by Jack Kirk

Table of contents

Across the years sincere, conscientious Friends, acting on their concerns, have had an impact on society in some highly significant ways. One thinks of some obvious examples: John Woolman’s gently persuading his fellow Quakers to renounce the practice of keeping slaves; William and Esther Tuke’s giving up their home in York, England, to show that Christian love could make a difference with the mentally disturbed; Elizabeth Fry’s venturing into the depths of Newgate Prison, where even the jailers feared to go, and starting the modem prison reform movement; and Lucretia Mott’s tirelessly giving impetus to women’s rights. There have been hundreds and thousands of others—a few dramatic, but most of them humble, often behind-the-scenes, perhaps hardly noticed—all faithful.

Concerns are the way that God gets our attention and gives us our portions of work to do for the Kingdom. How many times have you heard a Friend stand up in Monthly Meeting for business and say, “I have a concern”? When a sensitive person is listening to the Inward Guide, perceiving the leadings accurately and acting obediently, this is the way the Kingdom goes forward. How does it all begin?

The First Motion

“For God so loved the world … ” (John 3: 16). Most of us have heard it many times. Maybe that is the problem. We have heard the words so often that they have become overly familiar and lost their meaning. They have become just words, or they never became more than just words. Unless those words are accompanied by a deep firsthand experience of the living Christ, they will remain only words. We are loved by the God who created all that is, and because we are loved, we can love. We are loved with a love that knows no height nor depth nor breadth nor any limitations.

Often we mistakenly think that we are the initiators in the spiritual quest, forgetting that all the while God has been intently searching for us. The Bible from Genesis to Jesus tells of a God who searches for humankind One of the first questions in the Bible has God calling in the Garden, “Adam, where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9). Jesus told a story of a father who waited by the gate and ran to embrace a son who had squandered his heritage in a distant land (Luke 15:11-32). God is like that The story of the prodigal son should remind us forever of just how much a loving God longs to embrace us. God is the shepherd who goes in search of the sheep. If God seems distant or hard to find, who has really wandered? We are loved with an unconditional love!

Responding to that love, we are enabled to love. We come to love the world for which Christ gave Himself.

When John Woolman spoke of his concern to visit the Delaware Indians at the headwaters of the Susquehanna at the height of the tensions of the French-Indian War, he said, “Love was the first motion.” When tender Stephen Grellet saw the terrible conditions that the inmates of Newgate prison had to endure, he was moved to tears. Travel demands would not permit him to do anything directly, but before he left England, he went to see his friend Elizabeth Fry and told her of the situation. Thus began what we have already noted as one of the most remarkable careers ever in human undertakings to improve the lot of others. Again, love had proven to be the first motion, and it set off a chain reaction of love which had far-reaching consequences. Elizabeth Fry once wisely observed, “It appears to me that we who desire to be servants of Christ, must expect to do a part of our Master’s work …. ” And so it was given to her.

When as a young man Levi Coffin saw slaves treated cruelly in his native North Carolina, he made a resolution to strike a hard blow at the evil system of slavery if an opportunity should arise. His home in Newport, Indiana (now Fountain City, Indiana) became known as the Grand Union Station on the Underground Railroad through which more than two thousand blacks passed safely on their way to freedom. Again love had been the first motion.

The 1900s saw Friends developing organizations to more effectively carry out our concerns. In 1902, Willis Hotchkiss, Arthur Chilson, and Edgar Hole, sponsored by the recently formed American Friends Board of Missions, landed at Mombassa and journeyed inland to establish a Friends Mission base in Kenya. With four emphases-industrial, educational, medical, and evangelical (church extension)-the work took root, grew, and flourished. Today there are three thriving Friends Yearly Meetings in East Africa with a combined membership of between 80 thousand and 250 thousand-the largest number of Friends in any area in the world. The first motion was the compassionate love of God.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was organized in 1917 to carry out a “service of love in wartime.” Its beginnings were small. In 1918 several Quaker young men and a few women went to Belgium and France to repair farm machinery and prepare the fields for spring planting. In just a few years the AFSC would be administering a daily feeding program to over a million children of the former enemy, Germany. The AFSC and its British counterpart, the Friends Service Council, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their work in reconciliation during and following World War II. Once more love was the first motion.

