Archive for the ‘Quakerism’ Category

Participatory Worship

Monday, November 10th, 2014

        So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (1 Corinthians 14:26, The Message)        

This is a subject in which I have had great interest for decades, but my thoughts have been stirred recently by an event and some things I’ve read.

A number of years ago I attended an independent charismatic church. At that time, they had a Friday evening service which was not programmed in advance. There was a pastor of the church who, in Quaker terms, clerked the service, helping it to flow as the Spirit led. At the beginning, you would see people talking to him, relaying what the Lord had said to them about what needed to happen that evening. The character of the service varied enormously week from week, as the Lord led. But most of what was vocalized was from the floor of the church. The only standard thing which happened is that, sometime during the about 2.5 hour service, bread and juice would be put out giving the attenders opportunity to take communion. That period would usually be pretty quiet. People often took some time to pray before consuming the elements, frequently kneeling on the steps which are used in place of an altar in that church. I really appreciated this service. Unfortunately, the church stopped doing it.

Charismatic and pentecostal churches often allow people from the congregation to offer a Word from the Lord, but at least at Sunday morning services that’s usually within the context of a service in which the usual Protestant prepared sermon from a pastor is the central focus, to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps some of them offer another time when it is all from the body, but I couldn’t find any in my area which do. (And I have theological issues with most charismatic and pentecostal churches.)

The Quaker tradition is to have worship in which there is not a program set in advance, but the Lord may speak through anyone gathered. However today most Quaker groups which are still non-pastoral have moved away from a center in Jesus Christ, and generally the range of expression which is acceptable is limited by a somewhat repressive WASP middle class cultural environment. I have been at a couple of Quaker gatherings where a session broke free from those restraints, and a vibrant, charismatic session resulted. However, that is rare.

I suspect a major reason why the kind of participatory worship Paul recommended to the church in Corinth is so rare is fear. What might happen if the Spirit was allowed to work in the congregation free from control by one or more leaders and from cultural constraints? It seems so much safer to keep things under human control.

So I have this concern for finding and nurturing spiritually alive participatory worship. I would appreciate reflections on this subject and any pointing towards where I might find such worship or how I might facilitate it.

-Bill Samuel, November 10, 2014

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An Open Letter to FCNL

Monday, December 26th, 2011

This email to Diane Randall, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), was written in response to an email fund appeal from her. I have written a number of such emails over the course of the last 3 years, and I normally get no response. This one I am going to make public.

Dear Diane Randall,

For decades, I contributed regularly to FCNL. I felt it stood for what I believed in, and I could count on it. I thought it was largely free of partisanship.

Then came the Obama election. After the election, I saw a metamorphosis in FCNL. It seemed to become a branch office of the White House - of a President who campaigned on escalation of the war in Afghanistan, increasing the military budget, and increasing the number of military troops. These were all things FCNL traditionally would have opposed. The President kept all those promises, and FCNL supported him in that. It campaigned for a budget that increased military spending and devoted over half of all discretionary spending to the military. Joe Volk, then FCNL’s Executive Secretary, sent out an email asking supporters to write letters to the editor supporting the President’s Afghanistan policy.

At that point, I resolved to stop supporting FCNL. I pointed out this radical change in FCNL to others, and urged them to not support FCNL. Many FCNL supporters had the same reaction. If you will look at donation trends, you will see that FCNL’s income dropped dramatically during that time. The FCNL budget and staff were reduced. The official propaganda from FCNL was that this was due to the economy, but I’m sure FCNL’s betrayal of its values was a large factor.

Gradually FCNL moved back to its traditional positions. However, it has yet to publicly admit it got off course. I am a Christian. I believe in repentance and redemption. But fundamental to that is admitting the sin. I believe there are thousands of us willing to come back as FCNL supporters if FCNL will admit it went seriously off-track after the Obama election, and pledges never again to sacrifice its values to engage in a partisan effort. But we’ve been waiting for years for this, and so far have not seen any sign of an admission by FCNL that it went terribly wrong in that period. I continue to wait.

