I have been researching the Quaker heresy of the “Inner Light.” Many believe George Fox came up with this mystic concept (although he used wording slightly different from the “Inner Light”). On the contrary, the concept existed in world religions and in philosophy long before Fox (I hope to write more on this in future blogs).
In another blog I critiqued the Inner Light beliefs of non-evangelical Quakers. The following little chorus helps presents a clear picture of heresy in the Inner Light teaching. Here is the pertinent YouTube video. The congregation seems to be entertained by the singer, yet I found the following excerpt from the lyrics to be almost blasphemous (click on “show more” below the video to view the lyrics):
I’m not a Christian but I’m a Quaker
I’ve got Christ’s inner light but he’s not my savior…
Now I’m a liberal Friend
That means F-G-C… [Friends General Conference]
[emphasis mine][The above phrases are sung not once, but three times during the song – shocking.]
Born again Christians vary in their views of George Fox and the early Quakers. Some (such as fundamentalist evangelical Quaker Edward Mott – one of my favorites) hold a positive view. Namely they feel that up until the late 1700s, the Quakers were wonderful, born again Christian evangelists, and that Fox’s “Inner Light” teaching was secondary to their biblically sound beliefs. Others believe these Quakers were unsaved, heretical mystics from the get-go, and that the Inner Light teaching was primary, causing huge doctrinal problems in the Quaker movement immediately. Obviously, all we have to go on are the original writings of George Fox, William Barclay, etc. And these writings are interpreted in different ways by writers, theologians, etc. – often depending on their personal doctrinal beliefs.
Of the two contrasting views above, I take the view that Fox’s teaching was heretical and demonic from the get-go. The fact that Fox even came up with the Inner Light teaching shows his incredibly gross misinterpretation of Scriptures such as John 1:9 (see below). Nowhere does the Bible state specifically that there is “that of God in every man” – i.e. that God is in every man and woman.
It is significant that Fox believed we need neither preachers nor God’s Word the Bible , but that we can receive revelation from God directly. This flies in the face of God’s Word itself, which states:
14) How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15) And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17) So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. 18) But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. (Rom. 10:14-18, KJV)
Why did Fox so eagerly grasp at straws in claiming John 1:9 referred to an “Inner Light” (see below) – yet ignore the clearly stated verses above? There should be no question as the meaning of Rom. 10:14-18.
Fox laments that, in essence, he heard no preachers present the true Word of God. But was this the case? Was Fox not exposed to any born again, bibical preachers with the gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ (John Chapter 3)? I am researching this.
It would be interesting to find out if Fox was influenced by other teachers and writers of his time period. (I read somewhere that there were contemporaries of Fox who were teaching similar heresies.)
I have located various Christian articles criticizing the “Inner Light” concept as taught by George Fox. I am providing this Wikipedia article, not because I agree with non-evangelical Quaker positions on the Inner Light. I am providing this Wikipedia info merely for born again Christians to research the non-evangelical positions on this.
I found this Wikipedia article on the “Inner Light” to be very interesting. The article is not without its errors, however (click on the “Discussion” tab above the article to see some of the errors in the article). Also, looking at the article footnotes, you will see that the sources are non-evangelical, thus the article is one-sided.
Following you will find the Wikipedia article, copied almost verbatim. Note, in case you are wondering – I checked Wikipedia’s copyright rules – Wikipedia allows users to copy content. I have emphasized certain points by bolding and [bracketing]:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Inner Light is a concept which many Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends, use to express their conscience, faith and beliefs. Each Quaker has a different idea of what they mean by “inner light”, and this also varies internationally between Yearly Meetings, but the idea is often taken to refer to God’s presence within a person, and to a direct and personal experience of God. [Non-evangelical] Quakers believe that God speaks to everyone, and that in order to hear God’s voice, it helps to be still and actively listen for it.
They believe not only that individuals can be guided by this Inner Light, but that Friends might meet together and receive collective guidance from God by sharing the concerns and leadings that he gives to individuals. In a Friends meeting it is usually called “ministry” when a person shares aloud what the Inner Light is saying to him or her.
Related terms for Inner Light include Light of God, Light of Christ, Christ within, Spirit of God within us, and Light within. These are often used interchangeably by modern and arguably early Friends. Some people also identify it with the expression “that of God in everyone,” which was first used by one of the co-founders of the Society of Friends, George Fox.
