Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
"Jesus Christ can be accepted; he can be rejected; he cannot reasonably be ignored."
- Elton Trueblood
May 1, 2011
My words arise from a still, small voice in my heart, along with a seed of concern for our continuing Spiritual growth and true development as unprogrammed Friends. Within the larger body and branches of our Society, one of our greatest treasures is our faithful witness of waiting worship for God's Spirit to move among and through us in word and deed.
As Friends, we believe that the Light of Christ is a living Presence among us, speaking to our condition, teaching, exhorting, and leading us into a true baptism of the Spirit with the power to resurrect and transform our lives and our faith into an active witness of God's power and love in the world. We evidence, in our silent assemblies, consent to remain faithful to a worship tradition passed on to us by visionaries who sought communion with the Lord in the Spirit and in Truth as instructed by Jesus. (John 4:24)
George Fox and other founding Quakers were dissatisfied with the Established Church of the 17th century. A rejection of all outward forms was certainly a Spirit-guided response to the condition of the church. To Fox and his followers, the church and worship had fallen into paying a lip-service glorification of Christ. By uncritically accepting unacceptable social, political, economic, and military methods, the Established Church evidenced its ignorance of Christ's relation to Creation. Early Quakers also criticized the Church of putting a higher value on the “intellectual apprehension of doctrine” than on Spiritual transformation.[i] Instead of worship in “Spirit and in Truth”, church worship was full of ritual and formalism. Also, the church imposed UN-Christian authority and control over her parishioners. For our spiritual forefathers and mothers, this was a dead religion and worship, paying mere lip-service glory to God.
There is little wonder we hold our traditions dearly, as they have yielded much goodness and endured considerable pain. Friends have suffered severe oppression; their rights were rescinded, and property confiscated or destroyed; Friends were abused, trampled, imprisoned, tortured, burned, starved, and executed for their beliefs and non-conformity. Yet Quaker accomplishments towards peace, freedom, equality, and care of the sick and suffering have been evidenced by our trail-blazing and transformational efforts surrounding slavery, colonialism, conscientious objection, women's rights, and social reforms within prisons, mental institutions, and among the poor. All along, at home and abroad, God's Spirit and Truth has guided and strengthened us to faithfully, slowly, and steadily accomplish great things to God's true glorification. We continue to seek the greater goodness and to live in reconciling kinship with the world and her inhabitants.
My concern lay within the following queries, which I offer primarily for my unprogrammed sisters and brothers, of which I consider myself one:
In the following pages, I will attempt to focus my hopeful leading that Friends consider a reawakening of Worship in Spirit and Truth that may open way for some of us, perhaps, to broaden the breadth and scope of how God can be known and obeyed within our midst. Can Friends' ministerial gifts in the arts and in the Word find fresh, creative, dynamic, and pioneering ways into Meeting for Worship, bringing with it new Life and Truth to the meaning of open worship?
We find that Jesus Christ...prescribes no set form of worship to his children...In the whole New Testament there is no order nor command given this thing, but to follow the revelation of the Spirit, save only that general one of meeting together; a thing dearly owned and diligently practised by us....True it is, mention is made of the duties of praying, preaching and singing; but what order or method should be kept in so doing...there is not one word to be found; yea, these duties...are always annexed to the assistance, leadings, and motions of God’s spirit.”[ii]
- Robert Barclay:Apology, prop. 11, sect. 10, 1908 Phila. Ed., pp. 347-8.