Bill Samuel

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Reflections on Independence Day

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Today in the United States is Independence Day, when the country celebrates the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776. At my church, we were completing our annual God in the Movies series, and we focused on the John Adams mini-series. What caught my attention was a particular remark by John Adams, and what I drew from it was quite different from what the day’s speaker did.

The comment, made by John Adams at the Second Constitutional Convention, which caught my attention was that the end would be worth the means. My own Christian understanding is that the end can not really be separated from the means. Rather, we must be sure we are using ethical means if we hope to achieve a good end. The ethical way may seem naive and impractical, but in fact it is not only the right choice, but the only pragmatic one if we really desire a good end.

As the speaker noted, John Adams was a man who really sought to do the right thing. There is much to admire in his life. However, he made a critical error in his thinking in his belief that the willful shedding of the blood of many people could be a means to a good end. This critical error was not only made by most of those who attended that Constitutional Convention, but also by most societies throughout the ages. The universality of the error does not make it right.

Our Lord Jesus Christ allowed his own blood to be shed for the freedom of all. But he refused to be a part of shedding anyone else’s blood, and rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant at his arrest. The early Christian leader Tertullianus said, “the Lord afterwards, in disarming Peter, ungirded every soldier.” This was the almost universal view of the Christian church before Constantine.

One wonders how history would have unfolded had there been a Gandhi in America in the period in which the Revolutionary War took place. In India in the 20th century, as in America in the 18th, there were many who were calling for war against British imperial rule. Yet Gandhi’s different way captured the imagination of the Indian people. In America during the Revolutionary War era, the Society of Friends (Quakers), which has a strong testimony against war, was still a major religious body. However, they had largely withdrawn from the public arena, after having been very active earlier in the colonial period. What would have happened if they had proposed an alternative, nonviolent strategy?

The political leaders in America chose to engage in war against the British. At great cost of lives, they “won.” However, let us look not only at the independence of the United States, but what has happened since.

Born in violence, the United States has a long history of violence since. We have fought many wars, most of them wars of aggression and domination, since, up to and including the present day. We suffered a great Civil War. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” When you use the means of violence, the end is violence and bloodshed.

And what about freedom? The “free country” enslaved African-Americans and engaged in genocide against native Americans. The country has taken military, political and economic action to deny many countries their own freely elected governments. How, for example, might the story of Iran be different if the U.S. had not instigated a coup against Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and installed a tyrant?

We reap what we sow. American leaders in 1776 unleashed a campaign of violence which still reverberates today. Our independent country is #1 in its military, but behind almost all other industrial nations in almost every indicator of economic and social well-being. We have stirred resentment throughout the world through military interventionism, the undermining of free governments, the support of tyrannical regimes and economic imperialism.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God can redeem anything. If we “repent and believe the good news” our course can be changed and we can enter the blessed community of peace and well-being promised in such prophecies as Isaiah’s Peaceable Kingdom. Let us pray for and work for the day the United States humbles itself, confesses its sins, and turns from its ways of violence and domination.

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FUM - A Friendly Proposal

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

I served on the General Board and on the Executive Committee of Friends United Meeting (FUM), the largest of the several associations of Friends (Quakers) in the world, from 1990 until 1993. I am not currently involved in the FUM organizational structure, nor am I now a member of a constituent meeting, but I have retained a lively interest in FUM.

For a couple of decades, there has been controversy within and outside FUM over its position on marriage and the proper use of sexuality, particularly as it relates to personnel decisions. In 1991, based on earlier decisions, the following language was incorporated into the FUM Personnel Handbook:

Friends United Meeting affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments are made without regard to sexual orientation. It is expected that sexual intercourse should be confined to marriage, understood to be confined to one man and one woman.

Since that time, there has been increasing discussion in certain parts of the Society of Friends about same-gender relationships, and some Quaker bodies have moved towards holding marriages or ceremonies of commitment for same-gender couples. The five FUM yearly meetings which are also members of Friends General Conference (FGC), an association with a somewhat different Quaker perspective, have all moved in that direction to varying degrees, and in all of them there is considerable uneasiness with FUM’s position on this issue. However, most other FUM yearly meetings both in North America and in other parts of the world have maintained positions consistent with that of FUM. Over half of FUM’s membership is in Kenya, and Kenyan Friends have been particularly vehement in support of the FUM position on marriage and sexual intercourse.

