I've been attending Quaker Meeting lately (off and on for about 2 years, regularly for 6 months now.) In particular, Redwood Forest Friends Meeting in Santa Rosa, CA. I've been struck by a number of things about it, which I'll be writing more about, for sure. I've been reading about George Fox, and early Quakerism, as well as current manifestations. And I've been amazed to learn how many different strains of Quakerism exist.
I knew that in some ways, modern Quakers in unprogrammed meetings were, in some regards, a fair bit like UUs in the breadth of their beliefs. And I do find this to be largely true, at least in what I've experienced locally, and what I've read lately. But that breadth developed a little differently. For Quakers, it seems, some of that breadth comes from the core concept the priesthood of all believers, and the central importance of the direct individual experience of God, present in each one of us.
I've been reading the Faith and Practice of the Pacific Yearly Meeting (the Yearly Meeting that my local meeting belongs to.) I came across this quote:
Early Friends considered themselves Christians; they interpreted and justified their unique vision in Biblical and traditional Christian terms. However, from its inception the Quaker movement has offered critiques of many accepted manifestations of Christianity while at the same time empathizing with people of other faiths. We might use the phrase "primitive Christianity" to describe more closely where Friends fit across the Christian spectrum. Primitive Christianity usually refers to those teachings that pre-date Fourth Century Christians, who had been embraced by Constantine and were becoming "established." These earliest followers of Jesus were radical revolutionaries, representing a "new order" of faithful who lived communally, eschewed violence of all kinds, and practiced simplicity.
I left seminary before I could take Christian History, but I did grab the textbooks of the class, and read them, so I learned a lot. And ever since then, I've been of the belief that of all of the many mistakes of Christianity, it's biggest mistake was letting itself get adopted as a state religion. And next to that is Augustine's christology of substitutionary atonement.
I don't know what the world would look like (one of my possible future projects is an alt-history of that scenario) if those things hadn't happened, and the more radical, communal, anarchistic strain of Christianity had dominated (we'd sure have a different New Testament, perhaps more like this one.) But it's nice to know and connect to one community of people who are working on it.