Critiques of the Early Quakers

At 34:00 in this video, Steve Lawson preaches against the Quakers in the 1600s, as a demonic movement that was raised up by the devil to contradict the cessationist preaching of Sola Scriptura in the Westminster Confession ch. 1. I first watched this video a year ago and suspended my judgment about it because I hadn’t looked into it for myself. But since that time I have read The Autobiography of George Fox (well actually I listened to it) and have concluded that the man was definitely deceived by the devil and was possibly demon possessed and was leading a demonic movement.

Quakers and Public Nudity: “Going Naked as a Sign”

George Fox (d. 1691)The most obviously shocking and extreme reason why anyone would conclude that early Quakerism was moved by demonic principles is that they allowed for some people under the guidance of the “spirit” to walk about “naked as a sign” of judgment upon the people for not obeying God. In some cases even Quaker women would walk around topless in public preaching against the Puritan pastors; the most notable case, was that of 16 year old Elizabeth Fletcher, who said that God would strip them of their ministries, even as she had been stripped of her clothing. Supposing this to be an application of Isaiah 20: a gross perversion, taking you away from a male prophet wearing a loincloth to a female exposing her breasts in public…an extreme leap in logic. There is also a passage in the Autobiography that presents George Fox preaching a view of righteousness that is based off of Quakers being in the innocent state of Adam before the fall in the Garden of Eden. This strange view seems to be very similar to the heretical group that popped up in England at the time called the Adamites. So its possible that there was an Adamite or Ranter influence on the Quakers and George Fox; and that it was from among them that pretended to have the innocence of Adam and Eve before the fall–naked in the Garden of Eden–it was them that probably influenced the Quakers towards nudism. George Fox never walked about “naked as a sign” himself, but in 1654 when he heard of Fletcher being led by the “spirit” to do it, and he defended her actions (see Hilary Hinds’ George Fox and Early Quaker Culture, pp. 51, 169; Norman Penney’s The First Publishers of Truth, p. 259).

Fox’s Nitpicky and Strange Attitudes: Straining Out a Gnat

Fox himself spent most of his life in prisons and being harshly treated by the authorities. The main reasons for this seem to not have stemmed from being persecuted for the Gospel, but for his insubordinate and argumentative spirit towards civil laws: for example, his refusal to tip his hat to authority figures which was a custom in England at the time; and his refusal to put his hand on the Bible and swear oaths in court proceedings, which was part of English law: it was very hard for him to get anywhere because of his refusal to do these simple petty things. Matthew 23:24: “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Other strange and bizarre things marked his life. He eventually married a woman named Margaret Fell and shortly after parted ways with her, so he could continue his travels for the cause of Quakerism. After the wedding, he never saw her again until 4 years later, having kept up pen pal correspondence with her. The Quakers, in an attempt to draw back to the primitive spirit of Christianity, also abandoned all Biblical rituals: for example, baptism. The Quakers not only rejected infant baptism or sprinkling, but rejected baptism by immersion and constantly called the Baptists by the name of “jangling” or arguing Baptists. They also refused to take the Lord’s Supper. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper were commanded by Jesus.

Christian Universalism

George Fox was a “Christian universalist.” When asked what the Gospel was, he replied that it was not the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. But that the Gospel was simply the power of God. And that it existed before even the Old Testament was written; and that it is the converting Spirit and nothing more. In response to that, I don’t have a problem with claiming that regeneration or converting grace is part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but it is clear in Scripture that what we understand by the word “Gospel” is what Paul explains in Romans as the message of justification by faith alone and sanctification by obedience to God’s moral laws through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit: by faith in the cross of Jesus Christ, having the atoning blood of Jesus turn away the wrath of God at our sins, so that we can obtain forgiveness of sins. And that this message, and this message alone, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ: and that the Holy Spirit supports it and confirms it. Thanks be to God for people like Martin Luther and the Lutherans, John Bunyan and the Puritans, and John Wesley and the Methodists for restoring this Gospel message.

But when we come to Fox and the Quakers, they taught that every human being has the saving grace of the Holy Spirit abiding inside of them: what he called the “inner light” or the “light within,” and that all people needed to do was turn towards that light of a good conscience and they would be saved: even if they did not understand anything about the cross or justification by faith. That notion I totally reject as a self-righteous delusion and falsehood. There is no atoning blood of Jesus at all in that message! Although Fox did have an Arminian view of grace, and he believed that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world: he could at the same time go to an Indian and never preach about the cross, encouraging him only to turn towards the light within. So this was a form of Christian universalism: an abuse of the Arminian doctrine of unlimited atonement; and taking it to the extent that someone could be saved by the influence of the Holy Spirit without even knowing about the cross. For a while I believed that Fox was not a universalist, because it looked like he claimed that he was not one in his “Letter to the Governor of Barbados” (1671). But the fact that in the later chapters of the Autobiography, he’s visiting all sorts of Indian chiefs, and telling them that the inner light is within them, and also that towards the last two or three chapters of the Autobiography, he is traveling around with Robert Barclay, the author of An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, in which universalism is claimed (Sixth Proposition) as well as the idea that experience of the Holy Spirit is equally authoritative as the Bible: and that revelations don’t have to be tested by the Bible (Second Proposition), makes it clear to me that Fox, at least in his later years, was friendly with these heretical ideas.

Fox and the Supernatural

Fox’s life did have marks of the supernatural; and that I can’t deny. There are a handful of occasions where open visions and sensations of evil spirits are mentioned. One time he says that he saw an open vision of an angel brandishing a sword towards London and in a couple days the Fire of London broke out. On another occasion he said that when he went to Ireland, he smelled an evil spirit of death, and he knew it was because of all the martyrdoms that had been there. I have no question in my mind that George Fox had supernatural experiences, some of which could have genuinely been from the Holy Spirit. I have no question that he was having mystical experiences. But the fact that he justified nudism, universalism, and engaged at length in heated arguments with lawmen over minor issues like tipping the hat and swearing on the Bible in court, shows me that this man had some truly serious problems and that he misled many people.

But even a man like this can be used by God if he has faith; and I believe that there was, in the confusing mix of all the things that were in George Fox’s life, God working in there somewhere. There is a Book of Miracles that has testimonies of 150 healings supposed to have been performed by George Fox. I have not read this book yet, but I plan on doing so, and I expect to find that there were some real supernatural things that happened during the course of his life. The man was evidently very radical in his expression of faith, though misled at times. Like many of the charismatics today who have healing ministries, and at the same time have some strange beliefs (John Crowder for example), it is easy for me to believe that George Fox had a similar ministry. But it is not a ministry that I would personally like to imitate. I find more encouragement from the life of John Wesley and his ministry. So far as the historical continuation of miraculous gifts is concerned, I’m going to have to knock George Fox and the Quakers off of my personal list: and replace them with the Covenanters mentioned in John Howie’s The Scots Worthies: that movement was charismatic and lasted from the 1500s all through the 1600s, pretty much ending with Alexander Peden (who actually went to a Quaker meeting and saw crow-like demons inspiring people as they spoke). Fox: a symbol of subtlety, deception, and cunning; also of a con man and a false prophet, a wicked leader, with hidden sin (so says Ira Milligan’s Understanding the Dreams You Dream). Eesh.

About Wesley Gospel is in the spirit of John Wesley; and the spirit of the Reformation when it discovered the printing press. The truth of God will not be suppressed!
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