Sitting in Silence for Israel: Peaceful Trajectories Beyond Quaker Supersessionism

Image result for synagogue worship art TorahThe 1660 Declaration remains a vivid summary of the cluster of theological trajectories named the Quaker Peace Testimony. This post argues that despite the centrality of peace to Quakerism over the last three and a half century’s our articulations of that peace, are recurrently compromised by a persistent tradition of supersessionism. While early Friends frequently upheld positions of radical non-violence, they often did so in ways which actively marginalised Israel’s role as messengers of peace to the nations (Is. 49:6). Consequently, many Quaker polemicists contributed towards the production of a sectarian identity which refused to accept the role of post-Biblical Judaism in the unfolding of the peaceable kingdom. In contrast to these problematic postures, it will be proposed that modern Friends cannot be faithful to the calling of peace until they develop an affirmative account of the Jewish roots of Quaker peace-talk. At the centre of this project of theological repair will be re-readings of Quaker attitudes to silent worship, ‘times and seasons’ and outward sacraments. In place of problematic dualisms between a carnal ceremony and inward worship, it will be argued that Quaker theology should regard its calling to peace as a mark of mimetic faithfulness to the character of the Covenant between God and the Jewish people.

  1. Carnal Ceremony Versus Inward Worship

At the core of early Quaker animosity towards post-Biblical Judaism was the Pauline dichotomy between the religion of the ‘flesh’ and faith of the Spirit. This dualism served not only to dictate the contours of early Quaker theology but gave Friends a ready-made theological vocabulary to employ against outsiders and enemies. While early Quakers saw themselves as the custodians of true religion, Catholics, ritualistic Protestants, and Rabbinic Jews lived by the dictates of the Pharisaic creed, which prevented believers from entering the kingdom of God (Matt. 24:13).[1] This flesh/spirit dualism generated a strong theological justification for the form of silent worship that early Friends had adopted from the Westmorland Seekers in the late 1640s. If the followers of the old covenant had been enmeshed in outward ceremonial forms, Friends looked within. In the orbit of such inward worship was a stark animosity against the marking of ‘times and seasons’. By rejecting the liturgical cycles of other Christian confessions as crude imitations of Jewish temple worship, Quakers saw these things as thrown down by the Spirit of Christ.[2]  Underlying these anti-ritualistic postures was the repeated claim that the mission of peace bestowed to the Jewish people (Abraham’s promise) now belonged to the embryonic Quaker community.  While precious ‘outward worship’ of God among the Hebrews had been fused with the caprice of kings and priests, Fox suggested Quaker worship was not ‘established by blood, nor held up by prisons, neither was the foundation of it laid by the carnal weapons of men, nor is it preserved by such.’

While precious ‘outward worship’ of God among the Hebrews had been fused with the caprice of kings and priests, Fox suggested Quaker worship was not ‘established by blood, nor held up by prisons, neither was the foundation of it laid by the carnal weapons of men, nor is it preserved by such.’[3] Here again, the Jews are understood as a retrograde people, pointing towards the true worship, but never participating in it. As Fox put it: ‘The Jews’ sword outwardly, by which they cut down the heathen, was a type [that is, a figure or foreshadow] of the spirit of God within, which [spirit] cuts down the heathenish nature within’.[4] Here the Hebrew Scriptures (outwardly violent and bestial) is rendered merely a symbolic foreshadowing of the peaceable kingdom of Christ. In this scheme, Judaism has no mission of peace of its own but is merely a signpost to the spiritual life and worship inaugurated by Quaker communities.

  1. Is Quaker Worship Inherently anti-Jewish?

Image result for Quakers JewsGiven these foundational trajectories, could it be argued that the very structure of unprogrammed Quaker worship theologically repudiates the life of Israel? For modern unprogrammed Quakers living after the Shoah, this question is disturbing in several senses. It forces us to consider the painful possibility that our vision of ‘peace’ is based on an exclusionary and sectarian basis. While modern British Friends have long set aside the sectarian instincts of early Friends in relation to other Churches, are our attitudes concerning ritual are still potentially injurious to the ongoing life of the Jewish people. Have we as Quaker theologians done enough to confront these potentially poisonous roots? Some are less than convinced by my concern than others. The contemporary Quaker teacher Stuart Masters has suggested that Quaker theology is not ‘straightforwardly’ supersessionist because:

Friends did not single the Jews out for special condemnation. They were critical of any group that was focused on outward forms, including all the other Christian churches, because they believed that this was the way of the old covenant. Secondly, their vision involved an inclusive expansion of God’s covenant, not the replacement of one chosen people by another.[5]

