Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Barclay and the Church

Proposition 10 in Barclay's Apology deals with ministry. But before he goes into his elaboration on that subject he spends some time talking about the church. He says that before he talks about offices of the church he should say something about the church in general. Barclay defines the church as “the society, gathering, or company of such as God hath called out of the world and worldly spirit, to walk in his Light and Life.” This includes not just those still alive but also those who “having already laid down the earthly tabernacle are passed into their heavenly mansions.” This is the one universal church made up of “as many, of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue or people they be (though outwardly strangers and remote from those who profess Christ and Christianity in words and have the benefit of the Scriptures), as become obedient to the holy Light and testimony of God in their hearts, so as to become sanctified by it and cleansed from the evils of their ways.” This universal church is the Body of Christ.

In addition to this universal church there is also the “particular” church. This is made up of “a certain number of persons gathered by God's Spirit, and by the testimony of some of his servants raised up for that end, unto the belief of the true principles and doctrines of the Christian faith, who through their hearts being united by the same love, and their understandings informed in the same truths, gather, meet, and assemble together to wait upon God, to worship him, and to bear a joint testimony for the Truth against error; suffering for the same; and so becoming through this fellowship as one family and household in certain respects, do each of them watch over, teach, instruct and care for one another, according to their several measures and attainments.”

The inward calling of God and the turning of the heart to righteousness is required for membership in the particular church just as much as it is required for membership in the universal church. But in addition, membership in the particular church requires outward profession of their faith. For Barclay, this faith is a “belief in Jesus Christ and those holy truths delivered by his Spirit in Scripture.” According to Barclay, it is due to the work of the devil, this has become twisted so that some Christians claim that one cannot become part of the universal church without outward profession of belief and that with the right rituals and confessions, one can enter the Church of Christ while still inwardly unreformed.

I don't know that I would go so far as Barclay and ascribe the current confusion among Friends to the work of the Devil, but part of the problem is a confusion between the two churches. Liberal Friends have taken the idea that one can belong to the universal church regardless of their religious beliefs and apply that to questions of membership in their particular church, or in this case, monthly meeting. Likewise, when other Friends advocate the Richmond Declaration as a statement of faith, Liberals hear it as a statement that if you cannot accept this statement, you cannot be acceptable to God and cannot be part of the universal church.

The particular church (and that could be a denomination or a congregation) is a subset of the universal church where people have been gathered together to worship together and to provide each other with support and guidance as they attempt to live out the implications of their faith. For any particular church, there needs to be a certain degree of unity of faith or experience so that the body can make an outward profession of their faith. It finds unity in “their hearts being united by the same love, and their understandings informed in the same truths.” Many liberal meetings are not easy exploring whether their understandings are indeed informed by the same truths. They claim to be united by the same love, but sometimes it appears to be acceptance of those who share certain unspoken social, cultural and political norms. On the other hand, there are also Friends who are so concerned about insuring that all are informed by the same truths that they ignore the need to be united in the same love. There is a dynamic tension between these two requirements. It has always been a challenge to find the right balance between being loving and accepting of all the tender-hearted and of having enough coherence of belief that the community can speak with one voice on matters of importance. The history of Friends in the last two centuries is full of our failures to find that balance.

Last weekend I was at a meeting of the FUM General Board. Since its founding, FUM has been marked by an ongoing struggle between its liberal and its evangelical factions. This struggle has been very present in the organization lately and both sides take it very seriously. At this meeting I saw the whole struggle in a different light. We are brothers and sisters in Christ and we are acting like it. Not in the pious loving terms we usually think when we think of brothers and sisters in Christ. No, we are acting like siblings who are on a long journey sitting in the back seat of the car. “She's touching me.” “He's looking at me. Make him stop.” “Are we there yet?” Do we really think that God only loves our faction? Are we afraid that God loves the other faction more? Is there a limit on the love of God so we have to struggle to get our share?

