quakers, sacraments and practices

AJ Schwanz has once again written a thoughtful post about Quakers ideas of the sacraments.  She’s been reading Bolger’s book and this of course brings up many questions about the use of sacraments for old and new faith communities.  Many Emerging Churches do away with the wafer and grape juice for a more authentic communion of breaking bread together in the form of community meals.

Quakers have, since the time of George Fox and Robert Barclay had a very unique, and ingenius, understanding of the sacraments that was founded on the apocalyptic understanding of Christ’s Spirit within the creation.  This meant that for Fox and the early Quakers they saw all of life as holding the possibility of being sacramental.  This is the positive side of their doctrine, the negative side is that they did not do the eucharist during their church services.  This latter fact has always puzzled non-Quakers.

What the Friends have lost over time is the original intention of Fox and Barclay, it wasn’t to do away with “the sacraments” but to enrich the Christian community’s understanding of them.  Elton Trueblood, 20th Century Quaker philosopher/theologian has written extensively on the idea that Christians are to live “sacramentally.” In other words we should not limit our understanding of the sacraments to the seven the Catholics practice, or the two (Baptism, Eucharist) that the majority of the Protestant church use.  All of life, everything we do can be “a symbol that reflects the reality of the Lord.” Quakers over time have sometimes done well, sometimes failed at living sacramentally.

What is most important is that we do well at the original intention of the Lord’s Supper as instituted by Jesus himself.  I agree with John Howard Yoder’s interpretation in “Body Politics” of what this is, the original intention of the breaking of bread, was a common meal of fellowship where all were welcome and fed.  Jesus broke the exclusive “table practices” of the day, by welcoming sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and even his own betrayer to his dining table.  In those days, who you ate with were understood to be the people you associated with.  Not only was Jesus’ practice radical by who ate with him, but it was also radical because he made one of the primary practices of all people (eating) intricately linked to the practice of the church “whenever you do this.”

Further, not only is the church a welcoming group of people who practice an “open table” and feed those who are in need, giving them their daily bread, but we are promised that when we do these things we are participating with Christ’s Spirit.  The life and crucifixion of Jesus is the content and reason for why we gather together.  When we break the bread and drink the wine with one another, the outcasts of the world, and as the people of the Holy Spirit, we share in the work of Jesus, until he comes again.

For the Friends Church, as with the Emerging Church it is important that we don’t settle with the routine practices of partaking wafers and grape juice and suppose that we are really fulfilling the whole “sacrament” of eating together.  These ways only mirror what Christ has really called us to do.  We must finds ways to live sacramentally, enriching our faith by following the subversive practices of Jesus.

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