A Concern for Worship Renewal
In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he exhorts the people that the intention of worship is to build up the church. (1 Cor 14:26) In early Christian worship, like Friends today, all members took responsibility. The Spirit of the Lord breathed life into their midst, whether through prayer, hymns, teaching, exhortation, or revelation. The orderliness of early Christian worship made an attractive impression on outsiders, according to Paul, that bore on the community’s witness toward missionary activity. (1 Cor 14:24) Amidst a long history of religious movements that sought a Christianity that stirred the soul, guided and animated ones will, and led to holy living, Quakerism is a faith to be experienced. We desire to be not intellectually removed, but emotionally engaged. Unfortunately, Quakers left behind the music that other Spirit-guided traditions valued as a significant tool for experiencing the immediacy of the Spirit.[iii]
Three traditions of worship can be identified among faith communities today: intellectual, emotional, and liberal. Simply stated, truth is the goal of intellectual worship; personal experience is linked to our emotional worship tradition; and liberal tradition is concerned with day-to-day relevance and results. “True worship – worship in which God touches us with transforming power – must concern itself with all three of these dimensions of the faith: truth, experience, and lifestyle.”[iv]
Quakers today, along with many other Christian denominations, recognize that all things are interrelated. Newton’s “mechanistic and rationalistic” world view has shifted to one that understands that everything is in process. Our vision of the universe has undergone a revolution since our founding. In the past, our ideas of the cosmos centered around a false belief of stasis and constancy. Today we know that the universe is infinitely complex, continually expanding, and dynamic. Our attitudes and behaviors have changed because new revelations in scientific understanding has integrated into virtually every aspect of our lives.[v]
Friends, has not the Spirit been with the church all along? Certainly some of her traditions have pleased God along the way. There are rich worship traditions that Friends have abandoned despite our advancement through time, space, history, and culture. Culturally, theologically, and philosophically, we are not where we once were when George Fox disrupted the status quo in an ecclesial culture gone astray. God’s body, the church, is universal. Are we realizing the significance of this?[vi]
I sense that the time is coming for a worship renewal among Friends if we are to be strengthened and fully live and witness into the century before us. Personally, I’m not interested in spiritual maintenance, but growth.
Renewed worship is worship in which God breaks into our daily lives with transforming power…renewal thrives in any worship style and finds expression in the particular history and tradition of all denominations and traditions…it is a worship that allows God to break through the walls we have built around our worship….allows God to enter our lives and give us direction and healing…worship renewal takes prayer, commitment, courage, and hard work, but it’s worth the time and energy. Worship renewal results in the renewal of the whole church and in spiritual and numerical growth…renewed worship brings glory to God.[vii]
Worship Renewal within Quaker Culture and Context:
Awaken Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal
Our own hymnal is a Spirit-breathed resource for reconsidering music's place in worship. Friends General Conference sponsored an Oversight Committee to develop a contemporary hymnal. The prior hymnal, from 1955, had been out of print for years. In 1989, Friends representing five regions of Quakerism came together to share their diverse traditions of utilizing music in the Spirit. Friend's use music differently, and have diverse theological and ecclesial perspectives, so it was important that the representatives appointed to create this new hymnal integrate materials that speak to the conditions of the various traditions. The hymn committee learned that our varieties of religious experiences should not only “be tolerated, but valued for the richness it brings to our Society.” Above all else, they discerned that worshiping through song was to be “recognized and affirmed as a significant part of our experience with God.”[viii]
A Music Selection Working Group worshiped together and listened to the Spirit. Over three and one half years later, after meeting together over eleven weekends, this musically, theologically, and geographically divergent group converged. They came to a Spirit-led selection of musical material that followed these guiding principles:
1) The book as a whole will be inclusive within a Quaker understanding of theology, gender, images of the Divine.
2) Because there is a need to be aware of the explicit and implicit meanings of language, some uses should be modified or avoided. Examples: militaristic images, black or dark as negative images, “man”to refer to humankind.
3) Strong consideration will be given to content of A Hymnal for Friends and Songs of the Spirit as well as hymns or songs written by or associated with Friends.
4) Hymns and songs of many periods will be included, including contemporary ones.
5) Consideration will be given as well to including some hymns and songs with broad ecumenical usage.
6) There will be an effort to reach out to diverse traditions of Friends (where they are and where they come from) including hymns and songs in other languages.
7) Consideration will be given to the needs of different age groups, different places and occasions for singing.
8) Music will be inviting and singable, but varying degrees of difficulty will be included.
9) A variety of styles of music will be included.
10) Music and text of each piece will be compatible and mutually enhancing.
