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.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

True ministry is like that of the apostles and primitive church.

In the final section of the 10'th proposition, Barclay sums up his thoughts on ministry with a summary statement and 5 points. I was going to quote them and then comment on each of the points in one post. When I had gotten onto the third page and had only covered his summary and the first point I realized that this was too much for one post. This will be easier for me to write. I expect it will be easier for you to read, and I hope that it will allow ample time for whatever discussion comes up from this.

This is how Robert Barclay sums up his view of Quaker ministry:

The sum then of what is said is that the ministry that we have pleaded for, and which also the Lord hath raised up among us, is in all its parts like the true ministry of the apostles and primitive Church.

This sets a very high standard for ministry within the Society of Friends, a standard that has not been uniformly attained or maintained. Barclay starts out with the audacious claim that the ministry raised up among the Quakers is equivalent to the ministry of the apostles and the primitive Christian church. A look at the history of the Valiant Sixty (the term used for the first set of people who undertook to preach Quakerism to the world at the beginning of the Quaker movement.) shows that the claim is perhaps not unjustified.

So why is it that we do not see that level of ministry being raised up among Friends today? Sometimes I have thought that somehow we are not faithful enough. If only we did something different, better or were in some way more like early Friends, we would find a radically powerful ministry being raised up among us. But when I stopped and thought about this, I realized that this is, as Barclay says in another place, “a horrid blasphemy against the power of God.” Do we really think that we are so powerful in our unbelief that we can prevent God from raising up the ministry God needs?

So does that mean that God does not need or want to raise up a vibrant prophetic ministry? God has been willing and able to do so in other times and places. It doesn't seem that that the world has reached such a state of blessedness that such a ministry is unneeded.

So maybe we are just looking in the wrong places. God usually raises up prophets from among the marginalized and downtrodden. Have we became so complacent that we are unwilling to admit that we might need to live transformed lives? Do we value our privileges so much that we have become afraid of the ability of the Inner Light to show us our faults and then transform us? Are we afraid that, like the young man who came to Jesus to find out what he must do for eternal life, we will be asked to sell everything and give it to the poor? Instead of raising up Quaker ministers, God turned to the drunks and the addicts to preach a message of a Higher Power, available to everyone, who can do what we cannot do by ourselves, which is to restore us to sanity and transform our lives. God raised up Mohandas Gandhi from out of South Africa to bring a message of peace and freedom to India. God raised up Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King to lead their people to freedom. God raised up Friends in Rwanda and Burundi and the Congo to show that the Peace Testimony means forgiving those who had massacred your family and neighbors. God is even now raising up ministers of peace in Kenya to heal and comfort the people there and to show that there is a different way.

God's prophets, including the Valiant Sixty, have come from unexpected places. Moses was a fugitive murderer with a speech impediment. David was a shepherd, Jesus a carpenter. His disciples were fishermen. George Fox was apprenticed to be a shoemaker. Mary Fisher who went and preached to the Sultan of Turkey was a serving maid. God is always raising prophets, just not from the ranks of the comfortable and privileged.

We need to be careful what we ask for. If we want God to raise a prophetic ministry among us and God raises prophets from the downtrodden, what is it that has to happen to us before such a ministry can arise? Who are the marginalized already among us who may be trying to speak to us? Before we get prophetic voices do we need prophetic ears?


Anonymous cath said...

Will, I find your post to be prophetic. :)


March 02, 2008 1:00 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

If we want God to raise a prophetic ministry among us and God raises prophets from the downtrodden, what is it that has to happen to us before such a ministry can arise? Who are the marginalized already among us who may be trying to speak to us?

Very provocative post, Will. And it also speaks to me of those of us who may be called to be allies and advocates for those who may be the prophets of our times....

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

March 03, 2008 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Friend Will,

I love the question you’ve raised, which lies close to my heart and causes me much exercise over both the state of my meeting, whose chronic blandness and evident lack of spiritual fire trouble me, and also the state of my own soul: for what should the motes in my brothers’ and sisters’ eyes tell me but to look for the beam in my own? Am I not complacent, self-indulgent, spiritually lazy myself? And yet I fear that all of us at my meeting will be weighed and found wanting, found unfit instruments for the work that God needs done in our part of the world. It's not as though there weren't a lot of work that looks like it needs doing.

