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What can we learn from the Quakers?

Continuing the series on what we can learn from other Christian traditions I want to look at the Quakers. The Quakers stand somewhere distinct from the liberal and liturgical traditions that I have covered and also from the evangelical and charismatic traditions that I would see as my own. They have an interesting relationship with all four from which we can learn a lot.

Quaker_definition_logoFrom my readings about the Quakers I would say that a key belief of the Quakers is that we can directly hear from God. Their founding principle was that we do not need the church and priests to mediate between us and God. We can directly experience God for ourselves through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Quakers and the liturgical church

Quakers very much rejected most of the trapping of the liturgical church on their foundation – choosing rather just to worship together as the Spirit leads relating to one another as friends. This has a number of implications:

• Many will still have prepared worship with planned readings, songs and sermons but also have a time of just waiting on God with more spontaneous worship.

• Though they reject the idea of ordination many groups recognise those with gifts of speaking within the congregation – including women – but do not dress in any way that marks them out as special. Quakers usually have elders and a few may even have a paid pastor.

• Quakers reject the sacraments of communion and baptism. They believe that breaking of bread simply refers to sharing meals together and that baptism just refers to our spirit baptism when we come to know the Lord.

• Quakers reject the church calendar. They would advocate a living a simple life all year round rather than giving things up for lent. They believe in commemorating Christ’s death and resurrection every day of the year and not just at Easter.

There is much to commend in these ideas such informal worship style and belief in the priesthood of all believers but many would see their ideas of rejecting all sacraments as going too far.

Quakers and the evangelical church

The Quakers have always emphasised a personal relationship with God through Jesus. Like evangelicals they would believe in personal Bible study and prayer that involves conversing with God through Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

George Fox - founder of the Quakers

George Fox – founder of the Quakers

In the 19th century, due to the influence of the Great American Awakenings, some Quakers became more evangelical and began to put more emphasis on Jesus as Lord and Saviour and on his atoning work on the cross.

Again, they have always taken the Bible seriously but do not appear to have bought into modern evangelical proof-texting or debates about the inerrancy of scripture. They also honour other revelation. But their idea of the God speaking through the scriptures is one both evangelicals and charismatics would generally applaud.

Quakers and the charismatic church

A main focus of the Quakers has always been on listening to God’s voice as an inner experience that comes both through reading and studying the Bible and directly through the leading of the Holy Spirit – where thoughts will come to mind with a sense that they are from God. Quakers refer to this as the Inner Light.

During their time of waiting on the Lord anyone may bring a contribution. After some silent reflection and seeking God another contribution may be brought. This is rather like a charismatic meeting where gifts of the Spirit are shared such as prophecies except traditionally there are much longer periods of silence.

Their spontaneous worship and reliance on hearing God and being led by the Spirit are vital lessons. Of course we need to take care that this doesn’t lead us into error as it can be a subjective experience open to many unconscious influences. The Quakers emphasis on the Bible is an important balance but it has not always stopped them straying from the orthodox faith.

Quakers and the liberal church

The Quakers have for a long time stood for social justice issues just as many liberals do today. Among other things they were also known for opposing slavery and being pacifists – being conscientious objectors during wartime choosing to form an ambulance corp in the First World War rather than fight. Peace is a major emphasis in their understanding of God as is valuing others equally as we all bare God’s image.

They have also sought to be an influence for the kingdom of God in this world. They have always sought to live a simple lifestyle. Quakers have founded businesses that are very well known today such as Cadbury’s and have a great philanthropic heritage in trusts and charities and even among non-Christians now have a very positive reputation.

In the 19th and early 20th century they were also influenced by liberal ideas in interpreting the Bible including modern ideas of higher criticism, from the 70s by Universalist ideas and even more recently non-theistic ideas. So much so that some Quakers today would even place themselves outside of orthodox Christianity. Despite this, I feel that there is much in their heritage that we as evangelical and charismatic Christians can learn from today.

Lessons for today?

The Quaker Star

The Quaker Star

From my little study of the Quakers, despite some of their faults, I would say that there are many ways that we should aspire to be like the Quakers:

• Hold onto some elements of planned worship but strongly embraced spontaneity and informality.

• Cultivate a personal relation with Jesus including salvation though the atonement. This is experienced in our daily life and through Bible study and conversational prayer.

• Be led by the Holy Spirit and experience his work in our lives and hearing his voice daily – something I often feel like a beginner in, even after many years.

• Live simply, stand for social justice and seek to be an influence for God’s kingdom in the world.

If you have experience or knowledge of Quakers please let me know if you think this assessment is a fair one and let me know what you would add.

