Whiteness is Anti-Christ

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This article was originally posted in the Friendly Fire Collective’s March Newsletter

Our collective members were arrested last week holding a banner that boldly proclaimed that “Whiteness is Anti-Christ.” Even some left-leaning liberals have been bothered by this statement. We stand by this statement and believe it needs to be said, but for those confused or offended by this statement, let’s unpack this statement a bit.

When we’re talking about whiteness being anti-Christ, we’re not just talking about skin color. We’re not saying that all white people are damned for their skin color. This statement isn’t a condemnation of all white people but rather a rebuke against an oppressive social order, which is whiteness.

So what is whiteness?

Much of how we think about race, especially in terms of dividing races between white, black, brown, red, and yellow, is due to the work of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and other German scientists in the 1800s. They formulated these identities for the purpose of justifying and excusing imperialism. Whiteness is a cultural construct, not a biological reality. That isn’t to say skin color doesn’t exist but the categories of “race” that various skin colors are sorted into (which is different from ethnicity) are socially constructed, and not for good ends.

As one white Friend put it, “The only evidence you need for whiteness being a social construct is how it’s possible for ethnicities to become white. My Italian ancestors became white probably by abandoning anything that culturally didn’t fit with WASP society (such as being ‘too loud’ and ‘ethnic’) and adopting anti-Blackness. Mediterraneans weren’t ‘white’ upon arriving in this country because Whiteness is defined in significant part by behavior, class, and other standards of WASP society (interestingly, a long running study wherein researchers interviewed 12,000+ people and then the researcher designated the person’s race found that 20% of people’s perceived race changed over time as their education level, employment, and criminal records changed.). We assimilated to Whiteness, and suddenly Whiteness allowed for more melanin than it previously had.”

Though there is some flexibility in how whiteness has been conceived over time, essential to whiteness is white supremacy.

As Frances Henry puts it in The colour of democracy: Racism in Canadian society:
“‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.”

It’s not being white that’s a problem. It’s the cultural hegemony of Whiteness as a value system.

Because of this, Whiteness is not neutral. In our current reality, it is, as Frances Henry put it, “the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.”

Where does this leave white people?

Recognizing all of this as true isn’t enough. White people cannot hide behind their “wokeness” to claim that they are not racist. Work needs to be done. White people need to be aware of how their privilege benefits them daily and they need combat and dismantle systems that make this true. They need to help other white people become as anti-racist as possible. And still, no amount of work done can be done to completely absolve one of their complicity or liberate them from their whiteness. All white people are complicit in white supremacy. Racism and white supremacy is a force and sin that is integral to how white people in the United States, Canada, Europe, and even elsewhere, are socialized and how they operate. The work of an individual doesn’t take away the fact that white colonialism lead to the system we currently live in.

This may not be a satisfying answer for some Christians seeking “forgiveness”, but I think white Christians need to accept this tension in order to create a way forward. For white Christians to truly be accomplices to black and brown people, their understanding of repentance and salvation may need to shift. Popular Evangelicalism teaches a “cheap grace” – that if we say sorry to God and put our faith in Jesus and his work on the cross, we are absolved of all our of sins and are “saved.” I think we can locate the power to conquer racism in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and can access this power through the Holy Spirit, but we need to understand that we are called to constantly “renew our minds.” Repenting of racism for white people isn’t just a one-time deal. This is an aspect of their salvation that needs to be worked out in “fear and trembling.”

Whiteness is a force and sin that white people will need to continually combat within themselves, and in the world. The good news is that there’s a God of generous grace willing to empower white people to live into active anti-racism and will constantly offer to liberate them from whiteness.

Those who marched with this banner at the Richard Spencer protest are members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), a religious tradition that prides itself in its prophetic work. The majority of Quakers in the United States are white, and whiteness is a painful deception and sin that US Quakers also have to repent of and exorcise from their lives and spiritual communities. This banner was a prophetic word against Richard Spencer and his alt-right cronies but also a prophetic word to the Society of Friends and the white Church as a whole. Whiteness is anti-black, anti-life, and therefore anti-Christ. May we yield our power to those forced into meekness, those subjugated by the white supremacist, capitalist system, so that they may inherit the earth.

To support the comrades and Friends arrested at the MSU Richard Spencer protest, consider donating to their bail/legal fund!

