Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Blessed Community and Gospel Order: Or we as Friends must have the strength not only to act but also to believe

It is one thing to want to bring about a Blessed Community, but how as Friends do we do this? Quakers especially in the early years of the Religious Society of Friends spoke of something called gospel order. Gospel order is what Friends believed was the way God designed the world to be and the way it will be when we have succeeded in making a heaven on earth, where everything will exist in a state of God’s grace. However as we are human we have strayed from the right order of things. Friend originally practiced living with the testimonies and following callings in an attempt to rediscover that gospel order and place it once more in their lives. As Lloyd Lee Wilson writes “ for early Friends to admonish one another to keep to the gospel order, therefore, was to remind themselves that they were citizens of the Kingdom of God, not a worldly government, and should act accordingly.” However, in recent years the term gospel order has become almost unused by Friends, especially among the liberal unprogramed tradition of which I am a part. To these meeting I would pose several questions. Do Friends still work in the spirit of gospel order? Do Friends still work in the light of the Spirit? Do we as Friends know the answers to these questions and most importantly do we, as a community, have the strength to ask them? It is one thing to say that “I work for change in the world because I feel it is a good and righteous thing to do”, but it is very different to say “I work for change in the world because I feel called by the light of God to do so, for she wishes us to create a good and righteous world in her name.” I would argue that there are two differences between these two statements, first one makes you a good person and the other makes you a Quaker, and second it is comparatively easy to say one while the other would, I can imagine, be extremely difficult for most liberal Friends to admit. To live in gospel order, however, we must admit that we are in fact living in gospel order. What will become of Friends if we cannot admit acting in the name and will of God even to ourselves personally and one another, as a community. Most Friends are worried that admitting to the religious aspect of our religion will discriminate against those who do not believe in God yet attend meetings, that if we even personally admit to a deeper more spirit-led understanding of Quakerism we will lose the openness and respect for diversity we cherish. The question I would ask is, do we really lose our respect for diversity when we admit we live in the grace of a loving God? And what are we giving up by denying everything religious. If we deny the fact that as Quakers we are led by God then we can not believe in gospel order which is the reason why we strive, as Quakers, for Blessed Community in the first place. Do we as Friends truly believe we become bad people when we teach our children the Bible, or mention God’s Grace or the spirit of Christ in our messages? How timid we’ve become. Isn’t it time to ask what would George Fox do?
I do not charge Friends with not holding to Quaker principals, or not sincerely wanting to change the world and make it a better place. I am concerned, however, by a spiritual dullness I have sensed in many meeting. I am equally concerned by Friends inability to educate the children of the meeting and seekers about Quakerism as a religion and a faith rather then a philosophy or a nice way to live one's life. Quakerism is and has always been so much richer, so much more then a philosophy, we are not just a community, but a spiritual community of believers. I worry we have forgotten this. Early Friends believed that God had called on them to return gospel order to the world. I am afraid and saddened by the thought that modern Friends have lost the passion and fire that came to those early Friends. I know that thinking about, and most importantly standing up and saying, that we are called by God to create the Blessed Community can seem intimidating and overwhelming some times. I will admit to any one who asks that I am routinely intimidated and overwhelmed. After all I am only one young college student what can I possibly do to make a heaven on earth? In is part of my faith journey however, I must simply trust in God, I will live my life in grace as best I can, and understand that some time I will make mistakes and I will not always live up to the gospel order of things, however I know that step by step we will get there. However, I also know we will never get there until we know how to step forward. We as Friends must learn to let go of our fear, and let the spirit guide us.

24 comments:

Divine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AWill said...

Being raised in the heart of liberal Quakerism must indeed pose challenges to a young Friend who wishes to center her life in God. I'm an outsider as well, not to Quakerism, but to the youth culture of east coast liberal Friends. But I sense that the youth community feels the testimonies are the beginning and end of Quakerism, not the fruits of faith as you seem to see them. I've heard from young Friends that there is an overwhelming hostilty toward religion in general and Christianity in specific present at many gatherings of YF. Talking of Peace is OK, but talking of God is suspect.

Is that your experience? Is that the background to your observations in this post?

Anna said...

Thank you both for your comments. I too hope for Friends to reconnect and grow strong under a more complex understand of ourselves as a religious community. As for my background to the writing I do, I have been an attender to a unprogramed east cost liberal meeting since I was six, I have attended youth gathering in the New York Yearly Meeting area all through high school. As I studied Quaker writings and Christian theology I became convinced I belonged to a Christian Quaker tradition. Yet as awill says, young adults in the east coast liberal tradition are very hostel and unfriendly towards Christian thought or even "God talk" of any kind. Many adult members of the east coast unprogramed liberal tradition are also hostel towards a more religious interpretation of Quakerism. Since a large number of these Friends have come from other religious backgrounds and wish only to see Quakerism as consisting of the testimonies alone. Most of what I write is aimed that the dilemma I face within the liberal unprogramed tradition I was raised in, and my hope for change within that tradition and Quakerism as a whole.

Peace and Joy
Anna

Divine Joan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz Opp said...

Hi, Anna--

Thanks for visiting The Good Raised Up recently; I thought I should repay the favor and stop by!

You write, in part:

"I am concerned, however, by a spiritual dullness I have sensed in many meeting. I am equally concerned by Friends inability to educate the children of the meeting and seekers about Quakerism as a religion and a faith rather then a philosophy or a nice way to live one's life."

