T. Eugene Coffin
Source: Seek Find Share: Study Volume Number Two Preparatory to the Fourth World
Conference of Friends, 1967. Greensboro, North Carolina: Guilford College, 1967. This material
is protected under copyright laws and is reprinted with the permission of Friends World
Committee for Consultation.
This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.
Experience is the common denominator upon which new people can be brought together. A first-hand experience of the power, love and judgment of God through faith in Jesus Christ is what we need. For several generations we have been trying to fan the fires of a once flaming faith with second and third-hand knowledge of Christ. Our parents and their parents were diligent to provide the means of handing on the torch of Christianity, but the flame became small and flickering when Friends became preoccupied with insuring a "Head-knowledge" to the neglect of a "Heart-Experience." It is the first-hand experience with God that produces the expressions given in doctrines of "The Inward Light," "Repentance," "Conversion," "Justification by Faith," "the removal of the occasion of all war," "Sanctification," "Justice for all men," etc. The "Presence in the Midst" must be so real as to cause the response of each person to become one of honest confession and humble obedience. We need recovery of the emphasis on a first-hand experience with God if we are to be relevant Christians during the rest of this century.
At one point in His ministry Jesus said that men do not light a candle and then put it under cover,
but rather on a candle-stick so that it will give light to all who are in the house. This is precisely
what Friends must do about the knowledge gained through a first-hand experience with God. We
need a recovery of witnessing; that authentic sharing which is a careful avoidance of anything
like propaganda, but is still light-giving to all the world. This must be accomplished by the
responsible exercise of membership of all who call themselves Friends. Each one is a minister.
Each Meeting can be as a city, "set one a hill" which cannot be hid. Furthermore, we must correct
the tendency of former generations to locate a Meetinghouse down the road, behind a hill,
unmarked, untended and unused except one day per week. If we are to recover the art of being
publishers of truth, that art must be seen in every aspect of our individual, group and community
life. We cannot afford the luxury of being a religious secret society, or a satisfied and
comfortable church group, or a proud Quaker fellowship that regards the stranger with suspicion
and questions as to whether or not he would be good Quaker material. The life of the Spirit is
like fire. It cannot be contained if there is combustible material near. I am convinced there is a
great host of people in the world, unaware of the vitality of the Quaker message, untouched and
unreached by loving Christian fellowship, who upon hearing the Good News, would gladly seek
the source. How shall they see, if we do not hold up the Light?
A tongue-in-cheek attitude toward anything religious; a skepticism about talk of a belief in God;
a discounting of the need of God by any man because he has everything anyway; are three mental
attitudes of that host "out there." These attitudes are based, at least partially, on the hypocrisy
and dishonesty which has been the image of "Church people" in the minds of many. We need a
recovery of intellectual honesty in all our relationships. Where are the Friends who have the
courage to throw away their masks of piety, proper Quakerism and weighty influence to be
really honest with God, one another and with the world? Simple directness of approach in the
power of God's Spirit and filled with God's love would release many from the bondage of the
unexpressed tyranny of the unacceptable. Freedom is Christ is the freedom to be as He creates us
and intends us to be. The world, of which Friends are very much a part, is calling for the way of
freedom. When Jesus said "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free," he spoke of
a very practical and achievable condition of mind and heart. Men bind other men in order to try
to free themselves only to find that they, too, are in bondage. The freedom expressed by
intellectual honesty creates the kind of spiritual climate that permits new birth to take place and
liberty-giving truth to flourish.
A first hand experience with God, the news of which is published abroad by each one who comes
under His Power, and an intellectual honesty in all relationships leads us to the inevitable
conclusion that "We are our brother's keeper." A living-out of the first and second
commandments underlined by Jesus is the life-expression of Friends. "Thou shalt love the Lord
thy God with all thy heart, and with al they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great
commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these
two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40) Unconditional caring
for others based on the unconditional surrender of love to the Father emerges as a rich faith
matched by an abundance of good works in the name of Christ. The "Meeting for Sufferings" is a
genuine manifestation of members of the body of Christ being "members one of another." This
"caring" applies, not only to our own kind, but to all those whom God so loved that it cost Him
the cross to demonstrate the means of a complete healing for the sin that is the predicament of
man. We need a recovery of matching faith with good works accompanied by the explanation
of why we care so much. This will demonstrate the difference preaching, teaching and Christian
action make in today's world/
The dynamism which will make the Quaker Christian witness alive, relevant , and effective for the
21st century is to keep these four qualities in balance. There was sequence and order to the
assembling of the bones of Ezekial's vision. Each m ember of the body was significant when it
found its place.
A firsthand experience with God, if it is not kept in proper perspective, could degenerate into
merely a mystical relationship so that contact would be lost between God and man, and an
understanding of God's authority over all creation and God's provision of salvation for all men
would be very limited. The publishing of Truth with evangelistic zeal would relate Truth to all of
life when it is done so in balance with a firsthand experience, intellectual honesty, and
humanitarian concern. Otherwise, evangelism would sink to mere defense of the faith and a
legalistic system of religion.
Intellectual honesty protects the Christian Quaker from an endless search and never coming to the knowledge of truth when kept in the context of experience, joyful sharing, and the love of neighbor as oneself. Seeking and finding, then seeking again to find deeper truth and experience is the rhythm of Christian fellowship with God and life as a member of the society of men.
Humanitarianism will not be tempted to become mere humanism with its attempt to elevate the
sprit of man without the Spirit of God when kept in balance with firsthand experience with God,
an evangelistic concern, and intellectual honesty. To attempt to serve mankind any other way is
to end up in disappointment and disillusionment, and with no healing ministry.
The view of Quakerism from the facing bench is a vision of hope. There is a new people to be gathered. At our point in history we must accept the fact that there is a religious Society of Friends and a Christian Society of Friends. It is confusing to many that there are those in the Christian Society whose words and actions seem to be mere religious trappings, and some in the Religious Society whose attitude is to all outward appearances, sincerely Christian. There are deep-seated difference between the two parts of Friends, but we cannot abandon hope that God will bring us together again under a common loyalty to Jesus Christ. The discipline of history will reconcile at last those who have been kept apart so long by jealousy and mistrust. The Holy Spirit will breathe life again into the remnant of a lively, dynamic community. The new people may have a much different organizational structure than the present. New forms of worship, evangelism, Christian Education and service may emerge and we must be open to them. It will be imperative that a sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit be cultivated in all members in order to discern that which is prompted by God and that which is human. Friends will be a people sent as well as called: sent to be the Good News, speak the prophetic word, do the servant deed. Friends will go as well as gather; they will be on the move, penetrating society with both the practice and the proclamation of the Gospel. This new people God is gathering will see today's world and today's committees as the scene of God's redeeming, reconciling, liberating action. This gives validity to the theme No Time But This Present. But there is the 21st century around the corner of time. That century will be the present for at least one third of those who now call themselves Friends. What God is doing in us and through us now has meaning for every "Present."