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

 

The Grace of Liberal Friends

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Photo taken by Tyler Heston

I fell in love with Quakerism much before I attempted to be a part of the Religious Society of Friends. The writings of early Friends were often a part of my devotions in my more-Evangelical days. The stories of their radical and prophetic lifestyles, their bold simplicity, their thorough understanding of an apostolic community, their love for and devotion to Jesus, and their experience of Godranging from contemplative to ecstatic—it all inspired me. I wanted that Church. I needed that Church. It looked like the Book of Acts. It looked like Jesus. And I didn’t think it could exist in the modern Society of Friends. I thought it died with the second generation of Friends and, arrogantly I admit, believed the Society was unable to be redeemed.

Making my way into Quakerism took some time. I distantly engaged with Quakers online and read books on Quakerism, but for quite sometime I was hesitant to attend meeting for worship. I’ll admit that I barely counted the Liberal branch of Quakerism as true Quakerism, as if I had some say in who made the cut. I thought it was great that they preserved the contemplative nature of Quaker worship, as well as the long-held prophetic values of the Religious Society, but it was all futile without the explicit glorification of Jesus Christ. Though my soteriology at the time was open to the possibility of the salvation for non-Christians, I was in no way seeking authentic spiritually nourishing relationships with those not claiming Christ as their savior, especially if I wasn’t saving the unbeliever.

My summer internship with the Friends of Jesus Fellowship in 2014 was kicked off in Barnesville, Ohio at the annual cross-branch, week-long event called Quaker Spring. The majority of Friends I met were in one way or another Liberal Friends, though there were a number of Conservative Friends, many from Ohio Yearly Meeting. I was quick to feel comfortable among the Conservative Friends, since much of our language and theology overlapped, but I won’t lie, I was scared to fellowship with the Liberal Friends. I even was wary of the Christ-centered Liberal Friends, as I assumed that their christologies were far too low to be yoked with.

Then, I found myself worshiping with these Friends, and a woman who earlier that day let me know that she was “comfortable with Buddhism and Native American spirituality” spoke. She prayed and prophesied boldly and the atmosphere was drenched with a penetrating Light. I could not deny that she was endowed with the gift of the Holy Ghost. She spoke to the specific needs of my heart and something in me shifted that night. I began opening my heart to God in a new way. I began seeing God in all people.

I long-denied that throughout Quakerism, throughout this whole Society, the impulses and convictions of the early Friends had been preserved. As this Liberal Friend spoke under the power of the Spirit, I came to realize how close-hearted and wrong I had been. It was ridiculous that I thought I knew what was best for this movement of God. For so long I was blind to the graces and gifts that each branch and even yearly meeting held. And even beyond that, I was blind to Christ within each individual.

As I mentioned in my last post, Quakerism gave me the confidence to declare and live out a truth I had long-known: there is that of God in all people. My conviction that Christ’s work on the Cross was sufficient, that the Spirit of God was poured out on all flesh, and that God’s nature was Love, came to life in the Society of Friends as I began to fellowship with Buddhists, Pagans, Christians with fundamentally different theological views, and even non-Theists.

I’d say that this is one of the greatest graces carried in the Liberal tradition of Friends. Meeting for worship among Liberal Friends is sprinkled with people all over the map, in terms of theology, but firmly united in a faith that honors the dignity and divinity within all people. This thread of Quakerism, so beautifully captured in the doctrine of the universal inner/inward Light, can be seen in the writings of George Fox, Margaret Fell, and other early Friends. All throughout Quaker history, Friends have known this Light within all people, and some have abandoned the language for it, and some may have gave up emphasizing this, and some perhaps have even rejected all universalistic language and theology, but it cannot be denied that this glorious truth is known and experienced by Liberal Friends.

Finally, to my Liberal Friends: I am sorry for the ways I’ve judged you and dismissed the wisdom and blessings that pack your tradition. Thank you for teaching me about grace despite my own lack of grace. I give thanks to God for your role in this peculiar Society. You are Friends.

“Gentiles as well as Jews, Heathens and Indians as well as Englishmen and Christians (so called)… all have some measure of that Grace nigh them, which in the least measure is sufficient to heal and help them.” (Hooks, Works of Samuel Fisher, London: 1660, p. 656)

What the Wise Men Can Teach Us About God

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Journey of the Magi; Inquiry of King Herod (Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’

 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way.

