Listening to Bishop Gene Robinson being interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday brought home to me once again how much the present conflicts in the Anglican church have in some respects very traditional historical parameters.
During the interview, Bishop Robinson spoke, with great eloquence, of how moves to the acceptance of lesbianism, gayness, bisexuality and transexuality are leadings of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he quoted the Bible to back up what he was saying, referring to Jesus’ words in John 16:
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.
As the defeat of the covenant (for it surely will be defeated) raises further the expectations of revisionists (already on a ‘high’ because of the increasing willingness of radicals in the hierarchy to speak up for their cause and the silence of the orthodox in response), we should make no mistake about the significance of what Robinson is saying.
For all its literal dressing up in Anglican clothing, Robinson, and those of the same persuasion are following the route of Quakerism.
Let us not forget that in its day, Quakerism was a vibrant expression of many aspects of Christian faith. Quakers were at the forefront of social reforms which put the mainstream churches to shame and literally left their mark on the English landscape, to say nothing of their impact elsewhere.
Yet Quakerism today can hardly claim to be an orthodox expression of Christianity. And the roots of this are in the origin of Quakerism itself, which put the ‘Spirit’ above the ‘Word’. George Fox, one of the most influential figures in the movement, was also fond of quoting the Scriptures, in this case 2 Corinthians 3:6:
... the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Thus Fox also was a man of the Spirit, but as those who know the context will be aware, the ‘letter’ to which that quote refers is the Scriptures. Thus there was a tension inherent in Quakerism from the outset — the Bible was part of the tradition, but the dynamic was the ‘inner light’ in the individual.
The history of Quakerism may, to some extent, be seen as a testimony to the power of the Christian tradition, even where the roots of that tradition have been so fundamentally damaged. But nevertheless, Quakerism today is the refuge of ‘unbelievers’ as far as orthodoxy is concerned.
The other thing to bear in mind is that this weakness did not make itself felt in the first decades of Quakerism — indeed, it took hundreds of years truly to make its effects known. But the trajectory was there from the outset.
Therefore let us be clear. Those who use Scripture as a jumping off point for ‘the Spirit’ are on a dangerous path already. The saying, “The inner light is the shortest route to the outer darkness” has been attributed to G K Chesterton. That may or may not be true. Equally, it may be that the actual route taken is quite long, and passes through some pleasant scenery.
But history warns us the outcome is the same.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: