On Speaking in Tongues

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I stumbled into speaking in tongues. At the time, it wasn’t what I wanted.

I was sixteen. I’d only been “born again” for about six months, and I knew I could experience God the same way people in the New Testament did. Paul talked about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians – healing, prophecy – and I believed.

I wanted Jesus to fill me with the Holy Spirit, the same way he did for believers in Acts.

I tend to get loud when I pray, and I needed to pray. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, so I decided to pray at a park near my house. At night. I wanted power. Power to do miracles. Power to heal the sick. Power to raise the dead. I’d wait in silence, but eventually, the prayers came out. I cried out to God, even argued with God. And every time, I felt something: warm waves of love crashed into my chest. I physically trembled. I shook.

I kept it up for over a month. Nightly trips to the park, rain or snow. The good feelings kept coming, but I wasn’t experiencing the power I wanted. I wanted more than a feeling. So I decided to chill out on begging God to Spirit-baptize me. Every once in awhile, I’d mention it in my prayers, but disappointment restrained my expectations.

And then I was troubled. I’d stopped actively seeking my own personal Pentecost, and one night, as I prayed, my words were dry, inauthentic. It annoyed me. I remember pacing through the second floor of our house, ticked off at God, and as I stepped into the bathroom, some words fell out of my mouth. But they weren’t in English. I didn’t recognize them.

Was I speaking in tongues?

I was scared. This wasn’t the gift I wanted. It didn’t make sense. But it felt – good. So good!

I ran to my room and prayed in the most pious position I could think of, with my hands folded on the corner of my bed, back straight, knees bent on the floor. I asked God for wisdom in regard to whatever had just occurred. As a precaution, I cast out any pesky demons trying to deceive me, and I asked God, yet again, to fill me with the Spirit. I felt an urge to open my mouth and there they were, those same mysterious words.

They kept coming. And somehow these words that I didn’t understand felt truer than anything else I’d prayed that night. Somehow the barriers I’d been running up against in prayer were gone.

I was skeptical of this new thing. But I was open to God, to whatever God wanted to do, and the result was that God gave me the goofiest and least powerful of the charismatic gifts: the gift of tongues.

The night I first spoke in tongues, I felt those feelings again – the ones that made me quake. The love rushing over me. Like I was cocooned in the Holy Spirit. After I stopped praying, and as I laid in my bed, the warmth and energy remained hovering over me, covering me; and I was at peace. I felt safe. I felt known.

I was humbled, too.

So many times, the Spirit had crept up on me, and I’d dismissed her. The feelings hadn’t seemed valid because they were just feelings. I’d wanted power. Somehow, God knew I needed comfort. That night, I praised God until I fell asleep. I slept well.

Looking back on that night, I recognize that God welcomed me into what N.T. Wright calls a “private language of love.” It felt intimate and holy. The Bible doesn’t say much about what tongues are or how the gift works (let alone what it’s for), but Paul uses the word “edifying.” Some talk about tongues as a way to receive power, like you’re building up Holy Spirit power in order to shoot out miracles. But that’s not what this gift does for me. It helps me tap into the indwelling presence of God. It’s a way of being, of cooperating, of resting with God. Speaking in tongues is about abiding in Christ.

To be honest, I’ve been struggling with prayer. Praying has been awkward and unnatural for me the past few months. I don’t know what to say to God. I’m fighting doubt as I pray, and I get overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. I’ve been repeating the Lord’s Prayer a lot, and I’ve been praying in tongues. Most of the time, I just don’t know what to pray, and words fail to carry what God is stirring within me, so I lean on the Spirit and let her pray for me. In that place, I find rest. The syllables and noises can be clumsy and strange, but as they roll out (or burst out) I feel my spirit breathing, I feel life pouring in.

This act of holy-foolishness grounds me in Christ’s faithfulness, gives me a way to yield and be faithful in the face of my own confusion. The truth is, I still want power. But God knows what I really need.

Political Protest is Spiritual Warfare

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Philadelphia City Hall

When I was a freshman in college, my friends and I were discovering charismatic spirituality together. We often had long prayer sessions, and we always expected to experience and hear God. It was messy, naive, often fueled by fear, but God was somehow in it as we experimented with this bizarre mysticism that was so confident in Christ’s Spirit being within us. Some of us walked through our campus often, quietly praying in tongues, rebuking the spirits among us causing fear, spiritual drought, depression, etc., and declaring a better way for the Church and for the school. We called this spiritual warfare.

I still believe in the power of spiritual warfare, even if much of our demon-hunting was a bit silly. I’d like to think that Holy Spirit interpreted our prayers the way they needed to be interpreted, and maybe we did push the devil out of our campus a bit. Hopefully. But still, before Friends of Jesus retreats, I often try to spend time in intercession, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit and protection from the enemy, who loves to stir up quarreling among believers and quench the Holy Ghost. I’m still a firm believer that Christ handed an authority to the Church to be declare, prophesy, and shake things on this earth, and in the spirit realm, to realize the reign of God among and within us.

So I still command demons to shut up and back off. I still pray in tongues when I sense something off, which sometimes is a valid spiritual concern, and other times just my social anxiety acting up. That being said, I very much believe these things are helpful, real, and good. I’ve seen God heal dozens of sick people when hands were laid upon them, and the word of God was declared over them: “be healed.” I’ve felt the power of deliverance, having the weight of shame torn off my spirit instantaneously through a prophetic word. I’ve felt shifts in the atmosphere during worship, and then I’d notice somebody quietly praying in tongues, or interceding, and I’d feel that they probably were helping cleanse the environment for God’s presence to be realized.

I think these things are real.

And as we go in the streets to protest, to demonstrate, we are engaging with the enemy: oppressive, abusive, and corrupt systems. We wage war against the spirit of racism as we declare that Black Lives Matter, and as we point out the sins of our country, the sins of our people, and reveal a better way. One of compassion, one of hope, one of generosity, one of love. Even if we are marching with those who do not identify as followers of Christ, they are carrying a mantle and anointing as well to crush the work of the enemy and extend the reality of God’s love.

All that to say: To protest is to rebuke. To protest is to war against the devil. To protest is to prophesy. And as dangerous forms of religious and political fundamentalism continue to grow in all directions, and as the Empire continues to slaughter innocent people all over the world, we need to be loudly warring against these spirits that are strangling the Church and the world, and we need to preach the Good News. We need to be the Good News.

The Church in America, in this mind-boggling and disheartening political climate, needs to speak. We need to call out the systemic sins of the world, including religious institutions, and live and preach a way forward. Your tongue has the power of life and death (Prov. 18:21), and when you choose not to speak out for Life, you are often giving power to death. So speak. Loudly. For the oppressed, for the forgotten, for the lost, for the hurting, and for all God’s children. And in doing this, you bind the enemy and you confess Christ.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” —Ephesians 6:12

 

I doubt the Church.

I doubt the Church.

It’s been hard to write, talk, and even think about God as of late. A major life change snuck up on me, devastated me, and left me questioning everything. To be honest, I’ve been wrestling with hopelessness, doubt, and fear on a fairly constant basis the past month. Even as I’ve been able to get my head above water, and as I’ve reconnected with God, I’ve still been pretty hopeless about church. I’ve been haunted by thoughts like, “Maybe it’s time to let the Church die. Maybe it’s a waste of time to try to keep these institutions running. Maybe we need to abandon the Church as we know it.” I am struggling nowadays reconciling institutional Christianity with Jesus. This could just be my 8 wing acting up (for Enneagram nerds) or maybe I am just bitter, but the American Church models and breeds capitalism, white supremacy, nationalism, and it may do some good, but is it worth it prolonging its death for that?

I’m still wrestling with these questions.

The Way of Christ is not meant to be conventional or logical, but instead powerfully subversive and Spirit-led. I want to follow Jesus to be a holy fool, a disciple, a peacemaker, and I don’t see the institutional Church being able to support such callings. The American Institutional Church rarely breed “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10) but rather pushes people with the seed of Christ to continually deny the radical notions of the gospel. Pieces of the Gospel can be found in the American Church, but it is laced with various poisons that make it unsustainable. The Liberal Church has idols of success, intellectualism, and… being white. The Conservative/Evangelical Church has idols of tradition, moralism, and exclusivism. Both are quite toxic and some days I think it’s better to just let it all die. Pull the plug. Abandon ship.

I’m tempted to protest church, exhorting God’s people to sell the steeplehouses, close down the institutions, meet in homes, and encourage each other in the Way of Christ. After all, following Jesus as a community, as a people, is the only way I’m convinced one can follow him. I cannot help but think that perhaps church-as-we-know-it more actively opposes the Holy Spirit in her building of koinonia than supporting and welcoming her. I struggle to see how much of this could be part of Christ’s vision for his people.

Is it fair to doubt the Church as much as I do? Perhaps I am self-deluded and my passion for a high ecclesiology is actually idolizing a certain ecclesiology, a certain expression or way. It may not be fair to the Church, and it probably is a limiting view of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I am sure that’s all true to some degree. That’s partially why I haven’t given up on institutional Quakerism.

I am convinced that God’s grace can reach into any moment, any experience, and even any institution. The richness of the gifts in Quakerism holds me in this peculiar Society. I have not found a vision of the gospel more compelling, more transformative, than that of Friends, and though we may have loosened our grip on some aspects of this vision throughout the branches, it is still part of our spiritual DNA. I’ve seen the Society come alive in this power, at QuakerSpring, at Friends of Jesus gatherings, and of course in Peru at the World Plenary Meeting, where Friends from all branches came together to worship and fellowship, offering their tradition’s gifts. I have had glimpses of revival, and I want it.

Maybe God will lead me out of institutional Quakerism one day, and maybe God will let the institutional church crumble. The truth is, I have little idea on what God is up to, and I have little authority to speak on what God should do… but I’m confident that I have been animated by the grace of Christ, and it is hard for me to deny the Spirit leading me to Friends. So what does being faithful and believing Christ’s good news mean for me right now? I deeply sense that it is to continue being nurtured and edified by the Society of Friends, and to call forth the gifts of Quakerism that we’ve lost sight of. Is that the answer for other Quakers, and for other Christians sojourning in denominational structures? For some, but definitely not all. But for myself, I feel my spirit leaning on some rather obscure Scripture verses, giving me hope for the Religious Society of Friends and the Church as a whole:

God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors. God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back.

—Deuteronomy 30:3-6, 10 (The Message)

For myself, Friends, the Church, and all who know the love of God: may we not be halfhearted, and may we hold nothing back, so God’s presence would be welcomed among us to restore, revive, and redeem.

 

The Foolishness That Saved My Life

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“Ascention” by Edward Vardanian

I think the closest I have ever felt to God was laying on the bathroom floor in a psychiatric hospital with my shirt soaked in urine and knowing that my life was a mess and finally becoming okay with that.

It was 5 AM or so, I think, and I woke up to a nurse rapidly spewing indecipherable words, and I nodded and nodded and nodded to keep her from talking too much, and she pulled a needle out of her cart and poked me and then left.

As she left, I decided to pee. I got up and felt a bit dizzy but I thought nothing of it until I strained a bit to push out my pee. And as I strained, everything became black and I fell on to the floor, pissing all over the bathroom and myself.

I laid there and I felt no reason to get back up. I just did not have the energy and I took it as an opportunity to figure out how the hell I got into this hospital.

I mean, I knew how I got there—it was after weeks of not eating, not showering, not going to class, ignoring phone calls, and pretending to get better so people would not worry. I became a skinny grease-magnet with little joy or hope. And I was planning out how to kill myself, and had been for awhile, and I finally admitted it to another soul. I was told the responsible decision would be to admit myself to this hospital. Did I really care about being responsible? I don’t think so. But as I confided in my friend and admitted my doubts and hopelessness, he consoled me by saying, “Even if you lack faith, even if you lack hope, I believe God’s promises for you. Don’t worry, I’ll have hope for you.” The way he leaned upon God in that moment relieved me of the pressure to believe, and somehow helped me lean upon God, too. I trusted him, and because of that, I mustered up some trust in God.

So I was sent off to the hospital.

As soon as I filled out all the paperwork, I entered the hospital and was bombarded by fresh fruit, granola, and people who were openly discussing what they were diagnosed and their medications. The guy who led me to my room made me take out the laces from my boat shoes. He was kind. He felt bad that he had to examine me nude. I didn’t really care. Turns out he was Pentecostal, and we bonded over the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit. He encouraged me and then took my laces and other dangerous items I could possibly attempt suicide with.

As I laid down in my puddle of urine and thought about it all, it all seemed ridiculous. My life seemed ridiculous. And I was okay with that. I was at peace with where I was at. The anxieties and fears I clung on to for so long did not disappear but they at least seemed far away enough so that I could finally think clearly.

And I wanted to talk to God—catch up a bit. I had a hard time being real with him for awhile and I felt like there was so much to say. I compartmentalized a lot and tried to keep secrets from God for so long. As my mind found some peace, I began to realize I was hungry for God. In fact, I was starving… but before I could even think of anything to say to him, I knew the Holy Ghost was there. And it was not that She just entered the room at that moment. Really, She never seemed to have left. I was unable to see God’s hand and presence in my life because I was blinded by my illness. But as my medication kicked in, and as I finally put food in my system, I could see the Light in my darkness.

It was there on the floor, as I soaked in my own pee, that I encountered the Father whose palm I could not be plucked out of. This was the Love, the One, I could never be separated from. And perhaps it was absurd that I could affirm the notion that God was good, that God was Love, and that God was close, after experiencing the closest thing I’ve known to hell, but I’ve come to see that most routes in life are quite foolish. Holding on to hope, believing in creative possibility, and reaching for wholeness and reconciliation, are often counted as futile and naive. Yet Jesus reveals that such foolishness is wisdom, and I’m convinced it is the only way forward. It was certainly my only way forward.

“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).

 

Reflections on Quaker Revival

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The Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles– 6th century,

I’m currently in Pisac, Peru for the Friends World Committee’s World Plenary Meeting. There are Friends from all over the world and from every Quaker Tradition—Evangelical, Liberal, Holiness, and Conservative—worshipping and enjoying fellowship together. The sight of these mutually affirming interactions between Friends has been profoundly touching, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed, in a glorious, beautiful way, but in a way that is still exhausting and feels like a burden. I am seeing the gifts that every branch has to offer, and have met so many Friends who truly care about the well-being of the whole Society of Friends, and I am finding some hope to believe that renewal, and perhaps even revival, is possible in this strange Religious Society I’ve stumbled into. But part of me feels the weight of the challenge of renewal.

My head is flooded with questions, concerns, and doubts.

What will it take to usher in renewal into the Society of Friends? What does a revival that includes both Christian and non-Christian Friends look like? Is it possible? Does a Quaker revival have to include institutional Quakerism? Part of me would love to be done with institutional Quakerism and carry my Quaker convictions elsewhere, perhaps in a more organic Christian community.

I feel the weight of old wineskins, the static ritualism and unspoken etiquette, clogging up our meetings. I feel the individualism flaunted in Liberal Quakerism blocking us from truly becoming an inclusive community. I am haunted by the lack of spiritual identity and a focused vision in Liberal Quakerism. I know in my heart that Proverbs 29:18 is true: where there is no vision, the people perish. I see it happening right before my eyes.

And programmed, pastoral Quakerism has me equally concerned. How are these dividing yearly meetings reflecting the reality of Pentecost and the reconciling work of Christ? What will it take for Evangelical Friends to affirm, support, and bless their LGBT+ sisters and brothers? What makes progressive Evangelical Friends distinct from other liberal Protestant churches, and even Liberal Quakerism?

And I wonder, what authority do I have to raise these questions, let alone critique this established tradition and try to offer solutions?

Maybe those issues shouldn’t concern me. Maybe this is all in fact a good thing and I don’t doubt that I am unable to see all that God is up to. And as a person without theological training, and even without a degree, I often doubt that I have a role in this conversation, let alone the fact that I’m a newcomer to the Society.

Somehow, though, I feel a loyalty and commitment to this Body. I don’t know how it happened exactly, especially since I am so often unable to connect and relate to Liberal Quaker culture (and I am an attender of a Liberal meeting) and to be frank, I don’t feel welcome in any branch of Quakerism. But my personality and faith tend to be quite communal, and I cannot help but feel gratitude to the Quaker Saints of the past who lived shameless, prophetic, and radical lifestyles and built up a community that knew the love and power of God. I cannot help but sense that I was led here to inherit the gifts, graces, and mantle of these saints, and continue their laboring for the gospel. I am blown away by the good news they preached and lived, and I personally feel led to honor them by being active in the Society they met Christ in.

And I know living saints today who continue to preach this gospel and reveal Christ in a way that expands on the revelations and work of earlier Friends. I want to walk beside these Friends and encourage them in the Way of Peace and the Gospel of the Kingdom.

More than anything, I would hate to see the potential gifts that Quakerism has to offer both the Christian and the spiritual seeker go unrealized.

The interdependent spiritual community, centered not on dogma but the dynamic experience of the Spirit of Love, is something I see many seeking but unable to find. We can be a community that offers a healthy, communal mysticism, not for our own “edification,” but so that we can be launched into the world to extend this love at all costs. Believe me, once you experience the love of God, you can’t keep it to yourself. We were meant to be a community of radical prophets. And people want this.

Yet so often Quaker legalism and what is perceived as a lack of Spirit in our tribe keeps these seekers from finding the treasures of Quakerism. We have other issues, too, of course, like the overwhelming whiteness in American Quakerism. But I believe that more than clever marketing, and more than new programs, the root of our issue is that we need the Spirit of God to be able to reach the people that want what we offer.

We need to be willing to be shaken by the Spirit in order to be revived.  We need the fire of the Spirit to refine us in order to fully embrace what God has in store for us. We need to be willing to be transformed, even if it means giving up our traditions and sacrificing our sacred cows. We need to be humbled so that God can do what God wants to do. We desperately need the Holy Spirit in order to creatively usher in this all-consuming revival. And if we don’t yield to the Spirit, we will perish.

Who am I to say these things? What authority do I have? None really. But I can assure you that I say this because I care about Friends, and I care about those seeking an authentic spirituality and community, and I care about the burnt out Christians looking for a purer gospel. In the world, I suppose I have little authority, but I hope that me being a child of God will be enough reason for Friends to hear me out and join me in prayer.

Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: A Prophetic Church

Quaker Meeting, 1700s

Quaker Meeting, 1700s

For my third and last post in my “Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition” series (you can read my introduction here and my post on the Spirit-baptism here), I wanted to dig into the heart of the Quaker worship and the Society’s spiritual legacy by exploring the role of prophecy in Quakerism.

In the Liberal Quaker tradition, I’ve found that the word ‘prophecy’ is a term many are familiar with but is often defined more broadly than what the New Testament offers as an explanation and nuanced with a social justice bend. That is not to say it is incorrect or misguided, because I believe this is also part of the gospel-package, but I think we are a community that also prophesies in a way that is compatible with charismatic spirituality.

Prophecy as the Church’s inheritance

Being filled with the Spirit is often associated with prophecy throughout the Old Testament. One example is when Saul received the Holy Spirit, began to prophesy, and was “changed into a different person” (1 Samuel 10:1-10). A more in-depth preview into what the apostolic Church would experience is Numbers 11, where Moses gathered 70 elders and God rested the Spirit on them and they began to prophesy. Two other elders outside the tent simultaneously received the Spirit and began to prophesy. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, opposed the two who were not gathered and received the Spirit, and Moses rebuked him saying, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (v. 29)

This event in Numbers foreshadows two major things:

  • The 72 disciples who were sent out by Christ to proclaim the Gospel and receive the authority to “overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10), which itself arguably foreshadows the same commission and authority for all Christians (Matthew 28:16-20).
  • God’s desire to have all people receive the Spirit and walk in the prophetic, which was fulfilled in Acts 2.

Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2) that a day would come when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all people, and they would have visions, dreams, and prophesy. Simply put, the Holy Spirit would make her home in every kind of person, unrestricted by their status or age, and would give them access to God’s voice.

The Role of Prophecy in the Church

Prophecy is more than receiving revelation, or hearing God, but a report or proclamation of a message received from God. Prophecy in the Old Testament is often foretelling of coming future events and rebukes of the wayward Israel for the sake of their redemption. In the New Testament, the operation of prophecy is a bit more open-ended. As Gordon Fee points out in Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, “[t]he actual function of prophecy in the Pauline churches is… difficult to pin down.” He goes on to explain that “on the one hand, the Spirit directs the lives of his servants in specific ways; sometimes they are singled out for the ministry the Spirit empowers (1 Tim. 1:18, 4:14), and sometimes they are directed to undertake a difficult mission to Jerusalem (Gal 2:2),” and other times it was an eschatological message, reminding believers of the increasing evil of the age. In 1 Corinthians, though, prophecy is seen as a reported revelation that is meant to encourage and edify the body.

1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that when Christians meet for fellowship and worship, everybody ought to participate. Paul writes in verse 7, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Paul seemed very enthusiastic about the use of prophecy in meetings, encouraging the Corinthians to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially to prophesy. He seemed to find prophecy to be the most vital gift to fellowship, putting tongues on the same footing as long as it is interpreted with a prophetic message or teaching (1 Cor. 14:5-19). He warned the Thessalonian Church to “not treat prophecies with contempt.” (1 Thess. 5:20).

1 Corinthians also reveals that Paul saw prophecy not as an ecstatic, uncontrollable experience but a gift that needed to be handled with discernment.

“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.”

—1 Corinthians 14:29-33

These verses shed light on how this gift could be harnessed by the community in the Spirit as well as the possibility of all in the meeting prophesying so that everybody present could be encouraged. This may not frequently happen or be the ideal, but Paul reveals that it is possible, as long as it is orderly, in turn, and properly discerned.

Some may find the language of “prophets” limiting and reserved for those who are constant oracles, but as Gordon Fee points out in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, “prophet” is used a bit ambiguously and those called prophets throughout the New Testament may not have the title of prophet but are simply recognized to prophesy more frequently than others. The gift of prophecy, too, is not something that one owns but a manifestation that all who follow Christ can experience as they yield to the Spirit, following Paul’s encouragement to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially to prophesy.” In a sense, the New Testament Church is one where Moses’ desire in Numbers 11 for all the Lord’s people to be prophets, endowed with the gift of the Spirit, is fulfilled.

The Religious Society of Friends as a Community of Prophets

In the very beginning of Quakerism, charismatic phenomena was normative within the Quaker experience. Silence has always been valued by the Society of Friends, but the silence often drove early meetings into deep ecstasies and mystical experiences. There would be spontaneous songs, prophecies, physical trembling, and other manifestations. The ministry of George Fox was full of what John Wimber, founder of the neo-charismatic Vineyard denomination and former Evangelical Quaker minister, would call “empowered evangelism”. This term was coined to describe the use of the charismatic gifts in proclaiming the gospel.  Fox was not simply known as an evangelist or a minister but also a healer, even claiming to have raised the dead

More than any other miracle or gift, prophecy has always been an integral aspect of Quaker worship and spirituality. Fox’s life and ministry were transformed by hearing God tell him that above all preachers and churches, only Christ could speak to his condition. This conviction that Christ has come to teach God’s people himself drew many out of the established churches and into the Religious Society.

