Wednesday, March 04, 2009

For Richard M.

note: this is an answer to a comment posted to a previous post. As I explained in a comment of my own to that post, so much was raised by Friends' comments there that I wanted to address all in an orderly fashion, so as to lose none and keep any strands of conversation that might arise separate from one another. I'm answering Richard M, here, and ask for patience in regard to the rest. I will get to you.

Richard commented:

"The biggest problem I have with this post is your equation of Protestantism with Calvinism. It is true that Calvinism is one major form of Protestantism but it is far from being identical with it. Protestantism represents all the groups that broke away from Catholicism and they broke away for many reasons. The Calvinists broke away because they adopted a more pessimistic view of the human condition than did the Catholics but others, among which were the Quakers, adopted a more optimistic view of the possibilities for human transformation than did the Catholics. And, in my own reading of Quaker history, there hasn't been any tendency for Quakers to become Calvinists. Quakers of all persuasions remain more theologically liberal than Catholics not, like the Calvinists, more conservative."

Richard, I can see the distinction you make between Protestants and Calvinists and will not quibble with you about that although I disagree with you. I think that Protestantism is Calvinism--that the notions that Calvin refined certainly existed before he came along but he put them into a "coherent" body that forms the ground upon which this strain of spirituality stands (and from which, at times, it deviates).

I don't think that the faith and practice of Friends, originally, was anything but a repudiation of--and not a mere deviation from-- that body of notions and forms.

I do, however, think I see a whole lot of "drift" among Friends over the years toward Calvinism/Protestantism.

I think, in fact, that all of the major schisms in the Society of Friends have, at bottom, notwithstanding any social or economic or spiritual reasons some in the Society at a particular place at a particular time wanted to establish Protestant/Calvinist notions as the Faith and Practice of Friends.

This is perhaps most obvious in the course of events in Iowa Yearly in the last half of the 19th Century that ended in some of its members "going over" to Iowa Conservative and a few others ending up in California--stripped of their certificates of ministry and disowned (although later re-instated so that their membership could be orderly transferred) for not "believing," among other things, that the Holy Spirit descends upon a person not at birth (as the book of John was commonly been held among Friends to say) but when they are "saved" as is pretty standard Protestant/Calvinist theology.

Of course these notions were part of the movement from the beginning--the people gathered to it had been steeped in them. George Keith tried and failed to establish them as the norm. It was said by some, though, that his manner, more than his ideas, limited his success. Barclay had a more subtle and long term success. My understanding is that as Friends moved from an "end times" to a "mean time" point of view, toward the end of Fox's life, there was quite a bit of editing of early writings that attempted to pull Quakers into the "mainstream."

The first Friends, however, notwithstanding that they carried Protestant/Calvinist notions as part of their spiritual DNA (did I just write that?) were dissatisfied with the result of the Protestant/Calvinist forms, which is why so many had laid down them down and sat in waiting worship until Fox came along and set them in motion (or Christ did so through Fox). These notions and forms were still there, of course, ready to re-appear and re-appear they did.

Again, as I originally wrote, I am not saying that's a bad thing and they shouldn't.

I am saying that some Friends, especially liberals, have trouble with the concept of "sin" because they see it in terms of Calvin/Protestantism; in its propositions and the deductions that proceed from them. Not believing (or perhaps experiencing) humans as born hopelessly wretched this is not helpful to them.

I am saying that the other view of sin--as states of mind (as opposed to a body of bad acts) upon which Christ (the Spirit, the Light) can "work with us" or "work on us"--revealing the need to change and providing the power in which we can stand to accomplish that--may be helpful to these Friends.

We can change (or be changed) this side of the grave; there is hope for our maturity and developing (or having developed) our fitness for a particular purpose. At least, there is solid evidence in the literature of Friends through the years to show that. The phrase "talking up sin" appears there as characterizing that which Friends rejected.

But there is also a "creep" in that same literature of the notion that we cannot change or be changed, along with other notions and forms that were talked up by Protestants and Calvinists--forms and notions away from which those in the movement that would become the Society of Friends walked purposefully. Steeple house, professors...