11) When text or music is altered, including changes in gender language and reference to the Divine, the variation will have integrity.[ix]
Obviously the approaches emphasized in the process of assembling this hymnal were inclusive, not exclusive. Yet many Friends would be hard-pressed to put their hands on a copy of Worship in Song in a Meeting for Worship. In my meeting, the hymnals are stacked away under a bench in a far corner of the room, only to be opened and used by worshipers once a month, 45 minutes before worship. This is how we witness, affirm, and recognize music as “a significant part of our experience of God.”[x]
Music's relegation to a small group gathering at specific times before or after worship is common among us. I challenge this practice.
Why not consider placing the hymnals on the benches and encouraging their use in worship? Vocal ministry and messages that rises out of the silence could engender a musical response. The use of music is Spiritually and Scripturally authorized. Its use may increase the power, range, and congruency of Spirit's movement. Those with meager or mighty musical abilities may be spiritually sensitive to the immediacy of God's presence. When guided, they might rise and sing; they may also call out the hymn number and lead the congregation in song; someone else might also lead, providing an opportunity for fuller participation among the priesthood of all believers. Access to and utilization of our own Quaker hymnal in worship could aid in the realization of a truly gathered meeting!
If Friends are uneasy with 'organized' singing in worship because it is often practiced and prepared – and therefore the planning would interfere with God's direction in worship – then I think we underestimate and undermine the power of the Lord to call on us in non-conforming and eclectic ways. My sense is that some Friends may actually fear the Spiritual power and raw emotion that music can engender. Can we tolerate the temporary pain and discomfort of breaking down barriers of intellectual or spiritual pride and prejudices? God is capable of transforming fear into faith, and enlarging our spiritual borders! Or would we rather feel safe, static, and secure, continuing to live off the husks of our historical and encrusted legacy of silence? Speaking within the context of a changing, dynamic, and relevant 21st century world view, I am concerned that we may not be witnessing with integrity to our faith in the priesthood of all believers. Especially when our continued maintenance of the status quo in worship may be excluding others from fully participating in their own unique, true, and Spirit-led worship experience.
Worship Committee: Discerning God’s Will for Worship
Simon Peter was grieved because Jesus asked him a third time, 'Do you love Me?' 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You,' Peter again replied. Jesus said to him, 'Tend My sheep.'" (John 21:15-17; Ezek 34:1-6). As Quakers, we affirm that all hold a responsibility for tending to the spiritual, educational, emotional, and even the physical needs of our 'flock.' Ministry is a group effort! If we agree that Worship is a central component of our Meeting's spiritual life and health, and are open to discerning new ways that God can move among us, I propose that a Worship committee be convened to facilitate creative discernment for renewed worship within the community.
I have adapted and modified the suggested role and function of a worship committee from Bernie Neufeld's essay, “Crossing the Border: Music as Traveler.” His book is titled Music in Worship. Although written from a Mennonite perspective, I believe his insights can serve as food for thought among Friends, young and old, desiring to 'feed the sheep' and consider a call for worship renewal.
Worship Committee Guiding Principles
1) The committee is considered to be a spiritual guide of Meeting for Worship, and as such prayerfully brings to the table, themes, issues, music, ideas, concerns, etc., that will help shape the faith journey of the body. This does not prevent others in the community from submitting themes and ideas to complement and augment those of the committee. Rather, community input and ideas are to be encouraged and nurtured.
2) The worship committee is a voice that should support and reflect both God's will, and the spiritual gifts and needs of the meeting.
3) The worship committee is a sounding board for Divine leadings, discerning and revealing the generosity and openness of Spirit towards having a dynamic, creative, and nonconformist relationship with both the individual heart and the community.
