9/25/2006

Quaker Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

In my reading recently, I came across this from a Friend. I hope you will indulge me as I reproduce pieces of the essay. Please also be aware that certain features of this post are ... well, I'll just say, presented in a mysterious and less than straightforward way. I'll explain the mystery in a future post soon, after seeing how this post is received, and what happens in the comments...

The Quaker Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The Society of Friends arose from an immediate, living experience of the Holy Spirit. This was not a new discovery. It was a rediscovery of a truth shared in some degree by all Christians and specially emphasized by many of the reformers in seventeenth century England.

A form of church government based on primacy of the Spirit recognizes no final human authority; God’s Spirit is the ultimate authority. Vocal ministry in the meeting for worship should be exercised only under the fresh and immediate anointing of the Spirit.

The means by which the Quakers, though positing the supremacy of the Spirit, were able to avoid religious anarchy and confusion is little understood outside the Society of Friends.

The Quakers avoided extreme individualism in two ways. Following the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, they identified the Inward Light with the Logos, the Word of God revealed through the Christ of the New Testament.

The second method of avoiding religious anarchy grew out of the experience of the Spirit as inspiring the group, conceived as an organic whole. The revelation of truth to the group took precedence over what an individual might consider to be his own sense of truth. To attain unity in the group a genuine waiting worship and inward searching is prerequisite. This form of church government which places authority in the group as a whole, rather than in any individual, permits the supremacy of the Spirit within individuals and also assures a fair degree of order and continuity in the Religious Society. There should be enough individualism to permit a wholesome variety of opinion, yet not so much as to cause disorder and confusion. The Society of Friends has been in its healthiest condition when there has been neither too much nor too little uniformity.

The terms “Christ Within” and “Inward Christ” have a warmer, more personal quality than the more abstract words such as “Light,” or even “Life.” The same personal quality is characteristic of the “still small voice” of God. Yet the more impersonal terms, such as the “authority of Truth,” are also frequently used.

The same indefiniteness and ambiguities appear in the New Testament. It is possible in Paul, as in Fox, to find more than one theological position. The so-called liberal will stress the Eternal Word and the so-called evangelical may tend to emphasize the Word made Flesh, though both are using the same phrases.

8 comments:

LSB said...

The Friend really describes two doctrines of the Holy Spirit, both of which are represented as belonging to the Quaker faith. The first doctrine is described as understanding the Spirit in terms of “personal encounter.” The writings of Fox illustrate the master-disciple relationship that belongs to this first approach. Fox taught that the inward teacher is “the spirit and light of Jesus.”

The second doctrine… is less personal. It is more theocentric than Christocentric. Here the terms “Eternal Word” and “Inward Christ” are [used]…. Quakers who incline to this approach prefer abstract and impersonal terms such as “light,” “life,” and “authority of truth”.

Nearly all the various forms of Quakerism are fed by two main streams of religious thought and experience. We might call these two streams the “Hebrew-prophetic-personal” and the “Greek-philosophical-impersonal.”

Quaker thought and experience was firmly rooted in the prophetic Hebrew-Christian tradition. We now find ourselves in a new and vastly changed situation. We have now become largely uprooted from the soil of prophetic religion. The dual character of Quaker thought that has developed out of this situation has produced two communities within the Society of which there is evidence in nearly every local Quaker meeting and nearly every Quaker committee. It becomes increasingly difficult for these communities to communicate with each other as time goes on.

Our Friend xseems to be prepared to accept this duality as a kind of fixed pattern in Quaker life.

This is a new situation in Quaker history and it is a situation that calls for decision. It may be that the Quaker mind of today has become so hellenized that it is incapable of grasping the issues involved in this great question. In that case there will be no contest and the vision of prophetic Quakerism will cease to be a force in Quaker history. What the future holds we do not know, but it is doubtful that the long hoped-for renewal will come within our reach while this question remains unresolved.

TSB said...

The pitfalls of all religion are particularly actue for those who put primary reliance upon the Spirit, namely, idolatry and spiritual pride.

If Quakerism is to be strong in its heritage from the Spiritual Reformation, it must keep its roots in the Bible.

The dangers to religious life in Fox’s time were rigidity of form and fanaticism of spirit: in our day they are vagueness and flaccidity. The very forts which he stormed may well prove to be the ramparts from which we shall have to defend the great truth of Quaker experience that “Christ has come to teach His people Himself.”

CFT said...

Friends have not demonstrated much success at avoiding religious anarchy and confusion. If we had to prove our doctrine of the Spirit by the way we have handled church government the outlook would be disquieting.

The gifts of the Spirit are varied as to the nature of ministry in the group, and the law governing their use is the law of love.

Gregg Koskela said...

Thanks, Chris, for a thought provoking post. In addition to the poles of Hebrew-Greek, personal-impersonal/cosmic force, I also notice the individual-community pole.

It's difficult for us humans to hold paradox in tension, isn't it?

Liz Opp said...

I appreciate the succinctness of this excerpt, from wherever it hails. It captures, for me, the centrality and primacy of the Spirit; the place of the corporate body; and the role of the individual.

I especially appreciate how this dualism is articulated:

There should be enough individualism to permit a wholesome variety of opinion, yet not so much as to cause disorder and confusion. The Society of Friends has been in its healthiest condition when there has been neither too much nor too little uniformity.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

RichardM said...

CFT said...
Friends have not demonstrated much success at avoiding religious anarchy and confusion. If we had to prove our doctrine of the Spirit by the way we have handled church government the outlook would be disquieting.

I think the truth of this depends on which Yearly or Monthly Meeting you are talking about and when. In my experience on the whole we have done well at how we have handled church government. It gets sticky at times but the outlook is not at all disquieting from where I sit.

If disunity and discord were not rare and transitory I would think we had a serious problem. The fact that we can and do actually succeed in maintaining love and unity among us, given how different we are, is a very good sign.

Dave Carl said...

I'm looking forward to the attribuition. I'd like to use this in our newsletter. Thanks for sharing it.

Chris M. said...

Dave: You're welcome. See the subsequent post, if you haven't yet.

Richard: Yes, that's true, it depends. What's interesting is that this exchange was from 1959... Have things changed all that much for us? Yes, in some ways, not so much in others.

-- Chris M.