Five Dimensions of Prophecy

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FIVE DIMENSIONS OF PROPHETIC MINISTRY

To be prophetic means more than protest.  The following five dimensions of the prophetic ministry are adapted from a paper by Peter Henriot, SJ and the Rev George Chauncey for Interfaith Action for Economic Justice, where the application was made to the hunger issue.  Here our focus is peace as well as poverty.


1. "REMINDING":  The victims of war and injustice are largely invisible.  We do not see the poor, even in our own country.  Out of sight, out of mind.  The prophetic task is to make the invisible visible, to give voice to voiceless victims.  We must not let anyone forget.  Faithfulness demands that we remind ourselves, our constituencies and our government of the plight of the poor, and the evil of the arms race.  Like the Hebrew prophets, who continually reminded Israel of God's special concern for the poor, we provide reminders by:

•  the symbols we wear; buttons, ribbons, bumper stickers on our cars; posters and banners in houses of worship.

•  pamphlets and materials in our churches and synagogues.

•  providing space and publicity for justice groups.

•  telling the stories of the victims in our preaching.


2. "INTERPRETING":  It is not enough simply to remind ourselves and others of the plight of the poor; we must interpret the causes and meaning of that plight in ways that open eyes and move hearts and redirect the political will.  We can help others to see the arms race for what it is:

•  a form of idolatry, placing our trust in weapons and alliances  (Hosea 5:13, 7:8-12, 9:1; Isaiah 30:1-31:2)

•  a theft ("Every rocket fired, every warship launched, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."  President Eisenhower, April, 1953)

•  murder ("...even when they are not used, by their cost alone, armaments kill the poor by causing them to starve."  The Vatican on Disarmament, 1976)


Eyes are opened and hearts are moved by experiencing the lives and stories of war victims, refugees and the poor, and those of today's prophets.


3. "PROTESTING":  We are also called, on occasion, to say no - no to policies, structures, institutions and ways of seeing things and doing things that dehumanize.  The Hebrew prophets protested repeatedly Israel's injustice to the poor, its trust in military fortifications and alliances rather than in God, its luxuriousness in the face of poverty.  We can too, by:

•  using our power as consumers (through boycotts and letters) and as shareholders (with letters and shareholder resolutions) to challenge those economic institutions contributing to poverty and the arms race;

•  joining with others in public demonstrations, vigils and marches for peace and justice.  In this we experience both solidarity and hope: that God is raising up prophetic people everywhere;

•  modeling a simpler and more faithful style of living.


4.  "ADVOCATING":  Prophetic protest must be matched by vigorous advocacy.  While churches meet the immediate needs of the poor through direct service (food banks, emergency shelters), we must also address more effectively the public policies contributing to poverty and the arms race and press persuasively the moral claims of the policies we recommend.  The Hebrew prophets took God's word directly to Israel's political leaders; we can do the same by:

•  letters and calls to legislative leaders; and offering of letters as part of a worship service,

•  encouraging shut-ins and retired persons in their ability to affect public policy by writing and calling,

•  setting up urgent action phone trees on public policy or linking with existing networks.


5. "ENVISIONING":  We all need vision, a sense of hope, and ever deepening awareness of Shalom as God's will for the world.  Further, we all need to see our small - seemingly insignificant - efforts as part of God's working in the world.  Jesus is Lord of history: He combines our efforts with those of millions of others.  Our work will not be in vain if joined with his.   Jesus has risen.  Injustice and death are not the last word.  The Hebrew prophets brought hope, even in the midst of disaster.  We can too, by:

•  internalizing and acting on God's vision of Shalom (Isaiah 65:17-25; Amos 9, Ezekiel 34, and others).

•  helping people identify present manifestations of God's Shalom.

•  reminding others that it is our faithfulness, not our success, that God demands.

•  promoting small communities of Bible study and prayer that incorporate our struggles in social action.

      •  affirm each individual as they move more deeply into living out the vision of Shalom.

Resources on Prophecy

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Resources on Prophecy


2 quotations from Thomas Merton on prophecy (from Jan Hoffman):

. . . It is better to prophesy than to deride. To prophesy is not to predict, but to seize upon reality in its moment of highest expectation and tension toward the new.  This tension is discovered not in hypnotic elation but in the light of everyday experience.

-- Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable, p. 159


. . . [Prophets] in the traditional sense [are] not merely [people] who foretell the future under spiritual inspiration.  That is in fact quite accidental.  [They are] above all ['witnesses']. . . . [Prophets] shoulder the 'burden' of vision that God lays upon [them]. . . . Prophets are those who live in direct submission to the Holy Spirit in order that, by [their] lives, actions, and words, [they] may at all times be a sign of God in [this human] world.

-- Thomas Merton, Disputed Questions


In his classic book, A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly quotes Meister Eckhart:  "There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves."  Kelly goes on to say, "It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without any reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me--commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him."


Quotations from The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

Summary of each chapter in The Prophetic Imagination

Transcript of Krista Tippett's interview from the NPR show "On Being" with Walter Brueggemann on Prophetic Imagination

Interview with Walter Brueggemann at Georgetown U Center for Christian Discernment


Marion McNaughton, An Orientation to Prophecy plenary talk FWCC trienniel held in Dublin in 2007


Bangladesh Blockade

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Nonviolent Fighters for Bangladesh Freedom

by Richard K. Taylor

            My wife, Phyllis Taylor, and I feel very fortunate to have been a small part of the freedom struggle that resulted in the independence of Bangladesh. I am very sorry to say that, during the war of independence, our own beloved country, the United States of America, was secretly sending military supplies to Pakistan which were used to kill and oppress citizens of what was then called East Pakistan. 