And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” Matthew 2:1-12

I’ve been thinking a lot about these Wise Men, often called the Magi or the Three Kings. Over the past 2,000 years, plenty of theories and legends about these men have circulated throughout the Church. In the Western Church, there is a legend that their names were Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, and that they were respected scholars. It’s been long-claimed that Melchior was Persian, Caspar was Indian, and Balthazar was Babylonian. Syrian Christians claim the names of the Magi to be Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas. Ethiopian tradition calls them Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater. Armenians believe their names to be Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma. Meanwhile, Matthew never tells us their names, the number of these wise men, or their actual vocations. There is just about no indication that they are kings, though the Greek word magi (μάγοι) apparently may indicate that they were of a higher, priestly caste.

So what do we know about these men?

Not much. They were from the East. We don’t know if that means they were Persian, Babylonian, Indian, or something else completely. We don’t even know what religion they were. Many, such as the Swedish religious scholar Anders Hultgård, convincingly argue that these Wise Men were in fact Persian Zoroastrians, but again, that is never mentioned in the text. What seems evident enough is that they were not Jewish. They had to ask Jewish people about the scriptural prophecies on the messiah’s birth. They called this man, this baby, the “King of the Jews.” They even followed a star to find Jesus, which sounds awfully astrological to me.

And yet, these non-Jews, perhaps Zoroastrian, perhaps amateur or even seasoned astrologists, looked for Christ, found him, and worshiped him. They never converted to Judaism, they never articulated that this child was God or even Savior, but they knew they had to honor him. And today we venerate these men, often as saints, despite the fact that they never knew about the atoning sacrifice of Christ and never claimed to worship the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Not that we know of, at least.) And yet God led them to this baby, not to be evangelized to, and not to convince them of some doctrine or perform some saving ritual, but so that they may honor him and, I think, experience his presence.

It seems to me that these men knew God. Matthew tells us that God even spoke to them in a prophetic dream as they left Christ, warning them to not to return to the blood-thirsty Herod. God was pretty serious about talking to these men. Even though their religious practices and beliefs would not be considered orthodox by the Jews of their day or even modern Christians, God was with them, for them, and used them. It seems that God even used their own religious system, which in many ways was incompatible with Judaism, to do this.

This is shocking. And I think it’s part of the gospel.

In fact, it makes a lot of sense that God’s arrival on Earth in Christ would be kicked off with an invitation to these men. It seems to me that this was a glimpse into the heart of God. Paul reveals in 1 Timothy 4:10 that our God “is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” This Savior is the Savior of all people. This good news is good news for all people. I even think this extends to those who do not identify as Christian or even as a Theist.

In Acts 17:16-34, Paul preaches in Athens among philosophers and worshipers of various gods, and appears to commend them for their religiosity as something fascinating and respectable. He boldly claims that their altar and worship to an “unknown god” is truly the “God who made the world and everything in it.” The God proclaimed by Paul “does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” He goes on to say that God “is not actually far from each of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.”

Jesus was prophesied to be Emanuel (Matt. 1:23)or God with us. The new covenant of Christ, revealed through his incarnation, his ministry, his death and resurrection, and even through Pentecost, make it clear that God is with usall of humanity, all of creation. It was the Church, the followers of Christ, who knew very early on that the Spirit was truly poured out on all people (Acts 2:17).

There is an inextinguishable hope for all people in Christ. 

I am confident that it is through Jesus that we can most perfectly know God and most fully inherit the abundant life he offered (Matt. 11:27, John 1:18, 6:37, 14:9, 2 Cor. 5:19, Col. 3:3). That being said, my pursuit of Quakerism has given me the courage to state something I’ve long known but also been hesitant to say out loud: there truly is that of God in everyone.

I have several friends who have left behind Christianity because of the toxic culture in the Church and their inability to have faith in the Christian God, and often any god. Some of them have turned to Buddhism, others dabble in self-help and New Age books and practices, while others have given up an active pursuit of spirituality. Most of these folks have come out of their de-conversion more fully themselves and I would even say more Christ-like. No longer are they hindered in their ability to love and accept others because of their church’s dogma, no longer are they trapped in a culture of condemnation and a phobia of anything academic, and they have found the freedom to ask hard questions and be true to themselves. I think I can see Jesus in that. I would dare to say it is a move of the Spirit.

After all, the life of Jesus illustrates that God will do anything to redeem all people, even if it requires meeting us where we are at and entering into our mess. If you can believe God is in the mess we call Evangelical Christianity—which so often looks like a rigid moralism rather than a spiritual path and which so often contradicts the message of Christ by advocating for violence, nationalism, and capitalism—then it can’t be too hard to accept that God is even working among those who do not know or believe in Jesus Christ.

