Have I ever experienced a church that actually operates this way? It's sad to report that people in Friends meetings sometimes seem as tempted to categorize each other, be irritated by each other's different temperaments, and take political shortcuts in church governance, as anyone else. But I've seen glimpses of something much better. I've written before about the example of First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, agreeing to counsel and support war tax resisters back in the 1980's. The tender process by which First Friends grappled with the challenge of supporting law-breakers who insisted that God, not Caesar, should have the last word, was inspiring. It was a great example of a functional division of labor: by far, the majority of the church did not feel called to this form of conscientious objection, and some likely remained skeptical, but they were still able to discern that the few who did hold these convictions were maintaining a valid witness that deserved the support of the community.
A few weeks ago, I referred to a more specific division of labor -- this time in the area of evangelism. This was the axe I was grinding:
We place a higher priority on welcoming intellectuals who are afraid of faith commitment than welcoming more diverse audiences who are ready to make a faith commitment but lack a trustworthy place to do so. With a more creative division of labor, we wouldn't have to choose.Brian Young at Berkeley Friends Church asked me to consider saying a bit more. Gladly! I define evangelism as "...simply a winsome expression of our Christian testimony, coupled with an invitation to experience the community formed by that testimony. It utterly depends on honesty, accessibility, and hospitality." The key word here may be "honesty," in the sense that we are testifying to what we as individuals and as a community have actually experienced.
This honesty, this "actual experience," is at the core of the evangelistic division of labor. I've mentioned the British Friend who told me that he is now a Christian, but if at the time he first came to faith, the doorway to Friends had been framed in obligatory Christian jargon, he would never have entered. Based on his own experience, he is exactly the right person to speak to the yearning skeptic who is allergic to Christian jargon and happy-talk but nevertheless feels the tender pull of the Savior.
The same Quaker meeting that empowers him to speak to the skeptic can also empower those who actually love Christian language to proclaim their message with wild abandon. This entry in Micael Grenholm's blog shows what that might look like.
First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, the meeting who counseled tax resisters, also provided examples of this kind of breadth of ministry: among First Friends members were several who were academics and were most comfortable with a fairly abstract approach to describing faith. They were the right ones to meet people who came to Friends as refugees from authoritarian religiosity. At the same time, we had other Friends who wanted to go door-to-door to survey spiritual needs right in our meetinghouse's neighborhood (at the time, 15th and East Main), and to throw barbecues and ice cream parties right on the church lawn to attract newcomers. I was so delighted that we had this range of approaches in the meeting, because just a few years earlier, we didn't seem to have that breadth. A new couple had begun attending who were enthusiastic about door-to-door evangelism. They were told, politely, that they might be happier at Lynn Friends Meeting further north, a church where they did those sorts of things.
The dialogue between these different approaches can be very fruitful. There's no reason not to challenge an evangelistic approach if we have doubts about it -- if, for example, it seems to rely more on theatricality than genuine testimony to experience, or on the other hand, utterly denies the place of emotion in conversion or spiritual growth (or denies that conversion is even something to be desired!).
Similarly, there's the ancient controversy over whether evangelism should emphasize the Christian basics and avoid those off-putting Quaker "peculiarities" ... or, on the contrary, should base its appeal on the power of Quakers' social testimonies (peace, equality, simplicity, and so on) to build credibility for the core message. Why choose?! Some of us are best at the first approach, others are strong advocates for the second. Their lively debates simply help to keep both groups honest, not to establish a monopoly of one approach over others.
Ten years ago I quoted George Fox on "quenching the spirit." It isn't too soon to repeat:
All Friends every where, in the living spirit, and living power, and in the heavenly light dwell, and quench not the motions of it in yourselves, nor the movings of it in others; though many have run out, and gone beyond their measures, yet many more have quenched the measure of the spirit of God, and after became dead and dull, and questioned through a false fear: and so there hath been hurt both ways. And therefore be obedient to the power of the Lord, and his spirit, and his spiritual weapons; war with that Philistine that would stop up your wells and springs. Jacob's well was in the mountain, (read that within,) he was the second birth. And the belief in the power keeps the spring open. And none to despise prophecy, neither to quench the spirit; so that all may be kept open to the spring, that every one's cup may run over.(from epistle CCLXXV, 1669)
For you may all prophesy one by one, and the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets. ‘Would all the Lord's people were prophets,’ said Moses in his time, when some found fault; but the last time is the christian's time, who enjoys the substance, Christ Jesus; and his church is called a royal priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices; and his church are his believers in his light. And so in the light every one should have something to offer; and to offer an offering in righteousness to the living God, else they are not priests; and such as quench the spirit cannot offer, but become dull. ‘I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh, in the last time,’ saith the Lord, which is the true christian's time, God's sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and old men shall dream dreams; ‘and on my servants and handmaids I will pour out of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.’ Now friends, if this be fulfilled, servants, handmaids, sons, daughters, old men, young men, every one to feel the spirit of God, by which you may see the things of God, and declare them to his praise; for with the heart man doth believe, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; first, he has it in his heart, before it comes out of his mouth: and this is beyond that brain-beaten-heady stuff, which man has long studied, about the saints' words, which the holy men of God spake forth as they were moved by the holy ghost: so the holy ghost moved them, before they came forth and spake them. And therefore, as I said before, do not resist the holy ghost...
Let all our evangelism flow from "every one's cup" running over -- but each person's testimony will always be a bit different from others, and will be suitable for a different audience. Prayer, mutual affection, and honest conflict can help ensure that, in all our different ways, we're all serving a thirsty world the same Living Water.
The New Yorker's "Postscript" on Daniel Berrigan, by Paul Elie.
Berrigan, in my opinion, was the "last of the fathers" of twentieth-century American Catholicism, the longest-surviving associate of a cohort of gifted and engaged Catholic writers, among them Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and other lesser-known figures such as the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray and John Kennedy Toole....Anton Chivchalov continues his spirited criticism of the persecutors of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.
There's a blog post that I was tempted to write but didn't and probably won't ... because these two writers have already said it... (and in the second case, rather overstated it): The Pharisee and the Trump supporter. The smug style in American liberalism.
Patricia Dallmann on the gift of Scriptures. Thanks to quakerquaker.org for the link.
Here's a peek into our classroom: Group 401's listening comprehension exam.
Because if you let him ride, he'll want to try to drive...