            How well we remember hearing from a Bangladeshi freedom fighter during the war who said, "We knew that the U.S. government was against us, but when we heard what you did, we knew that the American people were on our side." 

            So, what did we do? Let me explain. In the late 1960's, I  and a friend of mine, Bill Moyer, were fortunate enough to be on the staff of Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Bill and I were already committed to active nonviolence as a means of advocating for peace and justice, but our intimate involvement with Dr. King and his movement strengthened and deepened our commitment. After the tragic assassination of Dr. King in 1968, a group of us who admired him very much decided to form an organization in our city of Philadelphia that would train people in his methods of nonviolent action and also engage in such direct action. We decided to call it the "Movement for a New Society (MNS)." People came to us from all over the United States and some other countries to receive training and to be involved in direct action.

Because of our keen interest in struggles for justice and peace, we were horrified in 1971 to learn of the West Pakistani army's invasion of what was then East Pakistan and all the atrocities they committed. However, we felt helpless to do anything. Then we learned that our own country, the United States, was secretly still sending military aid to the West Pakistani government, even though a dozen other aid-giving countries had  cut off such support as a protest against Pakistani army's massacres. That made us even more horrified. We realized that it was American bombs and bullets that were killing innocent people who wanted nothing more than freedom from oppression. But what could we do to make our government stop its lethal military aid? 

            Just as we were holding a meeting to discuss this dilemma, we learned from a newspaper report that West Pakistani ships were secretly picking up military cargoes in American ports. We learned furthermore, that one such ship, the Padma, was en route to Baltimore, Maryland (a small city just to the south of Philadelphia) to load US military goods. We began to discuss what to do. Susan Carroll, one of the founders of MNS, said angrily, but not really seriously, "We should mine the harbor! Use explosives! Blow up the ships!" 

            Bill Moyer countered, "Yes, that's right, we should mine the harbor; but we should mine it with our own bodies. We should get some small boats--canoes and kayaks--and paddle them in front of the ships. Obviously, a few little boats won't stop a big, ocean-going freighter. However, we should do it for two reasons: One, the action would be nonviolent and in the spirit of Dr. King. Two, it would have such drama that the newspaper and TV stations would cover it. Right now, our government is keeping our military aid to Pakistan a secret. There are no stories about it in the mass media. This action would get the story into the press and out to the American people. Three, it also would show how much some Americans oppose our government's policy and how willing they are to risk their lives to oppose it."

            Everyone agreed with Bill's idea. Soon after our meeting, we learned of a Philadelphia group called "Friends of East Bengal." The group was made up of Bengalis and Americans who wanted to do everything they could to stop the slaughter in "East Pakistan." We contacted the group and were invited to present our idea to their July 7 meeting. As one of their Bengali members, Sultana Krippendorf, told me later, "At first, we thought you were absolutely crazy. What a wild scheme! Who ever heard of trying to stop freighters with canoes?!! But then, as we listened to your rationale and how you believed the action would use the press to focus public attention on what was really happening and mobilize people to resist US policy, it began to make sense. In the end, we agreed that your group could become the Direct Action Committee of Friends of East Bengal and try out this scheme."

            By combing maritime newspapers and other sources of information, we learned that The Padma was expected in Baltimore on July 11. That gave us only four days to prepare. The Direct Action Committee, which now was made up of Bengalis as well as Americans, met in our living room to prepare. We organized committees to handle such matters as contacting the press, getting canoes and kayaks, making signs and leaflets, finding communication equipment, handling police and legal liaison and recruiting other participants. We reached out to sympathetic groups beyond Philadelphia, such as the Quakers and the Bangladesh Information Center. In a short period of time, we had recruited a very diverse group with a professor of medicine, a social worker, teachers, a Quaker peace activist, a school guidance counselor, four teenage students and others, about 30 people in all.

            On the morning of July 11, we drove from Philadelphia to Baltimore with our small boats strapped to the roofs of our cars. Since we had informed newspapers and radio and TV stations about what we were going to do, we began to hear news reports about us on the radio even before arriving in Baltimore. Upon arrival, we went to the harbor pier where The Padma was expected to dock and set up a picket line. The Padma did not arrive on July 11, so we spent the next days keeping up press attention by such means as paddling our boats out into the harbor to "do maneuvers, just like the Navy does before a sea battle." We explained to reporters that we needed to familiarize ourselves with the tides and currents of the harbor and to decide which "formation" of boats would be most effective to block the big freighter. A doctor from Johns Hopkins University called our small flotilla "the first Navy of Bangladesh."

            During all this time, our American government kept denying that it was sending military aid to West Pakistan. A statement from the US Department of State said: "No arms have been provided to the government of Pakistan since the beginning of this crisis." We were about to demolish those denials by revealing what really was happening.

            In all of our actions--picketing, marching, paddling in the harbor, giving press interviews--we did all we could to maintain a nonviolent attitude in the spirit of Dr. King. For example, we met with Baltimore police officials, explained our purpose, and told them we would be strictly nonviolent. That meant that, not only would we refrain from any verbal or physical violence, but if anyone tried to harm the police, we would put our own bodies in front of the officers to protect them. 

            When The Padma finally arrived on July 14, we paddled our small "fleet" out into the harbor, determined to get in front of the freighter. We were met with Coast Guard cutters and a large police boat called "The Intrepid." A policeman on board used a bullhorn to shout to us that we were breaking harbor regulations and would be arrested if we didn't turn back. He warned us that the ship's wake would flip over our small boats and the enormous propellers would chop us up into little pieces.               