It is because I believe in the Lordship of Jesus, the incarnation, and the atonement that I can declare that God is in and with all people.

Not only can I declare it, but I can see it and experience it.

Jesus opened my eyes to his sweet presence everywhere. For so long I was numb to that presence, that air of reverence, that breath of God, outside of the ministry of Christians-that-I-mostly-agreed-with. But the longer I’ve been walking with Jesus, I’ve come to discover how wicked that “us vs. them” version of the gospel was and I came to discover God’s presence outside of worship services and Christocentric settings. I came to know the presence of God as I watched my agnostic brother-in-law holding my nephew, as I delighted in the Hare Krishna devotees chanting on the street, and in long late-night conversations with elderly Moonies. I came to know that God was truly with us; all of us.

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.

Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: Introduction

The past few weeks have been incredibly busy, as I’ve moved across the country, celebrated my sister’s wedding, and started a new job, but in the midst of that I’ve also been writing a bit about the charismatic spirituality of Quakerism. I know many post/ex-Evangelicals and folks in general have a bitter taste of the Charismatic Movement, whether it because of abusive experiences or disagreements with their theology, but I ask that you give me a chance in these series of posts to explain why I very much consider Quakerism a charismatic movement.

Gracechurch Street Meeting, London ca.1779.

Gracechurch Street Meeting, London ca.1779.

What is the Charismatic Movement?

Many people make sweeping statements about the Charismatic Movement without much comprehension of the diversity among Charismatics, as evidenced by the multitude of books cautioning believers of this broad movement. In 2013, neo-reformed Baptist preacher and author John MacArthur held a conference that attracted thousands of participants that was dedicated to villifying the excesses of Pentecostals and Charismatics. This conference, “Strange Fire”, assumed Charismatics to be at least gravely deceived, if not hell-bound and blasphemers.

Thankfully, this sort of rhetoric is not as commonplace as it once was in the Church and is progressively losing its steam, as about 26% of the global Church is considered charismatic, and as different charismatic practices have been normalized and adopted by non-charismatic traditions (such as “listening prayer”, “prayer teams”, raising arms in worship, and even speaking in tongues, or the more sanitized “prayer languages”.) That said, people still have strange assumptions about what charismatic spirituality is, and many often are shocked when I claim that Quakerism is actually a thoroughly charismatic tradition.

The Charismatic Movement was initially a renewal movement across the Church rather than a distinct denominational tradition. In many ways it was influenced and informed by its predecessor, the Pentecostal Movement, but was distinct from Pentecostalism because its malleability and its desire to not start a new religious group but instead renew the participants’ respective churches in the power of the Holy Spirit. Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and virtually every Church tradition was impacted by this movement.

Charismatic Catholics in New Orleans, 1979

Charismatic Catholics in New Orleans, 1979

The Charismatic Movement introduced many Christians to the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, an experience theologically nuanced in different ways throughout the Movement but could be summed up as a “stirring” or “activation” of the Spirit within. This experience is often ecstatic or euphoric, and those who have received such an experience often claim to have felt God’s love and/or power in those moments as well as have manifested the gift of tongues or, to a lesser extent, prophecy.

The Renewal was not simply for the sake of a personal mysticism but was always meant to revitalize and bless Christian fellowship. The Charismatic Movement touched whole churches, bringing forth the corporate use of the charismata (a Greek word used by Paul that is roughly translated as “grace-expression” or , more commonly, “spiritual gifts”) Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, which include prophecy, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so on, to denominations that were not associated with such phenomena.

The use of these “supernatural” gifts and these “charismatic” experiences are not at all foreign to the Church. This charismatic thread has been an aspect of the Church since Christ’s ministry of healing the sick and casting out demons. Though the use of these gifts have waned throughout Church history, there have been several resurgences of charismatic phenomena, such as the healing revivals St. Augustine witnessed (Augustine, Book XXI, City of God), the ecstatic and miraculous experiences among medieval mystics (such as with Bernard of Clairvaux and Hildegard of Bingen), the modern Pentecostal movement, and countless other movements that believed the Spirit’s miraculous and emboldening power is a timeless gift for the Church.

The charismatic conviction that every individual may access God’s power and hear God’s voice, whether it be for the sake of building up and encouraging the Church, or the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel, or even for an individual’s edification, is at the heart of Quakerism and, in my opinion, qualifies it as a charismatic tradition.

