Further Thoughts on Quaker Revival

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FWCC’s World Plenary Meeting in Peru

A few weeks ago I wrote on the subject of a Quaker renewal. This post was a flood of thoughts, questions, doubts, and all I knew by the end of the post was that the Society of Friends desperately needs the Spirit of God. This is not a unique conclusion, nor a particularly specific one, but it’s all I could confidently claim as vital in Quaker renewal. The thing is, I’d go as far as saying that we need more than renewal; Quakerism needs a revival in order to survive. We don’t simply need a refreshing move of the Spirit to encourage us on our way but we need the Spirit to crash down on us and to confront us with the Good News that was so dear to the hearts of the apostles and early Friends. We are rapidly shrinking, and many meetings and churches have little vision guiding them. It seems to me that we need the Spirit of God more than ever.

These are trying times for institutional and historical churches, as all of them are losing numbers and as the percentage of the non-religious increases each year. It seems that we’re currently experiencing the collapse of the American Church as we know it, but I’ll say that I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. The Church as we know it has a whole lot of good, but also has a whole lot of bad. American Christians have too often succumbed to individualism, capitalism, violence, and the ways of the world, and we need to relearn faithfulness to the distinct and profound teachings of Jesus Christ. Though we like to think of ourselves as not nearly as bad as Evangelicals, us Quakers are no exception. We too have inherited much from the world.

It appears that the Church is being called to lay down many of her old ways, letting whatever is quenching the Spirit within her to die so that she may even more fully experience Christ’s resurrection-power. I see these trying times to be a time of liberating the Church from the lies of the world, and I see Christ pushing us to earnestly seek spiritual vitality and to creatively and prophetically reach the world with his good news.

So what are we to think of all those who label themselves “spiritual but not religious” or those believers who have fled our Sunday morning services for more organic fellowship, found in pubs, living rooms, and coffee shops? I see both these trends as potentially gifts from God, as the hierarchical tradition preserved in institutional churches is being done away with, and as people are less tied down to dogma and more often seeing themselves as spiritual seekers. In my opinion, this is the perfect recipe for a Quaker revival. We are in a world that is hungry for wholeness, simplicity, integrity, community, and authentic spirituality, and our tradition has that to offer. Perhaps the huge wave of “nones” and “dones” are the result of the Spirit moving.

As I’ve made clear, I don’t necessarily find the decline of institutional and historical churches to be tragic, but what I do find tragic is the gifts these traditions offer being lost. I’ve come to love so much about Quakerism: the testimonies, history, communal mysticism, discernment practices, Spirit-led activism, prophetic ministry, and contemplative spirituality. If I am led to abandon institutional Quakerism in order to bring these gifts elsewhere, I will. In a lot of ways, this would be easier and perhaps more effective. But I personally feel led to honor the living and deceased Quaker saints who have built up this beautiful and bizarre community since the mid-17th century by continuing my involvement and fellowship within Quaker meetings. Our community has a lot to offer the world, and so I will continue to contend and pray for revival in the Society of Friends.

Out of discussions with other Friends at the World Plenary Meeting, and further reflection, two specific things came to mind on how we can actively pursue a Quaker revival. Both are not spectacular, but they keep rising in my spirit.

  • Organize a prayer meeting. Gather Friends to pray for each others’ needs, the local meeting, and other issues that need to be held in the Light. Pray for vision in the Society of Friends. Pray for the Children of God to rise and manifest, among Quakers and in the wider Church. It does not have to be complicated or elaborate, but simply a space to enjoy the presence of God and corporately invite the Kingdom of God. You can ask for this to be held at the meetinghouse, or invite Friends over your house for cheese, crackers, wine, and spiritual warfare. I think it’s wise to make it clear that these meetings are not in competition with meeting for worship on Sunday, but rather a supportive, complementary element to the meeting’s worship. These smaller gatherings can be a centering presence for the meeting, offering vision and nurturing to the wider community. It would also be helpful to make this a space where everybody is invited to participate, offering their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12). This space of eager, expectant open worship, where inspired vocal ministry, intercession, and whatever else the Spirit orchestrates is welcome, can also overflow into the life of the meeting, encouraging the pursuit of Spirit-led worship.
  • Support efforts of unity in the Society of Friends. Connect to Friends from other regions, yearly meetings, and branches of Quakerism, and try to build dialogue and partnership for the edification of the whole Society. I am convinced that each branch of Quakerism preserves and builds upon various convictions and impulses that existed among early Friends. Therefore, I find inter-branch fellowship to be extremely helpful in discovering a fuller vision of Quakerism. Perhaps you can visit another yearly meeting’s sessions, or make it to a Friends World Committee (FWCC) event, such as the Section of the Americas meeting in March 2017, or attend the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends gathering next month in Richmond, Indiana. I would also like to remind Friends that you can also monetarily support these initiatives and gatherings, even if you are unable to attend. For very biased examples, you can donate to the Friends World Committee, which does amazing inter-branch work and Quaker education, and the Quaker Voluntary Service, which brings together birthright, newly convinced, not (yet) convinced, Liberal, and Evangelical Friends into a year of service, spiritual exploration, and communal living. To further reveal my bias, I also have to recommend attending the biannual gatherings of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, where there is gathered worship that is thoroughly informed by Quaker history and spirituality, but not held back by it. These gatherings draw folks from throughout the “Quaker spectrum”, as well as Quaker-curious Christians, and offer a space to dive into the experience of the Risen Christ and receive counsel and empowerment to extend the reign of God in the world.

