One of the phrases early Quakers used to identify the movement, before settling formally on the Society of Friends or its more recent expansion as the Religious Society of Friends, has long baffled me.
Their use of First Publishers of Truth, drawing on an older meaning of publish as proclaiming or announcing rather than our familiar sense today of printing, simply left me puzzled. It even struck me as arrogant. After all, the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-28) could be considered the first, as well as the disciples and others who witnessed the miracles and heard the teachings.
More recently, though, I encountered two messages in worship regarding the disciple known as “doubting” Thomas and these had me rethinking the importance of first-hand experience in religious matters. (The first message, rising in the silence of traditional Quaker worship, was followed a week later in the homily of the Greek Orthodox liturgy. Coincidence, I figured I needed to take a second look at the passage.)
What I now see is the fact that Thomas was not content to take the Resurrection on hearsay accounts. People can, after all, be deluded, even self-deluded. His brash retort could then well be something I might utter, or more likely want to voice, in a similar setting. Why shouldn’t this circle be hysterical?
What happens, though, is a first-hand experience of the risen Jesus, who then remarks that not everyone will have a face-to-face encounter like this but still believe.
Based on what? My take now is that it would be grounded in their own first-hand experience, in whatever form, rather than tales based on others.
Those early Quakers could point people to submission to the Light or the opening of the Seed or a confrontation with Truth, all in the face of intense persecution. Powerfully, they were speaking from their own experiences, when their lives were transformed.
For more regarding faithful practice, see my Religion Turned Upside Down observations.