The church and its mission: A Quaker perspective

The society of Friends has had a long history of disagreement about what it meant to be the church — the most important of these had to do with the extent of the invisible church. Some of the more arrogant Friends believed that all true Christians were Quakers in faith and practice — because God convinced them of Truth. Others believed that the True church was all that God had gathered, no matter what they called themselves, allowing for a much wider range of Faith and practice. No matter where Friends are on this scale of argument, Robert Barclay spoke of an invisible church that included many who were not seen as part of the community. Speculation of what is included in the invisible church (Is it a sub-set or a super-set of the visible church) does not change that this invisible church is God’s creation.

In spite of these arguments, I believe that my own theological views and interpretations of Scripture and Tradition fit within the Quaker conversation about what it means to be Church. While I don’t want to take space looking into the various arguments about the invisible church, I think it is necessary to point out that this is part of the Quaker view of church. My personal ideal is that the Religious Society of Friends finds a way to live up to the name “Religious Society” by serving the wider (invisible) church.

Friends, believing that God speaks to anyone, choose the congregational model. Instead of voting, because Friends have observed that God’s prophets often speak against the majority view, Friends adopted a method to discern the validity of hard prophetic voices — which is a slow way of making a decision. However, decisions are powerful as they are accepted by the group as a whole. The people who need to fund the project and volunteer for it already decided that it should be done. Friends claim the great success of eliminating Slavery within the Society of Friends before the Revolutionary war, because of the life-work of minority prophets such as John Woolman. The danger is that sometimes people argue before they listen, and if Friends do not stop to pray then they may not stop arguing and start doing. Another weakness of the Friends method is that it assumes a level of maturity that our members may not have achieved.

Recent history has showed that our method of decision making is utterly counter-cultural. People of different political parties want nothing to do with one another in secular life, and creating a system that asks people of differing views to seek God’s will together and submit to God’s will expects them to do what society rejects. Friends now face the difficult choice of accepting wider culture, and forming politically homoginous groups, or continuing to struggle with the process — even though outside voices make it more difficult. The first choice silences potential prophetic voices, and follows culture, the second risks suffering endless political arguments which distract from listening to God’s leading. The results of this decision will impact the American Friend’s view of what it means to be part of the Church.

The Church and her mission:  Cultural response


5 comments on “The church and its mission: A Quaker perspective

  1. Zeke says:

    “Friends now face the difficult choice of accepting wider culture, and forming politically homoginous groups, or continuing to struggle with the process…”

    I’m at a loss as to exactly what you are trying to say in this article. It seems that you are proposing a choice between two alternatives, the first being to subsume ourselves as Quakers into the larger “Christian” community and abandon our very real and important differences so that we can agree politically with mainstream Christianity, and the second being to continue to swim against the current of modern “Christianity” and maintain our differences as Quakers. Having grown up in mainstream “Christianity” I want no part of it. That’s why I’m a Quaker, and why I will continue to argue for maintaining our unique Christian identity.

    • :) but — the choice still remains. The rhetoric between Republicans and Democrats has become so toxic that churches split on party lines — or even purge out the ‘wrong’ party. (I’m actually experiencing the split on party lines now. Friends have proven that they are not immune to fighting these battles in the meetinghouse.)

      You either accept this wider culture of division… or you choose to cross those lines and seek what faith means together.

  2. Zeke says:

    Let me clarify. These splits along political lines are, from my observation, based on a desire among certain Quakers to maintain the political positions popular among mainstream Christians that are inconsistent with Quaker witness. There is a faction in my YM that wants to drop “all the Quaker claptrap” so that we can join our “Christian brothers” in the wider community and all get along. No more will we have to tolerate being called cowards for our conscientious objection to military service. No more will we have to consider that Jesus Christ is with us every minute of every day, and make our decisions accordingly. Christ and God will be confined to the Bible on a shelf in the church, and that Bible will be taken down and opened only on Sundays and only within the privacy of the church building, and only when we are ready to deal with God and Jesus Christ on our own terms. The rest of the time we can pretend that we’re “right with God”, like other mainstream “Christians”, and do as we please.

    In my view mainstream “Christianity” *is* the secular culture with a privately observed overlay of lip service to God and Christ. The Quaker witness is an honest attempt at the practice of real Christianity. It’s inconvenient. It’s dangerous. People revile and dislike us for it. We are called heretics and crackpots, but rarely Christians. People who actively choose to be Quakers after a good bit of life experience seem to understand this. In my experience, many people born into the Quaker church just want to be more like everybody else so that we can all get along. Which do you suppose Christ calls us to do?

    I find that most of the Republican platform is antithetical to the words and teachings of Christ. I am dumbfounded that mainstream Christians support killing their enemies and forcing people at the point of a gun (by law) to adhere to their values. It is only by confining God to what is written in the Bible that these things can be justified.

    The expressions of Quaker belief over the centuries may seem curious and outdated, like wearing un-dyed clothing and using “thee ” and “thou”, and truly, such actions today would be merely affectations. But the underlying concerns are still valid and still within the teachings of Jesus Christ. A more modern expression of the same idea is refusing to purchase goods made with child or slave labor. We should be concerned about working conditions for the least among us, which is where the idea of un-dyed clothing came from.

    We should be concerned with the social equality of all God’s children, who are all equally valuable in His eyes. Although we don’t still recognize “you” as a plural pronoun, and thus a deferential form of address, we should still be concerned that every person should be treated with the same dignity, and that we do not elevate one person above another due to wealth or position.

    I don’t say the pledge of allegiance, which outrages many Conservative, Republican “Christians”. I cannot in good faith repeat something which is not true, and I will not swear allegiance to a piece of cloth, a government, or other men when my true allegiance is to God, not to mention that our Savior admonished us not to swear at all.

    If other people have constructed a mechanism whereby they can make these and many other inconsistencies somehow compatible with the teachings of Christ, I must suspect their processes. Be that as it may, I’m happy to let them go their own way, but I really wish they would quit calling themselves Quakers, because they truly are not.

    • Cloth worship is no more universally Republican than drone strikes and assassinations are universally Democrat, but I think its safe to say neither party is anywhere close to Friends witness.

  3. Zeke says:

    On that we can agree.

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