Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Time to read more about Deism!! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism Perhaps Forrest will be able to tell me where I went wrong in describing him as a deist.
Where is Keith Saylor? I hope that I haven't offended him. If so, I will apologize!
William, if you don't favor the style of church practice favored and held desirable for rapid church growth by the article you cited, that would indeed be inconsistent with my impression of you so far.
I'm not saying that it's a crime for you to misunderstand my position. But if you'd rather understand than misunderstand polemically, you haven't found the best approach.
Hello again, Forrest! I continue to feel that we have majored on minor points, and never really addressed the issues the essay writer was focusing on. After the extended dialogue we have indulged in, I am not even sure I could recapitulate what he was saying!
My concern is really with Friends, especially Conservative Friends. I think they are experts at avoiding the issues involved in their decline. And I think we are now facing the death spiral! I personally have been sounding the alarm since the early 70s', as "a voice crying in the wilderness," I'm afraid!.
This is not to say that liberal Friends and FUM don't have their own problems. But I don't really feel much responsibility for their plight. The Evangelical Friends have problems, but they are not "decline-deniers". I find it ironic that Chuck Fager seems to grasp Friends' demographic dilemma. Now, if he could only see that we are also facing a spiritual dilemma too!
I have posted so much on this thread that folks are going to just ignore my jeremiads!
Keith Saylor said: "There is peace between us William."
Thanks for the reassurance, Keith! I also have some more writing projects that I need to attend to, so I can understand how you feel.
I'd certainly say that members of 'Liberal' Meetings have been too unconcerned with declines in both numbers and spiritual orientation. I wouldn't know about Conservative Friends.
I haven't understood what you saw in that one particular article -- since neither Liberal nor Conservative Friends would benefit from becoming more dogmatic about doctrinal matters.
Even if that might increase their appeal to those people currently most inclined to seek for and join churches, it would represent too great a betrayal of our God-given mission: to know, follow, and rely on God rather than doctrines.
I don't understand "Evangelical Friends" as a separate category -- except that these are Friends who've found conventionally-Christian language and concepts to be adequate expressions of their interactions with God -- and who sometimes fail to recognize such interactions going on between God and people allergic to conventional forms of piety.
I do sympathize with their desire to see more widespread & deeper appreciation among us of Jesus' messages -- and more widespread recognition that many people's experiences of God appropriately take the form of personal encounters with Jesus. But mine don't; I simply find God as I've known him to match Jesus' description of our spiritual Father.
I see Friends' collective lack of agreement on doctrinal matters to be a liability in explaining ourselves to non-Quakers; but I've gradually come to see the welcome we extend to people who haven't yet knowingly encountered God -- as entirely consistent with how Jesus would have received them.
On another hand, I don't think he would have invited the blind to lead the blind, as in putting them on worship committees... and I've never been happy with the timid and vacuous quality typical of our collective public statements this past half-century.
We certainly should be concerned; we should not however be relying merely on our own reasoning and administrative skills as means for dealing with the problem. The fact that such means are what people with this concern typically think of first -- is an obvious symptom of the decline in question.
I know it is difficult to generalize about any branch of Quakers - be they liberal, Conservative, Pastoral, or Evangelical. On the extremes outside the usual generalizations you will find Evangelical meetings that perform gay marriages and liberal meetings that do not, for example.
Still, at least within Baltimore Yearly Meeting there is an interest in increasing the number of Friends, the number of meetings, and increasing the spiritual depth at our meetings. And certainly the two local liberal Quaker meetings within my neck of the woods have benefited. Chuck Fager in his articles uses Baltimore Yearly Meeting regularly as an example of successful "Quaker revival". He attributes this revival to Baltimore Yearly Meeting's yearly meeting staff and committee's process on how to relate to local meetings within it: a hands-off approach where each local meeting is free to pursue their own communal walk with the divine as an intimate community without interference or even influence from the yearly (or quarterly) meeting. Many of its meetings deviate from the yearly meeting's recommended practices - with the yearly meeting's blessing and even encouragement to follow the path God leads them to. Many independent liberal Quaker Meetings (in the Midwest) utilize Baltimore Yearly Meeting's faith and practice manual because of this hands-off approach represented through-out that manual; yet, it is chuck full of wonderful guidance on how to create an intimate spiritual community. The whole yearly meeting completely operates with a "bottom-up" approach. As the practices of local meetings evolve, if they are valuable and transferable to other meetings, they propagate over time to other meetings.
