Quakers and The Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic
for Confronting Evil
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Quakers and The Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic for Confronting Evil
International Historic Peace Church Consultation
Bienenberg Theological Seminary, Switzerland, June 25-28, 2001
As they war not against men's persons, so their weapons are not carnal nor hurtful to any of the creation; for the Lamb comes not to destroy men's lives not the work of God, and therefore at his appearance in his subjects he puts spiritual weapons into their hearts and hands; their armor is the light, their sword the spirit of the father and the Son, their shield is faith and patience, their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and goodwill towards all the creation of God; their breastplate is righteousness and holiness to God, their minds are girded with godliness and they are covered with salvation, and they are taught with truth. And thus the Lamb in them and they in him, go out in judgment and righteousness to make war with his enemies, conquering and to conquer. Not as the prince of this world in his subjects, with whips and prisons, tortures and torments on the bodies of creatures, to kill and to destroy men's lives who are deceived, and so become his enemies; but he goes forth in the power of the spirit with the Word of Truth to pass judgment upon the head of the Serpent which does deceive and bewitch the world... James Nayler. 1
The Quaker peace testimony must be seen within the context of all the testimonies (or "our Christian testimony," in the singular, as was the common usage). The first generation of Friends2 saw their testimonies as weapons in "The Lamb's War," a form of what many today would call "spiritual warfare." Our Christian testimony was a form of nonviolent resistance to the hypocrisy and evil that early Friends found in the world. This was not non-resistance as found in other pacifist traditions, but an active struggle against evil. I relate briefly a few incidents from our early history in an effort to show that since its early articulation our peace witness has been an assertive, if not aggressive, witness to the Truth.
The Religious Society of Friends arose in England in the mid 17th century, during a period of great social, economic, political and religious turmoil. Diggers and Levelers questioned the social and economic system; a civil war resulted in regicide and abolishment of the monarchy in favor of a Commonwealth dominated by Puritans. Early Quakers confronted the hypocrisy of those who professed to be Christians, particularly others in the Puritan wing of the reformation, who while professing Christ did not possess that Spirit. Though Friends were not silent, this was done in large part through witness acted out in what were known as the testimonies.
The first articulation of the Quaker peace testimony usually cited was in 1651, though at this point it was not yet a corporate testimony. George Fox, generally considered to be the founder of the Quaker movement, was being held in Derby jail on charges of blasphemy. He was approached by Commissioners of the Commonwealth army who offered him release and the rank of captain in that army "because of [his] virtue." He declined, throwing the word "virtue" back at them "But I told them I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars, and I knew from wence all wars did rise, from the lust according to James's doctrine."3 James's doctrine to which he referred is contained in the first three verses of the fourth chapter of the Epistle of James (a letter which early Friends cited in support of other testimonies). In this epistle James attributes wars to the "lusts" (KJV), appetites (REB), or cravings (NRSV4). Fox explains "I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strife were." 5
This covenant of peace, or state of perfection, was expressed by Fox in an earlier, 1648, opening in which he saw himself return to the state of Adam before the fall. He wrote in his Journal "now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell."6 He felt himself taken back to before the fall and original sin.
This doctrine of perfection held by Quakers, though few actually claimed perfection for themselves, was central to the message of George Fox. It stood in contrast to the doctrine of human depravity held by the puritans, and with the Anglicans and Roman Catholics which were seen to emphasize ritual which had become empty. The commissioners to whom he was speaking at Derby jail would have been the former. Fox was confronting the commissioners with the hypocrisy of their position in professing Christ while not possessing that spirit.
It was in 1653 that Fox went to a military garrison in Carlisle for the purpose of speaking to the troops and specifically addressed violence.7 He said he "turned them to the Lord Jesus Christ their teacher, and warned them of doing violence to any man, and that they might show forth a Christian's life, and turned them from the darkness to the light and from the power of Satan unto God." The objective here seems to be convincment (conversion) and leading them to an openness to the inward teacher, but it was not explicit that the teacher would lead them from doing violence.
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the Quaker Peace Testimony
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