Christ Has Come to Teach Us Himself

What do Quakers mean when we say that “Christ has come to teach his people himself?” FUM’s Colin Saxton explores this question.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

26 thoughts on “Christ Has Come to Teach Us Himself

  1. I left the Lutheran church after 50 years and entered the Quaker community 4 years ago in order to be in a community that makes the Christ focus optional. If Christ is the exclusive boundary of this community, I am out.

  2. Sam Hays, I am in agreement with you. I very recently found the Quakers and if this message had come to me before I attended my local meeting I may not have gone. This is the first mention of Christ that I’ve come across in my Quaker dealings. I am someone who loves the concept of Christ, as a spiritual teacher I regard him highly, though I’m unsure if he actually walked the earth as it was so many years (lifetimes) between when it is said he walked the earth and when his existence was documented. I regard him as much and no more the son (child) of God as you & I are. If your meetings are respectful of your beliefs and it fulfills the needs of community and spirituality, I would hope this opinion doesn’t find you “out” of Friends.

  3. This man’s words sound nothing like the Quakerism of my faith. I was raised in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and now part of New England Yearly Meeting.

  4. I’m very grateful for Colin’s articulation of what strikes me as a traditional Quaker understanding of Christ, and by traditional I mean something whose historical roots can be traced farther back than the twentieth century. This is not to say that Quakers have not always had different and developing understandings of Christ, but I think the idea of a Quakerism where Christ is optional or totally absent is a fairly recent innovation.

    I think contemporary Quakerism’s ability to welcome people at various places in their spiritual journeys is a gift, and our diversity is to be valued and cared for. However, I struggle to understand what people find compelling about Quakerism without Christ. Taking this view would seem to require an ahistorical attitude (a forgetting of Quakerism’s solidly Christian history) that can be as naive as that of a religious fundamentalist. Colin’s vision appeals to me because of its historical continuity with Quaker tradition through the centuries, its emphasis on Christ being present now, and its resonance with my own experience of the Living Christ in Meeting for Worship.

    But I could be wrong, and I realize this experience may not resonate for all.

  5. He certainly does not speak for most Quakers I know, but he assumes he speaks for all Quakers. Sorry Friend Colin, speak to thine own condition, not ours. Why does FG post things like this?

  6. JDM, my view is probably ahistorical, and I lived my youth in Richmond, Indiana, a block from Earlham right behind West Richmond Friends , graduated from Earlham. If I were into the historical Christian strain, I would have gone Catholic, Orthodox, or Episcopal. Some of us came into Quaker community as outliers from Christianity and may be here for sociological reasons than for historical reasons. I expect that I did not jump far enough or made a mistaken jump. I may soon just jump completely out. Maybe that will help purify the Quaker movement for those who want a historical and a sanctified and pure Christ movement.

  7. Thanks for your response, Sam. You might have a point about Catholic, Orthodox, or Episcopalian traditions having “truly” historic faiths in comparison to Quakerism, but that’s a whole other conversation.

    I grew up in a moderate Evangelical Friends Church in Northwest Yearly Meeting, the same Yearly Meeting Colin was a part of before FUM, so I am inclined towards his views. However, Evangelical Friends certainly have their own deep issues with being ahistorical. And I don’t think anyone ever could avoid that sort of predicament, nor would they perhaps want too. Striving to be historical can be as stultifying as being ahistorical, and both can generate a false sense of purity.

    I think trying to purify Quakerism would be a trap, because our history is not pure and we can’t escape that no matter what part of history we try to jettison. I do think we need to come to terms with our history, however, because I think this is how transformation can happen. Otherwise, we operate in denial. I hope those coming to Quakers for “sociological reasons” (not exactly sure what you mean here: social justice? like-minded people?) will be welcomed, and I sense that in many meeting they may be more welcome than Quaker Christians. But I also hope Friends of all backgrounds will take time to reflect seriously on what is distinctive about Quaker history, theology, and practice, and how that distinction matters today.

  8. What may help clear up the disparity in understanding between Friend Colin and some of the Friends who have commented above is where each person is worshiping. There are currently five different branches of Quakerism and where a Monthly Meeting is located makes a difference in the language used to describe a Meeting’s view of Quakerism and how Christocentric that language is. Colin is general secretary for FUM (Friends United Meeting) which has both programmed and unprogrammed Monthly Meetings and may use more Christocentric vocabulary as compared with FGC (Friends General Conference) whose Monthly Meetings see Christ as one of many who have embodied “love”, “that of God”, etc. The central tenet to all branches of Quakerism is that there is “that of God/love” within each of us. How you define God/love is your own spiritual journey. If Christocentric vocabulary does not speak to your condition, perhaps substituting the word love for Christ may help. The message is the same. How we describe our journey sometimes gets in the way of realizing that Quakers are all on the same journey toward truly listening to that of God within each of us. The following website may be of help in understanding the various branches of Quakerism:

    1. The difference may boil down to whether one believes that the Spirit comes through the Father and the Son or only through the Father. The former seems to be the position of the early Quakers. I opt for the latter: synchronic rather than diachronic.

  9. You might be interested in the current state of Quakerism web page on the Earlham web site, which does show FUM being the second largest group of Quakers behind those associated with Evangelical Friends International. FGC ranks third. Note that some yearly meetings are affiliated with both FUM and FGC.

    Personally, I’m glad that the Quaker Speak videos are willing to explore the diversity in Quakerism, including the religious diversity among us. We shouldn’t not ignore those among us who hold deep Christian beliefs.

