Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
An interview with San Francisco Friend Charles Martin of the Christian Friends Conference.
I have to say there's a disclaimer here because if you went to Ohio Yearly Meeting [Conservative] and told them you wanted to have a meeting for worship where you also included "Bible Reading in the Manner of Conservative Friends" they'd wonder what you were talking about.
THE START OF THIS BIBLE READING PRACTICE
This was a hybridization by West Coast Friends who were instituting Christian worship through the Christian Friends Conference. We felt it was important to include reading the Bible as part of the introductory work of our meeting for worship so that it would be Christ center.
We do it without any commentary--this is where it is in the manner of Conservative Friends. It is our understanding that in personal Bible reading in the home, where most Conservative Friends would be doing their Bible reading, that they don't read Bibles that have commentary. They just read the text and read it in the spirit in which it was written so that none of what we call the airy notions come in or human theology. It's reading the text as it was written to be spiritually guided.
Our experience at the Christian Friends Conference is that by having the first half hour of a two or three hour meeting for worship exclusively given over to reading scripture as led leads to more worshipful and more Christ-centered worship.
If you've attended any liberal meetings, where most of our attenders at the Christian Friends Conference come from [you'll find that] anything can be opened up for discussion. People come to our meeting for worship and they still might think they can talk about politics or how it's a wonderful day in the park. Really we're here to talk about how God is working within us, how God is guiding us. The leading text that we have for that, besides the writings of early Friends, is Christian scriptures.
You don't have to restrict the Bible reading to just a certain part of the meeting or exclude other ministry from the part of the meeting the way that the Christian Friends Conference does it, that's just our peculiar little quirk.
A LIBERAL VARIATION
The San Franciso Meeting also does this now. Once a quarter we have an extended meeting for worship. Being a liberal meeting, we say that any spiritual text can be read. We've had people read from the Bhagavad Gita, for instance. It's different that if you're attending a Christian Friends Conference.
Stand up, announce what book you're reading from, the chapter and verse, and also the translation because many of us use different translations. Like: today I read from The Message, a modern paraphrase translation. Normally I read either the NRSV or the King James, but I like using The Message when I'm with people and I don't known how Biblical literate they are.
You can read just a verse or an entire chapter you want to: it's up to the individual. It can be a very powerful way of ministry. No commentary: the idea is to sit down and the next person who stands up to read should be reading something that they're led to and not necessarily something that's a follow-up. It's not a thing to have a thematic thing where we're all talking about love or forgiveness or patience, even though that can happen in any Quaker meeting themes develop. The idea is to be led by the spirit to read what you're reading.
Charles Martin is the publisher of Inner Light Books and is involved with the West Coast Christian Friends Conference. He currently serves as co-clerk of Quakers Uniting in Publications, an international association of Quaker publishers.