Tuesday, October 17, 2006

on recording and the spirit

In my class about the book of Acts, we talked about how the book is really not so much about the Acts of the Apostles, but has a lot more to do with the Acts of the Spirit. Luke's work (the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts) has by far the most references to spirits, and Acts has the most references to the Holy Spirit (or the Spirit of the Lord, or just the Spirit in contexts where you know he's talking about God's/Jesus' Spirit). Everywhere you look, the Spirit is sending people and telling them what to do and say. So I think Quakers, since the only language most of us can agree on is "Spirit," can learn a lot from Acts.

What I've learned so far about the Spirit in Acts that's most interesting to me is that when the Spirit is given to someone, what happens is vocal ministry. At other times after someone has received the Spirit they are led by the Spirit or that sort of thing, but the actual gift of the Spirit, in Luke's estimation, is about speaking and is recognized through speaking. It is the Spirit who gives the apostles the ability to preach the good news. The Spirit comes and people speak in tongues (sometimes in other intelligible languages, sometimes apparently the kind of "tongues" we think of in Pentecostal denominations).

I was thinking about this in reference to the Quaker practice of "recording" ministers. I don't know how many Yearly Meetings still do this, but in Northwest Yearly Meeting, people are recorded as ministers for their vocal ministry. (For anyone visiting who is not a Quaker, "recording" is about as close as we got to ordaining ministers, although it's not really the same thing at all.) Someone can be recorded for being what we might term a "weighty Friend"--someone through whom the Spirit speaks often in meetings for worship for business, or someone who is led to speak fairly often and powerfully during times of open/unprogrammed worship. Or it can be someone who is a released minister and brings a message each week in the form of a sermon. Some of our released ministers are recorded and some are not, and some who are not released are recorded as ministers.

I always thought this was an interesting practice, because we're all ministers, right? We all have gifts and perform ministries of different sorts--why do we only record those who are gifted with vocal ministry?

I still have this question, but at the same time, it makes a little more sense after studying Acts. If the sign of the presence of the Spirit is speaking, proclaiming the good news in vocal ways, then I guess the practice of recording is noting where the Spirit is at work in our midst. This is not to say that others don't "have" the Spirit, because many people exhibit the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control) that are recorded in Galatians, so apparently they are also filled with the Spirit. But perhaps there is something to our recording only those who do vocal ministry. I don't know if the Friends who came up with this concept got it from Acts or not, but if so, maybe that's why we have this peculiar tradition.

At the same time, I think it would be cool if we'd record every Friend, have everyone have a mentor and read books about Quakerism and whatever else it takes to be recorded, and they would be recorded for whatever gifts their community saw in them. This would be a really amazing record to have, and an encouraging thing for those being recorded, recognized as having gifts.

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