There has been considerable friction between the five dually affiliated yearly meetings and the rest of FUM. However, in listening to some of the dialogue and reading some related documents, I find considerable desire among many Friends on both sides of the issue to find ways to continue to work together.

I am suggesting that recognition of certain facts and principles may show the way to making a modest step that could ease tensions:

  1. The understanding of marriage has such wide support within FUM that it needs to be understood that FUM is not going to change that basic understanding in the imminent future.
  2. Many Friends who are not in unity with FUM’s position on this do see great value in much of the work of FUM.
  3. There are a number of testimonies and principles held by FUM Friends, but living in accord with most of them is not stated in such direct and absolute terms in the personnel policies of FUM.
  4. While some Friends think FUM requires agreement with the policy in order to be a staff member of FUM, that is not part of the policy and FUM has been willing to hire people for important positions who did not personally agree with the policy.

I think the feeling that FUM has dug in its heels has helped inflame tensions among those Friends who disagree with the policy. I wonder if FUM couldn’t slightly recast its policy in the hopes that this would make it easier for the dialogue to continue, and for the FUM family to unite in support of the programs of FUM. I am thinking of a minute along the lines of this:

Friends United Meeting reaffirms it position as an organization that sexual intercourse should be confined to marriage, understood as being between one man and one woman, while recognizing that not all Friends within FUM are united on that position. FUM also reaffirms the civil rights of all people, and its policy of making staff and volunteer appointments without regard to sexual orientation. It is vital that all persons appointed to staff and volunteer postions in FUM understand and accept that this is the current policy of FUM, whether or not they are personally in full agreement with it. Those responsible for selecting persons for positions with FUM should be sensitive to whether applicants live in accord with FUM’s policy. Where applicants are not committed to living in full accord with FUM’s current position on this matter, those responsible for selection should consider that in the full context of the person’s overall commitment to the programs of FUM and Friends’ testimonies as understood by FUM, and the specific needs for the position under consideration.

I don’t know whether or not Friends will find this suggestion helpful, but I felt led to offer it. Anyone may reprint and distribute this blog entry or portions thereof without obtaining further permission from me. Should any efforts be made to move along the lines suggested, I would appreciate knowing about it.

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Why I am evangelical but not an Evangelical

Friday, May 16th, 2008

The catalyst for this post was An Evangelical Manifesto, which I reflected upon in my last post. And my perspective on the subject is deeply informed by two traditions/movements within the Christian church with which I have been heavily involved. One is Quakerism in which I spent much of my life. Another is what is often referred to as the Emerging Church conversation or movement. While I have only formally been a member of an Emerging Church for three years, I was part of a group which had much of the same perspective long before the term Emerging Church had been dreamed of. That little spiritual community which became known as Friends in Christ melded Quaker and what now would be called Emerging Church perspectives in a way that could be called an early precursor of the loose Convergent Friends movement of today. Here I will note that in the long list of Manifesto signatories I could not identify any Quakers or any of the prominent public faces in the Emerging Church conversation.

As I indicated in my earlier post, I fully identify with the definition in An Evangelical Manifesto: “Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.” Playing off that document’s insistence on capitalizing Evangelical, I am saying I am evangelical in terms of the root meaning of that word expressed in that Manifesto definition, but I’m not comfortable with some other aspects of the description of Evangelical, in which the Manifesto is faithful to the tradition of that part of the Christian church. That leads me to seeing myself as fitting the term if left lower case, but not really accurately defined when it is upper case.

The Bible and Authority

The Manifesto, and here it is indeed representative of Evangelicalism, refers to sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), the “supreme authority of the Bible,” and “the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.” It claims this is shown by “Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude.” This is a Manifesto, not an apology, and it doesn’t do references, so I’m not sure what they rely on for that.