I have frequent contact and fellowship with Evangelical Friends and know for myself how much Calvinist/Protestant notions have been absorbed into the faith and practice of many Friends. This didn't happen over night. And again, I think it's fine. Not helpful to me but fine if it's helpful in the spiritual transformation (see the Sermon on the Mount) of those who hold to them.

As a Beanite I hope and expect the Society will again be the whole it was once, with such a diversity of belief as exists among us held, as similar diversity was held 300+ years ago, in a tension that was mutually edifying. I cannot deny, however, my own view that the "Protestantization" of the Society of Friends is a condition that complicates this Beanite vision.

As a Beanite I affiliate formally with no particular formal domain of the Society so as to be open to "correspondence" with those who are a part of any and all--even those not currently in correspondence with me. Although many even here do not know this, it's why North Pacific Yearly Meeting is not affiliated with any of the separate domains of the Society--at least for now.

We must all get home. None of us must be left behind.

Our differences are not be glossed over or ignored--but they are also not reason for us to be divided. Each of us has something for the Society, and the Society has something for each of us.

If seeing sins as a body of bad acts is helpful in developing that pure heart, that mourning condition, that peacemaking practice that's fine.

"Quakerism" is an empirical faith. It's what works that cooks.


Tom Smith said...

I often think of this "Protestantization" (Whew!) as being quite evident at several points in Friends' history. One of the more evident was when Kansas YM permitted "hireling ministers" by some Meetings because, as stated in one communication, "Because it is easier to give them (new members of Friends in the ~1870's) than teach them to be Friends."

In my opinion, the surrounding culture has been seen as more attractive than the Society of Friends testimony which appears to have been counter-culture throughout its history.

I will not attempt to address the Catholic/Calvinist/Protestant issue but I feel that these rely on "Church" or human authority to varying degrees and this is part of the long apostasy that was addressed by Friends.

RichardM said...


Thanks for the full and thoughtful answer. It seems we are closer in mind than I thought.

First, to emphasize a couple of points of agreement. Yes, Calvin was not alone. It is correct to say that he sharpened Luther. Luther's theological reaction to Catholicism. He moved away from Catholic orthodoxy in a particular direction (let's just call this the "conservative" direction though of course this word can have lots of other meanings)and Calvin just went much farther down that path.

Also we agree that early Friends were very strongly opposed to this conservative theology.

Quakers were similar to Calvinist Puritans in opposing the high church features of Catholicism--big church bureaucracy and complex liturgy with lots of outward symbols. If you focus of this part, and ignore theology, you might even think that Quakers were Puritans. But theology is important and Quakers are as different from Puritans as night and day.

To explain how we still differ I've got to explain my own views on theology. At one extreme we have Calvinism which holds the doctrine of total depravity. People can do nothing good. We are totally passive lucky recipients of grace or part of the unlucky damned. In my view there is a Catholic middle-of-the-road theology with respect to sin. In this middle of the road version human nature is corrupt but THROUGH THE CHURCH God offers people the option of being saved. People can choose to cooperate with grace or reject grace. People do not have the power to save themselves but they do have to free will to accept or reject God's offer of help. But there is no real change. We remain inclined to sin and have to return to the Church OVER and OVER in order to be forgiven over and over. In contrast to this there are the more liberal theology in which God offers to change the person PERMANENTLY and without the intermediary of the priesthood. Fox's message about Christ coming to lead his people emphasizes this. Christ is within you, you don't need the priest. But you do need Christ because you can't change yourself by your own power. God will change you IF you cooperate and the change will be permanent. This was classic Quaker theology which I find in Barclay among others. Finally there are even more liberal theologies in which human nature is not corrupt at all or in which the human tendency towards selfishness is relatively weak and can be overcome by a little personal effort. Some modern liberal Friends adopt these extreme liberal theologies.

Upon reading your account of some of modern Friends history especially concerning the Beanites I'm inclined to consider that I may have been wrong to say Calvinism hasn't crept into Quakerism. I would now agree that Calvinism has affected parts of Quakerism more than I had wanted to admit but I'm still not convinced it is as strong as you think it is. So I suppose our difference is mostly one of emphasis.