The charismatic thread in Quakerism

Quakerism follows this thread seen throughout the Church history where disciples sought the Spirit’s power for their lives and ministries so ardently that the intervention of God became expected. This is evident in Friends history from the very beginning with George Fox. Miracles placed a huge role in Fox’s ministry, giving him the reputation of being a healer. Fox’s own ministry was sparked by a revelatory experience where God spoke to him that only Christ could speak to his condition, revealing that there was no need for earthly mediators to connect to God.

Fox was not the only early Friend who experienced the power of the Spirit in such a spectacular manner, as meeting was widely experienced as a space for the Spirit to dramatically touch lives and empower the body of believers, and visions and rapturous experiences were frequent in the early days of the Society.

Even after the initial ecstatic period had long passed, revelations remained vital to Quaker spirituality. John Woolman, a Quaker minister and early abolitionist, wrote about an “opening” experience in his journal where he saw the Light manifest and God speak to his spirit. He wrote, “I awoke; it was yet dark, and no appearance of day or moonshine, and as I opened mine eyes I saw a light in my chamber, at the apparent distance of five feet, about nine inches in diameter, of a clear, easy brightness, and near its centre the most radiant. As I lay still looking upon it without any surprise, words were spoken to my inward ear, which filled my whole inward man. They were not the effect of thought, nor any conclusion in relation to the appearance, but as the language of the Holy One spoken in my mind. The words were, CERTAIN EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH. They were again repeated exactly in the same manner, and then the light disappeared.”

Even today, Quaker meetings continue to host the presence of God (though with perhaps a deeper contemplative edge) and the gift of prophecy often manifests among us during worship, often referred to as “vocal ministry”. The model of unprogrammed Quaker meeting, where all can equally be vessels of the Spirit, is in line with what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, where all gathered may be used to manifest the power of God.

Quaker meeting also fully embraces what God granted the Church on the day of Pentecost, which was when the Spirit of God was poured out on the Church to empower the her and grant her the ability to hear God and prophesy. This event is the foundation of the Pentecostal Movement and at the heart of charismatic spirituality. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached as soon as the Spirit was poured out and recounted Joel’s prophecy,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.”

In Quaker meeting, we see this prophecy fulfilled week after week, as we corporately experience the baptism of the Spirit and hear the voice of God from whomever God chooses to minister. We may not be a tongue-talking, holy-rolling bunch of folks, though I wouldn’t mind a little more of that, but one thing we Quakers know is the power and voice of the Spirit. As the Society of Friends, we have a glorious heritage as a people of the Spirit and I’m thankful that even today we continue to reap the gifts of Pentecost in our profoundly charismatic worship.

Read part two, on the baptism of love, here.
Read part three, on the prophetic Church, here.

What Tongue is Tongues?

My first post in awhile and yes, it is on tongues. You would think I would come back from my hiatus with some mystical reflections, but no, just some thoughts on glossolalia and the Bible. What else do you expect from me, though?

So… what language is all this wacky tongues-speaking in? And does it matter?

From the New York Times' article "A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues"

From the New York Times’ article “A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues”

Some take bold stands against the charismatic practice of speaking in tongues because many examples of tongues that have been observed do not seem to resemble any known human language.  Many argue that tongues could not possibly be anything but a human language, turning for proof to Pentecost in Acts 2, when many Jews were able to understand the tongues that the disciples spoke, as well as to 1 Corinthians 14:10, which says, “Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning.” 1 Corinthians 14 sheds some light on the linguistics of tongues.

Many theologians would say there is a difference between the tongues of Pentecost and the tongues described in 1 Corinthians, saying that Pentecost was with known languages, as the Jews from different nations and regions were able to recognize their language being spoken by the disciples (vv. 5-8). Though this is very much possible, I tend to side with the view that the tongues that occurred during Pentecost were the same kind of ‘doxological’ (instead of evangelistic) tongues of the Corinthians. I would propose that the disciples were not actually speaking in known human languages but the unbelievers miraculously were able to hear the disciples’ praise in their own languages. The fact that Pentecost included 120 disciples who spoke in tongues simultaneously makes the probability of one of the foreigners hearing their own language and identifying the words quite slim, especially since these foreigners were on the streets while the disciples were in the Upper Room. The varieties of languages spoken at once would likely keep one from hearing the disciple(s) who’s praise was in their particular language. Even if the tongues at Pentecost were actually human languages, the gift of tongues that Paul speaks of does not always seem to be.