            I shouted back , "You have to do what you have to do, but this is a death ship. It is picking up military cargo that will  kill thousands of innocent people. We are here to prevent it from docking." 

            Soon, we noticed that two of the motorboats in the harbor were not police or Coast Guard craft, but were filled with reporters, one with a TV crew that took footage as it sped in for a closer view.

            One of the young people with us, who was paddling a canoe with her father, was only 12 years old. She heard workmen on the pier yelling: "Get the hell out of here. That ship won't stop and you'll go drown like ants from its suction." She admits that she was frightened, but she was encouraged when she saw the motorboat with the TV crew. "I realized we were making a point; I was afraid no one would know what we had done and nothing would come of our efforts."

            All of us paddled as hard as we could toward The Padma, while the police in the Coast Guard cutters tried to cut us off and keep us back. Sally Willoughby, another young paddler said, "I was scared, but I was really determined to stop that ship. I think I was really willing to die for this."

            Finally, an order came for the police to arrest us. The cutters pulled alongside us and the police hauled us out of our boats and placed us under arrest. We spent the night in the Baltimore city jail and were sentenced to a year's probation, but in the morning we were happy to see that the story of the blockade got good TV coverage and was in newspapers and on the radio. A reporter from Reuters told me: "This demonstration is going to hit the papers from here to Singapore." Years later, a Bangladeshi freedom fighter told me that he had heard the story on BBC. 

So, we accomplished what we set out to do. No longer could our government deny that we were sending military equipment to a military dictatorship. More and more people spoke out against US policy. The Beatles held a concert in favor of Bangladesh. Sympathetic members of the US Congress spoke out. Our Direct Action Committee did many other nonviolent direct actions: We blocked other Pakistani ships in other ports. We lobbied Congress. We demonstrated in front of the White House. We helped Bengali sailors jump ship from West Pakistani freighters where they feared for their lives, and much more. When our government finally did cut off military aid to West Pakistan, Phyllis, I and the others were happy to feel that we had played a significant role in turning our own country around and helping a new nation--Bangladesh--be born. And now, here we are, celebrating the 40th anniversary of that new nation's birth. How grateful I am to God for giving us the courage to put our bodies in the way of the death ships. And how grateful I am to Bangladeshis who supported us and joined with us in the blockade for Bangladesh.

Reprinted with the permission of the author Richard Taylor, who wrote this article in 2011 at the request of the Bangladeshi ambassador to the U.S. for inclusion in a publication of that embassy celebrating important moments in Bangladesh's history and culture.  This subject is dealt with in much greater detail in Richard's 1977 Orbis book on the subject entitled Blockade: A Guide to Nonviolent Intervention.

Richard is a member of Germantown Monthly Meeting. As of 2012 he stated that his main Quaker activity was participating in the Mass Incarceration Working Group of that meeting. He can be contacted at his home: 515 W. Chelten Ave., Apt. 1108, Philadelphia, PA 19144 or via email rktpbt@me.com

Biblical Roots of Quaker Worship

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The Biblical Roots of Quaker Worship

The traditional Quaker form of worship is unique among Christian groups. It represented, when it first began to be practiced in the 17th century, a radical departure from the forms of worship utilized by other Christian sects up until that time.  Early Friends frequently cited the New Testament as support for their positions on theology, oath-taking, war, and even the role of women in the church.  For those of us who see the biblical record as an invaluable channel for God's work within us, it is helpful to explore the precursors in that record to the form of worship that Friends have been given as our most central way of being held, transformed, and taught by the Living Christ.

Sacramentally-oriented Christians look to Matt 26:26-8 as the key biblical passage undergirding their practice of group worship.  Faith communities, such as Mennonites and Brethren, that focus more heavily on preaching and Bible study as central to worship often look to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7).   Although there are many Friends concerned about the anti-Semitic content in the Gospel of John (especially in John 18 &19), the clearest biblical passage undergirding Friends worship is John 4:19-24. 

Jesus' call for ritual-free worship.  The story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is one of the most extraordinary in the entire Bible. She concludes that Jesus is a prophet based on his in-depth knowledge about her personal life in spite of never having met her before.  She proceeds to ask Jesus to tell her whether God wants to be worshiped in the Temple in Jerusalem (the central location of worship in Judaism) or on Mt Gerizim (the sacred mountain that is the locus of Samaritan worship to this day).  Jesus tells her that the old worship expectations have been superseded by new ones, as "the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."  The reason for this is breathtakingly simple: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." In the 11th Proposition "Concerning Worship" of his Apology for True Christian Divinity, Robert Barclay asserts that

This testimony [in John 4:23-4] is the more specially to be observed, for that it is both the first, chiefest, and most ample testimony, which Christ gives us of his Christian worship, as different and contradistinguished from that under the Law. For first, he showeth that the season is now come wherein the worship must be "in Spirit and in Truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him": so then it is no more a worship consisting in outward observations, to be performed by man at set times or opportunities, which he can do in his own will and by his own natural strength: for else it would not differ in matter but only in some circumstances from that under the law [i.e. the commandments regarding worship God had given to the Jewish people now superseded by Christ's new commandment]. Next, as for a reason of this worship, we need not to give any other, and indeed none can give a better than that which Christ giveth, which I think should be sufficient to satisfy every Christian, to wit, "GOD is a SPIRIT, and they that worship him must worship him in Spirit and in Truth."