The related term Inward Light appears in older Quaker writings, but is not used as often now. Originally, Inward Light was used much more often than Inner Light. This term evokes an image of people being illuminated by the light of God or Christ, rather than having a light of their own inside them. The terms are now often used interchangeably.
The Quaker belief that an Inner Light resides in each person is based in part on a passage from the New Testament, namely John 1:9, which says, “That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” [Non-evangelical] Friends [incorrectly] emphasize the part of the verse that [supposedly] indicates that every person is born with the Light within him or her. [I cannot emphasize enough here – the Inner Light is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells born again believers only – not every man and woman that is born.] Early Friends took this verse as one of their mottoes and often referred to themselves as “Children of the Light.”
The principal founder of what became the Religious Society of Friends, George Fox, claimed that he had a direct experience of God. Having explored various sects and listened to an assortment of preachers, he finally concluded that none of them were adequate to be his ultimate guide. At that point he reported hearing a voice that told him, “There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thy condition.” He felt that God wanted him to teach others that they need not depend on human teachers or guides either, because each one of them could experience God directly and hear his voice within. [I’m wondering, did George Fox hear a voice telling him every person could experience God directly? If so, this would seem to me to be a demonic message to George Fox. The Bible says to avoid “doctrines of demons.” Looking at the incredible damage the Inner Light teaching has caused to Christendom, this certainly could be considered a “doctrine of demons.”] He wrote in his journal, “I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation, and their way to God; even that divine Spirit which would lead them into all Truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any.” Fox taught: that Christ, the Light, had come to teach his people himself; that “people had no need of any teacher but the Light that was in all men and women” (the anointing they had received); if people would be silent, waiting on God, the Light would teach them how to conduct their lives, teach them about Christ, show them the condition of their hearts; they loving the Light, it would rid them of the “cause of sin”; and soon after, Christ would return in his glory to establish his Kingdom in their hearts. Fox called the Light destroying sin within as the Cross of Christ, the Power of God.
Regarding this, Fox wrote, “Now ye that know the power of God and are come to it—which is the Cross of Christ, that crucifies you to the state that Adam and Eve were in in the fall, and so to the world—by this power of God ye come to see the state they were in before they fell, which power of God is the Cross, in which stands the everlasting glory; which brings up into the righteousness, holiness and image of God, and crucifies to the unrighteousness, unholiness and image of Satan.” The Cross is no “dead fact stranded on the shore of the oblivious years,” but is to be a living experience deep in the heart of the believer, and changing his whole life. “You that know the power and feel the power, you feel the Cross of Christ, you feel the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” All real experience of the Cross must lead, he thought, to the same way of life that brought the Master there— to the way of humility and non-resistance, of overcoming evil by the sole force of love and goodness. To Fox it seemed that a high profession of Christianity often went with a way of life in flagrant opposition to this. He writes to the persecutors: “Your fruits have manifested that you are not of this (wisdom from above); and so out of the power of God which is the Cross of Christ; for you are found in the world, out of the power of God, out of the Cross of Christ, persecuting.”
Later, Robert Barclay, an apologist for the Society of Friends, wrote: “This most certain doctrine being then received, that there is an evangelical and saving Light and grace in all, the universality of the love and mercy of God towards mankind, both in the death of his beloved Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the manifestation of the Light in the heart, is established and confirmed, against all the objections of such as deny it.” As the quotations demonstrate, both Barclay and Fox connected the Light not only with an experiential knowledge of God but with the grace and mercy that leads to salvation from sin and acceptance by God.
Based on the teachings of Fox, Barclay, and other respected leaders, the liberal branches of the Society of Friends subscribe, in one form or another, to Universalism. Some Friends today subscribe to Christian Universalism, which is the belief that all people are already saved from sin, or eventually will be saved from it, through the death of Jesus and the presence of His Spirit within. In other words, because the Light is within everyone, nobody will end up condemned to hell. Other Friends, such as the Quaker Universalist Group, go further and believe in Universalism in the broader sense. They believe that people need not acknowledge Jesus Christ at all – that people of any faith or even no faith are indwelt by the Light and therefore do not need to be saved. A third segment of the Society of Friends, Evangelical Friends, are not universalists. They believe that all people have the Light within them and have the possibility of being saved, but that only those who avail themselves of the Light and accept the salvation provided by Jesus Christ actually are saved. [As a birthright member of the Ohio Yearly Meeting (Gurneyite), I can say this is not what evangelical Friends have traditionally believed. The Ohio Yearly Meeting, which now belongs to today’s EFCI denomination, condemned the Inner Light teaching in 1877-1879. Unfortunately, today the EFCI seems to be placating non-evangelical Quaker denominations with which it has ecumenical ties. Specifically, the EFCI has relegated this very serious Inner Light controversy to the place of a non-issue.]