Through the centuries Friends have experienced the invading, overwhelming love of God and then reached out to others to share that love whether in regard to slavery, prison reform, missions, or service. Friends endeavor to minister to the world in a spirit of self-giving love of the One who died on the cross.

Concerns Spring from Our Love of Life

To pray is to risk change. As we pray, our hearts come into the field of the radiant force of God’s infinite caring. Douglas Steere observes that this leads us ” … to feel inwardly the terrible pull of the unlimited liability for one another which the New Testament ethic lays upon us.” [Douglas V. Steere, Dimensions of Prayer (New York: Women’s Division of Christian Service Board, the Methodist Church, 1962), p. 106]

We marvel at the breadth and intensity of George Fox’s concern which was sustained over most of a lifetime. What was his secret? William Penn reveals it very plainly when he says in his Preface to Fox’s Journal, “But above all he excelled in prayer… The most awful, living, reverent frame I ever felt or beheld, I must say, was his in prayer.” [William Penn, “Preface,” in the Journal of George Fox, Ed. John L. Nickalls (London: The Society of Friends, 1975), p. xliv]

The seeds of the works that we are to do for the Kingdom are sown in our lives during prayer. Douglas Steere notes:

In prayer, the seeds of concern have a way of appearing. Often enough a concern begins in a feeling of being liable, personally responsible for someone or some event With it may come an intimation that one should do some little thing: speak to some person, make an inquiry into a certain situation, write a letter, send some money, send a book. Or it may be a stop in our minds about some pending decision, or a clear directive that now is not the time to rest, or an urge to stay home when we had been meaning to be away. It may be that no more than this will be given us. But his seed is given us to follow, and if we do not follow it, we cannot expect to see what may grow from it Seeds, not fruit, are given in prayer, but they are given for planting. [Steere, Dimensions of Prayer, p. 97.]

The deeper we go into the life of prayer, the more God’s perspective becomes ours. A child digs in the sand on the beach by the sea. A bit of the ocean begins to seep into the hole. She keeps on digging and more and more of the ocean fills the hole until eventually she excavates a small pond The deeper she goes, the more the waters of the sea well up in her little pool. The deeper we go into prayer, the more we are filled with the compassionate Spirit of God.

If we persist in prayer, our hearts will be made tender and pliable. They will be shaped and molded until we can say with Paul, ” …it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Concern Springs from Quaker Worship

In his youth John Woolman entered into an unsettling period of searching for the road he was to travel in life. He wrote in his Journal, “I kept steadily to meetings …. ” [John Woolman, Journal, Thomas S. Kepler (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1954), p. 10] As he “kept steadily to meetings” the way began to open to him, and he saw the path that he must take. His inner strength and resolve grew. He states that he was convinced in his mind ” … that true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart doth love and reverence God the creator and learns to exercise true justice and goodness not only toward all men, but also toward the brute creatures.” [Ibid] Woolman learned the way of concern that became the hallmark of his life in Meeting for Worship.

In Friends worship we meet the resurrected Christ face to face. He promised his followers, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20). He did tell us, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come into him, and sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). George Fox was not proclaiming any new doctrine. He was simply calling the Church to rediscover some of the basic truths it had nearly forgotten or that had become lost in the tangle of dogma over the centuries. All of the first generation of Friends met the living Christ firsthand. The account of sweet-spirited William Dewsberry, the reconciler of the early Quaker Movement, is typical of the hundreds who left written records. He testified, “I lay waiting for the coming of Christ Jesus, who in the appointed time of the Father, appeared to my soul, as the lightings from the east and west, and my dead soul heard his voice, and by his voice was made to live …. ” [Christian Faith and Practice in the Experience of the Society of Friends, (London: London Yearly Meeting, 1960), 30]

The early Friends discovered that the experience of Pentecost is to be repeated in each generation. They proclaimed throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, then wherever in the world an English sailing ship would carry them that “Christ is indeed here today to teach His people Himself.” What a dynamic this gives to worship! It means that each Meeting for Worship is an adventure in communion with the Christ who lives. We can do without the bread and wine (or grape juice) because we have Jesus Himself. The account in the Gospel of John makes it so very clear. They said, “Our ancestors had manna to eat in the desert …. ” Jesus answered, “I tell you this: the truth is, not that Moses gave you bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the real bread from heaven. The bread that God gives comes down from heaven and brings life to the World.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread now and always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never be hungry and whoever believes in me shall never be thirsty” (John 6:30-36). Friends worship is communion with Jesus, who tells us that He is the bread of life. Such communion is the heart of the Quaker Movement.

