meet and there is a feeling of neglect and somewhat of despair? I love Quaker worship but am wondering what has happened to the `quaking’. Have we become too comfortable and complacent? Are we failing to meet the needs of a spiritually hungry world? Maybe. Or is it, as I am currently sensing, down to two factors, one a lack of a sense of being led (even shaken!) and secondly failing to build strong and inclusive communities around our Meeting for Worship. Where is the radical and adventurous spirit and the desire to build God’s Kingdom on earth? Is it time to rally once more around the Light, the living and universally available Christ, without taking a superior, narrow or fundamentalist position? Time for some juicy Quakerism? But maybe I am mistaken. What can you say Friend?
      Chris Newsam England


  8. I do not fully endorse Chris’ remarks; e.g. I am not a Light-centered Quaker. But I do think Chris raises some very good questions.

    His observations remind of a time when Darlene and I pulled off of I-88 early in the morning, and attempted to find the Quaker Street meetinghouse near Duanesburg NY. We came upon an abandoned mainline church building which had been occupied by a Bible church; I surmised that the Bible Christians were bringing a new and more vigorous Christian witness to the community.

    We subsequently found the Friends meetinghouse. Peering through the windows, it looked as if only a small group met there, judging from the arrangement of chairs in the meetingroom. I subsequently contacted the Clerk by email, and he told me that the meeting was struggling to survive–with only a half-dozen attenders. My question is always “why?” Why did it take a Bible church to bring a vigorous Christian witness to the community? AND, FINALLY, WHERE IS THE QUAKING?


  9. Great read! Many denominations don’t realize their “Charismatic” roots. Especially Methodists. I am a Charismatic but really don’t like the “branding” we get. It is a very broad movement where the TV evangelist vary greatly to the modern day prophetic people…both of which get called heretics. I myself was once called a New Agers due to my postings.


  10. In reading through Hye Sung Francis’ post, I noticed that Christ is only mentioned once and that is in the context of “Christ’s Church.” The rest of the language has to do with the Holy Spirit or the Spirit. This is distinctly different from the language and the intention of the early Friends. Hye Sung Francis alludes to Fox’s hearing the voice of God and on that basis suggests that he should be classed as part of the charismatic movement. Rather than deal with generalities, let us look at specifics. Let us consider the passage and others and see if there is any similarity and what distinctions exist between what Fox and the early Quakers were about and what Hye Sung Francis is talking about. I am no expert on the Charismatic movement or Pentacostalism, so will limit my contribution to supplying some quotes that seem to me to be necessary to consider.

