Friends and the Christian Church
From the very beginnings of formal organization Friends have been keenly aware of their integral role in the Christian movement. Consequently the title of Society was chosen because it was considered that the term "church" belonged to the whole body of Christ and that no portion of that body had a right to assume to itself a name that implied any exclusion of the others.
Friends rejoice at the growing spirit of cooperation among all religious bodies. Although Friends work in many ways with those of other churches, we feel that unity of spirit comes not from intellectual acceptance of a definition of faith, but from a common commitment to the way of Christ.
Most Friends meetings in New England are members of or co-operate with local and state councils of churches. New England Friends are also connected with the work of the National Council of Churches and with the World Council of Churches through the participation of Friends United Meeting, of Friends General Conference, and of Friends World Committee for Consultation.
He That Keeps Not a Day
He that keeps not a day may unite in the same Spirit, in the same life, in the same love, with him that keeps a day; and he who keeps a day may unite in heart and soul with the same Spirit and life in him who keeps not a day; but he that judgeth the other because of either of these errs from the Spirit, from the love, from the life, and so breaks the bond of unity. And here is the true unity, in the Spirit, in the inward life, and not in an outward uniformity.
And oh, how sweet and pleasant it is to the truly spiritual eye to see several sorts of believers, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ, every one learning their own lesson, performing their own peculiar service, and knowing, owning, and loving one another in their several places and different performances to their Master. For this is the true ground of love and unity, not that such a man walks and does just as I do, but because I feel the same Spirit and life in him walking sweetly and harmoniously 'together in the midst of different practices.
Isaac Penington: Works, 1681 ed., Pt. I, pp. 240-41.
The Basis of Christian Unity
In the eighteenth century a Friend, Thomas Story, said: "The unity of Christians never did nor ever will or can stand in uniformity of thought or opinion, but in Christian love only."
In our experience we have found this to be true.
There is a unity among all who are responding to God's love and truth and who are accepting commitment to the way of Jesus Christ. Response and commitment lead to practical experience and application of faith rather than intellectual acceptance of a definition of faith.
We would not undervalue the importance of reasoned and sustained thought and the necessity of communication through language. But, in matters of religious faith, when it is sought to define concepts which are beyond full human understanding, tensions are often aroused instead of unity of spirit.
It is our experience that unity comes at a deep level from response to God's promptings, from commitment to the way of Jesus, and from the joyous interaction of Christian love. Those who share such unity are increasingly aware of the presence of God and have a consciousness of his activities and purposes in men's lives.
From "Statement on basis of Christian unity" approved by London Y M., 1964. See The Friend (London), vol. 122 (1964), p. 966 (Aug. 14).
A Prism and a Lens
In the Ecumenical Movement we are witnessing a stirring of the Spirit comparable in importance to the Reformation. The Reformation acted rather like a prism; it broke up the white radiance of the re-discovered Christ into rainbow colours and each of the Reformation Churches (of which the Society of Friends was one) tended henceforth to centre all its attention on its own particular band of colour. In the Ecumenical Movement Friends have the opportunity to see the action not of a prism but of a lens, gathering together, harmonising and focusing these isolated refractions.
Maurice A. Creasey, as reported in account of London Y. M. (1960) in The Friend, vol. 118, p. 761. (Selection slightly altered by M.A.C.)
A Common Witness
Fellowship with those who are concerned in "strengthening the Christian witness throughout the world" has helped Friends in appreciating the importance of standing together for a belief in the purposes of God in a world where indifference and materialism prevail. Friends have come to see the importance of a common witness with others arising from a common Christian faith rather than because they happen to agree in some one application of such faith. Responsibility for maintaining our special testimonies remains; but these should be seen not in isolation, but as expressions of our Christian faith.
Report of Christian Relationships Committee, in London Y. M. Proc., 1954, p. 123.
The Holy Fellowship
Yet still more astonishing is the Holy Fellowship, the Blessed Community, to those who are within it.
In the Fellowship cultural and educational and national and racial differences are leveled. Unlettered men are at ease with the truly humble scholar who lives in the Life, and the scholar listens with joy and openness to the precious experiences of God's dealings with the working man. We overleap the boundaries of church membership and find Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Jews and Christians, within the Fellowship. Particularly does devotional literature become illuminated, for the Imitation of Christ, and Augustine's Confessions, and Brother Lawrence's Practice of the Presence of God speak the language of the souls who live at the Center. Time telescopes and vanishes, centuries and creeds are overleaped.
And this Fellowship is deeper than democracy, conceived as an ideal of group living. It is a theocracy wherein God rules and guides and directs His listening children. The center of authority is not in man, not in the group, but in the creative God Himself.
Thomas R. Kelly: A testament of devotion, 1941, pp. 81-4.
In the years immediately following the First World War, the Quakers worked in Poland distributing food and clothing. One of the workers who served a cluster of villages there became ill with typhus and in twenty-four hours he was dead. In this village there was only a Roman Catholic cemetery, and by canonical law it was quite impossible to bury one not of that confession in its consecrated ground. So they laid their cherished friend in a grave dug just outside the fence of the Roman Catholic cemetery. The 'next morning they discovered that in the night the villagers had moved the fence so that it embraced the grave.
This moving outwards of every type of fence so that it may embrace but not erase the unique and very special spiritual witness of the different religious groups, comes very close to the heart of what we really mean by the new ecumenism. We want to try to learn, even if with many painful mistakes along the way, how this creative interpenetration can be carried out in such a way that fences can be moved but at the same time the fresh unique witness of each group, actively operating in the whole, may be kept.
Douglas Steere: Mutual irradiation, a Quaker view of ecumenism (Pendle Hill pamphlet, no. 175), 1971, p. 7.
A Hidden Convergence
For the ecumenical encounter to be creative, there is required not only the tender effort to understand, but an equally frank and open climate that acknowledges that genuine differences exist and that they matter, in fact matter terribly; and it will encourage each to probe his differences and to share them in all of their starkness. But it has found, and may find increasingly, that something happens in the course of understanding another's truth that irradiates and lights up one's own tradition and that on rare occasions may even give one a hint of a truth that embraces both, a hint of a hidden convergence.