Wednesday, October 13, 2010

worship reflection: prophecy from gurneyites?

Stan's message in worship this week gave a powerful sense of permission for people to listen to God and to speak what they hear prophetically. He began from the story of Moses first receiving a call to go to Pharaoh and ask for the release of the Israelites from Egypt, highlighting the fact that Moses wasn't exactly a member of high standing in the Hebrew community. He'd been raised as an Egyptian, he killed a man, and then he spent a number of years in Midian as an obscure shepherd. So really, Moses was probably more afraid of presuming to be the spokesperson for the Israelites than he was to go before Pharaoh. This was in some ways a recurring story throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: the people cried out, God heard them and, in God's own timing, sent a prophet to speak out about the situation, to call out against injustice and to restore Israel to attendance to God. Generally prophets speak not only against “the enemy,” whomever that might be, but they also note that something must change among the chosen people as well—which is never an easy message to give.

After discussing Moses and the role of prophets for a little while, Stan connected this with Friends: in the seventeenth century, Quakers felt called to call Christians away from empty, self-serving rituals into authentic worship—worship that expects to hear from God, and worshipers who expect to act on what they hear. They also felt called to mitigate suffering: to be obedient to God by helping those in need. This called into question the value system of the culture in which they lived, and also the “church” of their day. Christians had become enslaved to the system that oppressed people, and in many instances oppressed them. And yet, most Christians weren't asking for an escape from the system—they were asking to be successful within it. Quakers lived in a way that called that system into question, in a way that emphasized radical equality and love for neighbors and enemies.

As Friends we've had our own problems historically, of course: many early Friends profited from slave labor, and Friends became at least as legalistic as the Anglicans and Puritans their forbears spoke against, with Books of Discipline, elders and overseers controlling people's dress codes and associations, and so forth. At times, prophets have arisen from our Quaker communities and after a time we have listened: John Woolman spoke out against slavery and Friends gave up their slaves.

Stan suggested that Friends lost their prophetic voice during the period of Quietism, so that in the nineteenth century when all the splits happened between Gurneyites, Wilburites, Hicksites, Beanites, and probably some other -ites I'm not thinking of right now, there was no one to speak prophetically and keep those splits from happening. He sees the twentieth century as a time of renewed prophetic voice among Friends, as people have called out against the splits and tried to heal those broken places through organizations such as FWCC.

I think this is true to some degree, except I think there were plenty of people who did speak out against the splits at the time but weren't listened to. I think also there were tons of people listening to God and speaking prophetically among Friends in the nineteenth century—they were perhaps so wrapped up in helping with the abolition and women's rights movements, among others, that they didn't have time or energy to keep the splits from happening internally. Most of those people ended up being Hicksites, which is curious to me.

So—brief explanation: a man named Elias Hicks started preaching, emphasizing the traditional Quaker belief that it is only through direct revelation from God that we can gain any spiritual insight. He did not, it seems, originally intend to get rid of the Bible or Christianity, but his point was that if we don't listen to the Present Spirit, the Bible is meaningless. He also downplayed the need to take a literal interpretation of the Bible. The first split in Quakerism ensued, where Hicks' followers were called the Hicksites, and the others called themselves Orthodox.

About 20 years later another split occurred between the Gurneyites and the Wilburites. Gurneyites came from Joseph John Gurney, who basically spoke the Evangelical message. He was an English Friend, and upon traveling in the United States, found that American Friends had too much focus on the Inner Light to the exclusion of belief in the Bible, the historical Christ, or the necessity of salvation through Christ alone. Then there were the Wilburites, named for John Wilbur, who felt that in emphasizing the Bible so much, Orthodox Friends had lost the sense of listening to the Present Christ, and their religion had become dry and based only on right belief, not on actual experience of God.

Of these the Hicksites were the most liberal, although the Beanites came along later in the century to take that title. It is probably here that Friends started to separate the ideas of evangelism from social action, and yet, Gurney—the most Evangelical and conservative of the crew—was also well-known for his work against capital punishment, for prison reform and for peace (along with his sister, Elizabeth Fry). But the social reformers in the American nineteenth century seem to have been mostly Hicksites.

My point is this: nineteenth-century Quakerism was not without its prophets. Some spoke internally, and one could probably call Hicks, Gurney and Wilbur prophets in this way. These words all needed to be spoken, in my opinion. But there were also numerous prophets who spoke both within and outside the Quaker community, calling the world to act justly toward one another, and taking great personal time, energy and risks to see that reform occurred. Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Levi Coffin, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, and many others spoke the truth regarding abolition and women's rights, and put their money and their lives where their mouth was. Others worked for prison reform, mental health care reform, temperance (a domestic violence issue) and other areas. And most of these people were Hicksites.