Early Friends (for the reasons Barclay explains) forcefully rejected the sacramental forms of worship that had been practiced in Christendom for well over a millennium. When they gathered together large groups of potential converts, Friends relied heavily on periods of preaching with limited doses of silent waiting. These "public" or "threshing meetings" may have had similarities with the type of preaching-focused worship practiced by Baptists, Anabaptists and Calvinists.  Fox and other leading preachers, however, apparently made a practice of waiting in silence (though we cannot say how long) until God gave them the words that they were to deliver. More significantly Friends insisted on the need to refrain from preparing messages in advance, relying instead on the Spirit to guide them extemporaneously in the message they were to deliver in such meetings aimed at sharing the good news of what they had discovered with non-Friends..  From the extensive discussion of this subject in Barclay and other 17th century Friends' writing, it seems safe to assume that other Christian preachers routinely prepared their messages in advance.

When Friends gathered in "retired meetings" with already convinced Friends, on the other hand, their form of corporate worship differed radically from preaching-focused Protestant worship as well as the sacramentally-focused worship practiced by Roman Catholics and Anglicans.  In this second style of worship service, Friends settled into silence to open their hearts together to deep communion with the living Spirit of Christ.  When vocal prayer and preaching occurred in such worship gatherings, it sprang out of this closely-knit silent communion among the faithful.  Again, spoken messages were under the spontaneous direction of the Holy Spirit.  It is easy to understand why Barclay believed that this type of worship was the true form of worship in "spirit and in truth" that Jesus called on his followers to practice in John 4:23-4.

The living water of silent communion with God.  Earlier in the same "Woman at the Well" story Jesus tells the woman that he could have given her "living water" had she asked for it. She misses his point badly, thinking he is talking about a literal source of physical water.  He clarifies for her, however, that "the water that I will give will become [in those who ask for it and receive it] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." Jesus' words hearken back to Isaiah 55:1-2, where the prophet speaks about true spiritual food and drink, available without price.  (Early Friends, incidentally, also rejected the usual Christian principle that ministers should be paid for exercising their gifts.) 

When our hearts are knit together in powerfully gathered waiting worship do we not enter into living water and drink deeply from it?   What deeper spiritual refreshment could be available to us than this drawing on the living water that Christ offers us every time we gather with Friends to wait expectantly upon this gift? 

The bread of spirit-led vocal ministry.  A few verses later in John 4:31-38, Jesus' disciples are equally clueless when he starts talking about spiritual food. He says that "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."  He goes on to talk about the spiritual harvest that is ripe and waiting to be gathered. Again, Jesus' words are rooted in Isaiah 55:2-3 where the prophet says to "Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live."

If we hear authentic prophetic vocal ministry directed extemporaneously by God springing out of deeply gathered silent communion with God, we will be fed. If we are given this kind of ministry, listen to it, and heed it, then we will be directed by God in how we can address the great crises facing our world today. Where can we find (or nurture?) Friends willing to go out and reap this harvest today?  (I wrote a poem called The Harvest at the beginning of the new millennium on this subject.)  Is it surprising that many of our meetings are not growing if we are not feeding those who attend with the living bread of this kind of prophetic ministry that changes lives and the world?

Barclay cites the instructions that Jesus gave his early disciples in Mark 13:11 as clear indication that they will be given words that they can speak by the Holy Spirit.

Now, if Christ gave this order to his disciples before he departed from them, as that which they were to practice, during his abode outwardly with them, much more were they to do it after his departure, since then they were more especially to receive the Spirit "to lead them in all things" and to "bring all things to their remembrance" (John 14:26). And if they were to do so when they appeared before the magistrates and princes of the earth, much more in the worship of God, when they stand especially before him, seeing, as is above shown, his worship is to be performed in Spirit; and therefore, after their receiving of the Holy Ghost, it is said (Acts 2:4): "They spake as the Spirit gave them utterance," not what they had studied and gathered from books in their closets in a premeditated way.

In popular lay terms, prophecy is thought of as predicting the future. As the term is used biblically, however, prophecy means God speaking through an individual, using that individual as God's mouthpiece to communicate important truth to God's people. Clearly such prophecy is neither logically thought out nor does it spring from human wisdom.  In fact, I believe (as Barclay does) that the term prophecy as it is used in the Book of Acts and especially in the letters of Paul (e.g. in 1 Cor. 14) refers to the kind of spirit-led vocal ministry that was so evident amongst the first generation of Friends and that we aspire for, at times experience, and need much more of in our Quaker waiting worship today. 

Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus' first disciples are described in the gospels as baptizing with water. In Acts the new churches also utilize water baptism as an outward sign associated with entrance into the new faith community. In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.  In Acts 1:4-5 Jesus states: "But wait for the promise of the Father, which," saith he "ye have heard of me: for John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence." Believers in the new church are described through out Acts as experiencing two baptisms, the second being baptism of the Holy Spirit. 

It is usually assumed today that spirit baptism refers to speaking in tongues, drawing especially on the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. If we have experienced deeply gathered worship in God's presence, however, is this not baptism with the Holy Spirit?  As mentioned earlier, Jesus said in John 14:17-26 that when he left his followers he would send a Comforter in the form of the Holy Spirit. Are we not deeply comforted and nurtured by God's presence when our waiting worship is truly "covered"?

I have only limited experience with speaking in tongues. I recognize that it is deeply comforting and transforming to many Christians who experience it. For me personally, however, baptism with the Holy Spirit describes the worship we experience regularly amongst us during gathered meetings for worship, certainly far more than ecstatic speech.

