Lessons for the New Lamb’s War from the First Lamb’s War

July 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

Early Friends heard the Word and then invaded public spaces with it, bringing to steeplehouses and marketplaces the prophetic announcement of a new age. My sense is that early Friends were less concerned with exactly where they were going with the Lamb’s War and whether they were “winning” than with being faithful to their call. In the short term, they certainly shook things up and made impressive gains in bringing about the transformation they believed in. But in the long term, of course, the Lamb’s War seemed to fail. The Restoration of the monarchy, the collapse of the Puritan experiment, the decades of persecution that followed, all meant that the Lamb’s War had been lost. 

Or had it? On its own terms, yes. But . . .

Like all apocalypses, the Quaker apocalypse of the Word understood the problems of the time and their causes brilliantly, it flared brightly in its initial vision and passion, and it failed, ultimately, to understand the nature of its own fulfillment and the timelines involved.

Early Friends sought to usher in the new age as the second coming of Christ. They succeeded in building a vibrant and incredibly creative religious movement and they did in fact totally transform the world—but not by turning all souls toward Christ. They ended up jump-starting industrial capitalism instead, even as they declared a truce in the Lamb’s War and retreated from the battlefield. 

Is this what Christ had had in mind all along? That’s hard to imagine, that he told his followers, the early Friends, one thing—that he was coming again, right then, through them, to remake the world spiritually—and then turned them toward science, industry, technology, and commerce, instead, giving them the genius to create an all-new kind of economic system and make them rich in the process.

Did early Friends abandon Christ when they abandoned the Lamb’s War? Did Christ abandon them? (Doug Gwyn raises these questions in his important book, The Covenant Crucified.) What did the Christ, the Consciousness that gathered this peculiar people into such a dynamic movement, actually have in mind for them? With thousands, and tens of thousands, of quiet murmurings to their souls, he led them to Darby’s railroad, and Cadbury’s chocolate, and Barclay’s bank, and Huntsman’s cast steel. Apparently.

I find stuff to ponder here.

From the history of the first Lamb’s War I take this lesson: listen for the call; answer the call with faithfulness; don’t be too attached to results, or fuss overmuch about the path you find yourself on. You cannot know what the divine purpose is. G*d is in charge, not us. Apparently.

Religious movements evolve according to dynamics of emergence that are invisible and even unknowable to those who start them. This is because human history is an evolving ecosystem, not an arrow with a target. Organisms in that ecosystem—individuals and especially, communities—play their roles and sometimes they play a dominant one, as the Religious Society of Friends did in 18th century Britain. But their actions immediately begin interacting with all the other organisms’ contributions, and those interactions are out of human control and often even out of human purview.

All movements waiver and then decay and ultimately dissolve or collapse. But something comes out of it. 

Likewise, in my own personal experience, in the history of this individual. We each seem to be born with a certain spiritual “DNA”. However, as you mature and move through life, passion, right intention, and right action interact with the DNA of your soul as a kind of spiritual RNA, decoding and expressing the elements of your true self. Somehow, ultimately, you are likely to arrive at some fulfillment, but by a path you could never have predicted and in a form that you could never have imagined. 

One example from my own life: From an early age, I wanted to be a minister and for a while in college, I was headed toward seminary. But I could not have been a Lutheran minister, or any other kind of minister I knew of at the time, and I dropped the idea. Now, here I am a Quaker with several ministries that have my full commitment and passion. G*d led me here after all.

And this is what I mean by “G*d led me here after all”: In this process of purposeful yet unpredictable spiritual evolution, the spiritual RNA—the factors inside us that help us decode and express our basic nature as we encounter forces outside ourselves and evolve and mature in the Spirit—this internal and external dynamic is what I call G*d. 

This is my experience. This is what I know of G*d “experimentally”. I could ascribe all this to some utterly external and utterly spiritual entity and call that God—but that’s not how I experience it. My testimony is that there is something within me—let’s call it the Light—that works to turn me toward the good, toward creativity, toward love—and toward full expression of my true self. Furthermore, this principle within me is awake to possibility and opportunity in the world, and to sympathetic external forces, actors, and movements of the spirit in the world around me, in ways that my conscious consciousness is not. 

But this—something—is not just inside me. There is “something” outside of me, as well. I experience the Light within me as my teacher and guide. But the Light is not confined within the boundaries of my individual soul. It seems to work upon me from the outside, also. For one thing, it’s inside of everyone else. But it’s also in the living world around me. In fact, I have at times experienced it quite profoundly within rock, climbing a talus formation in the Shawangunks of New York or walking through a boulder field in the Sourlands of New Jersey, laying my hand upon the bones of our Mother Earth. Communion is real, and it comes in many forms.

