From the Bible Society to Quaker schools
The Bible Society
Quakers were present at the inaugural meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804 and continued to be associated with it throughout the nineteenth century. Josiah Forster, who was Yearly Meeting clerk for a time, served on its committee for forty-four years, some of these as its chairman, and Joseph Pease, the railway pioneer and first Quaker MP, was a vice-president. The Society’s Rule One of 1805 stated that ‘…the sole object shall be to encourage a wider circulation of the Holy Scriptures’. Slightly reworded, its only object is the same today. At home this means reminding British people of their disappearing heritage. Overseas the mission is to make the Bible available in local languages to those who want it, primarily to Christians but also to other enquirers. From the beginning the Society has offered only the text and not any particular interpretation of it.
In the Syrian situation it has been reported that some half million of the four or more million people who fled their homes are Christians who lost almost all they had, which for many included their Bibles. Given Syria’s recent history it should not be a surprise that some non-Christian refugees become interested in and receptive to the Christian message.
With regard to the Bible Society leaflet enclosed in the 6 October edition of the Friend, the background of our Religious Society includes statements such as ‘Learn of the Lord to make a right use of the Scriptures’ (Isaac Penington). George Fox and others point us to ‘the Spirit that gave forth the scriptures’. Our tradition is to put the Bible in proper perspective, which seems to be consistent with that of the Bible Society.
On their website the Bible Society’s strapline is: ‘All our efforts are driven by one conviction: we believe that when people engage with the Bible lives can change – for good.’ Is that a view with which our Society would disagree to such an extent that it should not be permitted to be associated with the Friend?
If we were to cut off contact with any group who might (in our view) sometimes proselytise, would we not have to dissociate ourselves not just from all the churches but also from all of Islam, not to mention some or all ideological and political groups?
The Bible Society may indeed pray ‘that more people will encounter Christ through our ministries’, but in my view most of what Quakers in Britain do and say now is based on our seventeenth century heritage where such ideas were expanded, with reinterpretation for sure, but not contracted or eliminated.
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