    1. I only ignore one avenue of Christian beliefs. That is the belief that Christ is the only legitimate belief. I am not sure that scripturally that can be done. The great commission in Matthew 28:16-20 is an example of the exclusivity.

    2. Wahl, I have looked at your link and have one clarification and three questions. The clarification is that this site is from the Earlham School of Religion rather than Earlham College. As a graduate, giver, and frequent Homecoming attender, I find that there is a distinction. My first question concerns the difference in decline in the last 50 years for meetings that belong to FUM (42.5%) and the FCG (7%). Am I reading this correctly? Second question , does FUM consist primarily of evangelical Friends and the FCG consist mainly of liberal Friends? Third question, does the former tend to see Christ as THE giver of the Spirit, and does the FCG tend to see the Spirit being given by many different avenues? I understand that Quakers have many beliefs and that herding them into belief groups is like herding cats. But is there not the inclination for certain Quaker cats to gather towards certain common kitty litter belief boxes?

      1. Sam, I would suggest that you read the text on the page for an answer to the change in membership. As for your other two questions, they need to be answered by someone who is more familiar with FUM than I.

        I have a question for you. How do you reconcile that those who founded Quakerism were Christian and spoke freely about Christ, and that now there are Quakers who see no place for Christianity in Quakerism?

        1. Wahl, I have read the text. I am just asking you if I have read it correctly. Does your reading agree with mine, or am I missing something? I am asking for enlightenment. I read that the greatest decline has been with the FUM. Since you shared the link, I expect that you have read it and have some insights from your reading.

        2. Wahl, I did not answer your question. Since I have only been a Quaker for 4 years, I probably cannot answer the question adequately. I celebrate with Christians in various places. I was a Lutheran pastor for almost 30 years and still love to partake of the Eucharist. So I accept any Christian who is not exclusive, who does not say that Christ is The only way. I recently heard an Episcopal priest invite anyone to the Eucharist who is a seeker, who is journeying. I accept any seeker but not anyone who has an exclusive stance.

        3. Pronouns are a problem in the video: us, our, we. Those pronouns in relation to any view whether it be Christ, humanist, Buddha block diversity.

  10. How refreshing and inspirational: a Quaker Speak video where someone clearly states their belief in what they are worshiping! It is meeting for “worship”, after all.

    My own meeting derives its strengths from the variety of messages of Friends and attenders who articulate the divine in many ways. There are those who view the divine through Jesus and those who adamantly don’t. However, we try to seek the uniting spirit of love and grace and the eternal behind one individual’s words.

    I am grateful for this video and it’s larger lesson that we live in the presence of the divine all day, every day.

  11. I was raised in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and am now part of New York Yearly Meeting. I served on the Friends United Meeting board for 9 years from 2002 to 2011. Please note that the statistics about decline on the ESR website are for North America.

    FUM currently has about 130,000 members in Kenya (in addition to the roughly 41,500 North American members listed on the ESR page). At least two brand-new Kenyan yearly meetings became member yearly meetings of FUM while I was on the board. Along with growth in Kenya, there is outreach activity going on in Tanzania and Rwanda in Africa, in Belize in Central America, and I would expect there to be some growth among Cuban Friends now that it has become easier to travel to Cuba to support the community there. And, of course, there is longtime work going on in Ramallah.

    My point is that although North American membership is declining, membership in other countries is growing.

    In order to answer one of your questions about FUM, Sam, I have to ask what you mean by “evangelical”? That’s because Evangelical Friends International (EFI) is what comes to my mind when “evangelical Friend” is used. In general, EFI members find FUM members too liberal and want little to do with them. It is true that FUM Friends are what we call Christ-centered. But I don’t identify myself as a Christian and I was part of the FUM general board for 9 years.

    I’d answer your question about Spirit, but I don’t understand what it means. I guess that’s because the concept of “the giver” of the Spirit is new to me.

    Finally, I’ve watched the tape several times and looked at the transcript of what Colin says and I don’t see anything about Christ being the exclusive boundary of the community. Yes, Colin is a Christ-centered Friend. He is speaking of his experience. It’s not my experience, but I know Colin, I’ve worshiped with him, and I’ve never felt that he denied me the validity of mine.

    Sam (and other FGC Friends), you might be interested in Thomas Hamm’s book “The Transformation of American Quakerism.” I found it to be a clear-eyed, objective, and utterly heartbreaking book about the splits in American Quakerism at the end of the 19th century—the splits that ultimately resulted in FUM and FGC and the divide we’re talking across now in this set of comments.

    1. Carol, I have read Tom Hamm’s book as well as Hugh Barbour’s books on Quakerism. The latter was my advisor at Earlham back around 1960. I am glad to hear about your acceptance and worship experience within the FUM community. Thanks for your comments; they have modified my reactions. My love for Quakerism is centered on my love for my alma mater, Earlham. It was the most humanistic life changing four years of my life. My filter for seeing Quakerism is my experience at Earlham.

  12. I worship with a Salvation Army church that has learned to let Christ, Himself, teach us. We’ve been meeting for 8 years. We come together and let people share as they are prompted by the Spirit. I wrote a book based on our experiences called: “Beyond Church: An Invitation To Experience The Lost Word Of The Bible–Ekklesia.” It’s available on Amazon at

  13. I believe most Quakers through history, at least since William Penn, have believed in the universality of religions — that there is something of God in every person.

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