Acceptance: Fast or furious? Quakers and Puritans keep arguing.

I’ve seen the trailer for Fast and Furious 7 so many times it has taught me lessons. Like this one: Before the big stunt, one of the team mates does not understand what is going on and refuses to drive his car into a parachute jump (not kidding). Vin Diesel has a plan for this acrophobic team mate, since everyone knew he would be too afraid to do this crazy thing. Most of the team is fast at getting out of the plane; this one hold out is furious when they get him out, too. That’s the church. Some people are good at “wild,” some are less so, but we still figure out how to jump from the same plane in our hot cars. Right?

Well, maybe the church is not exactly like that. But our team is a lot like other teams. For instance, the other night at the BW Stakeholders meeting there was a brief interchange between a couple of the good people present. Their back-and-forth was another in a long line of similar conversations stretching back to the beginning of the country, even the beginning of the church! One of us said something like, “The Holy Spirit should run a cell, not some person or program.” Another of us answered back something like, “I just joined a cell that is very structured and I find it comforting.” One was ready to jump and one wondered about the plan.

Prophecy and order

Prophecy vs. order is always the balancing act of the church (I still recommend this book by one of my professors). Some people are always ready to jump — even think jumping is holy. Other people want to know the plan and think jumping all the time leads to destruction. They sometimes don’t like each other.

These days people think being one way or the other is just a matter of one’s “bias” or one’s “personality” or even “preference.” People have generally decided to not decide things in the name of tolerance. But I think there is an important issue that each growing person of faith can and should decide.

  • Is having a consistent order to things (which can quickly become law) numbing my faith?
  • Is having the freedom to follow the Spirit in every circumstance (which can quickly become selfish) undermining the community?
  • Is there really a contest between the individual and the community, between freedom and covenant?

There usually is a contest, but should there be?

I was surprised, for some reason, that we were having that kind of argument at the stakeholders meeting. I should not have been surprised since the church has been sorting out these relationships since the beginning. Especially in the American church, prophecy vs. order has been a constant place for arguing. For instance, at the last General Conference of the BIC I wound up on the outs with some people when I questioned the leadership — their reactions to me were not unusual. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1600s New England, the Puritans had similar reactions when Quakers landed in Boston to preach their radical new faith. The Puritans, who had been so rebellious in England, were now in the place of protecting an order they had built in the new world from someone even further out than they were. Bernard Bailyn describes the two sides very well — you can see how the descendants of the arguers are still with us!

Quakerism had emerged as the ultimate descent from rational, Biblicist, clerical Protestantism into subjective, anticlerical, nonscriptural, millennialism that threatened the basic institutions of civilized life – church, family and social hierarchy—that they were struggling to preserve. [The Quakers] challenged such fundamentals as the sanctity of Scripture, the principles of predestination and original sin, and the propriety of religious “ordinances”: the sacraments, scripted orders of worship, structured preaching, and the formalities of prayer.

Among the church plantings popping up in the Philly region these days this divide is still being played out. The Presbyterians inherit the role of the Puritans, hang on to over-rational faith and resist women and other people who traditionally don’t have power – especially “enthusiasts” who undermine the Bible with their feelings. On the other hand are Pentecostals who, like the original Quakers, trust their personal experience and bravely attempt to get everyone into their own version of it — all in the name of following the Spirit and applying the Bible.

Isn’t there a middle?

I am aligned with the “Anabaptists,” the kind of Christians who were also kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for being disorderly and just plain wrong. But I try to force myself into the middle, when it comes to prophecy and order, somewhere between Pentecostal and Presbyterian. For one reason, I think every version of Christianity usually has some brilliance to it. We are all one in Christ. But I also have more practical reasons and scriptural reasons, as well.

The Apostle Paul was confronted with this dividing point when he was writing to young churches. In chapters 14 and 15 of Romans he does a brilliant job of forcing himself into the middle by telling everyone to accept one another like Jesus accepts them — not because they are right or have rights, but because of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 9 he charts middle ground by telling everyone to become like everyone for the sake of the mission — not merely because of empathy or tolerance, but because of Jesus. Paul puts himself firmly in the freedom/prophecy/filled-with-the-Spirit camp. But he uses his freedom to firmly protect those who don’t feel it. There is no point in having freedom if one uses it to win a point or to dominate everyone else. Freedom is for love. At this point some people among the BIC might think I eat meat sacrificed Philadelphia idols. That doesn’t mean I need to chew it in their face all the time. We all need to stick together in Jesus. Some people in our cells need enough structure to help them feel safe enough to grow – their cell leader can provide it without writing a new set of commandments for them.

Even when Paul is very frustrated by the people who are turning the Galatians back toward the Jewish law, he is generous: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. …If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”(Galatians 4:14-15). He keeps his eye on the prize, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor 9:19).

The leader of the plane jump probably needs to be “fast.” That will undoubtedly make some team mate “furious” about all this jumping. The leader needs to consider that certain valuable members of the team are not just like him. The point isn’t feeling unfettered or secure; the point is being in love and following Jesus. Some people will always be in love and follow Jesus in a more orderly way, some will be wilder. That’s how it is. Regardless of our differences or even liking one another, we can all be one with Jesus and grow toward having generous hearts. We can recognize who we are and who someone else is — and see all of us in the light of Christ.