Barclay says that the church is made up of those whom God has “called out of the world and worldly spirit, to walk in his Light and Life.” When we consider people for membership, do we consider if their association with Friends has made a difference in their lives? I have been told that Cuban Friends make new attenders at their churches wait for a year or two before they can become members. In that time they expect to see positive changes in that person's life and behavior. If they don't see that, they cannot join.

In the earliest period of Quakerism, there was no such thing as membership. One became known as a Friend because your language, wardrobe and behavior changed. These days the changes would be more subtle. What changes would you expect to see in someone becoming a Quaker?

Will T


Anonymous cath said...

Since language and wardrobe are no longer specific issues, and since IMHO there is no one outward sign by which we can judge a person's interior relationship with God or the Spirit--wouldn't we just be adding a layer of potential posturing to a requirement to become a member of a Meeting.

I think the Clearness process is good and functions at its best when the members of the committee are truly committed to listening for the promptings of the Spirit and to helping the person who is seeking to understand the nature of his/her search.


February 16, 2008 12:07 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

I wasn't thinking of one outward sign by which to judge a person's relationship with God. But if one has come to a closer and deeper relationship with God, isn't it reasonable to expect that this would show up in our outward lives in some way?

For me there are two very concrete things that I do as a result of being a Quaker. I do not take oaths in court, which came up when I was called for jury duty, or oaths of office, which came up when I was elected to our representative town meeting. In both cases I made an affirmation. The other thing is that I do not even apply for any job that requires a security clearance. As a software engineer that restricts the jobs I consider and in my current job it has made a difference in the assignments I am willing to accept.

I do not mean that everyone needs to draw the same lines that I do. But it still is an interesting question for a membership clearness committee, "How has becoming a Quaker changed your life?"

Will T

February 16, 2008 5:43 PM  
Anonymous cath said...

I see your point, Will, but think about this: A person who already leads a peaceful, simple life and feels uncomfortable with oaths and etc. finds a Quaker Meeting and has one of those "You may be a Friend without knowing it" moments.

Or suppose that a person is working on spiritual meaning, has been working on it for a long time and then finds the Quakers and comes to understand that s/he has found people with whom there is a lot of spiritual common ground.

How do these people show outwardly what they are experiencing inwardly?

It would be difficult. In fact, I think we might just have to get to know the person and then take their word for it.

And I also think we have to guard ourselves from thinking that coming into fellowship or membership with Friends will create an obvious and (we assume) good change in the *person*, rather than the other way around.

The Meeting may well do the changing with the arrival of a newcomer. ;)


February 16, 2008 6:51 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

I have been thinking about your last comment and I realize that there are some real differences in how different Friends think about where new Quakers come from. Most liberal Friends seem to expect that the normal sort of newcomer to Friends is someone who has been on a spiritual journey and comes to a meeting and says, "I am home." In some ways they have become a Friend before even knowing about Friends.

Cuban Friends on the other hand, do more to go out and bring new people into their meetings, people who may not be living very spiritual lives before they came to their Friends church. In part, this is because the Cuban churches were founded my missionaries and that has influenced them in many ways. For instance, all the Cuban churches are in the middle of their towns, often on a central square. They want people to know they are there.

One of the changes that they look for is that the person has stopped drinking. They expect some kind of conversion experience and they want to see the conversion bearing fruit.

It is just a very different view of who the target audience for Quakerism is.

Will T

February 19, 2008 8:52 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

I very much like this post, Will, and it's good for me to read you again, now that my life has a bit more time for me to do so.

I would add to the conversation, and particularly in response to Cath, that even the most experienced Friends, including those who are members, ought to be continuing to grow in the Light, to live up to their measure of Light even as more is Given unto them.

And I would think that that growth would be made transparent somehow to the meeting: a change in vocal ministry; a different response to dear Friend-who-is-a-thorn-in-one's-side at a business session; a shift in activity, say, from working in a soup kitchen to providing eldership to those who are younger in ministry...

