Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Once, in describing my upcoming wedding to a friend, I mentioned that it was a Quaker Meeting for Worship in which all would sit silent, waiting on the Lord. When she found out that no human being would be leading the meeting, she was puzzled.
"Who pronounces you man and wife?"
"Jesus," I replied.
"Yes, but whose voice does he use?"
In that brief exchange, I glimpsed a fundamental difference in our viewpoints that I'm still trying to understand after nearly thirty years. Her question seemed to imply a few basic assumptions which she thought we shared: 1) If a human being is officiating at a worship service or a wedding, Jesus is using that person's voice to run things; i.e., to preach, pray, teach, or pronounce a couple man and wife 2) If no one person is officiating, Jesus will still use the voices of the people who speak to conduct the business for which the group is gathered 3) Since both types of groups are meeting with the honest intent of hearing God, and speaking for him, that hearing and speaking will come about. The form of worship or type of Christian group is secondary or perhaps irrelevant.
However, I had rejected these assumptions several years previously, in favor of what I'd discovered about Quaker unprogrammed Meeting for Worship in the Name of Jesus. First, the silent waiting acted as a check on all our assumptions and our urges to speak. Second, there was a purpose in waiting and not rushing forward in pre-arranged worship activities: That purpose was to listen to God. Third, in waiting to hear his voice, we could most certainly NOT assume that every urge to speak was a prompting from God to rise and verbally address the meeting. Indeed, for all present, and especially for newcomers like me, the primary activity was to listen inwardly and pray for the discernment to know the difference between something we merely wanted to say and a true message that God had given any one of us to speak. Close attention and unimpeded listening were a must in this process—and when someone did speak in obedience to a true prompting, those words had the power to settle and deepen the meeting, blessing all present.
By contrast, "worship as usual," with its programmed agenda, human leaders, and prescribed teaching, often does not carry any particular power, and most of the time does not foster the practice of attentive waiting before you utter a word. So, although it appears that both types of groups share the idea that Jesus uses someone's voice to minister to his flock, they have little or no common ground.
In Meeting for Worship in the Name of Jesus, we know he will teach us directly, therefore we have hopes and expectations, rather than assumptions. Either one or more people will speak—inspired and commanded by God—or possibly nobody will speak, leaving him free to deal with each of us individually. He teaches us how to pray, and we have to wait for that wisdom and discernment also. He will lead us, so no human leader will ever be able to exert authority over us, because he is the authority. He will gather us together, not by rules nor by any creed or doctrine; thus, our unity comes not from a church hierarchy but from a shared experience of listening to one teacher.
Therefore, everything in Meeting for Worship in the Name of Jesus points away from the assumption that all the words spoken and acts performed in a typical church service come from God. Programmed worship leaves neither time nor attention for the long, deep waiting that must so often precede really hearing from Jesus Christ.
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