So, too, with religious community. Religious communities form in answer to some collective experience. Israel was formed in the Exodus. The Christian movement seems to have gelled in the Pentecost experience. Quakers were gathered at Firbank Fell. Receptors are built into the community’s collective consciousness that are capable of recognizing and responding to the galvanizing Spirit of its birth. The new religion is the community’s spiritual practice, the things it does to commune again with that Spirit, for which it yearns. This yearning for its Truth, for fulfillment in the full expression of its “DNA”, is the emotional drive behind the religion’s actions and its evolution. 

When the community is aligned toward G*d; that is, when it is aligned toward the good, toward creativity, toward love, toward the unique gifts the community possesses—and above all, toward the collective consciousness that is its Source and its guide—extraordinary things happen. For Friends, the gifts are the core elements of our tradition, especially the faith and practice of Quaker ministry. Our Source Consciousness is the Christ, the consciousness in which Friends were first gathered and in which it has enjoyed continuing revelation. The mission is worship—waiting for the Holy Spirit to prompt us toward understanding and action—and then faithfully answering the call.

Thus, the Lamb’s War today depends on individual Quakers and Quaker meetings that know how to pass on our gifts, our tradition; that know how to listen for the call; and that know how to nurture, guide, and support those who hear and answer the call. It depends on Friends who are alive to the movement of the Spirit, who know humility—who are ready to submit—and who live in simplicity honest enough to free them for action.

Thus, for me, the lesson for the new Lamb’s War from the first Lamb’s War is to remain spiritually focused on the Light within me, as an individual; to remain focused on our collective Teacher and Guide, as a community; and to retain the faith that this religious practice actually works—that prayer, meditation, and worship deliver communion.

Theoretically, this faith is not some blind leap in the dark, but a confident walking in the Light, in the knowledge that it has happened before, not just to our forbears but also to ourselves—to you and me and our meetings. In the experience of personal moments of communion and collective moments of gathering, we expect that it will happen again. If we are faithful.

§ 2 Responses to Lessons for the New Lamb’s War from the First Lamb’s War

  • You refer to a “First Lamb’s War” that seemed to fail and a “New Lamb’s War” that might arise today “if we are faithful,” Steven, as if they were the First and Second Ice Ages, Egyptian Dynasties, or French Republics, one mimicking or echoing the other after a period of absence. But for Quakers there is only one Lamb’s War, first described by James Nayler in his 1657 pamphlet “The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin” (in Works, v. 4, pp. 1-20). This Lamb’s War can be waged or not waged, according as *the Lamb leads, the Man of Sin is revealed, and we follow the Lamb.* And I’d like to think that there must have always been Quaker guerrillas carrying it on, even when the term “Lamb’s War” had fallen out of use. And so long as there are Lamb’s warriors fighting the good fight, the Lamb’s War does not fail, but only changes form. In Fox and Nayler’s time, Lamb’s warriors were out in the steeple-houses and market-places, shouting down hypocrisy in high and low alike. In John Woolman’s time, a quieter generation of Lamb’s warriors were entreating enslavers to manumit their enslaved people, traveling on foot to avoid contributing to cruelty to horses, buying undyed hats to spare defiling the environment, and laying down their lives in prayer in order to open the mouth of a reluctant minister (as Comfort Hoag did for David Ferris).

    You mention Quaker capitalists of the 18th and 19th Centuries who seemed to be all about money. You might have mentioned William Penn’s business manager Philip Ford, who was all about embezzlement and extortion. Or the fictional Quaker Captain Ahab, who was all about revenge against an animal. But these were the contemporaries of Job Scott, Joseph Hoag, Samuel Tuke, Elizabeth Gurney Fry, and Lucretia Mott, Lamb’s warriors all.

    The figure of the Lamb who leads an army comes from the Book of Revelation. In one of the greatest dramatic surprise moments in all the world’s literature, it’s announced that no one in all creation is worthy to open the great sealed book except the Lion of Judah, but when the Lion comes onstage, He appears as a Lamb “as it had been slain” (Rev. 5:5-6). What! Divine power and authority being given to a slain lamb? Is God kidding? No, God was not kidding. The omnipotent kingly authority of a lion, over everything that is (Phil. 2:9-11, Col. 1:20), is now to be given to the most humble, the most inoffensive, the most forgiving and forbearing soul that ever walked the earth, the Lamb Christ Jesus. When, later in the book, the Beast and its captive kings make war on the Lamb, they meet with utter defeat (Rev. 17:14), But how could it turn out otherwise? These, maddened and blinded by their own addiction to darkness rather than light (John 3:19-20), are such as would call for the mountains to fall on them rather than face “the wrath of the Lamb.” (Rev. 6:16. Come on! Who ever heard of a wrathful lamb? Who’s wrathful in this picture?)