    “After I had received that opening from the Lord, that to be bred at Oxford or Cambridge, was not sufficient to fit a man to be a minister of Christ, I regarded the priests less, and looked more after the dissenting people. Among them I saw there was some tenderness; and many of them came afterwards to be convinced, for they had some openings. But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone,” wrote Fox, “so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition.’ And when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely that I might give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin and shut up under unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have pre-eminence, who enlightens and gives grace, faith and power…My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not but by revelation, as he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his son by his spirit. Then the Lord led me gently along and let me see his love, which was endless and eternal, surpassing all the knowledge that men have in the natural state, or can get by history, or books. That love let me see myself, as I was without him and I was
    afraid of all company: for I saw them perfectly, where they were,
    through the love of God which let me see myself I had not fellowship with any people, priests, nor professors, nor any sort of separated
    people, but with Christ who hath the key, and opened the door of light
    and life unto me. I was afraid of all carnal talk and talkers, for I
    could see nothing but corruptions, and the life lay under the burden of
    corruptions. When I was in the deep, under all shut up, I could not
    believe that I should ever overcome; my troubles, my sorrows, and my
    temptations were so great, that I often thought I should have despaired,
    I was so tempted. But when Christ opened to me how he was tempted by the same devil, and had overcome him, and had bruised his head;
    and that through him and his power, light, grace, and spirit, I should
    overcome also, I had confidence in him. So he it was that opened to
    me, when I was shut up, and had neither hope nor faith. Christ, who
    had enlightened me, gave me his light to believe in, and gave me hope,
    which is himself, revealed himself in me, and gave me his spirit and
    grace, which I found sufficient in the deeps and in weakness. Thus in
    the deepest miseries, and in the greatest sorrows and temptations that
    beset me, the Lord in his mercy did keep me. I found two thirsts in me;
    the one after the creatures, to have got help and strength there; and the
    other after the Lord the creator, and his son Jesus Christ; and I saw all
    the world could do me no good. If I had had a king’s diet, palace, and
    attendance, all would have been as nothing; for nothing gave me
    comfort but the Lord by his power. I saw professors, priests, and
    people, were whole and at ease in that condition which was my misery,
    and they loved that which I would have been rid of. But the Lord did
    stay my desires upon himself, from whom my help came, and my care
    was cast upon him alone. Therefore, all wait patiently upon the Lord,
    whatsoever condition you be in; wait in the grace and truth that comes
    by Jesus; for if ye so do, there is a promise to you, and the Lord God
    will fulfil it in you. And blessed are all they indeed that do indeed
    hunger and thirst after righteousness, they shall be satisfied with it. I
    have found it so; praised be the Lord who filleth with it, and satisfieth
    the desires of the hungry soul. Oh! let the house of the spiritual Israel
    say, his mercy endureth for ever! It is the great love of God, to make a
    wilderness of that which is pleasant to the outward eye and fleshly
    mind; and to make a fruitful field of a barren wilderness. This is the
    great work of God. But while people’s minds run in the earthly, after
    the creatures and changeable things, changeable ways and religions, and
    changeable uncertain teachers, their minds are in bondage, and they are
    brittle and changeable, tossed up and down with windy doctrines,
    thoughts, notions, and things; their minds being out of the unchangeable
    truth in the inward parts, the light of Jesus Christ, which would keep
    them to the unchangeable. He is the way to the Father; who, in all my
    troubles preserved me by his spirit and power: praised be his holy name
    for ever!(Works of Fox, vol. 1, pp.74-75)


  11. I would also suggest looking at Fox’s commission, which I include below:

    I was sent to turn people from darkness to the light, that they might receive Christ Jesus; for to as many as should receive him in his light, I saw he would give power to become the sons of God; which I had obtained by receiving Christ. I was to direct people to the spirit, that gave forth the scriptures, by which they might be led into all truth, and so up to Christ and God, as those had been who gave them forth. I was to turn them to the grace of God, and to the truth in the heart, which came by Jesus; that by this grace they might be taught, which would bring them salvation, that their hearts might be established by it, their words might be seasoned, and all might come to know their salvation nigh. For I saw that Christ had died for all men, was a propitiation for all, and had enlightened all men and woman with his divine and saving light; and that none could be true believers, but those that believed in it. I saw that the grace of God, which brings salvation, had appeared to all men, and that the manifestation of the spirit of God was given to every man, to profit withal. These things I did not see, by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter; but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his immediate spirit and power, as did the holy men of God by whom the holy scriptures were written. Yet I had no slight esteem of the holy scriptures, they were very precious to me; for I was in that spirit by which they were given forth; and what the Lord opened in me, I afterwards found was agreeable to them. I could speak much of these things, and many volumes might be written; but all would prove too short to set forth the infinite love, wisdom, and power of God, in preparing, fitting, and furnishing me for the service he had appointed me to; letting me see the depths of satan, on the one hand, and opening to me, on the other hand, the divine mysteries of his own everlasting kingdom.

    When the Lord God and his son Jesus Christ sent me forth into the world to preach his everlasting gospel and kingdom, I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation and their way to God; even that divine spirit which would lead them into all truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any.