Friends reject the need for water baptism.  We say that spiritual baptism is sufficient to provide us with the return to primordial chaos and fresh creation that water baptism symbolizes.  Past generations of Friends' journals often described a tumultuous period of self-doubt and dark discouragement prior to convincement or in the very early stages of spiritual transformation. God works with us, often painfully, in prayer and in shared worship to "accuse us" and help us to face blocks and rock-hard places within us as an important step in our growing loving relationship with God.  The spiritual baptism available to us in covered worship is the door to change and new birth for us, without the need to either be sprinkled with water or to enter into a font or a river. The way Barclay states this is that "this baptism is a pure and spiritual thing, to wit, the baptism of the Spirit and fire, by which we are buried with him, that being washed and purged from our sins, we may walk in newness of life..." [Apology, 12th Proposition "Concerning Baptism"]

Holy Communion.  Friends have never felt that the Last Supper story in Matt 26:26-8 required them to carry out a ritual with bread and wine. Friends like to say that we believe in spiritual rather than outward communion.  Is not our communion the experience of being knit together in covered worship? 

It is difficult, perhaps to, discern what Jesus meant in the words he spoke to his followers at the Last Supper.  When I have attended Episcopal mass from time to time (bless me Quaker fathers for I have sinned!), I have often been moved by these services.  Nonetheless, like Barclay, I find it impossible to believe that the same prophet who spoke the words to the Samaritan woman that worship henceforth must be in spirit and in truth intended the events that took place during his last hours with his closest disciples to be endlessly repeated as an outward ritual representing the primary or even exclusive way of entering into communion with God or of gaining access to redemptive transformation.

Need to listen in silence for God's voice.  In 1 King 19:11-13 God comes to the prophet Elijah in the wilderness not in a great wind or fire or earthquake but in the "sound of sheer silence" (NRSV) or a "still small voice" (KJV).  The gospels describe on a number of occasions situations where Jesus went into the desert or to lonely isolated places to pray.  Solitary prayer is similar, in a way, to the kind of stripping away that we do in the beginning of waiting worship, seeking to move to a place deep within us away from the day's - and the world's - worries, thoughts, and ideas to allow God to worry secretly within us.

Many of us object (as I expect Barclay might have) to referring to our form of worship as "silent worship".  We do not worship silence.  We worship the Living Christ, the God at the heart of All.  We do, however, need a period of silence to enable God to work within us and amongst us - preparing fallow ground for God's living water to knit us together and enabling us receive open-heartedly the sustenance of God's prophetic word through the mouths of those called to prophetic ministry.  If we do not enter deeply into silence, our ears are blocked, our hearts are not yet sufficiently opened to their inward Teacher, and we remain in our own human wisdom.  Barclay lists many additional biblical passages (see the appendix below) that point towards the importance of waiting on the Lord, use of silence, wordless prayer, and the necessity that spoken ministry be directed extemporaneously by God.

Although it is not difficult in reading the works of early Friends to determine the form that their worship took, it is much more difficult to know with any certitude what form worship took in the early Christian churches.  Early Friends may or may not have been correct in assuming that the form of worship they practiced was a return to the worship used in these early apostolic church communities.  Barclay marshals a convincing argument, however, to suggest that the early church did, in fact, take seriously Jesus' call to worship in spirit and in truth and place a high value on spirit-directed prophetic utterance as a critical source of guidance in their new Christian communities.  It is hard to imagine how different Christianity would be today if the Church had interpreted these New Testament passages over the millennia as early Friends did - and shaped its worship, as a result, in a manner similar to that which early Friends grew quickly into.

The same can be said of the Religious Society of Friends today.   It is hard to imagine how different the Religious Society of Friends would be today if Friends had continued to worship with the power, authority, and direct reliance on the Holy Spirit as they did in the 17th century.

 

Additional Biblical References in Barclay's Apology regarding Waiting Worship
[Note: all emphases below are my own, not Barclay's.]

Barclay lists a number of biblical quotations that support the importance of "waiting upon the Lord":

That to wait upon God, and to watch before him, is a duty incumbent upon all, I suppose none will deny; and that this also is a part of worship will not be called in question, since there is scarce any other so frequently commanded in the holy Scriptures, as may appear from Psalm 27:14; Psalm 37:7, 34; Proverbs 20:22; Isaiah 30:18; Hosea 12:6; Zacharaiah 3:8; Matt. 24:42; 25:13; 26:41; Mark 13:33,35,37; Luke 21:36; Acts 1:4; 20:31; 1 Cor. 16:13; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:6; 2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7. Also this duty is often recommended with very great and precious promises, as Psalm 25:3; 37:9; 69:6; Isaiah 40:31; Lamentations 3:25-26, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," &c. Now, how is this waiting upon God, or watching before him, but by this silence of which we have spoken? 

He goes on to clarify Friends' belief that praying and preaching must be preceded by silent waiting:

From what is said it doth appear how frivolous and impertinent their objection is, that say they wait upon God in praying and preaching [without actual waiting in silence], since waiting doth of itself imply a passive dependence, rather than an acting; and since it is, and shall yet be more shown, that preaching and praying without the Spirit is an offending of God not a waiting upon him, and that praying and preaching by the Spirit presupposes necessarily a silent waiting for to feel the motions and influence of the Spirit to lead thereunto. And lastly, that in several of these places where praying is commanded, as Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36; 1 Pet. 4:7, watching is specially prefixed, as a previous preparation thereunto. So that we do well and certainly conclude that since waiting and watching are so particularly commanded and recommended, and this cannot be truly performed but in this inward silence of the mind from [women and] men's own thoughts and imaginations, this silence is and must necessarily be a special and principal part of God's worship.

