What This Christian Is Looking For In Quakerism
The thread I want to pick up here is the one initiated by Pam (aka earthfreak) who wrote:
I guess I just feel like there are so very many religions where you can cleave to christian doctrine, why are you a quaker??I take this question to be very important - not least because it illustrates how easily we can end up talking past each other and failing to communicate. Pam had evidently thought that the Christian "doctrine" I adhere to is pretty much the same kind of thing one can find in any non-Quaker Christian Church and I had said nothing in the original post to indicate otherwise. In a top-of-the-head first stab at a reply I said
I hope to find time within the next few days to answer with the care that the question deserves. In the meantime, I'll just say here that for some Quaker Christians, including me, the Christian "doctrine" we believe in is quite different in important respects than anything taught in the Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox Churches. The Quaker understanding of Christianity (or at least this particular Quaker's understanding of Christianity) doesn't really exist very much outside of Quakerism, which is one of the reasons some of us would so deeply regret having it disappear here too.So now the time has come try giving that promised answer "with the care the question deserves". Why do I want to be part of a Quaker Meeting, as opposed to -- for example -- a Methodist or Baptist or Catholic Church? What am I looking for in Quakerism that I don't expect to find in other Christian bodies?
My answer, I have to say, is not necessarily the same answer that other Quaker Christians might give.
So here it is: What I am looking for in Quakerism is a church in the full-bodied sense of that word as it was used by George Fox in an argument with a priest
I told him the church was the pillar and ground of truth, made up of living stones, living members, a spiritual household, which Christ was the head of; but he was not the head of a mixed multitude, or of an old house made up of lime, stones and wood.This teaching (doctrine?) of Fox's seems to have caused a near riot at the time, but Fox seemed to think it was pretty important to maintain it.
This set them all on fire. The priest came down from his pulpit, and others out of their pews, and the dispute there was marred. I went to a great inn, and there disputed the thing with the priests and professors, who were all on fire. But I maintained the true church, and the true head thereof, over their heads, till they all gave out and fled away.But instead of relying on Fox's words, let me try to explain in my words what this "church" is (and isn't) that I am seeking to be part of. It is not a purely human institution with a human hierarchy, a body of customary practices, a book of rules, a liturgy, a set of sacred rituals, etc. It is not an "association" (to use a word that Martin used that pushed my buttons) of people who decide to hang out with each other because they are good people and have been able to find something in common. Rather, it is a body of people who are so united to Christ Jesus (the "true head" that Fox referred to) and to each other that they have become one body, able as a body to serve Him and witness for Him, and to do the kind of prophetic and reconciling work (not to mention humble service) that He did in the flesh before his crucifixion and resurrection. They will do His works because they allow Him to guide them. "Doctrine" or "teaching" as such is not the point of such a community, but it's obviously a little difficult for any group to wholeheartedly serve Christ if many members aren't even sure he exists.
Notice that this kind of church community founded on the real teaching presence of Christ is not what most Christian denominations have in mind when they call themselves churches. For many churches, the "presence" of Christ is felt to center in ritual acts such as the eucharist, water baptism, etc. The authority of Christ is presumed to be something that can be handed down from generation to generation by the laying on of hands ("ordination") and to be wielded at will by the clergy or other hierarchy of the present generation. The suffering and sacrificial death of Christ is seen as a past event that we benefit from vicariously, or a ritual event that we re-enact as sacrament, rather than an ongoing reality in which we participate as the members of his body doing his work in the world. Conventional morality is preached (or isn't in some cases), but the radical demands of the Kingdom of Heaven as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount are not. This is not to say that folks in these other churches are not "real Christians", still less that they (or non-Christians for that matter) are not "saved". But it affirms that since Christ Has Come to Teach His People Himself, a far deeper experience of radical discipleship and faithfulness is possible than these other churches offer.
Of course, the question is whether the Quakerism of today can offer it either. So many of us seem to have forgotten, if we ever knew, that this was its whole purpose in the beginning. Perhaps we are no closer to its reality, despite the witness of our forebears, than any other religion or Christian denomination. Perhaps I as an individual would not really be ready to fully give myself to this full church experience if it were to become fully realized. I'm sure it's also true that such a Church will not be brought about by membership purges or Quakerism 101 classes or any other purely strategic activity by those who long for it. (In fact, I'm convinced by the history of Quakerism in the 19th century that membership purges and schisms are exactly the wrong way to go).
Nevertheless, it was from Friends history as interpreted by a few contemporaries that I first "caught" this vision, and it has been in Friends' Meetings that I have felt it surging somewhere not far beneath the surface time and time again over the years. That's what I'm looking for (and what in some small measure I actually find) in Quakerism. However short of this our actual practice may presently fall, this vision still in some sense defines what Quakerism really means as far as I'm concerned.
Perhaps I have raised more new questions than I have successfully answered. I hope people will respond and will challenge me to clarify (to the best of my ability) whatever I have obscured by my choice of words.