There are subtle and not-so-subtle pieces of evidence that demonstrate we are continuing to be transformed by the Power over all, that we are being brought low in our yearning to be obedient.

It is not all about resisting secular authorities or making choices in the legal system. But in order to know the changes and conversion of manners that our fellow worshipers go through, we must be willing to come to know one another more deeply and whole-ly, in That Which Is Eternal; not just through worshiping together.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

February 26, 2008 6:35 PM  
Blogger John K. said...


I was more intrigued by the earlier part of your post, where you highlighted the perennial Friends problem of striking the right balance between acknowledging the universality of the church but also our calling to live out our faith in particular communities that are meaningfully united.

This problem is illustrated for me by the fact that I find myself in serious disagreement with the public position on abortion stated by Illinois Yearly Meeting, of which my monthly meeting is a member. The statement clearly doesn't speak my mind, and yet isn't the point of such declarations precisely to witness publicly to what the Friends who comprise that Meeting presumably believe? Should I have taken that into account when I applied for membership a little less than two years ago? At the time, however, I wasn't aware of this public statement.

To my mind, this kind of situation argues for more circumspection in making unnecessary collective statements like this. Rather, it seems we should concentrate on letting our lives speak. I would think that more than a few members of meetings that make up Illinois Yearly Meeting would have a similar discomfort to mine with this statement if they were aware of it, though I presume that a majority of my fellow Quakers in Illinois Yearly Meeting probably wouldn't have a problem with it.

It's not that I would press for or even prefer a collective statement that says something contrary to the current statement. I'd prefer no statement at all, or something that was carefully worded that urges people on to the best that is in them, that perhaps cautions against unjust judgments and uncharitableness, but that refrains from appearing to condone abortion morally. I don't know if such a statement could be written, that would satisfy everybody, which if that is the case is why I would prefer no statement at all.

I recognize that this attitude might be perceived as a potential hindrance to Quaker organizations' sense of identity and ability to move forward with one voice. But I'm reminded of Albert Jay Nock's finding the essence of conservatism in these words of some worthy British politician: "Mr. Speaker, when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." Everything depends on one's estimation of "necessity" in the case at hand. I wonder whether it's really necessary for Friends to have collective public statements like Illinois Yearly Meeting's statement on abortion. It seems rather that our true witness and testimony in the world should grow organically out of the kinds of things individual Friends are led to involve themselves in. If many Friends tend to involve themselves in a particular cause, Friends might grow to become associated with that cause in the minds of the public, and that's as it should be. It still doesn't seem to point to the need for creeds and collective statements.

On the other hand, I wonder if such collective statements aren't perhaps even more problematic when uttered by larger umbrella organizations like FUM or the Yearly Meetings, than they would be if uttered by a monthly meeting. Certainly the Yearly Meetings need some unifying principles, but it seems such principles should themselves be limited in number and extent by the principle of necessity, and by our proper aversion to creeds. I'm admittedly pretty new to Quakerism, and am not familiar with the typical structures of Quaker organization, but it seems to me that the bottom-up model and way of looking at things recommends itself as the best, and it's my understanding that that's the way things essentially are in Quakerism. If my monthly Quaker meeting felt led to collectively make a statement about abortion like Illinois Yearly Meeting's or to engage collectively in activism consistent with the same, that wouldn't be so bad, because I presumably would be able to directly participate in the discernment process, would be able to stand aside from the sense of the meeting if it came to that, and if I felt strongly enough about it would be able to disassociate myself from that monthly meeting to find another. All those things become much harder in the context of a Yearly Meeting.

February 27, 2008 2:13 AM  
Anonymous cath said...

Liz--I was not directing my remarks to the idea that a person's (or Friend's) growth in faith should be visible. Most often it is. Anyone's faith development is going to gradually reveal itself to others.

However, when Will says:

"In the earliest period of Quakerism, there was no such thing as membership. One became known as a Friend because your language, wardrobe and behavior changed. These days the changes would be more subtle. What changes would you expect to see in someone becoming a Quaker?"

