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Our continued and successful (Jesus Christian) connection with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is a unique and somewhat baffling experience in our history as a Christian community, and in the light of what has happened in our past affiliations with a wide variety of religious organisations.

Over the years and through bitter experience, we have come to recognise certain patterns and characteristics which seem to be endemic and almost inescapable in the dynamics of virtually all religious organisations. People join the organisations (and the organisations themselves originate) because of high ideals. But over time, the ideals become less and less important, and promotion of the organisation itself becomes the primary goal.

Eventually, someone comes along with a new revelation, and the organisation spues them out, as a threat to the status quo. Jesus described it as the tendency to praise the prophets of the past while executing the prophets of the present.

Within our own organisation we have noticed this same tendency to become lukewarm and to make dangerous presumptions about our own innate goodness. We have, however, been somewhat protected against the error of presumption by our commitment to the teachings of Jesus. It seems that Jesus had all of this figured out, and we have been repeatedly drawn back to our ideals by things that he has said.

But the Society of Friends, or Quakers, do not have this same rigid commitment to the teachings of Jesus. Some members openly object to the organisation being called Christian at all, or, indeed, even to it being called religious. They boast of being universalists, humanists, or even atheists. Obviously, these people in themselves represent proof to many (and concern to ourselves) that the Quakers may have, indeed, gone well and truly off the rails over the years. But hand in hand with this claim to being universalist/humanist/atheist, are characteristics of true followers of Christ which we have not found anywhere else.

In other words, within the churches we have found people who pay lip-service to Jesus, but who disregard everything that he ever stood for, while within the Society of Friends we find people who argue that they have no special commitment to Jesus, and yet who have developed an uncanny resemblance to what Jesus stood for, down to the finest detail.

How has this happened?

I would like to suggest a couple of explanations.

Jesus himself said that people could be excused for rejecting him, but that they could not be forgiven for rejecting the spirit of his message. Many modern day Australian Quakers bend over backwards to avoid mention of God at all. But they do make continual reference to the "Spirit" or the "Light". This distinction between the man and his message, or more precisely between the letter of what Jesus said and the spirit of his message seems eminently consistent with both Jesus and what he taught. Jesus himself wanted people to look beyond hero worship and legalism, and to find truths which are eternal.

As Jesus Christians we have concluded that the thing which will keep us on the rails spiritually is to cultivate a sensitive personal conscience, and to follow our conscience in all things. For some 350 years, the Society of Friends has done much the same thing. In both cases there has been nothing that even resembles infallibility, but there has been an amazing consistency in the conclusions that we have each eventually reached, even down to such apparently legalistic practices as avoiding titles, not praying in public, refusing to go to war, and shunning sacraments. We find it hard to believe that the Quakers could have come to such conclusions without direct reference to the teachings of Jesus.

Of course some, including ourselves, have been guided by things that Jesus taught, and by our desire to conform with his wisdom. But others seem to have reached the same conclusions through common sense and through an honest desire to do what is right, i.e. to "walk in the light" and conform to the Spirit.

A second characteristic of Quaker worship which I believe has led to this unity between them and us is the practice of spending an hour in almost complete silence each week. It has been done religiously for 350 years

As we have noted elsewhere, any such discipline will eventually become a "law", with adherents straying away from the true ideals of the practice. We have no doubt that many Quakers (including ourselves) have done just that. We have fallen into the practice of "gathering wool" mentally during that hour of silence each week.

However, the discipline in itself has worked wonders in that it has, if nothing else, silenced many of us who would have sought other means to legislate spirituality over the years. And in our silence, the Spirit has still been able to work.

There is hardly a Quaker anywhere who would not report that, at some time in our mental wanderings on a Sunday morning, we have actually experienced some kind of a revelation that seemed to come from an intelligence greater than our own. In other words, the discipline of sitting quietly in itself makes us more available to hear from God despite our lukewarmness, in a way that other religious disciplines do not.

While other disciplines tend to fully occupy our minds and hands, the practice of silent worship does just the opposite. It not only makes us available to hear from God, but it also isolates us somewhat from hearing from one another. There are the occasional "spoken ministries", and we obviously share with others before and after the meeting. But for that one hour we are largely alone with our own thoughts. And occasionally, in the midst of our bordeom, God speaks and, more important still, we actually hear him/her/it. That seems to make all the difference in the overall spiritual direction of the organisation.

In conclusion, we must report that we have experienced the same tendency for individuals within the Society of Friends to react (sometimes quite dramatically) to the sorts of things that we Jesus Christians do and say. In fact, our very existence is (understandably) a threat to many. But, unlike our experience with other Christian denominations, there has not been a reactionary rush to run us off. Individuals seem to be able to "center down" as Quakers put it, analysing their own reactions and looking for constructive ways around the tensions that develop. I believe that this happens because of the combined disciplines of silence and openess to the voice of the Spirit. As a consequence, on more than one occasion, what we have said or done has eventually come through to someone more as a blessing than a threat.

So whereas our commitment to Jesus and his teachings has resulted in us being ordered out of other churches, it has not had the same effect in Quaker circles... at least not so far. Over time we have tended to feel more secure and more accepted, desite a commitment to truth on our part that transcends our commitment to the Society of Friends... and perhaps this has happened because of our commitment to truth that transcends our commitment to the Society of Friends.

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