10 thoughts on “Acceptance: Fast or furious? Quakers and Puritans keep arguing.

  1. I am glad to read in your response that you now no longer see opposition between prophecy and order. If there appears to be opposition between them (as I think you’re saying), it is because of human error mistaking human thought or emotion for prophecy, or mistaking man-made order for divinely inspired order.

    I am unclear about the meaning of the last two sentences of your comment. It seems that you’re saying that to correct someone is inimical, unloving, and therefore not what a Jesus-follower would do. Is this what you meant? Early Friends did not see disagreement as unloving, as they felt it was important to find the truth through airing different or opposing ideas.

    For it was the truth that set them free and enabled them to love. They knew love to be God’s initiative (1 Jn. 4:19) and truly not a function of any creaturely aspiration. No such aspiration to love is powerful enough to make us perfect and enable us to love our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves; only Christ, the power of God, is able to empower us to love as we’re called to love.

    If human aspiration to love is mistaken for God’s empowerment to love, then there is error in the church. More to the point is to encourage people to come into the truth; love is one of the fruits of that spirit of truth. The early Friends knew this and is the reason they held forth the Truth first and foremost.

  2. The biggest problems I have in applying what I hear from God for action in a communal setting is timing and perspective. I normally interpret what I hear from God by my understanding of things which isn’t always complete. It’s by sharing what I hear within a communal setting made up of all types of spiritual people that my understanding gets completed and the fullness of what I hear is ultimately understood.
    I also find that not all spiritual souls hear from God in the same way or even at the same time. Sometimes this is because of the individual and sometimes it’s God’s chosen timing device. God creates things in the natural that take time to grow and He does the same thing in the spiritual world. When I sense a powerful presence of God I can sit there for ever but He has made it clear to me that that isn’t what He wants from me, so like Moses I don’t get to spend my time on the Mountain top. He has chosen this vessel to dwell among the community of His people and to use the gifts He has given me for their benefit as they become open to them and/or as they need them, depending on circumstances. These gifts have to be shared in Love and it takes time for the community to know that you love them and are not an old testament prophet calling them to obedience or doom but rather you have come to them as a disciple of Jesus Christ calling them to be transformed by laying down their lives for each other and for the lepers they live amongst.

  3. Hi Rod,

    What about those of us for who the inwardly inspired Light itself is our plane and the inknowing Presence itself is our parachute? What about those of us who live the quickening in all moments and circumstances; even while changing diapers? In immediate and sustained Presence, we do not share or use the outward categories of plane and parachute; those categories are of no service and have no value.

    There are those of us outside the dichotomy of your analogy. We do not relate to your fundamental assumptions of outward plane and parachute. The categories you present are dis-tracting. In immediate and sustained Presence, outward structures of plane and parachute, ideology and theology, wink away in the Light itself.

    For us their is no middling ground because there is no dichotomy in the immediate and sustained Life itself. Ours is to share the sufficiency of the Light itself as sustaining in itself and that all may know this sufficiency by waiting in his or her measure of the Light and the promise of increased measure in inward rest and silence.

    1. Keith, I am sure you are very nice. But your Gnosticism is going to get you in trouble with Puritans, it seems. My point was not to get people to defend themselves, just the opposite. I am in the light as you say; but I am also an incarnation of the light. I will say one thing: you are making a dichotomy between you and your secret knowledge and all the other believers who are not so enlightened. While not experiencing dichotomy, you are certainly creating it. I admire and practice your contemplation. The Apostle Paul did not let it get in the way of his love.

      1. Huh? What secret knowledge? Is it a secret that abiding in the Light brings one into union with the Light? How does being in the Light and moved by the Light get in the way of being loving?

  4. I see a problem with the opposition you’ve drawn between prophecy and order. As a Quaker who finds the early Friends understanding rightly ordered, I think that the distinction one makes should be between the divine order of the Gospel on the one hand, and on the other the man-made order of reason, social hierarchy etc.(or lack thereof, such as emotional enthusiasm).

    When the human is in a hearing/obeying relationship with God (becomes prophetic), then both liberty and order is known, and this will not violate reason or conscience but inform them. The imposition of man-made order, such as the law or tradition, should reach to the witness of God within us to call us to greater righteousness, and thus a sense of need for Christ, our righteousness. If man-made structures become the empty forms of legalism, such as with the Pharisees, then it is a perversion of its original function, which was good. If you work with these ideas and want to assist others, go deeper into your heart.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I think I agree with what you are saying. But I did not mean to draw an opposition, Patricia. Prophecy and order should be a tag team, as I think you say. They are, however, often in opposition, as your well-said, Quaker reasoning shows. It appears that you are correcting people who impose man-made (or woman-made, I presume) order. I doubt that any Jesus-followers intend to do that, even when they wrongly do so. We should love each other, not just go deeper into our hearts.

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