The danger of this approach is that it sidesteps the fact that the condemnation directed against other churches is itself animated by an anti-Jewish theory of replacement. When early Friends condemned Catholics for their ritualism they frequently made comparisons between papists and the Jewish priests of old. Moreover, early Quaker language of inclusion actively negates the historical community of Israel for ‘spiritual’ alternative which actively erases the Jewish people from the history of salvation.  At the root of this common misreading of Paul on the topic of justification. Instead of understanding justification in terms of Christians being ‘grafted’ to the community of Israel (Gentiles becoming Jews) justification is understood as a personal/non-historical process of personal vindication before God. At first glance, these points seem ‘academic’ (in the worst sense) until we understand what such attitudes do to our Quaker witness.  If we leave these postures uninterrogated our proclamation to be living out God’s peace is decidedly hollow (because it will be a peace which does not recognise a key vessel intended to enact that peace).

How can Quaker theology repair itself? In part, the answer lies in offering a reinterpretation of our worship and silence which does not invite the ant-Jewish postures of the past and restores to Jewish life its autonomy and dignity. Such a reversal can be realised once Quaker theology acknowledges that early Friends had more than one justification for both anti-ritualism and their pattern of worship. It is the responsibility of contemporary Quakers to select and foster those justifications which do not depend on the marginalisation of Jewish identity and practice.  If we leave these postures uninterrogated our proclamation to be living out God’s peace is decidedly hollow (because it will be a peace which does not recognise a key vessel intended to enact that peace). How can Quaker theology repair itself? In part, the answer lies in offering a reinterpretation of our worship and silence which does not invite the ant-Jewish postures of the past and restores to Jewish life its autonomy and dignity. Such a reversal can be realised once Quaker theology acknowledges that early Friends had more than one justification for both anti-ritualism and their pattern of worship. It is the responsibility of contemporary Quakers to select and foster those justifications which do not depend on the marginalisation of Jewish identity and practice.

  1. Silence as Prophetic and Apocalyptic

Alongside the use of Pauline spirit/flesh dualisms, early Quaker users of silence also depended upon a rich network of Biblical associations, many of which did not by necessity depend upon the downgrading of the life and worship of Israel. Such an alternative reading of silence is prominent in an exhortative epistle addressed ‘To All the People of the Earth’ (1657) While the epistle makes brief mention of ‘the synagogues…which Christ, the prophets and apostles cried out against’[6], the letter’s focus is not primarily the replacement of Israel, but the traditions of silence within the Scriptures. This emphasis upon ‘roots’ forces Fox into positions which undeniably hospitable to both the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish tradition more widely. The text summons a rich cast of characters to defend the Quaker use of silence, including Jeremiah[7], David and Isaiah.[8] In the process of calling on this rich narrative reservoir of symbolism, Fox ends by depicting many of the central figures of the Jewish covenant as living in accord with the rule of silence.

Image result for Quaker worshipFox considers that ‘a silent meeting is not a strange thing to the righteous Abel nor to the second Jacob for God is the author of their faith’[9]. We should notice what is lacking in such a formulation. Here Fox does not divide the use of silence into stark ‘old’ or ‘new’ covenantal phases but (against his dualistic instincts) produces a single story of Israel and the Church. The guiding categories in Fox’s letter are not chiefly ‘old’ versus ‘new’ but rather the peaceful and the violent.  Those excluded from the true worship of the silence are not ‘Jews of the flesh’ per se but those enslaved by the logic violence like Cain[10] and Esau.[11] This suggests a far less factional understanding of the origin and structure of Quaker worship than implied by the spirit/flesh dichotomy. Far from being separate and superior to the ‘Jews of the flesh’ such reasoning implies a strong notion of giftedness and inheritance- Friends now sit in silence because of the peace modelled by the patriarchs and prophets. We can do this faithfully because of Israel’s faithfulness.