Our spiritual forebears gathered for worship and trembled in their keen awareness of the Divine Presence—trembled to the point that we got our alternative name, “Quakers.” Not many of us quake anymore. We may be missing something vital. Richard Davies, the apostle of Welsh Quakerism, describes one of those early Meetings for Worship:

When the first day of the week came, we went to a meeting at W. Panne’s at the Wild Cop, where we had a silent meeting, and though it was silent from words, yet the word of the Lord was among us. It was a hammer and a fire; it was sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierced through our inward parts, it melted and brought us into tears, that there was scarcely a dry eye among us; the Lord’s power overshadowed our meeting, and I could have said that God alone was master of that assembly. [Richard Davis, Journal, 1877 edition, p. 30]

Can we make such a claim about many of our Meetings for Worship today?

The first generation of Friends realized that they were encountering both the historic and the living Christ in their Meetings for Worship. It was in later generations that we divided Christ. Elias Hicks stressed the inward, while Jonathan Evans and the Philadelphia Elders emphasized the historic. Old John Wilbur pleaded for the inward, while the eloquent Joseph John Gurney proclaimed the historic. The great separations would never have occurred if Friends had continued to hold up the totality of Christ as George Fox and the Valiant Sixty had done. Surprisingly, James Nayler makes the clearest witness of any of the early Friends to the fact that Christ cannot be divided. This account is taken from the time in 1653 when he was brought before the justices at Appleby:

Question: Was Christ man, or no?

James: Yes, he was, and he took upon him the seed of Abraham, and was real flesh and bone; but it is a mystery not known to the carnal man; for he is begotten of the immortal seed, and those who know him know him to be spiritual; for it was the word that became flesh and dwelt among us; and if he had not been spiritual he had not wrought my redemption.

Justice Pearson: Is Christ in thee as man?

James: Christ filleth all places and is not divided; separate God and man, and he is no more Christ. [Saul’s Errand to Damascus (1653), p. 31.]

It is not surprising then that Christ who sent out the disciples in His name should continue to send out others in His name. In the midst of worship we meet Him, and He lays upon us the burden of the world’s suffering and sends us forth to do something specific about it.

Concerns Should Be Tested

Concerns are leadings that grow in intensity to the point that they become inward imperatives. Concerns do need to be tested if we are to avoid the errors that can result from rampant individualism and narcissism. We should keep in mind that early Friends’ leaders spent about as much time writing against the anarchy of the Ranters as they did levelling broadsides against the established Church which seemed to have truth settled once-and-for-all and under lock and key. (Basically, Ranters were a group where each one did his or her own thing under the supposed leading of the Spirit, and it led to some bizarre aberrations.) Friends have several ways to test leadings within our traditions.

The first thing that one can do in regard to a leading is to pray about it Offer it to God and ask for clearness. Be willing to act on it or to drop it. If the desire to pursue it or to carry it out grows steadily stronger, then it should be taken seriously.

Second, a leading or growing concern should be checked against Scripture. Friends believe that the ultimate source of authority is the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures rather than the written word of God. They are convinced that they complement and answer one another and never contradict each other. At one point the great Quaker theologian Robert Barclay wrote ” … whatsoever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to the scriptures, [should] be accounted and reckoned a delusion.” [ Robert Barclay, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, Philadelphia: Friends Bookstore, 1908, p. 89]

It is an understatement to say that George Fox knew the Bible well. A Dutch historian once remarked that if somehow all of the Bibles in the world had come to be destroyed, the Scriptures could have been reproduced out of the mouth of George Fox. As much as two-thirds of some of Fox’s recorded sermons are simply Scripture texts strung together. Occasionally I hear a Friend longingly say something like, “How I wish that we could recover the vitality that Quakers had during the time of George Fox.” If Fox was so thoroughly rooted and grounded in the Scriptures, can we hope to recover vitality in our day without their being a significant part of our spiritual journey?

So, follow the practice of checking concerns against the message of the Scriptures. If they are in harmony, one can go forward with assurance.

