If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ve heard me talk about growing up in a little 10 person church. I talk about it so often because it is the filter that I view the majority of my life through. A down-syndrome boy who led worship, a mentally unstable preacher, senior saints and racial diversity, communion served by ex-convincts, we had it all.
But one of the more formative parts of our church, is something I’ve never really talked about before. That was that while we had plenty of characters in our church, we almost never had a plan.
There was never really an order of worship, although a regular routine did evolve (3 songs, prayer, 2 songs, communion, sermon etc) there was a lot of moving pieces. After all, when your worship is led by anyone who showed up it’s hard to plan until they get there.
Room for the Spirit
And here is where one of the more charming memories about my little church happened. At least a couple of times a month, Bro. Foy would turn around in his pew and loudly remind all of us about the Quakers:
“You know our Quaker brothers and sisters will sit in silence and just wait on the LORD to give them a word”
And when Bro. Foy did this we knew what was coming next…nothing. No one would speak, as we tried out this little Quaker experiment.
There was lots of silence, heavy breathing, a cough or two and finally someone would stand up and say something that they thought God had moved them to say.
Let me remind you, we were an anti-Sunday School Church of Christ, we were against Bible Classes because the New Testament didn’t specifically authorize them, but worked into our semi-regular liturgy was this idea that the world was inhabited by God and that God could speak anytime and through anyone.
And over the course of my childhood I began to believe it.
One of the more interesting stories in the Bible, is the story of Elijah going up against the prophets of Ba’al. Israel has been flirting with other gods, and now God has sent Elijah to make them choose between Ba’al the idol and the living LORD. So Elijah has a kind of Wild West showdown with over 400 prophets, they carve up a couple of bulls (of course), and put them on their respective altars and they are going to have a god-off to see whose god will send down fire from Heaven.
Elijah lets the prophets of Ba’al pray to their “god” first. So the prophets of Ba’al pray and weep and wail for hours, they take to cutting themselves to get Ba’als attention and the whole time they are banging on drums. I imagine it was a pretty noisy, messy affair. But at the end of the day, there was no fire from Ba’al, because the Bible is insinuating, there is no Ba’al.
But then when Elijah steps up to pray, there’s no dog and pony show, he simply prays for God to send down fire from Heaven and show Israel what a real God looks like. And that’s exactly what happens.
There’s a verse in the book of Habbakuk that has always intrigued me, and it’s a verse related to this story:
“The LORD is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silent before Him.”
This is not a verse against drums or musical instruments or a Scriptural mandate not to talk (but it might be wise to use less words), it’s a polemic against the very thing that the prophets of Ba’al were doing. God isn’t like Ba’al, He’s alive, he doesn’t need your drums or your shouting to prop up the appearance that He’s really there. He really is there, and so be silent, because God might just have something to say.
The Quakers were right.
The Journal of John Woolman
So back to the Quakers, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them (they are awfully quiet) but if you live in America your life has been radically shaped by them.
A few weeks ago, I read the journal by an 16th century Quaker named John Woolman, Woolman was a entrepreneurial businessman who probably did as much as anyone in America to bring to an end slavery…and chances are you’ve never heard of him.
At the beginning of his journal, Woolman realized that he had fallen away from meetings and he recommitted himself to gathering with the other Quakers. Because he realized that he was becoming a kind of person he didn’t like. He knew that he was gathering with/spending time with the wrong people, and if he wanted to hear the voice of God he needed to be with people who knew how to hear Him.
So he went, and heard from God in more ways than he’d hoped for.
He noticed that some of his fellow Quakers held slaves, and that bothered him…a lot. So he started privately taking these brothers and sisters aside and sharing his concerns. I want you to think about the courage this took, back in the day, many in the abolitionist movement were very harsh and judgmental, they would shout their angry condemnation of slavery from a distance, but not Woolman. Which is why he was so effective.
He didn’t believe you could love people in theory, but only the actual people in front of you, and out of concern for them, and for the people they thought they owned, Woolman spoke for God.
Seriously, he heard the voice of God over and over again say the same thing in different places. Because that’s the thing about Woolman, God sent him all over the country, and everytime he’d go to the Quaker meeting house, they’d all sit for hour(s) of silence, and then when God would give Woolman a word he’d say it.
And it worked.
Here’s something that Woolman said repeatedly:
These are souls for whom Christ died, and for our conduct toward them we must answer before that Almighty Being who is no respecter of persons…I have been under a concern for some time on account of the great number of slaves which are imported into this colony. I am aware that it is a tender point to speak to, but apprehend I am not clear in the sight of heaven without speaking to it.
Eventually, the 1780 Slavery Abolition act become official, and it comes from the tiny little Quaker colony called Pennsylvania, that was shaped by a business man who was moved by the voice of God.
Just because someone says that they hear from God doesn’t mean that they do. They may even hear something, but that doesn’t mean it’s from God. A real test of whether something is from the God of Jesus is whether or not it costs you something, if it challenges the status quo that leads to greater justice to self-sacrifice and toward reconciliation with other people.
God still speaks and moves.
So thank God for those movers who are Quakers.