The unitive possibilities of Fox’s presentation are enhanced when we consider the reasons Fox gives for silent worship in this text. While Fox is sometimes inclined to stress the radically sectarian character of the silent assembly, here he locates two overriding rationales, neither of which necessarily invite a supersessionist interpretation. The first justification for the silence is oracular: to allow Friends to enter that state of hearing God[12] which characterised the prophets of Israel. In this way, the silence is a conduit of training into the gifts of coming Messianic age, when the Spirit will be poured out ‘on all flesh’ (Joel 2:28). Secondly the silence serves as a means of vision by which Friends can participate in the peace that the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel promise. The silence in heaven for ‘half an hour’ recorded in Revelations 8 is understood as an expression of God’s final inauguration of peace, in which Friends participate. The lack of ritual in this silence is an extension of this commitment to peace. Just as Yahweh through the lips of the prophets demands ‘love not sacrifice’ (Hosea 6:6), the Quaker renunciation of cultic Christian practice mirrors a commitment to the institutional violence of temples and priests.[13] Thus Quaker anti-ceremonialism need not depend upon in the invalidity of the Mosaic covenant, but stand as a testament of the shared Quaker/Jewish hope for the future of concord and justice.  As Fox puts it, through this silence all people can ‘dwell in that which leads to peace’[14]– its power going out in the world and subduing all confusion and strife [15] This Fox believes represents ‘the consolation of Israel’ awaited by the aged Simeon.[16] Yet as readers of the Epistle are forced to admit, despite these affirming moves, Fox frequently dents their import by repeatedly falling back into the trap of forgetting the Jewishness of the prophets from which he derives his spiritual mission. Despite these not insignificant exegetical obstacles, the recovery of positive judgements of the Jewish tradition in Fox may yet contain the seeds of Quaker trajectories beyond historic anti-Judaism. At the very least the acknowledgement that Quaker postures of silence and anti-ritualism are complex and polymorphic gives Quakers the opportunity to use Fox against Fox. By acknowledging the Jewish religious images and texts which underlie our Worship-practice we may yet be able to join Paul in the affirmation of peace, that Quakers (like all Christians) are ‘branches from a wild olive tree’ [that has] ‘been grafted in’, receiving ‘the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children’ .

Based on a paper originally intended for The Society for the Study of Theology Conference “Peace”, 2017

 

[1] George Fox, Journal of George Fox, (New York: Isaac T. Hopper, 1831), p. 394

[2] Isaac Pennington, ‘Some Positions on the Apostasy’, in The Works of Isaac Pennington, Volume 1. (Farrington: Quaker Heritage Press, 1995), p. 36

[3] Fox, Journal of George Fox, (New York: Isaac T. Hopper, 1831), p. 394

[4] George Fox, ‘Ye are called to peace’, The Works of George Fox, 1990 reprint of 1831 edition, Vol. 1 (Journal I), pp. 387-389 http://www.qis.net/~daruma/foxpeace.html [Accessed 25 Jan. 2017]

[5] Stuart Masters, ‘Abraham’s Offspring, Heirs According to the Promise” – The Quaker Way and the Gift of the Jewish People’, in The Friends Quarterly (Issue 4., 2015),

[6] George Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, in Gospel truth demonstrated, in a collection of doctrinal books, given forth by that Faithful Minister of Jesus Christ, George Fox, (New York: Isaac T. Hopper, 1831), p. 131

[7] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, in Gospel truth demonstrated, in a collection of doctrinal books, given forth by that Faithful Minister of Jesus Christ, George Fox, (New York: Isaac T. Hopper, 1831), p.  119

[8] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. 119

[9] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. 130

[10] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. ibid

[11] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. ibid

[12] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. 129

[13] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. 124

[14] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. ibid

[15] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. 123

[16] Fox, ‘Epistle Addressed to All the Nations of the Earth’, p. ibid

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4 thoughts on “Sitting in Silence for Israel: Peaceful Trajectories Beyond Quaker Supersessionism

  1. To be a covenant people involves responsibilities on both sides. The foundation of the covenant God made with the Israelites is not the law, nor the ten commandments. Instead of these, the foundation is “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6) The cornerstone of that foundation is God’s promise of a prophet like Moses. “[I] will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” (Deut. 18: 18-19) It is this prophet like Moses whom Isaiah 49:6 is describing as the light to the gentiles and God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. On the Mount of Transfiguration, God announced His choice, saying of Jesus, “this is my chosen one, hear him.” Which brings us back to the foundation. Now, if any refuse to hear God’s words, spoken by His chosen one, how can they claim to be keeping His covenant? Nor can they make a legitimate claim to be part of His covenant people, but they are cut off as proclaimed by Peter in his interchange with the Jews at the temple in Acts 3 and 4.