    It was Nayler’s genius that paired the figure of the victorious Lamb with that of the “Man of Sin” found in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. The day of the complete revelation of the Lamb *must* first be preceded by a clear revelation of the Lamb’s antithesis, the Man of Sin, or, as the original Greek term might also be rendered in English, the Lawless Person. How will we know the one without fully knowing the other? This Lawless Person is the proud ego, as we would call it today, that recognizes no authority higher than itself, but enthrones itself pretending to be God. It dominates in each of us until we recognize it and dethrone it. In fact it’s a very popular ideal in our “classless” society where, as “Americans,” we’re encouraged to compete to excel (at the expense of others), so that we can grow up to become whatever we want to be (at the expense of others). We like the Man of Sin. He creates jobs and drives economic growth.

    Already in 1655 (in “A Discovery of the Man of Sin”) Nayler was arguing against “antichrists” who “would have the people believe that the man of sin is to be found at Rome, that so they may not discover him nearer hand in yourselves… for [in] whoever opposeth the end of Christ’s coming, which was to take away sin and to set free from it… the man of sin acts in them to uphold his own kingdom, which is sin…” (Works, v. 1, p.486).

    Make no mistake about it, there is a “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) with a powerful investment in keeping us addicted to things our own conscience condemns (lying and other cowardly behavior, self-righteousness, adulterous fantasies, bullying, scapegoating, overconsumption), so that we can’t even conceive of standing sinless before the true God, who is love (1 John 4:8, 4:16). Losing hope in such an outcome, we become skeptical about the very existence of God, the reality of good and evil, the importance of not lying – doesn’t everybody do it? – and even the relevance of the word “sin” for what might be better called “inappropriate behavior.” We become postmodern. Or to put it another way, we enslave ourselves to an elephant in the room and then guarantee our own perpetual bondage by agreeing never to mention the elephant. This elephant, the god of this world, soon becomes not only unmentionable but unthinkable, except as a caricature in popular fantasy-films. The elephant then guarantees that we’ll never take up the non-carnal weapons of spiritual warfare (2 Cor.10:4-5, Eph. 6:12) against evil things in high places, like itself, because it knows how to keep our attention on the things that are at eye level or below: wars and rumors of wars, alleged threats to our security, evil things in low places.

    But the Lamb’s War continues, inside and outside the Religious Society of Friends, every time an alcoholic turns to her Higher Power with a prayer for sobriety, every time a repentant father looks at his baby and thinks, “I don’t want my child to grow up knowing that his Daddy is a thief,” every time a whistleblower outs government secrets for conscience’ sake. Why the Lamb’s War isn’t a more visible part of the life of the Religious Society of Friends today may have less to do with our need to stay spiritually focused in worship and more to do with our now being in a spiritually anesthetized state that we need to be awakened from. When we come together more deeply horrified by what we find in our own heart than by what we find “out there” in society or the environment, when we see ourselves in dire need of salvation, not from some comic-book devil that threatens our after-death existence but from a present evil enslaver, when our hearts break open with compassion not just for the visibly oppressed but for the deformed souls all around us, so that we cry out for a Savior instead of congratulating ourselves that we found our way to Quakerism, then we’ll have no choice but to mobilize for the Lamb’s War in a way that makes it visible to everyone that that’s what we’re about.

  • Don Badgley says:

    It occurs to me that for every Barclay and Cadbury Quaker there were thousands quietly living simple lives of farming and other labors, Friends who had settled into lives that were ordered by the leadings of the Experience of G*d. I believe that the original Lamb’s War was neither lost nor forgotten but rather gradually assimilated into the consciousness of the wider culture. It was most powerful and effective when it was resisted, when it caused sufferings for its “soldiers” and for those it confronted. The Truth at its center is unchanged and the power of the ministry of ordering one’s life by the leadings of Love, (“the Spirit of Christ”) is as powerful today as ever it was.
    Our task? Share it! Share it by example and by speaking it aloud at every opportunity, in the town square (internet) and in the steeple houses and in the halls of government. We Friends are too comfortable and easy with our proud history and precious legacy, too fearful of causing offence, of being perceived as proselytizers and of proclaiming the Truth in the world. Most of our meetings are small and shrinking and peopled by older, white, middleclass and comfortable folks who came to “Quakerism” not to participate in a Lamb’s War but to rest among others who won’t challenge them with the with priorities beyond loving community and inoffensive and ineffectual testimonies.
    For this Friend the Lamb’s War is not about ushering in the reign of Christ but rather the gradual transformation of humanity through exemplary lives lived in the Light. This Light is the Spirit that Jesus knew, taught and lived. He did not create it. He pointed to it and taught not what to believe but what to do, how to live. “The Spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable.” Can Quakers once again initiate the Lamb’s War? This will not happen without aggressive and challenging, loving and prophetic ministry that speaks Truth aloud regardless of the discomfort it will certainly cause for some.

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You are currently reading Lessons for the New Lamb’s War from the First Lamb’s War at Through the Flaming Sword.