I am indebted to Michael J. Sheeran and his insightful book, Beyond Majority Rule, for calling attention to the third checkpoint for leadings and concerns. He observes that for Friends, “The earliest major test of one’s leading seems to have been whether one finds the Cross in what he is drawn to.” [ Michael J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in the Religious Society of Friends, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1983, p. 24] In 1652, Richard Farnsworth, a travelling companion of George Fox and a powerful minister in his own right, wrote that “you will be brought into a discerning to savour truth from error, both in yourselves, and in one another, if you will follow the cross which will ‘cross and crucify that which would consult with human wisdom … .’ ” [ quoted by Sheeran, Ibid ]

Shortly afterward Farnsworth urged Margaret Fell, freshly come into the Quaker flock, to “keep in the cross, and purity will grow;-the safest way is the cross: take up the cross daily; mind to be guided by that which crosseth your own wills, and it will bring every idle word, thought and deed to judgment in you; and so the old … will be crucified.” [ Sheeran, Ibid., pp. 24-25] When we recall the libertine behavior of the Ranters, it is easy to see why Friends insisted on this test. Friends were quick to point out that the Ranters “fled the cross.” [ Hugh Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England, Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1985, pp. 110-120]

Sheeran also notes that in a right leading or concern amongst Friends one sees evidence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. [ Sheeran, Ibid, p. 27]

Fifth, concerns should be checked with one’s community of faith. There are no such things as Lone Ranger Christians or Friends. God has given us the gift of the beloved community, of being a part of a company of pilgrims on a shared journey. The Quaker theologian Robert Barclay spoke of the power of God at work in the fellowship of a Friends Meeting in a very moving way. He said:

The seeing of the faces one of another, when both are inwardly gathered unto the life, giveth occasion for the life secretly to rise, and pass from vessel to vessel. And as many candles lighted, and put in one place, do greatly augment the light, and make it more to shine forth, so when many are gathered together into the same life, there is more of the glory of God, and his power appears, to the refreshment of each individual, for that he partakes not only of the light and life raised in himself, but in all the rest. [ Robert Barclay, Apology, pp. 364–365]

The individual led by Christ has a significant amount of light The committed group, dwelling together in Christ, has even greater light.

So, when leadings for concerns come to us, they should be shared with the larger body of the Meeting, with Ministry and Counsel, with a Clearness Committee. In prayer and waiting upon the Lord the larger group can either confirm the leading or urge one to seek further, or perhaps even suggest that one may be mistaken in his or her discernment.

Friends are certain that the Spirit is consistent. Hugh Barbour of Earlham College observes that the Light will not “contradict itself, either in history or among the members of the Spirit-led group.” [ Hugh Barbour, Quakers in Puritan England, p.120 ] The Spirit leads into unity, and when all the members of the worshipping group concur that a particular course of action or undertaking is the will of God, one would be mistaken to continue to question or to hesitate for long.

Such has been the way of Friends. John Woolman’s social conscience seems to have been sharper than those of his neighboring Friends, but he never failed to clear a contemplated journey in ministry with them. The process can be seen vividly in the migration of Friends from the Carolinas to the “New West” states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan. When an individual or family felt a leading to leave the environment of slavery and settle in the new land, the concern was taken to the Monthly Meeting. If and when permission to migrate was granted, not just one family, but twelve or twenty, or sometimes the entire Meeting, would make the trek through the wilderness. Once they arrived in the new land they would carve out of the forest a community like the one they had left behind in the Carolinas with a Meetinghouse at its center. Often they would give the new community the same name as their former home. At their best, Friends have always highly valued and implicitly trusted the Spirit-led community. The community with which the concern is tested can be a support base for carrying out the concern.

A sixth test has come as Friends have sought to pursue leadings or concerns “as way opens.” Perhaps no one has written of it more precisely than the fiery minister from Philadelphia, Hannah Whitall Smith. She states:

If a ‘leading’ is of God, the way will always open for it Our Lord assures us of this when He says in John 10:4, “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice.” Notice here the expressions “goeth before” and “follow.” He goes before to open a way, and we are to follow in the way thus opened. It is never a sign of a Divine leading when the Christian insists on opening his own way, and riding roughshod over all opposing things. [ Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1970, pp. 98-99 ]

So it was when the eleven Quaker missionaries in London felt the concern to take the Friends message across the Atlantic and the master mariner, Robert Fowler, built the good ship Woodhouse. So it was also when Penn set forth some of his theories of government in the Charter of Jersey and then received payment of the debt that King Charles II owed his father in the form of land between the southern boundaries of New York and the northern border of Maryland.