As far as 'trends' that are happening as a result of this approach, I have noted an increased use of the Bible within local meetings with the larger meetings having regularly scheduled 'Bible study', and smaller meetings (like mine) including the Bible at times in its adult spiritual sharing/education. In fact, this increased use of the Bible is part of an holistic trend of greater appreciation for all spiritual works from any tradition that express the Love and Light so needed to heal this world. Also, greater appreciation has occurred of the special role Jesus' teachings and ministry played in the establishment of Quaker thought and practice. As a result, more expressions and messages recognizing this are plentiful; significantly so. For example, at the end of a minute just issued publically by my meeting regarding drone warfare, it concludes with the influence Jesus' teachings have had on our meeting. It reads:
Midlothian Friends Meeting recognizes the value of every life. We are guided by the inspirational teachings of Jesus and other spiritual leaders promoting peace. We also stand by our Quaker witness against war and violence which began over 350 years ago. The Quaker Peace Testimony states: "We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world."
That wording would not have been used ten years ago. It specifically points to the spirituality of the meeting, the influence of Jesus' teachings and ministry upon us, and the value the meeting places on Quaker spirituality. All of this while the meeting (like other Baltimore Yearly Meeting meetings) embraces all the individual spiritual journeys of those who enter the meetinghouse door.
There is a top-down side to Baltimore Yearly Meeting, of which Howard may be unaware. Several years ago a Christian woman in the yearly meeting, who has a gift for organizing, began an annual Bible conference in BYM. I don't have any idea exactly what the sponsorship was. At first, the Bible conferences didn't attract a large following. However, when word got out, lots of momentum developed. Darlene and I went to the conference at Sandy Spring a year or two later.
When we arrived, the yard was full of vehicles. I said to Darlene that some other program must be running at the same time and place. Much to our amazement, when we got into the "community center" or whatever it was called, we found that the crowd was there for the Bible conference! It was a lively affair, and we vowed to become regulars.
Soon after, we learned that the "universalists", or whatever they were, learned how successful the Bible conference was. They were able to force a requirement on the organizers to include all other scriptures and religions as part of the program in the future. The Christian lady who organized the event, and even cooked for it!, declined to make this change. The conference we attended was the last Bible conference held! The universalists wanted to change the character of her conference, but they weren't interested or adept enough to put on the generic conference they tried to force on her and her supporters.
So, Howard, there are limits to the "bottom-up" strategy, even in Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
I am not a member of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, nor was I involved in organizing the Bible conferences. I have no idea of the mechanics of what took place; I do know that there were no more conferences. We learned "the rest of the story" from a close friend who belonged to Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
At the risk of saying something inflammatory, I note that it is easy to be "tolerant" as long as everything goes one's own way.
I also note that, despite what some have said here about appealing to modern tastes and needs, when those tastes and needs involve a "return to the Bible," "continuing revelation" often breaks down!
I gather that this Bible conference was a Yearly Meeting program rather than one being carried out by individual Meetings within the YM, so there's no particular discrepancy between a Yearly committee trying to micromanage a YM activity and a hands-off policy towards participating Meetings.
What I do notice, in general:
Meeting activities are the leadings of individual Friends, carried out by those particular Friends drawn to the activity in question -- or they effectively don't happen. Committees, unfortunately, can be dominated by people drawn to fears & frivolous "scruples" (as in unwarranted distrust of other people's ethical integrity) & micromanagement, with far less interest in actually carrying anything out.
Bible studies vary all over the map in how much life & interest they embody and in how that's distributed between 1) devotional intensity 2) spiritual illumination & 3) historical veracity.
#'s 1-3 don't necessarily go together at all, but a study group that neglects any of them is weakened by the lack.
At Pendle Hill, & in the similar Torah study at the nearby Jewish Renewal synagogue, I frequently found that study in groups was triggering insights into the texts, into how God works, into what was going on in our lives at the time -- from people whose perceptiveness had completely escaped my own self-absorbed notice until then, who sometimes saw things from valid but utterly unexpected angles. This seemed to come of members being generally open to anything God might show us, rather than being trapped in anyone's predetermined doctrinal lenses...
Interest specifically in the "Bible-&-nothing-else" or in the Bible among other traditions or "anything BUT the (Bleh!) Bible"
seems to be a pretty fixed characteristic of certain individuals and certain populations. Anyone trying to help people develop spiritually through traditional writings might as well respect the existing preferences, rather than trying to change them to match whatever one feels these "ought to be."
I have no information about sponsorship, only about who did the work!