Tonight in class we discussed and experienced Quaker worship. Although many Quakers have fallen in line with most current evangelical-protestant expressions of worship, there is still a significant amount of Quakers who worship just like they did when George Fox was around, by having “silent” or “unprogrammed” worship.
The Quakers (although i’m aware of the vast theological diversity in the Quaker church today, this post will focus on the Quakers who essentially line up with historic orthodoxy) take very seriously the theological truth that Christ is already present in their midst (through the Spirit). They take it so seriously in fact, that they do not use any sacraments in their gatherings, not even communion or baptism.
For Quakers, the only baptism that matters is being baptized (and sealed) by the Spirit. When it comes to communion, it is very interesting to note that for Quakers the focus is on remembering what Jesus has done for us, not the logistics of the elements. In fact, Quakers have found the dissention caused by the elements, they view them as more of a hindrance than a help. They would rather get to the “true, spiritual essence of communion.”
Their refusal to engage in Lord’s Supper goes back to their strong insistance on the ever available and present Christ, their Teacher. They argue that they do take communion seriously. In fact, they take communion more seriously than anyone else, because they don’t limit communion with Christ during church to being mediated through bread and wine. Communion with Christ can and is an ever present reality in their worship gatherings. His not limited to elements during a ritual. They don’t condemn anyone who does perform these sacraments, but they see no use for them.
Let me confess that in some ways i’m a “closet Quaker.” I love their emphasis on silence in corporate worship, among other things. I love how “counter-cultural” they are without needing to point it out to everyone else. Despite my deep admiration and respect for their tradition, i must say i find their views regarding the sacraments to be disconcerting.
In my mind, part of what lays behind their view of communion and baptism is another example of falling into the trap of Greek dualism. The form or symbol (eg, the water, bread and wine), is only a dim shadow of the real substance (the spiritual presence of Christ). While they have a valid point that much needless division and violence has occurred due to sacramental minutiae, the idea that we have no need for the “baser physical aspects” like the sacraments betrays a basic disdain for the physical world which their Teacher created (Col 1).
Furthermore, such a view can lead one unknowingly to a docetic view of Christ. While I’m sure that they would readily affirm that Christ did indeed have a physical body, if what we are really after, and what God is really about, is the “pure spiritual essence” of things, then why is the Incarnation really needed (Perhaps this is why many Quakers end up being unitarian-universalists)?
Christ’s humanity doesn’t allow for us to have such an aversion to the physical world impacting our spiritual lives. We are physical beings, and if God can condescend to the point of taking on flesh, surely we shouldn’t be surprised that our Lord used concrete, physical realities like water, bread, and wine to teach us and help us remember, nor should we reject them as less than the best of what God has to offer us. The incarnation teaches us that we must reject such a physical-spiritual dichotomy approach to the sacraments, and humbly allow our Teacher to use what we would think unnecessary to teach us the depth of His love.