    But with and by this divine power and spirit of God, and the light of Jesus, I was to bring people off from all their own ways, to Christ the new and living way; from their churches, which men had made and gathered, to the church in God, the general assembly written in heaven,which Christ is the head of; and off from the world’s teachers made by men, to learn of Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, of whom the Father said, ‘This is my beloved son, hear ye him;’ and off from all the world’s worships, to know the spirit of truth in the inward parts, and to be led thereby, that in it they might worship the Father of spirits, who seeks such to worship him; which spirit they that worshipped not in, knew not what they worshipped. I was to bring people off from all the world’s religions, which are in vain; that they might know the pure religion, might visit the fatherless, the widows, and the strangers, and keep themselves from the spots of the world: then there would not be so many beggars; the sight of whom often grieved my heart, as it denoted so much hardheartedness amongst those that professed the name of Christ. I was to bring them off from all the world’s fellowships, prayings, and singings, which stood in forms without power, that their fellowship might be in the holy ghost, the eternal spirit of God; that they might pray in the holy ghost, sing in the spirit, and with the grace that comes by Jesus; making melody in their hearts to the Lord, who hath sent his beloved son to be their saviour, caused his heavenly sun to shine upon all the world, and through them all; and his heavenly rain to fall upon the just and the unjust, (as his outward rain doth fall, and his outward sun doth shine on all,) which is God’s unspeakable love to the world. I was to bring people off from Jewish ceremonies, from heathenish fables, from men’s inventions and windy doctrines, by which they blowed the people about, this way and the other way, from sect to sect; and from all their beggarly rudiments, with their schools and colleges, for making ministers of Christ, who are indeed ministers of their own making, but not of Christ’s; and from all their images, crosses, and sprinkling of infants, with all their holy-days, (so called,) and all their vain traditions, which they had got up since the apostles’ days, which the Lord’s power was against. In the dread and authority thereof was I moved to declare against them all, and against all that preached and not freely, as being such who had not received freely from Christ.


  12. One final suggestion is that you read both Stephen Crisp’s sermon 14, which is posted on the NFF website: http://nffquaker.org/page/the-kingdom-of-god-within and Edward Burrough’s introduction to vol. 3 of the Works of Fox. After reading these quotes I have supplied and the suggestions of further reading, then you can begin asking such questions as does the evidence fit the proposed classification of Fox and the early Friends as part of the Charismatic movement?


    • Hello, friend. That’s fine. Thanks for your words and insights. I do not claim to be an expert on Quaker history and theology and I apologize if I ever wrote anything that would imply that. I also regret having such pneumacentric language in this post, rather than Christocentric. I would like to clarify that I personally believe in the communal nature of God and am not one to create a hierarchy among the persons of the Trinity, (though I do believe in an order among them) but I find the importance in naming Christ as he is the perfect revelation of God. The gospel of the Kingdom is revealed most powerfully and is actually dependent on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. My language and perspective may not be completely in line with early Friends, and it may never be. I am [painfully] aware that I have a lot of learning to do. But even if I never fully agree with that section of the cloud of witnesses, I will be at peace. As we both know, there is only one infallible prophet and teacher.


  13. I don’t think there was a Charismatic movement at the time George Fox lived, so claims that he was a part of such would appear rather questionable. What is more to the point is that there was a charismatic impulse in the early Quaker movement, which was subsequently lost. I believe that this assertion is beyond dispute!

    We can resurrect and analyze early Quaker doctrines until we are blue in the face, but the issue here (as I see it) is what happened to the profound spiritual dynamic the early Friends tapped into. IMHO early Friends were NOT primarily a doctrine-oriented kind of Christianity. Trying to make them fit that description would take us down the wrong road. That is not to say that doctrine is irrelevant, but it was not the focus of their faith.


  14. I have to say that I think Lewis Benson was on the right track in his comparison of Early Quakerism and the Charismatic Movement. The question always comes to one thing: Who is Jesus Christ and how does he save men and women?

    While I would accept that that there are similarities between what you might call ‘Charismatic’ Christianity and Early Quakerism, in the sense that that the work of the Holy Spirit is held to be central to the life and worship of the Church. In my experience, these similarities hide a profound difference in intent and meaning.

    To illustrate what is meant by that, Early Friends held that the Christ was present and active as a Living Prophet in the midst of his Church. I’ve never found anybody who would describe themselves as ‘christian’ who ever disagreed with that statement. However, when it comes to putting that understanding of Christ into practise, this where the differences become apparent.

    Many years ago, for a number of reasons, one of them, curiosity, I attended an Assemblies of God Church in the next village. This group was charismatic to the bone. They had no doubt that Christ was the centre of their worship, and I had no reason to doubt their sincerity in that. Their two hour worship session was packed with music, testimonies and endless, endless speaking in tongues, (which nobody interpreted and I certainly had no idea or inward discernment on what was being said). The real point is this, that if Christ was present in that worship, there was little opportunity to be heard in his Office as Prophet. This was just very noisy human activity masquerading as worship. In the gentlest way I could I suggested that if they might be quiet and they might actually hear was Christ was telling them. This was not heeded. I think they looked upon my lack of response to their worship as a deficiency on my part.