We run ahead of our Guide and risk a calamitous outcome when we endeavor to force action on a concern by bowling over everything that stands in the way. Friends proceed “as way opens.”

Concerns Focus Our Lives

The pursuit of Spirit-led concerns can lead to an amazing simplification of our lives. For most of us, there are too many heart-rending appeals, too many noble causes. Trying to respond to a large number, we become overburdened and weary until we reach the point of “social concerns burnout.” We begin to question whether our little efforts scattered in so many different directions can really make any difference anyway. We begin to ask, “What’s the use?” How many do we know who have taken this route and ended up cynical and sitting on the sidelines while the great cosmic battle between the forces of light and darkness rages on?

Remember we have already noted that a sense of inward peace about a particular project or course of action is a sure sign that it has the approval of the Spirit. Francis Wickes, a Jungian therapist. tells of a troubled patient whose life was crammed full of activity and who had a recurring dream. In the dream, she dies and goes to Heaven. The gatekeeper inquires her name, and the only identification that she can give is that she was the woman who was the head of fifty-seven committees. She did not know the peace of the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of the Spirit-led concern, Thomas Kelly, the beloved professor at Haverford College in the 1930s, says, “…it is a particularization of my responsibility… in a world too vast and a lifetime too short for me to carry all responsibilities.” [ Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1941, pp. 108-109 ] He goes on to point out that ” … the loving Presence does not burden us equally with all things, but considerately puts upon each of us just a few central tasks, as emphatic responsibilities. For each of us these special undertakings are our share in the joyous burdens of love.”[ Ibid, p.109 ]

While recognizing “the multitude of good things that need doing,” Kelly assures us, “Toward them all we feel kindly, but we are dismissed from active service in most of them. And we have an easy mind in the presence of desperately real needs which are not our direct responsibility. We cannot die on every cross, nor are we expected to.” [ Ibid ] Paying close attention to the Inward Guide and responding positively to only those undertakings and appeals for service that have our name written on them leads to a life that is remarkably focused and effective in advancing the Kingdom.

Creaturely Activity or Spiritually-based Concerns?

Do our social involvements spring from an inward imperative, or are we merely picking up on things that are given popular emphasis by our society and culture (or the political counter-culture)? The recent series of mass concerts featuring show business personalities to raise funds for some very pressing needs such as world hunger or farm aid is a good example of the way in which our society gets aroused about a particular cause, makes a dramatic gesture towards it, and then basically forgets it. Such emotional outbursts are no more permanent than a bubble in the summer sun. A spiritually-based concern is for the long haul. It calls one to sustained involvement over a significant amount of time.

Today it is very easy for a community of faith to fall victim to American counter-culture religion and fads. Both are politically motivated rather than rooted in the Spirit of God. Instead of changing the world, the faith community is taken over by the world mindset.

In many of the main-line churches of the 1960s and early 1970s there was a saying, “Let the world set the agenda.” The aim was for the Church to be dramatically relevant as it ministered to the world’s most deeply felt needs. The problem was that in many instances the Church became so adept in the ways of the world that one could no longer tell the Church from the world. The Church utilized the world’s strategies and measured its success by the world’s values. The Church gave up on transforming the world and adapted to it. The salt lost its savor. The leaven no longer caused the loaf to rise. There has been a substantial amount of creaturely activity in faith communities in recent years.

In Jesus’ prayer for his disciples and followers, he made it very clear that their frame of reference did not come from the world. He prayed, ” … they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. As thou didst send me into the world, so have I sent them into the world” (John 17:14, 15 and 18). The Church (or Religious Society of Friends) is in the world, but not of it. Hence comes the image of the Church (or Religious Society of Friends) as a colony of Heaven. Friends are citizens of a “city … whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11: 10). Here we are “strangers and exiles” (Heb. 11:13). The trouble is that we have focused our attention to such an extent on the secular city, the city of mortar and stone, of flashing neon lights and freeways so numerously lined with cars that they back up for long, long distances at the exits-that we miss the city that God has prepared (Heb. 11: 16).