I suppose I can only follow up these suggestions, ideas, etc., with some queries.

What are some others way we can seek vision, new Light, and revival as a community and for our community?

What is keeping us from growing and what do we need to change?

What message do modern Quakers preach, and is it the same as early Friends? If not, is that a problem?

How do we create strong-visioned communities that are also inclusive of all people?

 

 

 

“And these signs will accompany those who believe.”

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15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
Mark 15:15-20

As a charismatic believer, I have often seen these verses used to defend the belief that tongues is for all believers and that healing is the desire of God. These verses, though, are not in the earliest of manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) and most bibles make note this fact. For a long time, I did not believe these verses could be used at all to defend this view and even railed against those who used in this in their own apologetics on the charismatic gifts. Though I still agree (admittedly, with some hesitance) with most scholars that these verses were not likely penned by Mark, I still value these verses and recognize that they could hold some significance for Christians today. There is the possibility that they may have ended up in the manuscripts because of either oral tradition or the notes of a scribe. Nevertheless, the fact that they exist means something. I think the Church needs to open to the possibility that their existence indicates that a supernatural culture, one full of the miraculous and providential work of the Spirit, was the norm of the early church.

Post-Constantine Christianity (note: perhaps a problematic term, but a historical shift is undeniable, and Constantine was definitely helpful in that) may have ushered in a spiritual drought as Christianity lost its counter-cultural, subversive nature. The Church became a pillar of the Empire, and though the good news of Jesus continued to nurture and instruct thousands of souls in the ways of righteousness, the political implications of this good news was much-rejected, and the spiritual power of the Church seemed to have been drained as a result. It did not help that the Galatian heresy of mixing Christ’s grace with the Law seemed to also consume the formal doctrine of the Church, and that the role of prophets and prophecy (which continued into the early church, as evidenced by the Didache) vanished as Ignatius instructed the Church to “do nothing without the bishops,” pushing the gift of prophecy to lose its egalitarian nature as it became a gift for bishops alone. (Read “The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church” by James L. Ash, Jr. for more on this.)

Augustine developed a form of cessationism during this time, arguably because of the lack of charismatic activity in the Church. This experience was quite common throughout the Church of the time. Before this period, the approach to the miraculous was much more earnest and frequent among Christians. In the second century, both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon spoke of the charismatic gifts, discussing prophetic ministry, exorcisms, and even the raising of the dead. The practice of jubilation, which seems to be practice of singing in tongues, was even a part of the liturgy, and continued even into the ninth century. By the end of Augustine’s life, he had changed his view as he witnessed a revival of healing, but his cessationism continues to influence many Christians.

All this to say that these extra verses in Mark seem to reflect the early church’s practice of the miraculous.

  1. In my name they will drive out demons (a practice described by Ireneaus of Lyon, Origen of Alexandria, Lactantius, Tertullian, among church fathers and early Christians)
  2. …they will speak in new tongues (note: not other tongues but new tongues, which could likely include the practice of “jubilation” as described by Augustine and the mystics)
  3.  …they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all  (not a practice to reproduce, as some fundamentalists do, but a promise of protection; Paul experiences this in Acts 28:3 when bit by a snake)
  4. …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well (reveals the authority to heal among believers and is talked about by a number of early Christians, including by Augustine in the City of God)

If this Spirit-driven culture of the Church was the norm for early Christians, and they regularly exercised the charismatic gifts and miracles, then I cannot see why it shouldn’t be the norm for the believer and Church today. Throughout Church history, we have seen this apostolic and prophetic power restored and tapped into time after time, among several Anabaptist and Huguenot groups, throughout Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, as well as the Quakers, especially the first generation of Friends, who regularly saw such manifestations occur.

As Christendom as we know it crumbles before our eyes, the heresies of legalism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, leader-centered/hierarchical models of worship, violence, imperalism, and all our limiting theologies on the work of Christ and the Spirit, are losing their hold on God’s people. I pray that as we move forward in the revelation of Christ, in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom, we would seek the Spirit’s anointing and grow in an imaginative, dynamic faith that welcomes the impossible.

Speaking to my Quaker sisters and brothers, we must not forget that the first generation of Friends were yielded disciples of Jesus Christ. They were truly Pentecostal; united in the experience and life found in the Spirit of Christ. Their actions were often subversive to both the Church and State, and their ministries and fellowship were marked by the life-changing power of the Spirit. They saw miracles daily, just like the Church after Pentecost, and they boldly lived out the political implications of the gospel. All of this was the result of following and submitting to the lead of the Holy Spirit. We have a glorious inheritance in our spiritual lineage, and I am confident that as we discover and yield to the Spirit that sparked our movement, we can walk in the power of early Friends and the apostles, and see the greater things that Christ promised to us (John 14:12).