Welcoming Jesus?

In the current issue of The Friend, Michael Wright writes:

Cap Kaylor (23 and 30 March) has challenged us to enquire where our Religious Society of Friends is to look for its ‘identity and its engine’. He writes of the importance of narrative in the human search for meaning, as he points to the picture of Jesus ‘lost along the way’ but now being rediscovered.

Advices & queries 4 reminds us that: ‘The Religious Society of Friends is rooted in Christianity and has always found inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus.’ We share a narrative with other Christians, but we value the scriptures without taking them at face value, paying attention to the Spirit that ‘gave the scriptures’ rather than abiding by the letter of them. We can learn much from the Jewish practice of finding the scriptures a source for creative thinking, rather than a theological straitjacket.

I have quoted Cap Kaylor here before:

Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, the deeper narrative from which Quakerism sprang is the Christian narrative of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who functioned both as archetype and engine for the early Quakers. For most of our history Friends have had no trouble identifying with that Christian narrative.

The Religious Society of Friends began as a reform movement within Christianity, and for the early Friends there was no confusion when it came to identifying the Light with the historical person of Jesus. They lived and moved in a society that was saturated with a Christian ethos. The very stones around them proclaimed a Christian culture that we can no longer take for granted as they could. Embedded within a Christian milieu they found their meaning and their mission in the gospels.

We are now faced with a dilemma. That Christian milieu has long since faded, and seeds that were planted early in our own history have left Quakers uniquely vulnerable to the stresses and challenges of a materialistic and aggressively secular civilisation. The historic channels through which Christian faith has typically been transmitted were scripture, tradition, and sacramental ritual. They weave together to form the narrative that is the Christian community’s collective memory of the Jesus event…

We could do without a reliance on scripture, ordained ministry, or ritual while we lived in a Christian society that provided us with commonly held ethical presuppositions and a vocabulary to interpret our spiritual experiences. But that time has now past. However, without the force of at least an ostensibly Christian culture, where is the Religious Society of Friends to look for its identity and its engine?

Michael Wright proposes that:

…a narrative – sourced from the gospels, focused on truth and integrity, community fellowship, trust and service, health and wellbeing, valuing every individual, with concerns for justice, peace and for our environment – has real power to inspire and motivate. It draws creatively on the Christian tradition, but finds little or no sustenance in the words of too many hymns, liturgies and doctrines.

Michael concludes his thoughtful and engaging piece with an appeal for direct contact with Friends “interested in sharing experiences and insights and in developing such a narrative.” In The Friend magazine Michael publishes his email address, which is thus freely accessible to subscribers; here, on the open web, I feel I should not do so; but if anyone has no subscription to the magazine, they’re welcome to send me their own email address, and I’ll be glad to provide Michael Wright’s.

4 thoughts on “Welcoming Jesus?

  1. Roger

    Dear Mike – I can’t see Michael Wright’s e-mail address in my copy of The Friend. Could you send it, pleas? Roger Matthews, Stratford-upon-Avon LM

    Reply
  2. Tom E

    “It draws creatively on the Christian tradition, but finds little or no sustenance in the words of too many hymns, liturgies and doctrines.” Very creatively, in my opinion, at least according to most forms of Christianity. That was what drew me to Quakerism in the first place. Personally I find little of value in a ‘Christless Quakerism’, as some prominent Friend argued, prophetically, about 50 years ago. This does not mean discounting other religious traditions, but jettisoning one’s own leads nowhere, I feel. This return to our roots is all moving forward quite rapidly now, as seen by breakaway groups (even in the UK which has always been quite conservative and reluctant to break ranks), such as Friends in Christ, Friends of the Light, etc. I feel a great sense of loss at this possible disintegration, but also a sense of hope for the future.

    Reply
  3. Ellis Hein

    I was struck this morning by Cap Kaylor’s comment: “We could do without a reliance on scripture, ordained ministry, or ritual while we lived in a Christian society that provided us with commonly held ethical presuppositions and a vocabulary to interpret our spiritual experiences.” This would seem to imply that the truth, experienced by the early Friends, of Christ being present in and among his people in all his offices is dependent upon a culture of false religion that does not possess what it professes. The power of the early Quaker movement depended upon ministers speaking to the witness of God within the heart of the hearers. Margaret Fell’s account of hearing Fox speaking is a case in point. She wrote, “This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly, we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly; and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.”

    Reply

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