As Friends we have a rich heritage that often gets overlooked as we struggle to survive in today’s ever changing culture. We grasp onto as much of yesterday as we can grip in our fingers while the world around us changes at greater speeds every day. But when it comes down to it, our heritage isn’t really based on the re-creation of our history, but on our willingness to adapt to the new and changing cultures around us. Not watering down the foundational principles of our spiritual convictions, but rather, innovating new ways of delivering these principles to the next generation. A few years ago J. Brent Bill shared this thought with me; “The distinctives remain the same, it’s how we live them out that must change.”
How can we learn to embody the foundational pillars that the Quaker movement was built upon and still impact the generation of today? I think our first step is to understand what these pillars are. Carol Spencer, in her book Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism, shares 8 essential elements of Quakerism; scripture, eschatology, conversion, charisma, evangelism, mysticism, suffering, and perfection. Sadly, we have lost our grip on many of these elements as we have struggled to hold onto our traditions rather than our foundations.
What does Quakerism version 2015 look like? Does it recapture a thirst for scripture by studying God’s Word to the point of embodying His worldview? Does it have an understanding of the real and present Christ that is not distant, but is among us even now? Does it help lead others into authentic relationship with Christ where the old self is put to death and the new self emerges? Does it regain the charismatic roots that helped it spread all over the world by following the movement of the Spirit? Does it regain its ability to spread the Good News to others through word and deed, preaching and teaching at every opportunity? Does it reacquire the mystical sense of experiencing God first hand? Does it endure even to the point of suffering, through a deep knowing of God and understanding His will? Does it climax at the point of unity with God, a complete victory over sin?
These questions have to be asked as we take the message of Christ forward as Friends to the generations to come. We have the unique position of being a movement that, historically, can leave behind meaningless traditions and symbols, for a deeper understanding of what these things represent. Can we do that again? Can we escape the need to keep our traditions at the expense of losing our impact? Can we once again tap into our innate desire to follow God wherever He may lead? If so, I think it starts with a new appreciation of spiritual formation. We need to seek a spiritual depth in our church that, for many in our culture, has been laid aside for an easier path.
In a world that questions everything and takes nothing at face value, Friends may have the best chance to relate. With a fresh take on the foundational distinctives that at one time made us a peculiar people, we can capture the moral imaginations of the world around us. I still have more questions than answers, but I am convinced that God wants to include Friends in his plan, and I’m eager to see how we fit.
“You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:14
– Manny Garcia, Lead Pastor at Northridge Friends Church