I have long had an interest in Shakerism and its theological voices. To my mind, Shaker thinkers have been far too neglected by other Christians. Brother Alonzo Hollister (1830-1911), who ran the extract business at Mt Lebanon, NY, and wrote theology in his spare moments, is a great favorite of mine. Today via InterLibrary Loan, I received a copy of his The Pearly Gate of the True Life and Doctrine for Believers in Christ (1894). I was shocked and delighted to find that this copy is signed by Brother Alonzo, and was a gift from him to the University of Chicago – a holy relic!
Even when Brother Alonzo is presenting fairly standard Shaker teaching, he has a lovely way of putting it. The Shakers teach that the Second Coming is found in the church, and that the clouds in which Christ is predicted to come are the clouds of witnesses to the gospel. Alonzo writes: “The clouds of heaven are the groups of people in whom his [Christ’s] character is forming….” (The Pearly Gate, v. 1, p. 176)
My all-time favorite Alonzo passage is the following, from Synopsis of Doctrine Taught by Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (1902). Note the compatibility of his religious epistemology with some postmodern stances:
Faith in the truth as “evidence of things unseen” is the beginning of all knowledge. Doing the truth yields experience and converts faith into knowledge, and truth into life. Hence doing enlarges being, increases knowledge, deepens and clarifies the understanding, strengthens faith, and is the final test of both knowledge and truth. If practice be not joined to faith, though faith be ever so true, life will be barren of faith’s light, and knowledge received upon trust wil remain incipient or rudimentary, if it does not entirely vanish. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” spoken by His Messengers. (Synopsis of Doctrine, p.5)
Or, as one of Alonzo’s Shaker contemporaries put it:
The life of Christ is the only true Christian religion. (Br. George Albert Lomas, Plain Talks Upon Practical Christian Religion, 1873, cover)