Further Reading

Quakers on Wikipedia
Quakers – on the BBC’s website
Ask a Quaker on Rachel Held Evans blog

June 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

What Can We Learn From the Liturgical Church?

Continuing this series on what we can learn from other branches of the church I want to look at the liturgical tradition.

Liturgical church By liturgical I am referring to churches that have planned and set words such as readings and prayers that are read out and rituals that are dutifully performed on a regular basis. This is one of the oldest branches of the church and represents many tradition including Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

Problems with the liturgical church

Charismatics have usually frowned on the idea of liturgy. One of our defining characteristics is our intimacy with God. We experience a wonderful sense of God’s presence both in our own devotional times and when we meet together. Prayer is not just an intellectual activity it is also an emotional one where we experience freedom from guilt

How to talk to God

God is our father – our daddy. We can approach him any time and tell him how we feel and ask him whatever we like. We do not have to follow a formula to come into his presence. It is not that we have to perform the right rituals or even the right behavior to be allowed into his presence. We should not be frightened of doing or saying the wrong thing.

Liturgy and history

Very quickly in church history this extemporary worship gave way to planned liturgy. Worship also began to involve patterns of Old Testament worship such as priests, sacrifices and altars, which the New Testament had clearly done away with. As such ordinary worshipers became distanced from God, especially as they became more onlookers than participants.

Protestantism dealt with some of this but in the 60s the Holy Spirit began to be poured out on the liturgical church in what became known as the Charismatic Renewal. The legacy of this today is that many within liturgical traditions have experienced the Holy Spirit in dynamic ways. They are often in a process of moving away from their liturgy to express this intimacy with God.

What value is liturgy?

The liturgy that remains may have been made more contemporary and in denominations such as Anglicanism has included more space for those who wish to express their freedom. Those who’ve experienced the freedom and grace may look down on liturgy. But it still remains and is valued by many.

Is there anything that we can learn from this? What elements could we non-liturgical churches if any incorporate into our worship? In considering this question it important to recognise that using liturgical element as and when we feel they are appropriate is very different from being bound by them.

What can we learn from the liturgical church?

Planning

When worship is well planned activities don’t get neglected if there isn’t time for it. Important elements such as communion and praying for current affairs can be scheduled in each week. Having an overall picture can mean that what is sung, preached, read and prayed can be planned to fit together seamlessly and the whole experience makes more sense to the worshipper.

Preparation

Sometimes the emphasis is on the priest leading but often today parts of the liturgy are delegated. People who wouldn’t be confident enough to take an initiative themselves in more spontaneous worship can feel at home in taking part enabling more people’s gifts to be used in worship.

Shared words and actions

The biblical emphasis on us being the Body of Christ points to worship being corporate. Shared words read together and actions such as taking communion together can be a great expression of corporate worship. I wonder if planning to include carefully prepared elements from our liturgical tradition might add to this sense of corporate worship.

Elements to include from the liturgical church:

Sacraments

We must take care not to forget the very real spiritual impact of physical acts. I believe that in a sense God is present when we break bread and surely meeting with God and enjoying his hospitality is the very reason we gather. Similarly let us remember the very real power of baptism in freeing people from their sins and the importance of anointing with oil in prayer for the sick.

Songs

In a real way our worship songs are for many churches a new liturgy. Those with lyrical depth, good theology to ponder and tunes that are easy for congregations to sing are often the great hymns of the past. Let us not forget these hymns when planning our worship. There is plenty that we can learn from these for those who compose new songs for us to use to sing God’s praise.

Prayers

When words are crafted ahead of time they can have a poetic depth that may be lacking with off the cuff contributions. Everyone praying the same words together adds to our sense of corporate worship. Finding or writing such prayers could be done in contemporary style meetings especially if they are projected on screens so that they people hands are free to be raised.

Art

Church artwork is present in ancient buildings but fear of idolatry has often meant it has been avoided in more recent protestant churches. Yet beautiful images can sometimes help our concentration in meditation together in worship. Today we can incorporate photographs of God’s creation and classic artwork in images we project during worship for all to see.

Calendar

The Christian year gives us an excellent thought through plan for our worship and teaching. The knowledge that this is being followed by many others outside of our own church adds to the sense of corporate worship. This shared focus can even enhance discussion of the Bible with other believers outside of our local congregation, especially now we have the internet.

So…

The liturgical church can severely lack an intimate relationship with God. Nevertheless those of us that have that intimacy with God can enhance our corporate worship by planning and preparing to include these elements from liturgical worship into more contemporary style worship as and when we feel appropriate.

June 7, 2014 at 10:00 am Comments (0)