I feel he is implying that upon discovering the Quaker faith and becoming a member or regular attender there ought to be an outward sign of change at that time. I don't think this is a reasonable expectation.

I know far to many people who did not have an immediate outward change when they came to us--but as they grew in faith (and as they might have grown in faith somewhere else if led there) they changed.

Now, in some churches, people are expected to stop dancing, going to movies, cutting their hair, etc. But we have mostly given up those kinds of requirements.

Do I don't expect to see a change in a person simply because s/he becomes a member of a Meeting.

I do expect to see changes in all of us as we grow.


February 27, 2008 7:16 AM  
Anonymous cath said...

a p.s. to the comment I just now posted.

A person might well start affirming instead of swearing, saying "First Day" instead of Sunday, etc. all for the sake of fitting in. They would be empty gestures, not indices of growth in faith.

I think we are on a slippery slope any time we start assessing people's inner lives based on preconceived notions of what their outer lives should look like in terms of Quaker distinctives. Why, just the other day, I referred to the clerk of my committee as the "chair" of my committee. Does that make me less spiritually advanced in my Quaker faith?


February 27, 2008 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to wonder what the point of formal "membership" is? Would not all the questions raised be answered if "membership" consisted simply in participating openly in the community? Why would anything else be required?

In His Love,
Nate Swift

February 27, 2008 12:04 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I don't know if I've said this already--but I'm really enjoying this series of posts, Will, reflecting on Barclay and how you see his ideas reflected in Friends practices today. (I especially appreciate it because I find Barclay awfully dense and hard to read. I must plead guilty to abandoning him pretty quickly when I tried reading him for myself last summer!)

I am very definitely aware of changes in myself since becoming a Friend. And, though I did have something like the liberal Quaker experience Will describes--having been on a journey and discovered that I was "home" among Friends--I also find that some of the concerns I was only dimly aware of earlier in my life have become much clearer for me.

Oath-taking is one example. I always had a niggling feeling of wrongness about oath-taking, which caused no end of trouble when it came time to initiate into the tradition of Wicca my husband and I practice together. Setting aside for a moment the difficulties many Quakers have with my extreme heterodoxy around Pagan and Quaker theology, I will say that, since becoming a Quaker, my concern around oaths has become a clear stop. I won't take them and I won't ask them of others--which means I no longer teach in that Wiccan tradition, not for theological reasons, but because I took a long ago oath not to, except where I administered an oath to the student. So, without ever looking at the theology, that door is now simply closed to me (as are a number of others within the Pagan community, where oaths and secrecy are taken quite seriously and often employed.)

That's a superficial example, but it's one that I can point to that's clear enough to see from the outside. The inner transformations, having more to do with increased patience, peacefulness, and empathy, are tougher to measure... though probably of greater weight.

As Liz says, I do think that we ought to be looking for ongoing transformation all our lives, as our relationship with God and our ability to listen to and follow those leadings deepens over time.

February 27, 2008 8:39 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

I can appreciate the problems you have with Illinois YM's position on abortion. It is not uncommon for people to be in such a position. Depending on where the weight in a given yearly meeting falls, this can happen on different sides of controversial issues.

I cannot speak to how this statement came to be adopted by IYM but I can speak to what I have seen in New England YM. There are some Friends who are prone to bringing such statements to Friends organizations to get them to approved. It seems to me that they are often approaching this as a political, rather than a religious issue. By getting a Friends body to adopt a statement in favor of whatever issue is exercising them, and even better if they can get the body to agree to have the statement mailed to the appropriate public officials, they think that they have accomplished something. The more I have seen this happen, the more I see it as a waste of the bodies time. The statement will usually be quickly forgotten.

The best kind of statement comes to the Yearly Meeting from the exercise of a Monthly Meeting that has worked with an issue and come to unity themselves on it and only then has brought it to through the Quarterly Meetings to the Yearly Meeting. If it is staking out a new postion (and not just reaffirming one of the traditional testimonies) it should be considered and sent back to the other meetings in the Yearly Meeting for consideration before coming back for consideration by the yearly meeting.