He addresses directly the suggestion that worship in silence is not found in Scripture:

I answer, we make not silence to be the sole matter of our worship, since, as I have above said, there are many meetings, which are seldom, if ever, altogether silent, some or other are still moved either to preach, pray, and praise, and so, in this, our meetings cannot be but like the meetings of the primitive churches recorded in Scripture, since our adversaries confess that they did preach and pray by the Spirit. And then, what absurdity is it to suppose that at some times the Spirit did not move them to these outward acts, and that then they were silent, since we may well conclude they did not speak until they were moved, and so no doubt had sometimes silence (Acts 2:1) before the Spirit came upon them, it is said, "They were all with one accord in one place"; and then it is said, "The Spirit suddenly came upon them"; but no mention is made of anyone speaking at that time, and I would willingly know what absurdity our adversaries can infer, should we conclude they were a while silent.

And that examples of a whole silent meeting cannot be found in Scripture:

I answer; supposing such a thing were not recorded, it will not therefore follow that it is not lawful, seeing it naturally followeth from other Scripture precepts, as we have proven this doth, for seeing the Scripture commands to meet together, and when met the Scripture prohibits prayers or preachings but as the Spirit moveth thereunto, if people meet together and the Spirit move not to such acts it will necessarily follow that they must be silent. But further, there might have been many such things among the saints of old though not recorded in Scripture, and yet we have enough in Scripture signifying that such things were. For Job sat silent seven days with his friends together (Job 2:13); here was a long silent meeting. See also Ezra 9:4 and Ezekiel 14:1 and 20:1. Thus having shown the excellency of this worship, proven it from Scripture and reason, and answered the objections which are commonly made against it, which though it might suffice to the explanation and probation of our proposition, yet I shall add something more particularly of preaching, praying, and singing, and so proceed to the following proposition.

On the difference between inward and outward prayer, and the critical importance of inward prayer as well as outward verbal expressions:

Prayer is twofold: inward and outward. Inward prayer is that secret [and silent] turning of the mind towards God whereby, being secretly touched and awakened by the Light of Christ in the conscience, and so bowed down under the sense of its iniquities, unworthiness, and misery, it looks up to God, and joining issue with the secret shinings of the Seed of God it breathes towards him and is constantly breathing forth some secret desires and aspirations towards him. It is in this sense that we are so frequently in Scripture commanded to "pray continually" (Luke 18:1; 1 Thess. 5:17; Eph. 6:18; Luke 21:36), which cannot be understood of outward prayer, because it were impossible that men should be always upon their knees, expressing words of prayer; and this would hinder them from the exercise of those duties, no less positively commanded. Outward prayer is when as the spirit (being thus in the exercise of inward retirement, and feeling the breathing of the Spirit of God to arise powerfully in the soul) receives strength and liberty, by a superadded motion and influence of the Spirit, to bring forth either audible sighs, groans or words, and that either in public assemblies, or in private.  [cf. Georffrey Kaiser's interesting article on the subject of audible sighing and groaning as these relate to singing in meeting for worship in the Sept. 2011 issue of Friends Journal.]

He quotes Paul's passage in the 8th chapter of Romans on the role the Spirit plays in our efforts to pray:

This necessity of the Spirit's moving and concurrence appears abundantly from that of the apostle Paul (Rom. 8:26-27): "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Which first, holds forth the incapacity of men [and women!], as of themselves, to pray or call upon God in their own wills, even such as have received the faith of Christ and are in measure sanctified by it, as was the Church of Rome, to whom the apostle then wrote. Secondly, it holds forth that which can only help and assist men to pray, to wit the Spirit, as that without which they cannot do it acceptably to God nor beneficially to their own souls. Thirdly, the manner and way of the Spirit's intercession, with "sighs and groans which are unutterable." And fourthly, that God receiveth graciously the prayers of such as are presented and offered unto himself by the Spirit, knowing it to be according to his will. Now it cannot be conceived but this order of prayer thus asserted by the apostle is most consistent with those other testimonies of Scripture commending and recommending to us the use of prayer.

On the necessity of the Spirit to true prayer in Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20,

where the apostle [Paul] commands to "pray always in the Spirit," and "watching thereunto"; which is as much as if he had said that we were never to pray without the Spirit or watching thereunto. And Jude showeth us that such prayers as are "in the Holy Ghost" only tend to the "building up of ourselves in our most holy faith."

Paul saith expressly (1 Cor. 12:3) that "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost." If then Jesus cannot be thus rightly named but by the Holy Ghost, far less can he be acceptably called upon. Hence the same apostle declares (1 Cor. 14:15) that he "will pray with the Spirit," &c. A clear evidence that it was none of his method to pray without it!

Paul suggests the danger of trying to understand matters of the spirit by "human wisdom".  He suggests that we can only be taught by the Holy Spirit.  Barclay cites several passages in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians where Paul emphasizes the importance of spiritual over human understanding, e.g. 1 Cor 1:17 and 1 Cor. 2:3-4 and 2:13.  In 1 Cor. 4 Paul also describes the key role that prophecy (which I have defined earlier in this essay as Spirit-directed vocal ministry) needs to play in Christian worship.

I suggested earlier in this essay that Barclay associated the term prophecy, as Paul uses it, with Spirit-directed vocal ministry in Quaker worship. Whether or not we agree with Barclay on this, it seems clear that he sees Paul's advices about worship in 1 Cor. 4 as describing a form of worship close, at least in spirit, to what he participated in regularly with the Friends of his own day. At the very least we can join with Barclay - and Paul - in believing that prophecy plays a critical role in shaping the life of the faith community.  Without it, we are without a sure guide, as a community and as a prophetic people capable of making a difference in our world today.