This is part of the concern I find myself carrying within the monthly meeting where I live, and other Friendly places where I travel, though I frame it differently. I talk about it as having a concern for how we convey our faith to one another (e.g. to newcomers as well as to young families) and how we sustain who we are as Friends. I think the concern is now beginning to encompass the question of what to do to ward off American individualism, when Quakerism as a faith tradition is dependent on a variety of corporate experiences...

I hope you'll keep writing and keep wrestling.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Richard58 said...

I truly believe that for Quakers to be a growing and vibrant religion that we must get back to our spiritual roots.
I am from Pa and we have "God talk" in our meetings and no one seems hostile towards religion. However I will say that most of our "God talk" does not center around Jesus or the Bible. More often than not members will talk about "the Spirit" or "the Light" when talking about God.
As a Christian Quaker I suppose I should be grateful after hearing how some meetings are very hostile towards even the mention of God!
But it saddens me that it has come to this. After all we are the RELIGIOUS Society of Friends. Our founders were devout Christians. So why are so many liberal Quakers hostile towards God talk? Personally I think it is because they associate God talk with right-wing fundamentalist Christianity.
(As if the Fundies have a monopoly on it or something!) Even though nothing could be more further from the truth it still causes many liberal Quakers to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I do see a movement back towards being more comfortable with God talk but it will require people like myself being bold in speaking about what God has placed on my heart. And even more than words being a good example is a great way to get those who are hostile towards religion to see what a positive force God is in our lives.
So do not despair! God is in control and I truly believe that things will change for the better.

Lovin' Life Liz said...

Just wanted to welcome another young friend to the blog community!

forrest said...

Thee is hasty, might want to spend a little more time rereading your own posts for glitches. (I'm obsessive about that, used to be an editor and I still miss things. Sometimes checekd [see!] everything & still mispelled the banner headline.)

Anyway, I would like anyone of your interests to please start taking part over at http://kwakerskripturestudy.blogspot.com/

There aren't enough of us. And I find picking at scripture a good way into the sort of questions you're raising. Not looking for the answers in the back of the book, but sharing a clue or two on how we should work the problems.
(You might prefer some other way to put this?)

"We must not worry. Only one worry is permissible; a man should worry because he is worrying." (Martin Buber) I and many others have shared some of your concerns for the Society of Friends--so I can't deny your observations. But I don't think we need so much to "live up to gospel order," as simply to live within it. Someone who wants a nice little church to bring the children to does it one way; someone else on fire to know God better will naturally find this unsatisfactory, but God is patient with both.

RichardM said...

Good to have you participating in the Quaker blogosphere. As you start reading more of other people's posts in quakerquaker you will find that there is a pretty healthy conservative presence and many Friends who share your concern.

You might also like to know that I know Lloyd Lee Wilson and know that he reads the posts on quakerquaker though he usually doesn't add his comments. He will appreciate that you've read his book.

anj said...

Anna- As a new Friend in NYYM, and a Christian one, I, too, have struggled with the issues you raised. My husband and I have home church time with our three teenage sons, before we attend meeting, so that we can teach them and train them of Gospel order and the faith which undergirds the testimony. At the same time, it is the richness and depth of meeting for worship and business meeting which calls us home to Quaker meeting. In our home meeting, the Spirit is strong, and our christian faith language is accepted. It can, however, be difficult ot worship with other meetings where we feel patted on the head and told, in so many words, that when we evolve further as spiritual beings we will not need the crutch of christianity. How I long for the faith and the practice to reunite! Thank you for writing- I look forward to reading much more from you.l

Anna said...

First off thanks to everyone who as posted.

Thank you all for the warm welcomes. Second on the subject of my editing abilities, I am extremely learning disabled and all though it doesn’t hold me back in may areas anymore I still can not copy edit my own work. I have no idea why my brain refuses to do this function it just doesn’t, so I hope everyone who reads my blog has a little patience with my bad spelling and editing errors :~). To richardm, I am a big fan of Lloyd Lee Wilson’s Quaker Vision of Gospel Order and the thought that he might read my blog is very exiting to me. I hope every one keeps reading and I will try to post more even though I am now back in school and should be busier.

llw said...

Yes, I do lurk here and there in the blogosphere. Be bold for the Truth!

Blessings,

--llw

Anonymous said...

I am a newbie to this forum and hope to learn and chime in at times.

Thanks,

Ron


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Jane said...

I have just returned home after a weekend spent with approximately 70 Area Meeting Clerks at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham, UK. 'God Talk' was freely used and we also considered Gospel Order, a phrase coined by George Fox and integral to the lives of early Friends. I am completely comfortable with "God Speak' and saddened that people attracted to Quakers by our 'works' try to dilute the place from whence the 'works' come. In his seminal work Living in Faith, Wil Cooper says of the historic roots of Gospel Order: “Gospel order meant decision making by the group (or meeting) acting in obedience to Christ.” He quotes Doug Gwyn, former director of Woodbrooke Institute, a Friends study center in England, and, today, pastor of Richmond First Friends Church in Richmond, Indiana, as saying that Gospel Order is a “Quaker discipline of waiting for the Lord’s guidance and teaching which represents a focused effort to be open to divine structuring in the life of the meeting and it’s members.” Gospel Order, that includes the individuals response to the livig Christ within, the life of the Meeting that should reflect the love of God and the coming together in unity together with the prophetic witness often expressed through our testimonies still remains the core of our Quaker Faith.

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