Led by the Spirit

This problem of freedom within an organized group was faced by the early Christians. After Paul had founded the Galatian Church, certain persons came there who told the Galatian Christians that in order to be Christians they must carry out in full the law of Moses. When Paul heard of this he wrote with more fervor than in any of his other letters that have come down to us, showing that Christianity is not the old law, neither is it a new law. It is freedom from law. At first this may appear to be pure anarchy. But Paul was not speaking of unlimited liberty for self-indulgence. (Gal. 5:13). With external constraint of law, he contrasts internal guidance based on the love of God. This is pure freedom because, through union with God, man wills what God wills and man is free. Man, therefore, may share in God's freedom. Paul speaks in terms of the Christ Within. "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). This is also true of the Galatian converts. "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 34:27). And so he exclaims with joy and wonder, "Christ has set us free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery." The law is for children and slaves but "because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (Gal. 4:6).

This is not an easy doctrine. It is not surprising that the Christian Church has been slow to understand Paul or has not striven to understand him. The Church was eventually presided over by an ecclesiastical hierarchy which left little opportunity for liberty of the Spirit. Paul admits the need of regulations to govern the immature who have not yet won their freedom in Christ. (Gal. 4:1-3). But the Church eventually allowed little freedom except at the top. Early Protestantism with its doctrine of depravity required an external rule and the power of external grace in place of an internal governing Spirit. The Scripture furnished a code interpreted by Creeds that was as binding as the law of Moses. The Quakers stand alone in having attempted a form of church government which, however it may have developed in practice, allowed in theory for the liberty of those who are led by the Spirit. Like Paul they recognized the need of precepts for the spiritually immature such as children in school, but even the Quaker schools were so devised that compulsion was minimized.

Howard H. Brinton, Friends for 300 Years (Pendle Hill Publications, 1952, 1964), pp 113-114.

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