Thomas Kelly sensed this trend decades ago when he warned us:

We Quakers have become earthy. We are more at home with humans than we are with God. We have men of burning social passion, but not so many that bum for God, who long for God, who go down deep into the Waters of His life, who call to us, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Social reformers we have now, men who are great in their contribution to social thinking, to war, to peace, to economic justice …. But this epoch in history is weak in great prophets of the inner life, great voices who cry in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord within your hearts.” … skill in communion with Him [God], agile obedience to the Inward Glory, is less common today. [ Thomas Kelly, The Eternal Promise, Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1977, p. 116 ]

We Friends have sold our spiritual birthright for a bowl of secular potage. We have fallen victim to a superficial and shallow age. We must reclaim our heritage as a Kingdom People. We must once again obtain our marching orders from an eternal source.

We must recall afresh that our local Meetings are “colonies of Heaven.” As colonies we must be faithful to our charter. We have a commission from the homeland and Heaven’s Ruler that is sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are to exhibit to the world a Kingdom mindset, Kingdom values, and a Kingdom lifestyle. Being in the world and not of it, we are the authentic counterculture of a better way, the only way that holds true hope and the promise of life for humankind. We are to demonstrate the Kingdom’s reality to a world that generally sees little but rampant self-interest, greed, corruption, and the pursuit of pleasure.

As we act on Spirit-led concerns, we are the heralds of a dawning Kingdom day.

Those who pursue creaturely activities are generally driven persons. Driven persons are usually driven by a sense of guilt, intense insecurity, peer pressure, or the gnawing hunger for constant attention from others’ applause, or to see one’s name out front or at the head. [ Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, Nashville, TN: Oliver Nelson, 1984, pp. 48-51 ]

Those who pursue Spirit-led concerns are “called persons.” A concern comes to us as a call. Jesus calls persons. By the Sea of Galilee He called James, John, and Peter to leave their fishing nets and follow. He called Matthew to leave his tax collector’s table, and Simon the Zealot to a better way than political intrigue. Several of the original disciples were not very promising, but they were called by Jesus. What an impact they made!

He called George Fox and Margaret Fell and Marmaduke Stephenson and Mary Dyer and John Woolman and Stephen Grellet and Elizabeth Fry and Hannah Whitall Smith and Thomas Kelly. In each generation of our life as a people of God, He has called Friends to vital and empowered ministry. He calls us today.

The called person is a person under orders. The called person has crossed the threshold to faith and made an irrevocable commitment. “Deep calls to deep” and the waves and billows of God’s love sweep over us (Ps. 42:7). The called person’s commitment is made to the person of the Living Christ, not to an ideology or to a program, but to Christ, the one who can satisfy the restless longings of our hearts.

The called person has a clear sense of identity. She or he can exclaim with Thomas Merton: “Who am I? My deepest realization of who I am is that I am one loved by Christ” [Quoted by Alan Jones, Exploring Spiritual Direction: An Essay on Christian Friendship, Minneapolis, MN: The Seabury Press, 1982, p. 113 ] What more about identity need be said?

The called person knows the “power of a purpose.” Austrian writer Viktor Frankl contends that “the striving to find a meaning in one’s life is a primary motivational force. “ [ Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, New York: Washington Square Press, 1959, p. 154 ] The called person has that basic meaning. Aware of the gifts that God has given and sensitive to the needs of family, neighborhood, community, and humankind, purpose becomes clearer and clearer for one who is called. The called person can affirm with the apostle Paul, ” …this one thing I do… ” (Phil. 3:13).

Called persons abide in the living Christ even as the branch abides in the vine (John 15:~). Their relationship with the Christ who lives is nurtured through times set apart for meditation and communion, through regular participation in corporate worship, through conscientious stewardship practices, and possibly through journal keeping or fasting. The called person realizes and acts upon the fact that her or his relationship to the living Christ is the most important thing in life. Jesus calls us today. As we hear, we are given Spirit-led concerns. We can respond affirmatively and live as called persons. When Friends have rightly understood their vocation, they have been a “Company of Called Persons.”