Charles Marshall Epistle

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An Epistle to Friends Coming Forth in Ministry

by Charles Marshall

Who in your assemblies sometimes feel a testimony for the Lord to spring to your hearts, keep your watch in the light, that so none stay behind, nor run before; but let all that open their mouths in the assemblies of the Lord's people, do it as the oracle of God, in the arising of the eternal power; for nothing can beget to God, but what comes from the word of life, that lives and abides forever; and nothing can refresh, strengthen or comfort that which is begotten by the word of life, but what springs from the same. Therefore, dear Friends, whom this concerns, wait diligently, not only to know and savour every motion, but also to know the appointed time when the motion should be brought forth; so shall what is ministered, if it be but few words, reach, and do its service. For this I have learned,, that though there may be a true motion of the power of the Lord, and a true operation thereof, yet where there is not a waiting for the perfecting of what is to be brought forth, but instead thereof, coming forth before the time, there is an untimely birth; which hurts the vessel through which it comes, and the hearers are burdened; and the life which first moved comes to be oppressed. .... 

And, Friends, when any through want of experience err,  in running before the power, be very tender; and although there may be a savour and judgment in yourselves, and you may be burthened,  yet beware how you speak to ease yourselves, but wait on the Lord therein, to be guided by his counsel; for some having such a sense, and not discerning wherein the miscarriage lay, have run forth in judgment, and have sometimes hurt, and even destroyed, or at least have become a stumbling-block to such an exercised Friend, and have also much hurt themselves. So that not having a true discerning, between the first moving cause, which is the power, they have judged both,  and so have brought a hurt over their own souls, through judging the power of the Lord; and this sometimes may extend to hurt others. Out of which snare God Almighty preserve all, that so one may be a strength to another, taking one another by the hand, and saying, "Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, who will teach us more and more his ways; and here, in God's holy mountain, is neither hurting nor destroying. " 

The Life of Charles Marshall. In: Evans, William and Evans, Thomas, eds. Friends' Library. Philadelphia: Printed by Joseph Rakestraw, 1840, Vol. IV, page 161. 

Excerpts on Vocal Ministry

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Excerpts from various YM disciplines on the subject of
Spirit-led Vocal Ministry

The EARLY disciplines of American YM's (those written before the 1827 schism) have a great deal in common in structure and language.  The issue of spirit-led ministry is addressed in sections specifically addressed to the meeting's ministers & elders, as these are considered the members with special responsibility for this area of meeting life.

Philadelphia YM:  "Ministers and elders watch over one another for good, to help those who are exercised in the ministry in the right line, discouraging forward spirits that run into words without life and power, advising against affectation in tones and gestures."

Each of these early American disciplines had special queries that were to be answered by the committee of ministers and elders, such as these:

Baltimore YM & New England YM:  "Are ministers, in the exercise of their gifts, careful to wait for divine ability and thereby preserved from being burthensome?"  ["Divine ability" is a term frequently used to refer to the specific calling from God to speak during meeting.]

New York YM [Do ministers & elders] "discourage forward persons whose communications do not proceed from the right authority?"  [Are the mtg's ministers] "careful to minister in the ability which truth gives?"

Later, perhaps in response to the concerns generated by the Hicksite-Orthodox split, the emphasis seems to shift from divine ability or leading to asking whether ministry is "sound in word and doctrine".

I particularly like this version from Virginia YM's 1814 discipline:  [Ministers and elders should exhort the meeting's ministers to] "earnestly seek the mind of the spirit of truth to open the mysteries thereof, that abiding in a simple and patient submission to the divine will, and keeping down to its opening of love and life in themselves, they may witness a gradual growth in their gifts, and be preserved from extending their declarations further than the power of truth shall be experienced to accompany them."

Here are three fine excerpts from MODERN DISCIPLINES

Pacific YM (1985) and North Pacific (1993) include the query: "Is the vocal ministry exercised under the divine leading of the Holy Spirit without pre-arrangement and in the simplicity and sincerity of truth?"

New York YM (1998) asks: "Are we careful that our ministry is under the leading of the Holy Spirit?"  Direction is also offered: "Friends are advised to observe our Christian testimony for a faithful ministry of the gospel under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Members are reminded that all have a responsibility in ministry." This same query was strengthened in the 1986 revision of New England's discipline.

A very similar query was among the queries adopted jointly for use by the Hicksite and Orthodox YM's of Philadelphia in 1948 but was dropped from the 1997 revision. 

(Although I was unable to discern from those on the revision committee the reasons why it was dropped, my strong suspicion is that this was due to a deep-seated discomfort with "judging" the quality of others' spoken ministry within the meeting.  I attempted without success to urge Philadelphia YM, which I was a member of at the time, to reintroduce this important query to their discipline during a minor revision around the year 2001.  This is an interesting commentary on the difficulty many Friends today have, even those on ministry and worship committees, feeling the authority to actively nurture the quality of waiting worship and vocal ministry within their meeting.)

Britain YM does not appear to address the issue directly in its discipline.

Although Ohio YM still has committees of ministers & elders, its 1992 discipline no longer has specific queries for ministers & elders.  Ohio' general queries do not really address the quality of vocal ministry directly.  The following instruction is provided, however, in the section on Meeting for Worship:  "Though the nearness to God may result in spoken ministry or vocal prayer, the distinctive excellence of heavenly favor consists in the direct communication with the Heavenly Father by the inward revelation of the Spirit of Christ."  The same message is reinforced later:  "Vocal service in such a meeting, whether prayer or exhortation or teaching, should be uttered under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit." 

