Today, we’re talking about discerning leadings. This is section 3G in Traditional Quaker Christianity, if you’re following along in the book. Which, on that note: just looked at the iBook store for the first time ever last week (yes, really), and hey! It turns out TQC is available for purchase as an ebook in iBooks. So, you know, good going Ohio Yearly Meeting! This is a level of tech savvy I have not come to expect from Quakers.
This section of the book is based heavily on Hugh Barbour’s “Five Tests for Discerning a True Leading,” available from the Tract Association of Friends. It just, um, leaves out one of the five. shrug
It’s interesting that “consistency with the Bible” is the fourth test, not the first. Many people jump straight to that one, but there’s a lot in the Bible that we don’t believe should be copied, like slavery or most of King David does. (King David is That Guy.)
Friends developed this system of discerning leadings so as to distance or distinguish themselves from the Ranters. The Ranters had an interesting theology of perfection. They believed that because they were saved, they were incapable of sinning, and thus nothing they did would be sinful for them. Some said you had to commit a sin (without thinking about it as a sin) to free yourself from it, kind of like how some people say you need to go bungee jumping to get over a fear of heights. They were kind of chaotic.
In fact, Parliament wrote the Blasphemy Act of 1650 specifically to target the Ranters. The people who persecuted Quakers a few years later twisted the Blasphemy Act to do so. (It’s actually really interesting how Quakers were brought up on charges that were worded exactly to match the Blasphemy Act, but that’s for another time. Meanwhile, if you’re interested, it’s toward the end of Kate Peters’ “Print Culture and the Early Quakers.”)
- Moral Purity – we talked before about how “but I don’t want to” was considered a symptom of a true leading.
- Patience – discerning leadings can take a while. Time is not usually very critical, so spending a week discerning is generally fine. Leadings aren’t usually flash-in-the-pan passing whims. Of course, patience is not infinite. Just as way can open, way can close. And sometimes Quaker institutions can take slowness to extremes that stifle the movement of the Spirit.
- Consistency with Others – other people have dealt with issues before. How did another meeting deal with it? How did early Friends deal with it? What about the writings of early Christians? We also have journals of Friends such as John Woolman. For that matter, how would the people you know and respect and admire handle the situation?
- Consistency with the Bible – this does not necessarily mean consistency with the traditional interpretation of the Bible. After all, we understand communion and baptism completely differently from most Christians. There’s a lot of context that can be missed, and when you use a 400 year old translation like the King James, you can run into issues with the ways early modern English differs from 21st century English (“awful” used to mean “awe inspiring,” for instance). And, well, as mentioned above there are an awful lot of things in the Bible we don’t exactly think of as “morally pure” nowadays. When ABC made Of Kings and Prophets, there were parents who were very upset to learn this Bible-based show has a lot of sex and violence.
And the left out…
Number 5: Inward Unity
When discerning leadings in a group, if everyone has ended up on the same page, that’s a good sign. God likes order, not disorder. Discerning leadings is best done in a group.
Update on Patreon
Listeners have offered $9 per episode. Thank you! This is the third episode for which the charge will go through, which means we can have an episode transcribed. Yaaaaaay! Three episodes recorded for every one transcribed doesn’t add up to a great situation if you’re Deaf or Hard of Hearing, though. Episodes tend to run 20-35 minutes, which means $20-35 per episode to transcribe. We rounded to 30 on the Patreon page. There are a few hundred of you listening to this podcast (every episode has at least 400 downloads, y’all!), so if like…5% of you sign up for $1/episode, we can transcribe every episode going forward.