The reason for this is that the strength of Friends testimonies is not the skill with which the words are crafted. The strength of them is the degree that our lives give witness to our beliefs. It is only by having Friends seriously grapple with an issue can they come to own and understand it enough for it to show in a changed life.

For the last several years, NEYM has been deeply exercised by our support for FUM and our disapproval of the sexual ethics portion of the FUM personnel policy. At sessions last summer we came to the point of recognizing that before we can bring these issues to FUM, we need to examine and consider where we are on these issues. One of the things we committed ourselves to do was to begin a process of examining where Friends in New England stand on the general issues of sexual ethics. It came up in the context of our relationship with FUM but for years our Young Friends have been asking, in a number of ways, if we, the adults, could give them some guidance in this area.

The second question that was sent out was a minute that came to the Yearly Meeting several years ago from one of the Quarters concerning same-sex marriage. This is a subject that many, but not all, of the meetings have considered already. Meetings have come to a number of different positions over the past 10 or 15 years so this renewed seeking together is important. This also allows people to be involved in the discernment even if they do not attend yearly meeting sessions.

Whatever happens as a result of these efforts - and they may easily be a multi-year effort - will not be adopted and forgotten. Because of the breadth of the involvement this has the potential to, in some way, soak into the very fabric of the Yearly Meeting.

Will T

February 28, 2008 9:26 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

As I see it, formal membership in a meeting is, as much as anything else, a statement of commitment. I have heard people refer to it as the difference between living together and getting married. It is saying that I am committing myself to continue on my spiritual journey with this specific community of people. One cannot become a member of the Society of Friends in general. One can only join a specific meeting. You are not just saying that you will support the meeting financially and undertake to do your share of the work of the meeting, you are also saying that you are willing to hold your life accountable to the meeting. You are willing to seek the discernment of the meeting when testing a leading, for instance.

The membership process also provides an opportunity for you to discuss your spiritual journey with your membership clearness committee. This often leads to their sharing part of their journeys with you as well. This process of consciously considering your spiritual condition and if this is where you belong is often helpful in itself. Sharing this with members of the community also helps to draw you further into the community as well. And then, in many meetings, after you have joined, you will be invited to a welcoming dinner with some members of the meeting so you have another chance to get to know people better.


February 28, 2008 9:43 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

I am not saying that one's life should change because one joins a meeting. What I am saying is that as one develops a relationship with the Christ within (or substitute your metaphor of choice) it should make a change in one's outward life. I know that one can adopt Quaker distinctives just to fit in. Most Friends dropped plain speech and plain dress in the latter 19th century precisely because they felt that they had become empty forms.

Jesus said that not all who said to him "Lord, Lord" were his followers, that you could tell His followers by the fruit that they bore. I had asked my question in the hope of a discussion of what Quaker fruit might look like today.
Instead we have had a very different discussion. One of the joys of writing a blog is to see where people go with what you say. The unexpected journeys are often the most interesting.

Blessings to you,


February 28, 2008 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Will,
My Meeting second hour group
is reading the book
Holy Silence by J Brent Bill.
His thesis is, communion with the Spirit in silent worship it the core of the Quaker experience.
He says about Quaker Worship and Holy Silence, “. The only thing I can compare it to is the Catholic belief that in the “celebration of Mass. . .Christ is really pres- ent through Holy Communion to the assembly gathered in his name.” It is the same way with silence for Quakers. Friends believe that Christ is actually present — except we Friends have no host to elevate or priest to preside. Rather, we believe that when our hearts, minds, and souls are still, and we wait expectantly in holy silence, that the presence of Christ comes among us.‘’

Friend Bill speaks my mind!

I also love this because it puts Quakers in relationship with other sacramental Christians.

Paul Ricketts
High Church Friend

March 02, 2008 4:16 PM  

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