    I know it’s easy to generalise, but I think this gets to the heart of Lewis Benson’s argument. It is how we allow Christ to do his work in the Church, and respond to that work, that determines how faithful we are as The Church. We might say that Christ is the centre, when functionally, he is not. This has important consequences for how the Power of God is released in the Church.

    The Charismatic Movement and the Early Quaker faith might share some similarities, but Lewis Benson’s argument, and I believe he is correct, is that the consequences of both messages are quiet different.

    Early Friends challenged the social and religious institutions of their day, in such a profound way that we have not seen since. The Charismatic Movement has not produced a world-overturning Church, in the same manner that Early Friends did. For me that is the acid test.

    You might counter that by asking “have the Quakers of today been faithful to that calling?” Woah!!, that’s the subject of an altogether different debate.


    • I think Allistair Lomax makes some good points. Would that we could access both a typical early Quaker meeting for worship and a typical Pentecostal meeting for worship, and makes a comparison. I suspect that the first Friends were much more like Pentecostals in their worship than contemporary Friends of whatever stripe, although I have attended some Conservative meetings for worship which were profoundly spirit-filled!

      Re: revolutionary Christianity, if we were able to examine Third-World Pentecostalism, I think we would find much of it more revolutionary than any variety of modern Quakerism I have seen, at least in English-speaking countries!


      • Agreed, William. And Allistair, a lot of what you saw resonates with me. There is a reason why I am no longer Evangelical and consider myself a convinced Friend.

        I will say that early Pentecostalism sparked a movement of missionaries who did incredible works of justice and compassion, often with the accompanying ministry of signs and wonders, such as H.A. Baker. Early Pentecostals also revealed the gospel powerfully in how women were immediately sent out in ministry, even as apostles, how the “colorline was washed in the blood”, as Frank Bartleman put it, and in the fervent conviction in nonviolence. Though many were doctrinally “premillenial”, their vision was certainly post-millenial, believing that the seed of the Kingdom was consuming the earth. Sadly, Pentecostalism in the US quickly began adopting more conventional, evangelical, even fundamentalist, tendencies as denominations formed. By WWII, pacifism was largely abandoned by Pentecostals.

        Pentecostalism is, again, a very broad movement, with different nuances on the Spirit-baptism and different approaches to worship and the gifts of the Spirit.

        The Charismatic Movement is even broader. The fruits of this movement are mixed, which tends to happen when people partner with God. The Charismatic Renewal, though, formed some brilliant servants of God, such as Fr. Richard Rohr, Jim Wallis (Sojourners), and Brian McLaren. But… some charismatics leaders also helped form the Religious Right.

        I cannot say that the rowdy, un-centered worship described by Allistair was normative in the fellowships I belonged to– but I have definitely witnessed it and even taken part in some irresponsible “enthusiasm”, as some Friends have put it.
        My experience of the Charismatic Movement was mainly within the ecumenical renewal movement, the Vineyard church, as well as house churches / prayer meetings (which were in many ways following the same model of unprogrammed worship). All of these actually had waiting style worship to some degree and were very reverent and responsible in their approach to the gifts.

        This charismatic thread that I write about in this post has existed throughout Church history, including among Friends (and still among Friends). It has been renewed in the global Church through these younger movements, touching all parts of the Church, and for that I am thankful. I do not think Paul’s exhortation to ‘earnestly desire the spiritual gifts’ (1 Cor. 14:1) is simply for one period of believers nor do I consider it a passive encouragement. All the gifts of the Spirit that Paul spoke of are for the Church today, and I pray that the Society and the wider Church may walk in the same Christ-glorifying power that fueled the ministries and communities of the apostles, early Friends, early Pentecostals, etc., and to even a greater measure.