Created for as a handout for a course entitled "Gospel Order Exploring Some Challenging Issues in Quaker Faith & Practice" offered at London Grove (PA) Meeting, Jan. 14-Mar.18, 2001.  For the full curriculum for this course see: Gospel Order Course

Traveling Ministry

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Traveling Ministry

History.  From their earliest beginnings in 17th century, Quakers have valued and supported travel by individual Friends "under a religious concern".  In most cases such Friends have traveled among settled (i.e. already established) Friends Meetings either in their immediate vicinity or at a great distance.  At times, however, Friends have felt led to travel among non-Friends with a particular leading.  A striking example is when Mary Fisher felt led in 1658 to travel to Istanbul to meet with Sultan  Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire.  All early Quaker leaders, especially those identified informally as the "Valiant Sixty", carried out such travels in the gospel ministry.  Later Quaker journals are filled with accounts of such  religious travel.

Shared discernment and support from the faith community.  Friends developed very early a process for group testing, usually by one's local congregation, of such leadings.  This process is now usually referred to as a "clearness committee" for one-time calls to travel and a "support committee" for the nurture and holding accountable of those led to carry out such work on a more ongoing basis.  This provcess is one important example of what Friends refer to as "eldership" or eldering.  The process of shared discernment of God's call and holding an individual accountable for carrying out that call faithfully is the same whether or not it is carried out by persons formally recognized as elders or by others not so designated. 

It is considered important that Friends undertaking such work obtain a written minute of religious concern often referred to as a "traveling minute" that describes the faith community's official endorsement of the individual's calling to a particular or more ongoing religious work among Friends or in the wider world.  In cases of distant travel among Friends, these minutes are also often endorsed by the Friend's yearly meeting (regional association).

It is considered critical that Friends undertaking this type of work travel with a spiritual companion or "elder".  The elder both provides prayerful support to the "minister" (both during any programs the minister is leading and before and after) and also to hold the minister accountable for faithful exercise of her or his call.

There is separate webpage with more information on Eldering

Biblical underpinnings. Early Friends saw themselves as continuing a pattern of religious work described in Bible, especially the New Testament.  The importance of traveling with an elder ties in with the fact that Jesus sent out his followers in pairs.  See Mark 9-13.  The resurrected Jesus gave similar briefer instructions in Matthew 28-18-20.  Many examples can also be found in the Book of Acts and Paul's letters.  You can read many reports of the process of discerning in prayer with others what particular travel or religious task Paul and others were called to carry out.

Engaging with a Monthly Meeting about Ministry describes one Friend's request to her meeting for a minute of travel and how the meeting responded.

For a description of some of the types of work that Anne Patterson & I (Peter Blood) have done see Our Travel under Concern.

Eldership Resources

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Eldership Resources

Some important resources on this subject include:

A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Quaker Minister by Samuel Bownas.  This thin but powerful volume is the classic Quaker treatise on this subject.

A Few Passages Relating to Elders & Ministers prepared by Bob Schmitt, Jan Hoffman and Kenneth Sutton

Elders posted by West Hills Friends (in Portland OR)

Echoes from a Worship & Ministry Retreat Concerning Eldering from Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore

Eldering then & now by Liz Oppenheimer

Selected Bibliography on Ministry and Eldering prepared by the FGC Traveling Ministries Program


Three important pamphlets that are not currently available online include:

Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community by Sandra Cronk.

So That You Come Behind in No Gift: Papers from Ohio Yearly Meeting's Gathering on Eldering

Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry & Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, by Marty Grundy, Pendle Hill Pamphlet # 347, 1999.

We would welcome hearing from others regarding additional resources on this subject that you have found particularly helpful.


Insights into the Practice of Eldering

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Insights into the Practice of Eldering in Ohio Yearly Meeting

A summary minute from a session of the Ohio Yearly Meeting for Ministry and Oversight, held 8/10/2011

There is a natural gravitation to elders by people who are in need of eldering, including some who do not know why they are troubled. An elder can be seen as a Friend who gives trustworthy advice about our life following Christ. Not availing oneself of an elder's counsel is like ignoring advice from a qualified teacher in one's work place.

We find that elders have wisdom and discernment given them by God. Elders can listen well to people who come for advice or for clarification of some spiritual situation they find troubling. They often listen to their own spiritual leadings and are able to share helpfully with others how we can listen and respond to God. Elders need to be tender and sensitive in the timing and strength of their counsel, that tender spiritual buds not be bruised.

Some ministers among us today have noted that they may become overconfident in their gift or have difficulty dividing their own concerns from the message that comes from God. Elders have assisted them in not straying from what God gives them. Likewise, elders help hold ministers accountable and responsive to the meeting. One minister remembers an elder telling her when she was much younger, "I can feel the Spirit in thy spoken ministry, but I cannot hear thee. Speak up." Today that minister's speaking is clearly audible throughout the room. In addition, an elder can be a conduit for a concern an individual member has, without requiring that Friend to go directly to the minister.

Many of us sense that there is a cross in doing the Lord's work, as well as a vibrant joy. We need to feel the weight of that cross, and we need one another to help bear it. It is important for meetings at every organizational level to become aware of budding spiritual gifts and to encourage their growth. Then our meetings will continue to have leadership with that subtle touch which reminds us of the true and fundamental leadership of our Lord, Christ Jesus.