Contrast with other inner sources
It is important to note that many Friends consider this divine guidance (or “promptings” or “leadings of the Spirit“) distinct both from impulses originating within oneself and from generally agreed-on moral guidelines. In fact, as Marianne McMullen pointed out, a person can be prompted to say something in meeting that is contrary to what he or she thinks. In other words, Friends do not usually consider the Inner Light the conscience or moral sensibility but something higher and deeper that informs and sometimes corrects these aspects of human nature.
Contrast with rules and creeds
Historically, Friends have been suspicious of formal creeds or religious philosophy that is not grounded in one’s own experience. Instead one must be guided by the Inward Teacher, the Inner Light. This is not, however, a release for Friends to decide and do whatever they want; it is incumbent upon Friends to consider the wisdom of other Friends, as one must listen for the Inner Light of others as well as their own. Friends have various established procedures for collectively discerning and following the Spirit while making decisions.
Friends procedure is to collect together their best advice in a book of “Faith and Practice,” which is revised gradually over time. Many or most books of Faith and Practice contain the following, which was originally attached to a list of “Advices” published in 1656, and illustrates Friends’ emphasis on the Inner Light:
- Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter [the Bible?] killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.
In the Bible
Friends are not in complete agreement on the importance of the Inner Light in relation to the Bible. Most Friends, especially in the past, have looked to the Bible as a source of wisdom and guidance [I would not say this is necessarily true – over the last few centuries, some Quaker denominations have consistently revered and respected the Bible less than others]. Many, if not most of them, have considered the Bible a book inspired by God. [Again, I would not say most considered the Bible as inspired.] But [non-evangelical] Quakers have generally tended to regard present, personal direction from God more authoritative than the text of the Bible. [Those studying Spiritual Formation should see a similarity between Contemplative Prayer/Contemplative Spirituality and the Inner Light. Both are extra-biblical. In both, one can receive direction revelation of so-called “Truth” from God, apart from God’s Word the Bible.] Early Quakers, like George Fox and Robert Barclay, did not believe that promptings which were truly from the Spirit within would contradict the Bible. They did, however, believe that to correctly understand the Bible, one needed the Inner Light to clarify it and guide one in applying its teachings to current situations [if this statement is referring to the Inner Light as anything other than the Holy Spirit here, it is heretical]. In the United States [starting] in the nineteenth century some Friends concluded that others of their faith were using the concept of the Inner Light to justify unbiblical views. These “Orthodox” Friends held that the Bible was more authoritative than the Inner Light and should be used to test personal leadings [this is the branch of Quakers I grew up in – the Evangelical Friends, now the EFCI denomination]. Friends remain formally, but usually respectfully, divided on the matter.
- ^ Pierre Lacout (1969). “Quaker Faith and Practice; Chapter 2 – Silent Waiting”. Britain Yearly Meeting. Retrieved 2008-03-26. “In silence which is active, the Inner Light begins to glow – a tiny spark…”
- ^ Britain Yearly Meeting (1994). “Quaker Faith and Practice (Third edition) – Advices and Queries”. Britain Yearly Meeting. Retrieved 2008-03-26. “We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence.”
- ^ Richard Vann. “Review of Rosemary Moore, The Light in Their Consciences: The Early Quakers in Britain 1646-1666,” H-Albion, H-Net Reviews, July, 2001.
- ^ a b Quotes by George Fox in his journal
- ^ Edward Grubb (1925). “Quaker Thought & History; Chapter 1 – George Fox and Christian Theology”. The MacMillan Company. Retrieved 2008-12-17. “Now ye that know the power of God and are come to it— which is the Cross of Christ…”
- ^ Margaret Hope Bacon, 1986
- ^ NY Yearly Meeting on FaithExternal links
|Wikisource has the text of a 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article about Inner light.|
- Committees for Clearness in PYM Quaker Faith and Practice, page 29 (pdf page 14)ADDITIONAL RESOURCESCheck out this 9-part series of articles on George Fox by a liberal Quaker. I do not agree with many of this liberal Quaker’s interpretations. Nonetheless, the article is very insightful in that it gives many quotes from Fox.