When George Fox was initially on his spiritual quest to understand the true nature of faith and Christianity, he was living in the midst of full-on Christendom, that is state-sponsored Christianity or Christianity twisted to become comfortable acting as “the religion of empire.”
Fox, and then Margaret Fell, among the other early Quaker founders, were disillusioned with the way that the Christian tradition, which found its life-root in a poor Jewish prophet and teacher named Jesus, had been maligned into an oppressive religious system that upheld elites and created a type of caste system where the poor and working-class people of that time could only have access to God *if* they were on the good side of the church (and state). This was not all that different from Jesus’ time when he pressed against the then religious and imperial elites for disobeying God’s commands and it cost him his life.
For our part, one of the key insights that Fox had is well-known in the Quaker lexicon today: “Jesus is come to teach the people himself,” stands as a centerpiece to Friends theology and practice. In a couple short moments, God revealed to Fox at least two things: the state/church apparatus was (and is) bogus and all people already have access to God. These two revelations together create a powerful perspective on what it means to be the church. In Quaker theology, there is a partnership with God — we are Friends of Jesus — and co-laborers in God’s unfolding work of liberation in the world. God’s hands and feet in the world as the prayer goes.
At its very core, the Quaker tradition can be understood as a participatory theology (and practice). That means that to be a Quaker is reject consumer models of faith – we are not here to consume, to “be fed,” to passively receive, we are here to enter into the unfolding story of God’s work in the world. Upon joining a Quaker community, we have raised our hands and said, I want to be a part of this work of God. I want to be given a role in that liberation even when and where it means I will be the one undergoing the change. A participatory theology is not the kind that will build a megachurch or a celebrity Christian culture because it rejects the entertainment model of being community. Participatory theology means all hands are on deck. We are in this together. There is no one else out there who will do what God has required of us if we do not do it. Thus, Friends believe God will speak through any and all of us. Jesus has and will continue to lead the most unexpected of people to be agents of love in the world. We each, by the very nature of being in this body, have ways to build up and contribute to the well-being of this community.
In 3 John the author exhorts the readers to support each other,
“so that we may become co-workers with the truth.”
We know empire is not interested in true community rooted in abundance and sharing but the church, as a contrast and participatory society, is called to embody a different way of existence. The Quaker tradition at its very heart is built around the conviction as the people of God we all can participate fully in the unfolding of God’s work in the world. No matter how inexperienced or unqualified we think we may be (1 Cor 12:14ff).
In the coming days, as we enter a time of transition, we attenders and members of the body of Christ known as the Religious Society of Friends will be called up to support this body in many different ways, let us all trust that in each of us God is writing a story where we have a part to play. I look forward to being knit together as a community in new ways in the coming weeks and months ahead. I trust that we already have all we need to do what it is that Jesus is leading us to be and do and that part of “all we need” includes you and I.
Query: What does it mean for me to embody this participatory core today in the wake of transition in the life of my Quaker meeting?