Tmothy Travis said...

I think that's right, it is a matter of emphasis.

I don't let Barclay, though, and some of the "second generation" of Friends off of the hook, so to speak.

But who can judge? It was cold out there, for them, and they and their parents had suffered mightily for years. I don't think they cynically capitulated. It was obvious that the end of the world was not at hand; the sheep and goats were not going to be sorted out in a fortnight.

I really like Friend Gwyn's analysis of this whole situation.

I do think that the gradual "Protestantization" I describe contributed to our alienation from one another as Friends--but I think all involved in the these schisms gave as good (or perhaps as bad) as they got.

Even my hero, Joel Bean, said some really intemperate things about those taking him to task, and said it in international forums. He may well have slammed the door in his own face. How did he expect those of whom he was so critical would respond to what he said?

The words of Penn, however, ring through, here. We have the obligation to abide with one another. I go beyond Penn, though, who wrote that the duty to abide with one another applied so long as those with whom we are not in unity are able to abide with us.

I own that we have the duty to abide with one another even though those with whom we disagree lay down abiding with us.

I not only own it--I talk it up.

Seventy and seven and all that.

RichardM said...

This is good and constructive.

A stylistic point to begin. I find that the internet lends itself to brevity. The longer the post or comment, the less of it people read. Consequently if I have a lot to say about an issue I try to say it over multiple posts.

A point from your previous post. This ambiguity of sin as action vs sin a state of the soul which gives rise to the action does not originate with the Reformation. It goes back to the earliest days of Church history and was a staple of Catholic teaching. Also I think it is a good thing to focus more on the deeper "sin" here, the selfishness and violence within the person which manifests in selfish and violent acts.

By the way a direct descendent of Joel Bean lives in town here and came to meeting a few times. I wish he'd come back.

History can be interesting but I think we would agree that our current situation is of more immediate interest. The failure of some liberal Friends to take sin seriously is unfortunate, in my opinion. I agree that a main barrier to their coming to a better understanding of the problem posed by human nature and its solution is their identification of Christianity with Calvinism. That is the reason why I resist your identification of Protestantism with Calvinism. Despite what Calvinists say Calvinism is not Christian orthodoxy. Calvinism is actually just a tiny sliver of Christendom and Christian orthodoxy ended with the Protestant Reformation. Christian orthodoxy ceased to exist nearly five hundred years ago. After the Reformation there sprang into being multiple "Christian Orthodoxies." Once seen in that perspective we can present Quaker Christianity as one version of Christian teaching and then ask liberal Friends to consider it for what it really is and not to confuse it with Calvinism.

Quakercore said...

I could be wrong but I thought the relationship between Calvinism (outside of Puritans) and Quakerism is pretty old. After Fox had preached and the Quakers were unified enough to be persecuted quite a few of them moved to the Netherlands where there was and still is a strong Calvinist community. It was only after Pennsylvania was formed that the Quakers in the Netherlands left, but they had quite a mark on the new colony. It was then that worship and meetinghouses were standardized and music discouraged, along with other traits associated with Calvinism such as good business practice and work ethic and what not.
The theology isn't so different either, Fox's writings are filled with talk of the power of God, which is standard for Calvinism, both believed in the priesthood of all believers, and in religious education for all, which is why there are lots of Quaker schools for a denomination which did not have hireling ministers. In terms of biblical interpretation and confession and purity and what not of course they differed but they took up very similar demographics which is why virtually no Quaker meetings were in Scotland or in Germany or in Huegnot communities in France.
I guess that's pretty unrelated to your point which I generally agree with. The last time Friends were concerned with quietism and cleaning up the ranks it didn't work so well in the short or the long term.

RichardM said...

If someone were assigned to write a "compare and contrast" essay about Puritans and Quakers there would be plenty to put down in both categories. The interesting question then is whether the important items are those on the compare list or those on the contrast list. I was saying that according to me one extremely important point is the one about universal depravity. Calvinists believe in universal depravity whereas Quakers, then and now, take the more optimistic view that every human being has access to the Light and can choose to cooperate with it. I may not convince everyone that this is important but that's what I think.

