Greetings dear Friends! This is Pendle Hill, once again, with Another Quaker's View. In this column, we consider the influence of yet another 19th Century movement on the Friends of that period. In this column, we consider the Holiness Movement.
Before we get to the 19th Century, however, let's pause to consider some very early Quaker writings. In the 1660's, Isaac Penington wrote, "The sum and substance of true religion doth not stand in getting a notion of Christ's righteousness, but in feeling the power of the endless life, receiving the power, and being changed by the power."
For the very first Friends, being a follower of Christ necessarily implied personal transformation and growth. Furthermore, this transformation knew no bounds. There was no limit to what God might accomplish in the life of someone yielded to the Light.
The early Quaker theologian, Robert Barclay, was dismayed to hear other Christians proclaim that sin was inescapable. Barclay wrote, "What is this but to attribute to God the height of injustice, to make him require his children to forsake sin, and yet not afford them sufficient means for so doing? Surely, this makes God more unrighteous than wicked men, who if (as Christ saith) their children require bread of them, will not give them a stone; or instead of fish, a serpent."
According to the early Friends, we should not excuse ourselves from the pursuit of perfect obedience.
The Holiness Movement in the 19th Century also placed a great deal of emphasis on the idea of perfection.
The Holiness Movement lasted from the 1830's to its peak in the 1870's. It followed on the heals of the Second Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening centered on the idea of conversion. The Holiness Movement, however, emphasized the need for maturity in Christ. If the Second Great Awakening was akin to a spiritual nursery (facilitating "new birth"), then the Holiness Movement was like spiritual boot camp: transforming "babes in Christ" into productive members of God's Kingdom.
The Quakers had never placed much emphasis on the concept of conversion. However, when Friends heard Holiness leaders speak about a "Baptism of the Spirit," it was like hearing someone speak in their native Quaker tongue. The Holiness Movement also made an explicit connection between inward communion and outward transformation. It synthesized contemplation and action. All of this was very attractive to Friends. By the latter half of the 19th Century, the Holiness Movement drew Quakers like a magnet.
Arthur Roberts gives the following account of a 19th Century Friend named, Allen Jay. This illustrates how the Holiness Movement swept aside any reservations the Quakers may have had:
Some of the elders in North Carolina were shocked to discover their youth were attending Methodist revivals, from which their attendance had been discouraged. But Jay attended these meetings. He became acquainted with the evangelist; he talked with the Friends youth who were converted and secured from them a pledge they would remain with the Quaker fold. On one occasion, the Quaker girl with whom he talked began to cry because she had been forbidden to attend the meetings. So Allen Jay took her home, and at the door, when the father appeared, he said, "Thy child left home unsaved, and now returns as a child of Christ, and in his name I ask thee to receive her." With that, opposition vanished and Allen Jay led others in the family to the Lord.
Once the card of "salvation" was dealt, it trumped any other concern.
Reflecting on more recent Christian movements (like Young Life, Navigators, or the crusades of Billy Graham), Arthur goes on to say, "God has been at work through these agencies, and like Allen Jay, we must cooperate and allow these movements to strengthen, not splinter the church."
There is little doubt that the Holiness Movement helped to restore some vitality to 19th Century Friends. However, it also led to an ongoing division among Friends. For Quakers, the Holiness Movement did both: strengthen and splinter.
So, how should we as Friends interact with each new spiritual movement that arises (e.g. Promisekeepers or the trend towards Spiritual Direction)? Instead of adapting to external movements, is there a way of reconnecting with our own heritage? For example, why would 19th Century Friends look to Wesley or Finney for guidance on perfection, and not to Barclay or Penington?
Here are some other questions:
1. What are the "big issues" in the church right now? What movements are addressing those concerns? Do Friends have anything unique to add to these discussions?
2. To what extent should the church be above "trends?"