        I’ll include here a paragraph from another post of mine, “How and Why I am [Still] Charismatic / Pentecostal“:

        The distinctive doctrines of western Pentecostalism are not always things I can endorse in good conscience, such as pre-tribulational premillenialism, the rapture, and tongues as necessary evidence of the Spirit-baptism, but the distinctives of early Pentecostalism—pacifism, love as the primary sign of the Spirit-baptism, racial reconciliation, and egalitarian ministry—reveal, at least to me, the glorious finished-work of Christ on the cross. Though I may not culturally or theologically fit into much of the Pentecostalism around me, the history of the Pentecostal movement inspires me, and the event of Pentecost (both 2000 years ago, and my personal pentecostal experience) has powerfully shaped me and has drawn me closer to my Savior. This conviction and inspiration has led me to Quakerism, where I see that egalitarian ministry manifest week by week in meeting for worship and where I see that testimony of peace brought into action. I do long for more expectant fellowship where all the gifts of the Spirit (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11, 28.) are both appreciated and experienced, but I see such a desire as completely compatible with Quakerism, and even more fitting with Quakerism, with its discernment processes and the posture of ‘waiting’ in worship.


    • “Have the Quakers of today been faithful to that calling?” — That’s been the most significant implication of the fuss so far; but it matters a great deal more to ask, “Why and how haven’t we remained faithful? What would be more on-track?”

      Christ can be ‘a living prophet among us’ with or without that specific terminology. To a large extent I have to say that he has continued so — sometimes more so in congregations that reject such terminology than in congregations where everyone is saying “Lord, Lord!”

      People don’t stay attuned by clinging to a belief system — and neither can they credit ‘a living prophet’ readily if their belief system has no room for such an influence. I had an atheist Clerk for example, who described one of my stands as ‘a Leading’ — but could see that only as referring to a personal duty of mine, not as a pointer towards something God wants done…

      Atheists and agnostics drift towards us — and find that living prophet at work — and this does shift their belief system. It doesn’t, so far, produce much charismatic liveliness; but it is a place where God can be heard, a little, even where people aren’t listening much.

      Anthony Bloom’s story of himself as a young man, outraged by a priest he’d been forced to politely listen to, deciding to go home and read a gospel for himself: ‘The shortest one’ he could find, ie ‘Mark’ — and feeling Jesus an unmistakeable real presence across the desk from him — is one way people find God at work. It is not, however, the only way!

      Much, much of the time people are led by baby-steps. Clerks ‘listen’ for ‘sense of the Meeting’ but then they accept a lowest-common-denominator compromise that represents ‘the best this particular group could do without changing.’

      If Friends had been more willing to be changed by God… we might have been led on different paths, and retained more of the charisms. I doubt, however, that we would still be serving the same old wine in the same old wineskins.


  15. Is not it a blessing to know through personal experience, right down to the very core of our consciousness and conscience, the divine favor (Charisma) of the inward presence of Christ as sufficient in all things? By Christ’s Presence within me I am living Charisma itself … who I am is charismatic through conferred inward Christ. This experience and life we can all share with the early Children of Light … even today and at this very moment. The power of this Life is in the living rather than the talking about in outward ways in the spirit of abstraction.


  16. I wrote: “What is more to the point is that there was a charismatic impulse in the early Quaker movement, which was subsequently lost.” I made these statements in August of 2015. Since then I have come to believe that the charismatic impulse in the Society of Friends was not so much lost as it was forced into a subterranean position. Last year my essay on “Ann Branson and the Eclipse of Oracular Ministry” was published (with woefully poor editing and proofreading) in *Quaker History*. In that essay I claimed that the old line Orthodox Quaker ministry preserved a strong charismatic element well into the 20th Century. Even today there are traces of it in more traditionalist circles within Ohio Yearly Meeting. This affinity for the charismatic vein in Christianity resonated with many OYM Friends in the 1960s and 1970s and profoundly affected their religious outlook.

    Let it also be noted that the charismatic impulse resurfaced repeatedly among Holiness Gurneyite Friends during the 19th and 20th centuries, most recently among Yorba Linda Friends in California. Some of them, particularly John Wimber, were pivotal in the spread of the Vineyard Fellowship churches.

    My inclination is not to wall off charismatic Quakerism, which keeps resurfacing, but to include it in!


  17. This link will take you to a Lewis Benson lecture titled “Fox’s Teaching on the Holy Spirit,” in which he identifies the differences between early Friends regard for Christ, our heavenly prophet who comes to teach his people himself, and those who practice various religions that center themselves around Holy Spirit worship:



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