CONCERNING THE THEOLOGY OF WORSHIP
Ultimately, Robert Barclay justifies the peculiar practice of Quaker worship on the basis of his experience. However, he also defends the Quaker position by force of theological argument. And so, in this chapter, we turn our attention to these arguments.
In more than one occasion in the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets warned that God prefers our obedience to our sacrifice. What God deeply desires is a heart that yields to God's authority. We are to be a people that respond to God's initiative.
Unfortunately, we often decide to serve God according to our own wills. We act as we think best, and then dedicate our actions to God. Barclay writes: "Men, finding it easier to sacrifice in their own wills, than obey God's will, have heaped up sacrifices without obedience; and thinking to deceive God, as they do one another, give [God] a show of reverence, honor and worship."
These self-willed displays of piety -- whether they are acts of ritual sacrifice, putting a bumper sticker on the Buick, or rising up early every morning to study 10 chapters of Scripture -- these outward actions are not what please God.
What pleases God is our obedience.
So then, Barclay asks, shouldn't our worship be carried out in obedience to God? Shouldn't our worship be formatted in such a way that allows us to respond to God's initiative?
If we can fairly summarize our view of worship by saying a preacher goes into his or her study, stitches together the insights of other thinkers (according to the pattern of his or her own best judgement) -- and then speaks for a designated length of time, then it is not God who leads us in worship. Rather, it is human initiative.
Even if such a speaker is stirring, eloquent, and doctrinally pure, he or she can only offer words. The meeting for worship is nothing more than a sacrifice offered to God according to our own ingenuity and ambition.
Traditional Quaker worship urges all people to come before God in a sense of eager expectation. We wait together for God's leadership. When God leads us to pray or sing or preach, then we do so as a response to the initiative of God.
Barclay writes that Friends gather for worship, "to meet with Lord, and to wait for the inward motions and operations of his Spirit; and so to pray as they feel the Spirit breathe through them, and in them; and to preach as they find themselves actuated and moved by God's Spirit."
In fact, Barclay says that the Quaker method of worship arose precisely from the realization that we need to remain silent and wait for our words or songs to be seasoned and directed by "God's light and grace in the heart."
Often, the silence itself is very healing and transformative for those who participate in Quaker worship. Yet silence itself is not really the point Ñ a self-willed silence is just as limited as self-willed speaking.
The point of Quaker worship is that we remain in a state of what Barclay calls "Holy dependence of the mind of God." Barclay goes on to describe this state of dependence: "From [this] dependence silence necessarily follows in the first place, until words can be brought forth, which are from God's Spirit. And God is not [negligent] to move in his children to bring forth words of exhortation or prayer, when it is needful; so that of the many gatherings and meetings of such as are convinced of the truth... there are few meetings that are altogether silent... Yet we judge it needful there be in the first place some time of silence, during which every one may be gathered inward to the word and gift of grace, from which he that ministereth may receive strength to bring forth what he minsters: and they that hear may have a sense to discern betwixt the precious and the vile."
From Barclay's perspective, silence is not the point of worship, but it is a necessary part of the process. Not to begin worship with silence would be like a student coming to sit before a teacher Ñ and then reciting old lessons before the teacher has been given a chance to speak and instruct!
Here are a few questions:
1. If the point is to format our meetings for worship so that we are responding to God's initiative, is there truly no room for "premeditated" ministry? Can one be led by God even before the meeting for worship begins?
2. Some (both past and present) try to critique the Quaker position by saying, "Of course you Quakers act on your own, human initiative: you set a place and time for worship without waiting for God's immediate leadership." Barclay responds that setting a time for worship is not the same as worship itself, and shouldn't be held to the same standard. What do you make of this critique?
3. How can we ensure a preparatory time of silence in our worship? Just how long should we wait in silence?
4. How can we make our worship more dependent on the light and grace of God in our hearts?
Continue to Proposition Twelve