4) Since music or other creative art may be called upon to play a role in worship renewal, an individual with musical or other creative gifts is represented on the committee. Ideally, a member of Ministry & Counsel serves on the committee.[xi]
Rufus Jones wrote that George Fox understood worship to be a “mutual and reciprocal communion between the Human soul and God.” Jones articulates the problem of such a relationship as “one of human preparation for meeting and communing with a God who is always near at hand but cannot be found and enjoyed until the soul is ready for such an exalted experience.” Jones advocates for worshipers to prepare themselves for such an encounter through centering down, where the flow of “spiritual currents” can have restorative, refreshing, and fortifying effects. This personal discipline can be engaged corporately, and a preparative worship committee utilizing this practice, I believe, can lead to “an awareness of the deeper Life, a palpitating sense of joy and wonder, and a surge of appreciation and adoration which form the heart of worship.”[xii]
By creating a container for which the community can bring its ministerial leadings, hopes, and creativity within the context of worship, a worship committee can offer the Meeting new opportunities and experiences in worship that has been carried out of its own gathered clearness in the Spirit and in Truth. A worship committee asks itself and the community, “What canst thou say?” I believe that sincere seeking with an open mind and heart to the dynamic and creative Spirit of the Lord may surprise us with fresh wind and a revived experience of the tremulous, passionate quaking for which we owe our namesake.
Releasing Each Person for Ministry
No meeting can be held to the glory and in the power of God where His message, even through one of the weakest or most unattractive of his instruments, is suppressed.
- Minutes of Yearly Meeting of Friends for New England, 1900, p. 50.
Are the talents of each member gifted for ministry activated within our community?[xiii] Ministry & Council, or a co-created worship committee, might seek to learn of Friends with creative and/or musical gifts and release them into ministry, even in worship! Since our open, waiting worship lends itself to a limited experience of the outward witness to Truth from our less-vocal Friends, we would do well to actively seek them out and offer welcome, exhortation, and encouragement of their gifts. Even that their creative ministries be brought into worship. A worship committee, gathering for worship and prayer as a committee, might discern with the latent musical (or other artistic) minister how their ministry may or may not be offered into open worship. This is a Spirit-led process that guides the worshiping group into clearness; and perhaps new pathways for ministry would be revealed.
Quaker process incorporates communal communication, a tradition represented by the early church. Like early Christianity, which the Valiant Sixty were seeking to revive, Quakers traditionally have valued seeking truth through intuitive processes rather than relating to knowledge obtained by reason and argument. “The rule of faith is the rule of prayer,” patristic sources profess. What this means is that our communal experience of worship shapes our beliefs. And for early Christians, like Quakers, our non-conformity was persecuted. But the experiences they had in worship were important. Prayer is an attitude of worship. When we pray, we open ourselves to the experience of God. What is the Quaker rule of prayer? I am aware of none. Some may argue we've broken them all. My sense is that we are short-changing ourselves from a comprehensive experience of worship. Our vision of what a Spirit-guided and gathered meeting looks and feels like may be a bit too myopic. We would be wise to open our eyes to the community of creation around us, and release others to explore under-served possibilities.[xiv]
Music as Traveling Minister
Our tradition has a rich heritage of traveling in ministry. I would like to consider this history as a framework for carrying musical messages to other meetings and communities. In my own travels, I have experienced worshiping with other traditions. My spirit has soared in the powerful and Spiritually sensitive musical dynamics of Brethren congregational hymn singing. The simplicity and austerity of the Taizé communities prayerful music and chants provide passionate Spiritual sustenance and ecumenical solidarity in worship of the Living Presence. Vocal ministry might expand its potential audience when framed in this light: a small singing ensemble has been led to offer a gift of musical ministry and thus, its corresponding “message” in worship. Their leading to do so, and the careful, prayerful, preparation they have done takes nothing away from worship in Spirit and Truth. Their preparation is also an act of worship. Celebrating diversity is embracing multiformity. Travel allows one to cross borders into to contextual learning, richer sharing, and deeper relationship building.
When we listen, witness, and participate in worship services different from our own, our understanding of worship may be enriched. Personally, my faith life has been invigorated outside of my home meeting. New encounters of worship, especially of music in worship, has rekindled a “flame that sometimes tends to flicker” or fade through personal or corporate quietism, inactivity, or an apparent absence of Presence, of creative energy.[xv] Traveling “across the border” has given me opportunities to experience the embodied spirituality of an agape meal, the ancient and sacred rhythms present in tribal worship and drumming, and the fresh inspiration and immediacy of Spirit in learning and singing a new song. New energy and fresh perspectives are beneficial to a life of faith.