1 Corinthians 14 is obviously the chapter many use to dive into the topic of tongues and how this gift ought to be handled in fellowship. He writes that “no one understands them”, in reference to those who speak in a tongue, and goes on to say “they utter mysteries by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:2). In the same verse, he makes known that this form of tongues is not for speaking to people but to God. Then he goes on to push believers to not come before the church speaking in tongues if there is no interpretation, for then it is but “unintelligible words” which does not edify the body (vv.6-12). It is clear that Paul does not see tongues as something to be understood by the natural ear and this is why he pushes believers to interpret (v.5), which does come from human knowledge but through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10). Tongues with interpretation are done so that the Church may be built up;3 tongues in personal devotion is only fruitful for an individual’s spirit (vv.4,14).

The interpretation of tongues is seen as vital whenever a tongue is spoken to the body (1 Corinthians 14:5-6) and Paul even forbids tongues that are not interpreted to be spoken to the body (vv.27-28). This seems to indicate that it was very unlikely for somebody to actually understand tongues if there was no interpretation. Would the gift of interpretation of tongues be vital in the corporate use of tongues if tongues were a human language?

As mentioned before, many of those who argue that tongues has to be a human language point to 1 Corinthians 14:10. They also make use of the following verse, which says, “If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.” If I went abroad to a non-English-speaking country, I would be experiencing the same thing as one who hears uninterpreted tongues, which is Paul’s point in these verses. He is not saying that tongues are human languages but he is instead giving an analogy that reveals that tongues function like human languages.

In verse 18, Paul talks about how he is thankful that he “speaks in tongues more than” all the Corinthians. Wayne Grudem argues that if tongues “were known foreign languages that foreigners could understand… why would Paul speak more than all the Corinthians in private, where no one would understand, rather than in church where foreign visitors could understand?” (Systematic Theology, 1072)

So what is the language of tongues?

Now there are some speculative issues when it comes to what the language of tongues is exactly. The infighting in the Church over tongues often is whether it is angelic or human, or perhaps something else altogether.

Some believe the notion that tongues is an angelic language is ridiculous and say that 1 Corinthians 13:1, where the tongues of angels is mentioned, is hyperbolic. Though such an argument is consistent with the language of the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13, Gordon Fee proposes that the possibility of the Corinthians, as well as Paul, thinking of tongues as angelic is likely because of ancient Jewish sources speaking of angelic languages being spoken by humans by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He also proposes that the Corinthians’ view of spirituality may have been skewed by a belief that they “already entered into some expression of angelic existence”, and that it is likely that Corinthians may have believed they were actually speaking in these angelic languages. This could possibly explain their bizarre view of sexuality (1 Corinthians 7:1-7, 11:2-16) and perhaps even contribute to why they often denied the future existence of a glorified body (15:12, 35). (Gordon Fee, New International Commentary of the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 630-631)

Some see the worship of our spirit through tongues as carrying a whole new language that can only be produced by the Holy Spirit, and though this is very much possible, there is not enough in Scripture to support this view, other than the fact that the tongues in Corinth very much do not seem human. Some see 1 Corinthians 13:1 as hyperbolic, in regards to not just the angelic tongues but also the human tongues. They see Paul making the idea of being able to speak in tongues of either men or angels to be extraordinary and not normative for tongues-speakers. Those who take such a view usually do not believe that the disciples in Acts 2 were speaking human languages but a language of the Spirit and that God performed a miracle of hearing on the unbelieving.

Some, such as D.A. Carson, view praying in tongues likely to be in some Spirit-guided code; though this is a minority view, It seems consistent with the view previously mentioned. Many, such as Sam Storms, take a broader view. In the first part of Storms’ essay called “Tongues: Praying and Praising in the Spirit”, he concludes that “tongues may be human languages never before learned by the speaker, but need not be. They may also be angelic dialects or unique linguistic utterances shaped specially by the Spirit and distributed to believers according to the will of God.”

Personally, I do hold to Storms’ view of tongues, acknowledging that there are in fact a diversity of tongues that can be spoken (1 Corinthians 12:10) and that it may just be beyond the tongues of men and angels. A lot of this is speculative, but restricting tongues to only that of humans would not fit 1 Corinthians. This gift for prayer, worship, and the edification of the Church should not be shut down simply because the language is unidentifiable by those present or hindered because of silly debates on its exact nature, but discerned, celebrated, and encouraged, especially when accompanied by interpretation. Let us heed to Paul’s encouragement in 1 Cor. 14:39, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”