I find Jesus saying in scripture that I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6, NIV) This is a radical statement, and one hard for us humans to accept because we want to be able to package up truth in a neat, rational box. Jesus tells us this impulse is wrong. The people that he had such conflict with are precisely the religious leaders of his day who wanted to tie up faith in a neat little box. Relying on purely the written word of the Bible as the Truth doesn’t really quite succeed in achieving the goal of the neat little box, but the urge to make the book supreme is an attempt to move in that direction. Evangelicals also proclaim Christ is Lord, but their emphasis on the written word as the sole determiner of Truth tends to contradict that. I am not an Evangelical because, in the end, I’m not sure that Evangelicalism is really centered on Jesus Christ.

I believe the premier Quaker apologist, Robert Barclay, put this question of authority well in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity. He states that the scriptures do contain revelations of God to the saints, but notes that, “because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners.” Barclay notes “that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth” and goes on to make this key argument:

If by the Spirit we can only come to the true knowledge of God; if by the Spirit we are to be led into all Truth, and so be taught of all things; then the Spirit, and not the Scriptures, is the foundation and ground of all Truth and knowledge, and the primary rule of faith and manners

I find Barclay’s arguments convincing. (See also Friends (Quakers) and the Bible.)

My immersion into the Emerging Church conversation has provided me with further insights into understanding the scriptures. I have learned about narrative theology. To me, this provides a way to better explore the richness of the scriptures than a doctrinally centered theology. I can observe that Jesus taught largely by telling stories, and by the story of what he did. Looking at the whole Bible, I can see that it is predominantly stories. By taking the narrative approach rather than a literalist approach, we are better able to explore the many facets of the stories in the scripture and to translate them into lessons for how we can live more faithfully.

The narrative approach sees the narrative as continuing, not stopped at some point in time with what’s in the canon, which is consistent with the early Quaker reluctance to embrace the idea of a fixed canon. When I participated in the Journey Seminar, the membership class for Cedar Ridge Community Church, I appreciated the approach of a journey which included what was recorded in scripture, the history of the Christian church in its many variations, and the life of this particular local faith community. It gave me both a sense of the “cloud of witnesses” and of the importance of the continuing spiritual journey in which I can participate. At the end, to become a member, I signed a sheet of paper that was committing myself to principles of living out the journey with Christ within the context of this particular community, but did not contain doctrinal propositions. This felt right to me.

Protestant?

While what I have just written about is the primary reason for my reluctance to consider myself an Evangelical, there is another (albeit related) concern. Evangelicals hold strongly to being Protestant, in contrast with the alternatives of being Catholic or Orthodox. I feel a reluctance to limit my Christian understanding to just one of the main divisions of the Christian church. This view, too, has been heavily impacted by my involvement in both Quakerism and the Emerging Church conversation.

There has been a debate about whether or not Quakers are Protestants. (See Are Quakers Protestant?) Early Quakers contrasted themselves with both Catholics and Protestants (Orthodox were simply not a part of the religious conversation in 17th century Britain where the Quaker movement started, but I’m sure Quakers would also have contrasted themselves with the Orthodox if they had been), essentially regarding both streams as apostate. In some areas, they saw Protestants as having moved from part of the errors of Catholicism, but not all the way. As regards the scriptures, their argument was in fact primarily with Protestantism.

While identifying with the Quaker reluctance to put themselves in one of the big boxes of Christianity, I became increasingly reluctant to see that solely as rejecting those major streams. My participation (1993-94) in the Spiritual Nurturer Program of the School of the Spirit greatly contributed to that. While the Program was Quaker, the majority of the readings were from the monastic tradition, which has been writing in depth about spiritual nurture for many centuries. I found that I really identified with most of what I read from the monastic tradition. That did not make me want to convert to Catholicism, but it did result in a great appreciation for the spiritual richness within that tradition.

At Cedar Ridge, the teachings and practices draw from all three major divisions of the Christian church. All are seen as part of the story in which we see ourselves. While in the Emerging Church conversation we recognize many ways in which all three traditions have gone astray at various points in history, we don’t have the unrelenting negativism towards them that marked the early Quakers. We also see a lot of spiritual vitality in all of these streams of Christianity. I identify with this perspective.

* * * * * * * * * *

This post may be too long, but I hope it gave you some food for thought. I would welcome comments on it.

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