By Tony Lowe, Pastoral Minister, Fancy Gap Meeting
There seems to be a great deal of discussion taking place of late about whether or not early Quakers were universalists. Many modern Friends struggle with or even reject what they perceive to be the exclusive claim of Christianity to be the only valid path to God, and they question whether or not there was something broader and more universal in the message of the early Quakers.
Quakers were universalists in the sense that they believed as Robert Barclay says, “there is an evangelical and saving light and grace in everyone, and the love and mercy of God toward mankind were universal both in the death of his beloved Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the manifestation of the light in the heart.” Barclay refers to the Light within, the seed of God, or that of God in every person as a universal saving principle. So early Friends were universalists in the sense that they believed there was that of God in each and every person.
They were not, however, universalists in the sense that we use the word today. They did not believe that every religion was a path to God. They in fact did not believe that any religion was a path to God. Fox himself makes the claim that he was called to bring people out of or off of the world’s religions and into “a new and living way.” And the religion Fox was calling people out of was not Islam or Buddhism, it was actually Christianity as it was being practiced in England by the Catholic church, the Church of England, the Puritans, and a variety of other dissenting groups. Fox found in all of the churches of his day a tendency to rely on the wisdom of the leadership, their traditions, or their own interpretations of the Scriptures rather than Christ himself.