In 1966 my family begin attending an old-fashioned Quaker meeting—one with ‘Mind God” painted across the front of the church. We never danced went to movies, watched television, played cards and the girls never wore jewelry or lipstick or cut their hair. In 1967 I attended a Bible school that was influenced by this group of Quakers. Most of those I went to Bible School with have moved far beyond those days, some even wish to forget the days of “legalism”. But there were some aspects of the “old fashion, orthodox/evangelical/holiness Quakers” that stand out among all Quaker groups. They were serious about what they believed, they were sticklers to procedures, they preached holiness, they were willing to be a “peculiar people”, they were harder in their judgment of themselves than those on the outside, they were serious about Bible study and were excellent students of scripture, they produced some great children, (look at me). I would like to look at these aspects in a little more detail. This is one of the spiritual branches from the roots of my spiritual heritage.
I was raised with the premise the church is the center of the Christian’s social life. Our life revolved around the church. Serving God was serious business and was to be first place in our life. It is difficult for me to understand how the church is no longer center in the life of Christians. All too often, people want to come to church not to worship but to be entertained. They want their ears tickled. They come for a "good time", not to worship and serve Jesus. This is, after all the church of peoples rights. To be honest, I get weary of those who as my father would say are “flippant and fickle in their dedication” to Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is serious it is all about putting God first; it is about believing the Bible and obeying it; it is about being willing to remain faithful and true to Jesus. The Quakers I grew up with were serious about who they were. They understood their spiritual heritage and what they believed and why they believed it. While progressive Quakers are enchanted with Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and Paula White, these Quakers were reading books by George Fox, Robert Barclay and even John Wesley. The laity read more theology books than any progressive Quaker minister I have met. Maybe it is because they did not consume their time with television and video games.
When it comes to business meetings, I long for the day when a business meeting is conducted with the seriousness of worship. After all, that is what made Quaker business different from other church practices---Robert’s Rules of Order would never be considered in a Quaker business meeting. I understand the business procedure of Friends is viewed as impractical to non-Quakers, and as a Quaker I must say that it does not always work as well as it should. Nonetheless, it has been a center-piece of the Quakers for almost 400 years, at times seeing us through extremely difficult decision and divisions. For the non-Quaker imagine gathering for a business meeting, where participants are sitting there in thoughtful silence. If someone has something to say, they politely address the Clerk, “Clerk please”, when recognized they stand up and speak; then others take their turn. No one ever interrupts.(OK there were times of passion when interruption occurred). When a person finishes having his or her say, the silence resumes until someone else is moved to speak. A Clerk presides over the meeting, no vote is taken. When the Clerk has a “sense of the meeting” a decision is made with the approval of those in attendance. This eliminated the “them and those” from the decision. To the Quakers I grew up with this was the only way to conduct business. There were procedure and they were to be followed.
The doctrine that set the orthodox/evangelical/holiness Quaker aside from others was the preaching and teaching of Christian Perfection. Perfection or as some would say holiness other may call this the baptism of the Spirit was the message of separation from the world. This doctrinal view is no longer taught by most Quakers yet, these “old-fashioned holiness Quaker preachers” made “preaching holiness” a major doctrine of the meeting. They were Spirit-filled and taught that this was the essential baptism of the Scriptures. It was a life of holy living. They understood holiness involved a lifestyle. Living a holy life is just that—a lifestyle, something to live. Religious experience is not just “follow the Inner Light” as most Quakers like to emphasize, it is a change of who we are and how we live. As to their practical teaching on Perfection as Barclay taught it is more realistic and achievable than modern Quakers like to accept.
They were willing to be peculiar, to be different from the world and cared little for what the world thinks of their dress or habits. They taught Christians are called to be a peculiar from secular society. The Quaker life-style of plainness, and holiness may not have changed a materialistic church but they were willing to be set apart and surrendered to a life that was “not of this world”, yet “in the world “ a life called to be a “peculiar people.”
I found they were less judgmental towards the lost than most people felt. I know there are some who are bitter toward the standard of the church in personal areas, but this bitterness is often rooted in deeper problems. The reserved attitude toward “outsiders” came more from not knowing how to approach them than ignoring or condemning them.
What I miss the most in my life as a “wanderer in a land of Biblical ignorance” is that progressive Quakers would rather discuss the last football game, car race or some other sport than to discuss the Bible. To a minister of the Bible who is serious about knowledge and application of the Scripture--- these folk are your dream members. I’d rather deal with a group of people who read and study the Bible constantly than people who treat the Bible as a book of personal opinions with a who-cares attitude. Teach a Bible class with these people present and they will read and study and even argue with you. Teach a class to most Quakers and they nod, look at their watches and say “whatever.” I like it that these Quakers treat the Bible so seriously.
I once had a lady in a Christian Education workshop on the importance of teaching the Bible, asked me if I was going to discuss Jesus in the workshop. I replied, yes. She informed me her meeting did not teach the Bible or stories about Jesus. I asked her where was the “Christian” in the education if the Bible and Christ were not included. She said social issues were more important than the Bible and Jesus. No wonder we have so much ignorance in the church.
Many of the children raised in the orthodox/evangelical/holiness Quaker home have a strong spiritual foundation. These Quakers produced strong Christians who kept the core values of orthodox/evangelical/holiness Quakers even if they abandon their Quaker ideas. They still regard studying the Bible, attending Sunday school, and sharing scriptural truths as important to their faith. Many have become stable ministers in many denominations. I once had a Yearly Meeting Superintendent tell me he wished he had a dozen ministers with the orthodox/evangelical/holiness Quaker background. . .they were the most stable ministers in the Yearly Meeting. They were less demanding and were willing to stick it out in difficult times.
Now you have some knowledge of my spiritual roots.