Bernie Neufeld speaks to the value of “music as traveler.” Though affiliated with the Mennonite tradition, his insight into the need for more openness and sharing among our fellow travelers in faith speaks truthfully. He argues that interaction with others of diverse faith practices can strengthen relationships by breaking down walls.[xvi] These barriers, be they ecclesial, theological, or cultural, can become openings when we realize that our various paths lead to the same God.
As vital as is traveling outside ones own borders, the metaphor of “music as traveler” has a flip side. On the other hand, a willingness on the part of our meetings to welcome an outsider into our community is of parallel importance. While we may greet the visiting traveler with open arms and hospitable enthusiasm, do we also welcome the traditions, practices, and music of our guests' in worship? Friends are affiliated with and supportive of cross-cultural programs and initiatives. We offer friendship, fellowship, and support to peoples from Central America, war-torn Africa, and Israel/Palestine. These people have a song. Music has provided them with courage and hope through fear, desperate conditions, life and death. Does the silence of our open Quaker worship provide for the inclusion of another's expression, an “other” culture, an “other's” song?[xvii]
The woman at the well elicited from Jesus a response regarding the correct place of worship. (John 4: 19-21) We gather from His response “that it is not important to ask where or how we worship but who and why we worship.”[xviii] I am seeking to worship within the framework of open, waiting worship while questioning whether its boundaries are too rigidly demarcated. Like Jabez in the Chronicles of Judah, I cry out for God to enlarge our well-guarded Spiritual borders around worship. (1 Chr 4:9-11) And perhaps, like Jabez, God would grant our request.
Creasey, Maurice. Christ in Early Quakerism. Philadelphia: The Tract Association of Friends, undated.
Friends General Conference (U.S.). Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal. Philadelphia, Pa: Friends General Conference, 1996.
Neufeld, Bernie. Music in Worship: A Mennonite Perspective. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1998.
New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends: Book of Discipline. Worcester, MA (901 Pleasant St., Worcester 01602): New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1985.
Webber, Robert. The New Worship Awakening: What's Old Is New Again. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007.
 A “gathered meeting” is a meeting in which Friends feel especially united. Friends may leave meeting feeling that they were joined together in unity, that what 'happened' during worship held powerful and edifying Divine Light.
 “The Valiant Sixty were a group of early leaders and activists in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). They were itinerant preachers, mostly from northern England who spread the ideas of the Friends during the second half of the Seventeenth Century, and were also called the First Publishers of Truth. There are actually more than sixty of them.” Source: HTTP://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valiant_Sixty
[i] Creasey, Maurice. Christ in Early Quakerism, (Philadelphia: The Tract Association of Friends, undated).
[ii] New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends: Book of Discipline. (Worcester, MA [901 Pleasant St., Worcester 01602]: New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1985), 104. NOTE: Bold type is added by the author for emphasis.
[iii] Webber, Robert. The New Worship Awakening: What's Old Is New Again. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 24-5.
[iv] Ibid., 26.
[v] Ibid., 26-7.
[vi] Ibid., 64-5.
[vii] Ibid., 32. NOTE: Bold type is added by the author for emphasis.
[viii] Friends General Conference (U.S.). Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal, (Philadelphia, Pa: Friends General Conference, 1996), iv-v.
[xi] Neufeld, Bernie. Music in Worship: A Mennonite Perspective, (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1998), 51.
[xii] New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends: Book of Discipline. (Worcester, MA [901 Pleasant St., Worcester 01602]: New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1985), 104.
[xiii] Webber, Robert. The New Worship Awakening: What's Old Is New Again. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 80.
[xiv] Ibid., 89.
[xv] Neufeld, Bernie. Music in Worship: A Mennonite Perspective, (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1998), 48.
[xvi] Ibid., 49.
[xvii] Ibid., 50.
[xviii] Ibid., 51-2.