Introductory Note:

This article is adapted from a message Richard Foster gave to the Friends Ministers Conference in Chicago on May 5, 1985.

Renovaré Team

What is needed for a Quaker renaissance today? We need a great new experience of God.

George Fox declared, When all my hopes in them and in all people were gone, so that I had nothing out­ wardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,’ and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy!” He knew by experience that Jesus Christ is alive and here to teach His people Himself.

But what do we do? We debate if the cosmic Christ is the same as the historical Jesus. We worry about whether meetings should be programmed or unprogrammed. We debate whether open worship” should be programmed or semi-programmed and we make sure that it is kept to seven and one-half minutes. God forgive us! God save us! God heal us!

Where is our hunger and passion to come into an experience of God Himself? As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, Oh God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1 – 2, NIV) Do we thirst for God? Is there within us that longing, that hunger­ ing, that great, awful, wonderful ache to know God?

When we experience God we swing like a needle to the polestar of the Spirit. We discover serenity, unshakeable­ ness, firmness of life orientation. These experiences put fire into our words and compassion into our spirits. They fill our walk and our talk with new life and light. People can see and can feel this, and they are drawn into the joy of it.

There is a little chorus being sung these days, the first line of which states, In a new and living way Jesus comes to us today.” We must be open and receptive and prayerful that He will come today in a new and living way.

Our experience of God also needs a new sense of wor­ship. Why are our gatherings so dead, so dry, so dull? It is because we are dead, dry, and dull. Oh, we must come alive to God!

Today there is a great hunger for worship that is expressing itself in an incredible revival of liturgy. I believe history will record it as the great phenomenon of the 1980s.

The longing for liturgy has come about because people are sick and tired of human-centered worship. They are sick of preachers that run a circus — a one-man show (never a one-woman show!)- an egotistical, fleshly, one-man show. People want Christ as the center of worship. They want to see God, not human personalities, high and lifted up. Liturgical worship tries to make Christ the center of the worship experience.

What does this trend mean to us as Quakers? Historically, Quakers are the ones par excellence who have a tradition of seeking to make Christ the center of worship. He is the Real Presence, as we say. Christ is in our midst. And we must not think of this new wave of interest in liturgy as an enemy, but as a friend. People are hungry. They are longing for an experience of the Real Presence.

Let us make Christ the center of our worship. He is alive and here to teach us Himself. He is our Priest to for­ give us, our Prophet to teach us, our bishop to guide us, our King to rule us. People hunger for this experience of God and we can lead the way, but only if we have known Him by experience ourselves.

A Great New Passion for Purity

What is needed for a Quaker renaissance today? We need a great new passion for purity. Surely the experience of God will do for us what it did for Isaiah when he cried out, Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Quakers have always been known for being on the fore­ front of ethical concerns but we need a whole new move­ ment in this direction. We must stop resting on the achievements of the past. We must call for holiness of life in new and vigorous ways in both the private and the public spheres.

On the personal level we need to understand the place of the spiritual disciplines in transforming human life. Dis­ ciplines like meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, guidance, worship, and celebration are instruments of God. They place us before Him so that He can work the transformation that is so desperately needed in each of us.

We need by experience to have our affections trans­ formed. It isn’t just enough to make a public commitment. We need a tremendous upheaval of the human heart so that we love different things, we hate different things, we delight in different things, we are afraid of different things, we are made guilty by different things. We are a bundle of hopes and desires and dreams, all of which need to be revolutionized.

Also, we need to recover a true doctrine of the saints in the sense of having models of holiness. We need examples

who show us how to live and call us to the holy life. In 1493 Savanarola was preaching against the evils of the papacy, which had become quite immoral. He spoke about the early church as having chalices of wood and prelates of gold; that is, wonderful, beautiful pastors and leaders that were great models of holiness. And then he said, but now we have chalices of gold and prelates of wood.” This, of course, is the great danger if there is not within us, in our own hearts, a new passion for purity. Those among us who are leaders will get so caught up in the organizational structure, in the wonder of our sermons, in the beauty of our counseling ability, that we have chalices of gold but we are prelates of wood.

In the social arena of life we need to recover again our sense of ethical purity. If we do not have a deep passion for the poor, for simplicity, for the ways of peace we are not being faithful to the Gospel. These are not just little testimonies” that we tack on if we think it is a good idea. They are categorical imperatives we must obey.

If we are to follow Jesus Christ, we must stand in opposition to the prevailing mood of modern society and challenge and confront its idolatry. In obedience to Christ we must say no” to the greed and avarice that guarantees the poverty of others. In obedience to Christ we must say no” to the little tin gods of our modern nation-states that call us into their blasphemous intertribal wars. In obedience to Christ we must say no” to the racism and sexism that dehumanizes those for whom Christ died.