Called to Wholeness

The pursuit of Spirit-led concerns draws individual Friends, local Meetings, and larger bodies of Friends toward wholeness. The vision of Christian Truth that inspired the first generation of Friends was so complete, total, overwhelming, and compelling that from 1652 to around 1700 Friends were the fastest-growing movement in the Western world. It would not be immodest to say that during that period of time Friends were the most vital and living part of Christ’s Church on earth. Rarely is such vigor, power, and passionate commitment seen in the two-thousand-year-old story of the Church. The wholeness of the Friends witness is what appealed to so many seekers.

From 1827 until well into the 1900s the Friends story in North America has been a story of schism and fragmentation. Each splinter group has witnessed to a portion of the Truth that George Fox and the Valiant Sixty declared so forcefully-but partial Truth is Truth diluted in power. Somehow the ingredients of the original Friends understanding of Christ’s Truth which the various branches of the North American Family of Friends have divided amongst themselves must be reblended in the right proportion if another “Quaker explosion” is to be ignited.

The first generation of Friends were truly “full Gospel Christians.” They had a passionate love for God, a breadth of vision for the Christian enterprise, and pentecostal fervor to carry out their mission that make us seem pale today by comparison. Faithful obedience in regard to Spirit-led concerns could enable us to recover that wholeness. The Spirit leads into wholeness.

We have seen this in some of the stalwart Friends of each generation. Laura Haviland was a flaming evangelist who probably did more for education of freed Blacks than any woman in America. Benjamin Trueblood was an architect of the “new Quakerism” of the frontier and Secretary of the American Peace Association in Boston. Clarence Pickett was an effective Friends pastor in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and guided the American Friends Service Committee to the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for its exemplary work in reconciliation in Europe following World War II.

For far too long we have had the false and artificial distinctions of “social concerns Friends” and “missionary-minded Friends” or “prophetic Friends” and “evangelical Friends.” One of the greatest words that Jesus ever used was “and.” In using it He made it impossible for us to ever truly follow His lead and settle for a partial witness. We are called to be socially concerned and missionary-minded Friends. We are called to be both prophetic and evangelical Friends. Anything less is unfaithful. We are called to be “Children of the Light” in both personal and social morality. Jesus will not let us settle for two or three “hobby horses” or to be “Susie One-Note” or “Johnny One-Note” in our witness.

The call to follow the path of Spirit-led concerns is a call to wholeness, and it is perhaps the greatest challenge facing this generation of Friends. We can no longer be comfortable to stay in our own little room in the Quaker house nor to endeavor to redesign the entire house to fit our personal tastes. There is a higher percentage of spiritual seekers today than there has been at any time in human history since the days of George Fox. A holistic Friends Movement could gain their attention and speak to their condition in an authentic and special way. A Friends Movement restored to wholeness, with a vital spirituality and cutting-edge social witness, could come as a refreshing rain to a land scorched by secularism and parched because the many clouds of false spirituality did not fulfill their promise. It could herald the beginning of a lush new springtime of the Spirit in North America

Some Questions for Discussion:

  1. Define concern.
  2. What is essential for a local Meeting to be a seedbed of concern? 
  3. How have you come by your concerns?
  4. How have you tested them?
  5. Is there a comfortable and hospitable place in your Meeting for the testing of concerns? How could you create one?
  6. How can we “have an easy mind in the presence of desperately real needs”?
  7. Do you feel that in some ways Friends and your Meeting have fallen victim to a superficial and shallow age? If so, how?
  8. Are you a driven person or a called person?
  9. What does it mean to say that Friends are a company of “called persons”?
  10. Define your conception of wholeness for Friends.

This essay originally appeared as Chapter 1 of Leonard S. Kenworthy’s book Friends Face the World, published in 1987 by Friends General Conference, Friends United Meeting, and Quaker Publications.

About the Author

Growing up in Newton Square in eastern Pennsylvania, Jack Kirk is a graduate of Earlham College (A.B.) in Richmond, Indiana, and Christian Theological Seminary (M.Div.) in Indianapolis, Indiana. He has served as a pastor of Friends congregations in Indianapolis, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Wichita, Kansas. For four years the Director of the Quaker Hill Conference Center in Richmond, from 1978 to 1987, he served as one of the two chief executive officers of Friends United Meeting in his work as Field Secretary for the denomination and as Editor of Quaker Life magazine. He is currently pastor of Friends Community Church in Bakersfield, California. He and his wife, Janet Agan Kirk of Plainfield, Indiana, are the parents of two children, Jennie and Chad.


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