A simple but radical vision arose among Quakers; one that stood against the Empire as well as the empty and corrupt ways of the established churches. Their deep conviction in the words of Christ and their transformative experience of the Spirit drove them to prophesy to one another in silent meetings, offering messages to inspire, encourage, and edify. George Fox wrote that An Epistle to All People on the Earth that “it was the Practice of many to wait in Silence upon God, to hear his Word, and know his Voice.”

Prophecy was not simply for the meeting of believers, but also for the world outside the Religious Society of Friends. Quakers, including George Fox, were known to enter religious meetings and call out the clergy and whole congregations for their lavishness, empty rituals, hierarchy, and their sexism, and would propose a different and better way, as modeled by the forming Quaker communities, and by Christ. This was in line with the Old Testament prophets, speaking forth the heart of God fully, in its rebuke and proposal, all for redemption’s sake.

Throughout the centuries, Quakers have continued to embrace prophecy, and in even broader ways. Rufus Jones felt the Society had “prophetic service” to offer the world; which was, according to Jones, “free and broad-visioned enough to see around and beyond the partial one-sided aspect of the issue for which the ‘party’ stands, and to seize the ethical and spiritual significance of the whole situation before us, and deal with it from above the storm and controversy and propaganda of the moment.” The social justice work of the Religious Society has always been out of attempts to be Spirit-led and to see through God’s eyes, and to model a better, and often times much more radical, way.

Though many Quakers in the West tend to associate prophecy with the Society’s “prophetic service,” the charismatic gift of prophecy is still very much alive in Quakerism, particularly in meeting for worship. When Friends give a message, they speak out of inspiration that they let brew in the silent presence of God. Anybody can be inspired and led by God to give vocal ministry, as church hierarchy is no barrier to participation in Quaker meeting. This model was given by Paul, who envisioned fellowship being a space where every disciple of Christ would be used by the Spirit.

The Quaker practice of waiting in silence gives space for the Spirit to manifest powerful graces. This silence is not simply about prophetic ministry but also grants worshipers a space to individually center themselves and for the whole meeting to share God’s presence and experience a corporate baptism of the Spirit. The marriage of prophetic ministry with contemplative prayer is fairly unique.

Of course Quakerism is not unique in its observance of silent worship, as “waiting worship” has been practiced throughout Church history by those in mystical and monastic traditions. This form of worship has been revived in Protestantism through different ecumenical movements but also the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. The Azusa Street Revival, which sparked the Pentecostal Movement, often had meetings that had no ministers but consisted of a silent enjoyment of God alone, which often led to ecstatic experiences and ministries of healing and prophecy. This form of “waiting” worship has been a component of Charismatic Renewal prayer meetings since the movement’s inception in the 1960s. Often this extended silence was for the sake of giving prophecy and other spiritual gifts space to manifest.

That said, the Charismatic Movement, especially outside the “Renewal”of the Catholic, liturgical, and mainline churches, most often experience prophecy arising during vocal prayer and worship. Also, in many mystical Christian traditions, contemplative prayer may bring about self-realization and divine guidance, as well as an experience of deep presence and mystical union with God, but is not often experienced corporately with prophecy for the edification of the body. What Quaker meeting offers is unique in this sense.

The potential of what our meetings could be is both powerful and beautiful, but I have to say that I’ve often been disappointed during worship among Friends. My discernment is limited and perhaps I was overly-critical, but there have been times where I’ve been worshiping among Friends and I either felt like I was in a meditation group or in a community discussion sprinkled with silence. I accept and embrace that our worship may be clumsy at times and that sometimes all God grants us is God’s silent, sweet presence, but I also believe that prophecy is the Church’s inheritance in Christ and that we are to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially to prophesy. We have a rich spiritual heritage of prophets and a legacy of being a prophetic community, and I hope we never lose that fire.

I pray that the Society of Friends would continually produce and raise up prophets who would speak in the Spirit of Jesus, building up the Church and revealing the brokenness of the world’s order. I pray that the Society of Friends would more fully inherit the prophetic mantle of the apostolic Church.  I pray we may be a people of vision, for “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), and reveal the glory of God’s Kingdom on Earth. As the Church has prayed for centuries, Come, Holy Spirit.