    It is Fox’s testimony that God and Jesus Christ, His son, sent him forth into the world to preach the everlasting gospel, giving him commission of what to bring people off from and what to bring them to. Edward Burrough’s testimony is “[The Lord] having thus armed us with power, strength, and wisdom, and dominion, according to his mind, and we having learned of him, and being taught of him in all things, and he having chosen us into his work, and put his sword into our hand, and given us perfect commission to go forth in his name and authority, having the word from his mouth what to cut down and what to preserve, and having the everlasting gospel to preach to the inhabitants of the earth, and being commanded in spirit to leave all, and follow him, and go forth in his work, yea an absolute necessity was laid upon us, and wo unto us if we preached not the gospel. For when we looked abroad and beheld the world, behold it was altogether darkness, and even as a wilderness, and desolate, and barren of good fruit; and death reigned over men, and no good fruit was brought forth to God, but leaves we beheld upon every soul.” (Works of Fox, Vol. III p.15)

    Before you turn the sword backward to punish the righteous and reward the wicked, what evidence do you bring to substantiate the claim that the early Friends acted contrary to the command and guidance of God and of Christ? If you wish to honor the covenant God made with the Israelites, and later with all people, then stand faithful to hearing this prophet like Moses He has raised up to speak His word to His people. Standing in covenant with God, you can neither denigrate His servants nor uphold those who serve the god of this world.

  2. “Now, if any refuse to hear God’s words, spoken by His chosen one, how can they claim to be keeping His covenant? Nor can they make a legitimate claim to be part of His covenant people, but they are cut off as proclaimed by Peter in his interchange with the Jews at the temple in Acts 3 and 4”.

    Thanks for this reply. I understand what you say here Ellis, but I think we need to be careful about evoking the language of ‘faithlessness’ (it has been such a hive of anti-Jewishness). It seems Paul is pretty clear that the Jewish people remain God’s Covenantal agent- even if many do not affirm Jesus as the Messiah (Paul wrestles with this in Romans 11). We are Christian because of Israel. We are not superior and we do not stand on our own; we have been “grafted” onto the original Covenant. You ask, what evidence do you bring to substantiate the claim that the early Friends acted contrary to the command and guidance of God and of Christ? I don’t claim that “all early Friends were wrong”, rather that sometimes (some Friends over-stepped in their zeal). This is a flaw we all have at times. Early Friends were not universally good in every respect, because as we know ”only God is good”. One troubling example is Fox’s frequent blanket condemnation of ” the synagogues”. He frequently imposes first-century categories onto contemporary post-Biblical Judaism. But he didn’t have much experienced ‘real’ lived Jewish communities. It feels troubling the condemn people’s walk with God without having a genuine dialogue. In lots of ways, post-Biblical Judaism was more faithful to God’s calling of peace than Christians. In various places Fox acknowledges this, he doesn’t always see what this means. Some Friends did (like Fell and Samuel Fisher) and they developed greater tenderness as a result). Let’s continue to stand in that tenderness.

    1. The charge of faithlessness is laid at the feet of all peoples, not just Jews. The original covenant was “hear my voice, live by my voice” which is what it means to be made in the image of God. The covenant God made with Abram (Abraham) was a universal covenant in that through Abraham, the father of many nations, would come the blessing that would remove the curse caused by not hearing and obeying the voice of God. (See Genesis 17 and 22) In many ways, Moses brings this to the Israelites attention. One of the most striking, at least to me, is the statement in Deut. 8:3, “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” This is applicable to man in general, not to just Jews.

      Jesus made some sharp observations that remove all hope of pleasing God through religious observations. “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I say?” “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Then there is this interchange: “…If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” (John 8:31-45)

      Paul stated in Romans 11, speaking of the Jews, they were broken out (of the olive tree to make room for other branches to be grafted in) because of unbelief. This “unbelief” that caused them to be broken out that I may be grafted in, involves a lot more than the surface use of the word one hears bandied about in Christendom. Belief involves an ongoing encounter with God, a recognition of the authority of that encounter, and a deliberate making that ongoing encounter the foundation of our life. Unbelief is the active rejection of that encounter, acknowledging God’s authority, and finding something else to be the foundation. Paul also, like Jesus in the above, stated that “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly.” So there is more involved here than being able to trace one’s ancestory to the appropriate Patriarch.

      The above things are central. The peace testimony, like all the other testimonies are circumferential: they all point to the experience of Christ present in and among us in all his offices as being the center of all. To make any thing else the center is to lose the life and power that brings about the testimony. Thus Fox could say, “I live in that life and power that takes away the occassion of all war.” (perhaps not an exact quote.)

      I know this comment is getting long, but these are the things that are behind my statements.

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