Our Yearly Meeting is a descendant of the Orthodox-Gurneyite tradition with a strong focus on the Bible and right belief. Perhaps we lost the ability to listen to the prophets among us for a while, but I don't think Quakerism as a whole did so. The question is, how can we have a strong focus on remaining true to historical Christianity while at the same time living in ways that reflect the present calling of Christ on our lives? Is it possible for us Gurneyites to not get so bogged down in our precious doctrines and declarations (Richmond Declaration) that we actually still listen to Christ speaking?

And if we listen to Christ, are we willing to break away from mainstream Christianity in the United States and live out that calling in more radical ways? Are we willing to be different, to not just be another Protestant denomination with a few quirks, like not taking communion? This is where I come back into agreement with Stan. We definitely need to make space to listen to prophets rising in our midst, and be willing to do the hard things that we hear. If we believe in the Bible and the historical Christ, is this something that actually makes a difference in our lives and the lives of those we come in contact with?


Paul said...

Good questions..

With our strong emphasis on listening and following the Holy Spirit,I have wonder at times instead of calling ourselves the Society of Friends should we be called the Society of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus said,“I will not leave you as orphans;I will come to you. “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. Jesus also says," I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that Spirit may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees not the Spirit nor knows of the Spirit; but you know the Spirit, for Spirit dwells with you and will be in you.

My issue with the Orthodox-Gurneyite tradition is they put the cart before the horse. Right belief before the experience of the Holy Spirit.Elias Hicks was correct if we don't listen to the Present Spirit,the Bible is meaningless.

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God-Holy Spirit
Romans 10-17

J said...

The solution to the apparent conflict between listening to the Holy Spirit and believing the Bible is simple: all that one "hears" from the HS must agree with the Scripture.

If someone's prophecy does not agree with the written word of God, then it is clear which of the two is wrong.

Believers must not think that inner light is a safe guide. "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light," 2 Corinthians 11:14. We need to be in the written word, seeking the help of the Holy Spirit to apply it to our lives.

"For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," Revelation 19:10.

Jesus is the Word.

God is one. "He cannot deny Himself," 2 Timothy 2:13.

Paul said...

Robert Barclay (December 23, 1648 – October 3, 1690), one of the most eminent writers belonging to the Religious Society of Friends;

Apology for the True Christian Divinity THE THIRD PROPOSITION Concerning the Scriptures
"From these revelations of the Spirit of God to the saints have proceeded the Scriptures of Truth, which contain,

I. A faithful historical account of the actings of God's people in divers ages; with many singular and remarkable providences attending them.

II. A prophetical account of several things, whereof some are already past, and some yet to come.

III. A full and ample account of all the chief principles of the doctrine of Christ, held forth in divers precious declarations, exhortations and sentences, which, by the moving of God's Spirit, were at several times, and upon sundry occasions, spoken and written unto some churches and their pastors.

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.a Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale: That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such."

We worship and follow the Spirit,not the Bible. The Bible tells us about Spirit, but even there, one must discern what is actually from Spirit and what is from the church recollection of Spirit through the lens of others. I believe that we must take the Bible seriously, but not literally.

Brad Laird said...

What does it mean to you to say that you believe in the historical Christ?

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ben schultz said...

Darned old Beanite here. Well this site does call itself Quaker/quaker after all.
You are talking too much and splitting too many hairs.
Our calling is to charity. Listening to god is not particularly relevant.
Tho it can be nice on a fine 1st day to tune in.

ben schultz said...


Jim714 said...

Hi Cherice:

Good writing. I found your post thoughtful. I want to make one comment about Quietism; it is kind of tangential and doesn't effect the main thrust of your post. But I have noticed among contemporary Quakers a consistent tendency to view the Quietist period of Quaker history in a negative manner. In contrast, I find this period inspiring because it is rooted in the contemplative dimension of the Quaker tradition. Modern Quakers are proud of their history of activism, and I share that pride. On the other hand, one does not need to be a Quaker to be a political activist. Most activists are not Quakers.

My point is that I think the splits occured because the centrality of the contemplative experience, rooted in the stillness and silence of Quaker worship, was forgotten. I think the Quietist period has much to teach us contemporary Quakers and personally I find that period to be the most nourishing.



Tom Smith said...

I believe that one of the major issues in "prophetic voice" is the issue of human authority. The Gurney-Hicks disagreement was in many cases the "power" of the "facing benches," 2nd Day Meetings, elders, etc. The orthodox position was/is(?) that selected people had more authority than others "regardless of voice." The reliance on a written "guide" is also an "orthodox Protestant position.

The revolutionary Gospel of "Christ has come to teach his people himself" does not depend on ONLY selected people or written words.