You’re right, Will, to ask, “Do we really think that we are so powerful in our unbelief that we can prevent God from raising up the ministry God needs?” No, we can’t prevent the Holy One from doing whatever He/She pleases (“Is there any thing too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27). But yet we read that Jesus himself was unable to do many mighty works in his own country, because of the people’s lack of faith (Matt, 13:58, Mark 6:4), so I think we shouldn’t ignore the power that our own resistances have to squash lively, true and penetrating ministry. If we’re having a drunken party, how easy do we make it for a sober person among us to freely express sober thoughts? I think of the Parable of the Sower: if we’re stony ground, or thorns, what chance does the seed have of growing to full height?

Barclay himself says somewhere in the Apology that the same Holy Spirit that raises up ministers to minister also prepares the hearts of the minister’s hearers to receive it. If we’re not getting ministry that sounds like our Shepherd’s voice, we should be asking ourselves whether we really want our Shepherd, or are more comfortable with the hireling or the smooth-talking thief.

Thy Friend John

March 05, 2008 10:24 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Thank you.

The calling to be an ally or an advocate can also be a difficult one, as can be the calling to prepare the way for those who come after.

Friend John,
We are all imperfect instruments but God is somehow able to use us to create some beautiful music. You touch on themes that I will come back to in later posts in this series.

Blessings to all,

Will T

March 06, 2008 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Well, it seems to me that Moses wasn't originally downtrodden, since he was a prince of Egypt. Lots of princes have been murderers and gotten away with it. Moses didn't get away with it because he killed, not for the usual reasons of princes, but because his conscience was already at work on him. (Exodus 2:11-12) In other words, he embarked on the course of learning to be faithful to conscience first, and then, as his first (poorly discerned) attempt at that faithfulness, went and did something idiotic that cost him his privileges.

I'd say God raised up another prophet in Saul of Tarsus, who wasn't downtrodden at the time of his call, since he was a Pharisee, a member of the local religious ruling class, and a privileged citizen of Rome. But when God called him, he went and joined the Christians, and thereby lost his privileges.

Gandhi was highly privileged in India and South Africa, coming as he did from a wealthy family, and being a well-connected lawyer. Rosa Parks was not the first woman in Montgomery to refuse to make way for a white on the bus, but the Negro community chose to make her its cause célèbre because, unlike the previous women, she was utterly respectable. Martin Luther King, Jr., came from the highest level of Atlanta Negro aristocracy, being the son of the highly respected minister of one of the best Negro churches in town.

Isaac Penington was born wealthy and privileged, as were his protegés Thomas Ellwood, William Penn, and Robert Barclay. Taking the path of prophecy/true ministry was costly for these privileged people, just as it was for Moses and Paul, Gandhi, Parks and King. But that is what happens when we take up the cross.

I actually think this small point supports your main point in this posting, better than an argument that God gets His prophets from among the drunks and the addicts.

I can only agree when you say that letting the Inward Light convict us is a prerequisite for prophecy and true ministry. I also agree, with all my heart, when you say it requires ears to hear.

March 07, 2008 12:37 PM  
Blogger cherice said...

Will, I've been thinking a lot about this issue recently--for the last several years, but also the last week. I spoke in meeting last week about "Who is a prophet among us?" I'll try to post something on my blog about it tomorrow. But a lot of what you say deepens what I was thinking. I especially like your last question about needing "prophetic ears" before we can have prophetic voices.

I also appreciate the parts about the fact that we're no longer the persecuted ones, we're not the marginalized here in America, we're the rich and privileged. It's hard for God to get through to us because we're too comfortable. What would it look like for us to actually live in a way that God can get through to us?

I agree with John who says sometimes God "can't" act because of our unbelief--we do have a lot of power. We're told that what we bind and loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. That's quite a bit of power. God didn't have to give us that power, but did for some strange reason. We can be the Valiant 60 (or the Boring 600 who support them by staying home and taking care of financial matters, etc., as one of my f/Friends dubbed them), or we can close ourselves off to God.

I think having a prophetic voice isn't so much being amazingly spiritual or something, just living faithfully and obediently. But that's a big "just."

March 07, 2008 10:12 PM  

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