The protestant reformation began – more or less – with Martin Luther, and the posting of his 95 theses on the door of the Cathedral of Wittenburg.
What was Luther’s primary message, or revelation for the church? Many would say: ‘Salvation through faith, alone.’ Which is generally true – more specifically, however, Luther’s central life-revelation was of the reliance upon scripture, vs. tradition. As Luther began to read the bible for himself, he found that traditions, rules and doctrines set in place by bishops and priests had drawn Christians away from the simple faith in God’s written word, and subsequently in Christ and the central elements of His teachings – as recorded in scripture.
It was for this reason – a return to scripture – that Luther was one of the first reformers to print the bible in the in the language of the common people AND to make it affordable to the masses. (In fact, there were bibles printed in German prior to Luther’s translation but these were printed for usage by priests and clergy – they were for that reason rather guarded (as well as expensive). They were also few and far between, as most scholars of the day (clergy or otherwise) learned Latin when they were about 14, and translations of scripture into Latin were more reliable than those translated into the common tongue. (One of the reasons King James later authorized his English translation was because it was generally believed that the priest’s common-language bibles were grossly inaccurate, and poorly written.)
If Martin Luther’s ministry was to return the church of Christ to the scriptures of Truth, then the ministry of the highly underrated reformer George Fox was to return the church of Christ to the Pentecostal power, and revelation of the Holy Spirit.
These two were essential ministers of the Reformation; it is no surprise to me that the man whose message was the power of the indwelling Spirit of God within man is so fully overshadowed historically by his predecessor in faith who set forth the scriptures – yet I would set the two on equal ground.
When Luther’s reformation took place, and common, unlearned Christians suddenly had access to the scriptures they immediately saw what EVERY new Christian who sets down to read the book of Acts sees: a HUGE disconnect between what happened THEN (in the bible), and what is happening NOW in the church. The common people saw that there were supposed to be gifts of the Spirit in operation, that visions, and prophetic utterances, and miraculous healings ought not to be relegated to a few clergymen, nor were they to be sparse – but contained in the common life of Christianity.
Luther’s reformation opened the door to a whole new world of spiritual possibility – to the reigning Catholic clergy it was utter chaos! Pandemonium had been unleashed and religious sects sprung up all over the place – plenty of blasphemers stood and claimed to be prophets, and apostles, deceiving hundreds; some claimed that they were prophets whose revelation was beyond the scriptures. In response to these fanaticisms others responded violently in the other direction: no prophetic revelation, nor supernatural experience was real, only the scripture was valid (sola scriptura). A plethora of denominations sprung into existence clinging to varied interpretations of scripture.
In fact, this was the reason for the oft spoken of inquisition – to find blasphemers who sympathized with various protestant ‘cults.’
From the historical standpoint it is no great shock that this took place. Prior to this, ‘mature Christians’ were generally found only in monasteries (though as Luther found, generally, even those in monasteries did not read the scriptures – or at least they did not centrally focus on them). It is no great surprise that schismatic mayhem would take place when every man could read the scriptures in his own language. All the common people who had always wanted a closer walk with God now understood how some of the supernatural stuff was SUPPOSED to work – yet seeing that it WASN’T at work, stepped in to fill the gap. As there were no seasoned prophets or apostles to correct error, every vain imagining, dream, or supposed revelation MUST be from God!
In short you had an entire culture of baby Christians (believing salvation through faith (thus they were [generally] born-again), and in the inerrancy of scripture) now sporting themselves as apostles, and spiritual giants because they could see the disconnect between what the church was, and what it ought to be (scripture).
This enormous cultural shift shook the whole of Europe (William Tyndale was contemporary of Luther, bringing the scriptures to the common people of England, for example). Yet God is faithful; it was only a matter of time before He raised up some real ministers to bring His body into alignment with Himself – for He daily rises up early and sends the prophets (Jer. 7:25).
Martin Luther was a teacher, who brought forth the scriptures – perhaps even apostolic. George Fox – I believe – True prophet of God. He brought forth an earth-shaking revelation – and could teach it from scripture – and shewed it forth across England. He brought it forth in the power of the Spirit with miracles, and signs, and verified prophecies fulfilled. Yet after the offset of his Quaker movement – ‘the society of Friends,’ it would take another several hundred years and the Azusa street revival before that revelation came to be accepted on any wide scale again. What was Fox’s revelation? Simple. ‘Christ in YOU…’ (Col 1:27) It is the same revelation that John G. Lake would live by 250 years or so later.
George Fox taught this thing which every Christian ought to grasp: Christ IN YOU is your shepherd, bishop, prophet, and king. He is not reigning some future church, but YOU RIGHT NOW. If ye have the Spirit of God, then you have within you the same Spirit who put forth the scriptures of Truth. Fox emphasized mightily the scriptures, and put them forth, yet also showed that all Christians have the Living Word (Jesus Christ) within them. He admonished all men to look to ‘the Light within,’ that they might know God in Spirit, and in Truth.
He also (and more controversially) points out that the scriptures declare the light of Christ quote: ‘lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ (John 1:9) – thus all men can come to a saving knowledge of Christ if only they forsake all to heed the spiritual deposit they are naturally born with – for the Spirit of Truth (when sought) will never lead men into error, or away from Christ (indeed it is written that those who seek Him will find Him IF they seek Him with all the heart (Jer. 29:13). Which principal is evidently also true as Paul taught it in Romans: ‘For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a aw unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.‘ (Rom 1:14 & 15))
The revelation – once grasped – is powerful beyond words. One thing that stands out to me from the life of this prophet is that while modern Pentecostalism was largely a renewal to this his revelation, Pentecostalism has been based upon a DOCTRINE (the teaching of the baptism in the Holy Spirit), which Fox’s spirituality was centrally based upon the PERSON of Christ. I see in Pentecostal Christianity the tendency to see the Holy Spirit merely as a substance to be doused in, rather than a personality to be engaged in (bear in mind I count myself Pentecostal).
As my experience with the modern ‘society of Friends’ (Quakers) has not been extensive by any means (which I may need to alter – as by the leading of the Lord (are they not, also, Christians?)), I will provide no insights as to how they have developed, or stagnated since the time of Fox (as I briefly commented on contemporary Pentecostalism).
Yet, I also see the danger of the other side. Just as a reformation to the scriptures had pitfalls – for Truth put the whole Western world into shock as if a man in a lukewarm room was suddenly cast into subzero waters – so also without the sturdy balance of known Truth in God’s written word, this revelation could be destructive.
Here, then, is the balance – as I see it – that the heart is deceitful above all else (Jer 17:9); and the un-renewed flesh is filled with corruption. Many who seek to follow the ‘Light within’ may go into delusions, led astray by their hearts, their flesh, the demonic, or even other Christians who may magnify them (see Fox & history’s rendering of the end of James Naylor who seems to have come to allow his following to worship him as Christ (p. 269-272 in ‘The Autobiography’ (link below (be warned – its of the more disturbing stories in the book)). Fox seemed to be appropriately well-balanced in the scriptures and the Spirit, but just as one can become a Pharisee in following the ‘scriptures only’ philosophy, one could readily become delusional should following the ‘Light within’ only become the lifestyle.
(Here – again – is a link to a public domain free digital copy of ‘The Autobiography of George Fox’ (I shared also in my last post) https://archive.org/details/georgefoxautobio00foxg – the historical commentary (I think) can be generally ignored (although in the case of the warning of James Naylor’s life it may be worth reading); Fox’s actual narrative begins on p. 65)