Another crucial theological difference lies in the Calvinist emphasis on the Bible which stands in strong contrast to Quaker emphasis on continuing revelation and the primacy of divine relevance to the living. The emphasis on the Bible at the expense of living contemporary revelation makes a huge difference. It turns the Bible into a idol that replaces the living God. Also while both Calvinists and Quakers would hold to the words "priesthood of all believers" and the value of personal Bible reading the meaning is completely different. At the risk of a bit of caricature I'd summarize the Calvinist understanding of the priesthood of all believers as this. Don't listen to those Catholic priests. Read the Bible and if you are one of the elect you will interpret it our way. If you interpret it the "wrong way" we will burn you at the stake. In other words in practice Calvinists create their own "priesthood" backed by the power of the state whenever politically feasible to enforce their own interpretation. The priesthood of all believers is a sham in Calvinism. Not so in Quakerism where great latitude in individual leadings and interpretations is allowed and coercive power is consciously rejected as a tool.

Tmothy Travis said...

Richard I think your last line in your second comment, here, about Friends seeing Calvinism as one point of view, so to speak, on Christianity is right on the mark.

So many people--Friends and those not yet identified with the movement (he said, grinning,)--seem to think that Calvinistic Protestantism IS Christianity.

Some atheistic types do this cynically, I think, so they can argue against that with which they can most readily use sarcasm and ridicule, but many really don't know there is such a variety.

That's my point. One does not have to reject Christ to reject a lot of doctrines (notions) that are out there.

Tmothy Travis said...

Thanks for the information, Quakercore, I do think you make some good points about similarities between Friends and Calvinists.

I do disagree about the closeness of some of these similarities and wonder why, if it was all pretty much the same, there was such venom involved in the debates. Maybe that was just the style of the times, and maybe it is those to whom we are most similar, at times, with whom we have the greatest differences.

But the Puritans did say and do some very nasty things to Quakers, who they saw as a real threat to the power structure they maintained. It wasn't all just one (or several) big misunderstanding--either in England in the 17th Century or in the Society here in the US when the same forces (and notions) caused Friends to say and do some pretty nasty things to one another as they divided and re-divided.

Actually, I don't think the notions really have the power to divide, it's the condition of Truth (in the Quaker sense) and love in and among Friends who disagree that causes that.

Finally, I take from your last line that I have given the impression that I want to drive Protestantism out of the Society. I don't. I don't want anyone to leave or even to separate themselves from anyone else.

I expect that someday the Society will be a peaceable kingdom but I don't think it will be such only when all are lions, lambs, straight or gay, Christians or even theists.

It will come when all, in their current condition, return to an aspiration to live out their spirituality together in the manner of Friends. The Beanite vision, and all that.

Thanks for the comments.

Tmothy Travis said...

Oh, a thought I left out in answer to Richard: I agree that the internet "lends itself" to short pieces and that long ones get read by fewer people.

Pity, that.

I am aware that my own style is wordy and that Mark Twain's description of Fenimore Cooper is an apt one for me.

I don't know why I choose to write this way--perhaps I am trying to show off that I can keep such sprawl organized.

Speaking of wordy...the book The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell is a good one on Puritans in New England.

RichardM said...


Just a hunch but I don't think you write the way you do in order to show off. I think the writing explodes out of you because of some deep tension within. Well, old time Quakers when they got to giving vocal ministry sometimes talked for hours and I suspect the reason was the same. A great and good tension is created when we actually encounter God within us and things just burst out at times. This is very different from someone going on and on at length talking out of their heads. That can be described as "trying to show off" but that's not what you are doing. I can tell the difference.

The heart and soul of Quakerism is really very simple. Our worldly sinful self needs to change. Christ has come to lead us in that change. We humans can and should help each other but we should never confuse any of those humans for the Christ who leads us. If you experience that then you are a Quaker no matter what words you use to describe it. Quaker divisions come from arguing about the words, but those who hold fast to the experience aren't interested in arguing about the words.