We also must speak a positive word. In obedience to Christ we must say yes” to the bruised and the broken and the poor. In obedience to Christ we must say yes” to the sanctity of life. We must be consistently pro-life. Abortion is a pro-life issue. Peace is a pro-life issue. First-World greed that guarantees Third-World starvation is a pro-life issue. We need a great new passion for purity.

A Great New Baptism of Power

What is needed for a Quaker renaissance today? We need a great new baptism of power. After all, we are Quakers and it is high time we deserved the name. We need to shake and tremble before God, and we need to see others tremble because God’s power has come upon them. Now is the time for a far greater outpouring of God’s power upon us. We all remember that the early Quakers testified that all that happened in the book of Acts was happening among them. Robert Barclay testified, When I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people, I felt a secret power among them which touched my heart. And as I gave way to it, I found the evil in me weakening and the good lifted up. Thus it was that I was knit into them and united with them. And I hungered more and more for the increase of this power and life until I could feel myself perfectly redeemed.”

However, we must remember that power demands a sufficiently prepared people. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so we need people who are willing to learn to walk with God, to become God’s friends, to engage in the ministry of small things, because these things are prior to, and in one sense more important than, the work of power. Certainly they are an essential preparation so that it is love that motivates us and not egomania. We need a great new baptism of power.

A Great New Vision of the Church

What is needed for a Quaker renaissance today? We need a great new vision of the Church. Many Quakers today are much closer to the Hindu philosopher Rata Krishna than to the great Christian tradition. Rata Krishna said true religion is essentially the private achievement of the individual won by hard effort in solitude and isolation.” This, of course, is the theology of Western individualism, but it is not a true doctrine of the Church.

We are the Body of Christ together. No religion in the world is committed to community like Christianity. Members of other faiths can go to their temples in complete isolation from other human beings, but for the Christian, worship is an intently corporate experience. Our doctrine of the Church demands a corporate witness.

There were no solitary Quakers. Friends were to bring their illumination to the congregation as a whole and their individual experiences were to be judged by the experience of the fellowship. They believed that Christ was among them and as they waited together, they received guidance. For example, there was a great tradition of meetings for clearness in which individuals who were seeking guidance would gather together a group of discerning persons to speak the corporate wisdom. The group would wait together upon the Holy Spirit for guidance about the particular concern that had been brought to them. This is a great high view of the Church.

Jesus knew how to weep. In His hour of greatest trial He sought the comfort and support of the three disciples as he went through the night in unashamed agony. How dare any of us think that we can do without the prayers of others. We need a great new vision of the Church.

A Great New Catholicity

What is needed for a Quaker renaissance today? We need a great new catholicity, a great new sense of the Church universal. Quakerism is one of the many purifying movements that has arisen in the history of the Church and, while purifying movements do many good things, they all have a tendency to become cultic and separatistic. Members of each movement claim that they are the only ones who have been faithful to God and all others are heretics. While we want to maintain the vigor of the purifying concern, we also want to confess our solidarity with all those who have sought to be faithful to Jesus Christ in the history of the Church.

We need to gain a new appreciation for those early church fathers and mothers who sought to live faithful to God. We need to gain a great appreciation for Catholic spirituality without imitating it. There are many wonderful writers and thinkers outside of Quakerism who can lead us more deeply into God and with whom we can identify, people like Augustine, Catherine of Sienna, Juliana of Norwich, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Francis of Assisi, William Law, and many, many others.

A Great New Urgency of Mission

What is needed for a Quaker renaissance today? We need a great new urgency of mission. If we’ve come into an experience of God, if we’ve known His transforming power, if we’ve experienced a purity of life, then we have an obligation to share what we have learned and what has come to us from others. We need a great evangelistic thrust in our day. Some of us can remember the old Quaker threshing meetings at which the wheat was threshed from the straw. As the wheat was being threshed, the Quakers debated in order to discover those who were really serious about the faith. They would counsel those who were not and bring them to the point of conversion and obedience to the faith.

Today, we need new threshing meetings and we need to find a context where that can happen. In the early days, of course, debates were often held in the

marketplace but today that is not a very feasible arrange­ ment. So we must ask ourselves, Where can we have thresh­ ing meetings? Perhaps radio and television talk shows are some of the best places for that.

However urgent the mission is, we must approach it in integrity, humility, and honesty. The needs are great, the questions are many: Do we realize how hungry people are? Do we realize how sick and tired and lost people are? Do we realize how desperately people are seeking for someone to love them? Do we have a God-given compassion to reach out and to throw our arms around the cities of the world?


What do we Quakers need? We need a great new experience of God. We need a great new passion for purity. We need a great new baptism of power. We need a great new vision of the Church. We need a great new catholicity. We need a great new urgency of mission. John Wesley wrote, Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God and I care not a straw whether they be clergy or laity, such alone will shake the gates of hell and establish the kingdom of heaven on earth.” 

Originally appeared June 1986 in Evangelical Friend, June 1986 (Vol. 19, No. 10).

Photo by Matt Noble on Unsplash

Text First Published May 1986 · Last Featured on August 2021