The Importance of Vocal Ministry: Prophecy and Continuing Revelation
September 18, 2018 § 3 Comments
A third essential wall in the foundations of Quakerism is our experience of continuing revelation, the fact that the Religious Society of Friends continues to serve as a channel through which the Spirit of Love and Truth brings love and truth into the world in new forms. Quakerism is a prophetic faith; that is, not only were we founded by prophets with a revolutionary message, but the messages keep coming.
In the beginning—in the very beginning—the spark that fell on ready tinder among the Seekers gathered in 1652 in Firbank Fell and that burst into the flame that is the Quaker movement was a three-hour-long sermon by George Fox. It was vocal ministry.
Ever since then, the gathering spirit of Christ has used Quaker vocal ministry as the primary vehicle for continuing prophecy, for raising new concerns, for offering new directions for the Society, for our much-vaunted continuing revelation. In fact, vocal ministry IS continuing revelation made manifest among us.
And this is true, this is reaffirmed, this is carried forward with every message we hear in meeting. . . . In theory. Does the vocal ministry in your meeting feel like continuing revelation?
There are other vehicles for revelation, of course. We have an extremely rich tradition of written ministry that refreshes our understanding of truth, expands it, carries it forward—tracts, pamphlets, periodicals, recorded sermons, histories and other works, both scholarly and not, even blogs, and especially, minutes and journals.
And we have prophetic actions. We have the founding of the service committees, of Right Sharing of World Resources and FCNL, and so on. And we have extraordinary innovations in spiritual technology—clearness committees, Quaker Bible study, Quaker dialogue, worship sharing, consultations, QuakerSpeak.org, ReleasingMinistry.org.
But vocal ministry remains the most accessible, the most universal (among unprogrammed Friends), the most frequently employed venue for bringing God’s new truth to this peculiar gathering of God’s people, and through us to the rest of the world.
The apostle Paul felt that the gift of prophecy was the most valuable of all the gifts of the spirit (1 Corinthians 13:1–5). I would raise up the gift of healing myself. But he has a point.
It is through prophecy, through continuing revelation, that the Religious Society of Friends moves forward into God’s next work for us. And we very often get our first inkling of that new truth from someone’s vocal ministry, in a meeting for worship, or a meeting for worship with attention to the life of the meeting, or in a consultation or Triennial or world gathering or FGC Gathering . . .
I think of Marshall Massey’s prophetic message to the FGC Gathering in 1987 that jumpstarted Quaker earthcare witness. Now that was a prepared message, but it was still vocal ministry. I am sure that that is how Marshall approached it, prepared though it was. It had been given to him by the Holy Spirit. It was seasoned by his knowledge, experience, and reason. But the impulse, the impact, and the truth was all the work of the Spirit.
Our meetings should nurture the vocal ministry as the prophetic pipeline that it is—or could be. And our ministers should think of themselves as stepping into what William Taber called the prophetic stream to fill the cup of continuing revelation and, with their message, raising it to our lips.