What is need­ed for a Quak­er renais­sance today? We need a great new vision of the Church. It is com­plete­ly pos­si­ble to have a high doc­trine of the Church with­out being high church.

My plea is that we once again rec­og­nize a high doc­trine of the Church. In terms of poli­ty we are a con­nec­tion­al fel­low­ship. We need each oth­er and we need the Church. The Church has two sides to it — the divine side and the human side — and our frus­tra­tions with the human side of the Church must nev­er blind us to its divine side. In fact, I think we have lost one of the great fem­i­nine sym­bols of the faith — the Church as the bride of Christ, the Church as the moth­er of the faith­ful, the Church as the holy moth­er. Many Quak­ers today are much clos­er to the Hin­du philoso­pher Rata Krish­na than to the 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. We do not sing or pray or wor­ship in iso­la­tion. No, we do it togeth­er. We need each oth­er. We are absolute­ly inter­de­pen­dent. Our doc­trine of the Church demands a cor­po­rate wit­ness. We are the Body of Christ together.

The apos­tle Paul com­pared our inter­con­nect­ed­ness to the human body. The eye can­not say to the foot, I don’t need you,” and the foot can­not tell the eye to bug off. Now the foot could find plen­ty to com­plain about. What a dirty deal. The eye gets to see every­thing — beau­ti­ful moun­tains, col­ors every­where — but here I am in this smelly old shoe. It’s dark, hot, dusty and all I get is athlete’s foot!” But if we were one gigan­tic eye, we would not have a func­tion­ing body. The eye needs the foot and the foot needs the eye. If we were all feet, we might get some­place but we would nev­er know it because we’d be bang­ing into every­thing everywhere.

It was this high view of the Church that kept the ear­ly Quak­ers from the crazi­ness of many of the oth­er purifi­ca­tion move­ments dur­ing the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry. There were the Mug­gle­to­ni­ans and the Fifth Monar­chy men and the Ranters who, along with the Quak­ers, all believed in per­son­al rev­e­la­tion. But as the move­ments took hold, beliefs shift­ed from per­son­al illu­mi­na­tion to holy baloney. One man said he was a Christ and anoth­er man said he was a prophet, but the Quak­ers escaped these excess­es because all inspi­ra­tion was judged by the body of believers. 

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. They believed that Christ was the leader of their wor­ship, their busi­ness, all that they were, and all that they were about. 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.

We need a whole new explo­sion of a pow­er­ful itin­er­ant min­istry that is appro­pri­ate for today. The itin­er­ant min­istry must be specif­i­cal­ly pow­er­ful” because just going around and being friend­ly to each oth­er will not do the job. We need to wait upon God, to seek God’s face, to seek God’s empow­er­ing, and then to go out under the exer­cis­ing of that power. 

We need a greater inter­re­lat­ed­ness between our lead­ers and our peo­ple so that we can avoid the grand and dan­ger­ous­ly debil­i­tat­ing iso­la­tion that plagues so many of us. Peo­ple need to know that we hurt and that we need their help and that we need their prayer. It has always been such a help for me to encour­age peo­ple to come to my office and to pray for me. How­ev­er, I don’t want them to feel that the only time they can come to my office is when they have some deep need or try­ing prob­lem or when they are angry or upset. They must feel. wel­come when things are going very well and feel free to just slip in and give me a lit­tle boost­er shot” of prayer. It doesn’t take more than a few min­utes, but it lets them know that they are spe­cial to me and that they can help me. This is not meant as a put on. It is meant deeply. I des­per­ate­ly need their prayers. There have been many times, times just recent­ly, when some­one would drop in for a few moments right at the time when I need­ed it the most. No one can feel lone­ly and iso­lat­ed when sur­round­ed by a mighty avalanche of prayer.

Yes, peo­ple need to sense our con­fi­dence and our spir­it of author­i­ty, but they also need to know us in our frailty and our fear. They need to know that we hurt, too. This reli­gion of the stiff upper lip is not the way of Christ: I am a rock, I am an island. We must remem­ber that a rock nev­er cries and an island stands alone. Jesus knew how to weep. In his hour of great­est tri­al he sought the com­fort and sup­port of the Three as he went through the night in unashamed agony. Most often our stiff upper lip reli­gion is not a sign of piety, but of arro­gance. Peo­ple are priests to us when they pray for us. How dare we think that we can do with­out their prayers. We need a great new vision of the Church. 

Originally published May 1986

Starting Soon: The 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion not just infor­ma­tion. Runs Sep­tem­ber 2020 through May 2021.

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