Gospel Order Packet — Preface section

March 5, 2016 § 1 Comment

New York Yearly Meeting’s Gospel Order Packet was a loose leaf binder with eight pocket dividers packed with resource materials for nurturing gospel order in seven areas of meeting life. In the next posts, I plan to publish these materials as pdf files section by section. I have made no effort to edit them yet; that would delay the project too much.

The first section, published here, is a preface section with introductory materials. The other seven sections are:

  1. Individual Spiritual Development within the Community
  2. Meeting for Worship as Central to Community Life
  3. Recognizing God in All Community Members—Building the Faith Community
  4. Discernment of Leadings among Members
  5. Pastoral Care of Community Members
  6. Worship as the Basis for Quaker Business and Following Gospel Order in the Meeting Structure
  7. Fruits of the Spirit: Friends Social Testimonies

The Preface section

The Preface section includes the following materials:

Pamphlets included in the Packet included:

  • Spiritual Discernment—the context and goal of clearness committees, by Patricia Loring, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #305.
  • Guide to Quaker Practice, by Howard H. Brinton, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #20.

Gospel Order—Setting Limits

March 4, 2016 § 2 Comments

A checklist of questionable behaviors in meeting

A guide intended to help clarify the role of eldership in the meeting.

Meeting for worship

  •        Consistently arriving late
  •        Speaking too early in the meeting
  •        Leaving too little silence between messages
  •        Bringing a prepared message
  •        Dialog, or answering another’s message
  •        Speaking too long, “running past the guide”
  •        Speaking too often
  •        Speaking more than once
  •        Harangues, threats and other assaults on the worship
  •        Eldering a speaker without the inward or outward authority to do so
  •         Conversation, moving about, and other disturbances to the silence; reading and cell phone activity


  •        Inappropriate unauthorized eldering of others
  •        Quenching of the spirit of Christian or biblical (or any other) vocal ministry
  •        Sexual harassment; assault and/or battery
  •        Deceit and theft
  •        Refusal to work in good faith toward resolution of conflicts
  •        Tale bearing, backbiting, and rumormongering; “sense of the parking lot”
  •         Civil suit between members

Quaker process and meeting for business in worship

  •        Knowingly and consistently violating Quaker process
  •        Holding the meeting hostage: “if you do “x,” I will do “y”, withholding financial contributions in protest
  •        Forming political alliances
  •        Blackballing or stacking nominations
  •        Biased or forceful clerking; ignorant clerking
  •        Secret or improperly publicized meetings
  •        Failing to record minutes or changing the minutes without meeting approval
  •         Presuming to speak or act for the meeting on weighty matters without the approval of the meeting

The testimonies

  •        Civil suit between members
  •        Joining the armed forces
  •        Gambling
  •        The use of dangerous or addictive drugs
  •        Improper sexual conduct
  •        Unrepentant prejudice



Gospel Order—Signals and Actions

March 4, 2016 § 2 Comments

A Practical Guide to Eldering

Signals: Things that happen in the process of an unfolding, difficult situation that might call for action on the part of an authorized committee in the meeting.

Actions: Some suggestions about options in such circumstances.

Introduction to the Sequence of Signals and Actions

This “Sequence of Signals and Actions” has two purposes: to help meetings identify problems and conflicts with some clarity and in a timely fashion, and to provide some options for action. Experience with conflicts in the yearly meeting and the testimony of the state of the meeting reports in 1994 to the queries on conflict indicate that many meetings regret having waited until too late to address their problems and that meetings sometimes are not clear about an order of response to problems. We seek on the one hand, to protect other Friends and the worship and fellowship of the meeting from disturbance and conflict; on the other hand, we want to express compassion for all parties involved. We offer this sequence as a place to start.

It is only a place to start. We recognize that this is a very sensitive issue for Friends and we offer it as a set of suggestions only. We encourage and expect meetings to make their own connections and to revise them as their experience indicates. We do, however, strongly recommend that you decide ahead of time on some guidelines for when you will begin to act in response to a perceived problem; experience has made the value of such preparation very clear.

We use the phrase “bringing gospel order” several times. It may feel archaic or technical to some Friends; it may be uncomfortable to Friends for whom the “gospel” has no relevance or even has negative associations. We use it out of an interest in recovering our tradition, because it may contribute to deeper understanding of the term, but mostly because we believe it is rich in meaning; it would be difficult to say as much as this phrase does with so few words. We refer Friends to the brief information sheet on definitions of gospel order in the Preface Section of the Resource Packet on Gospel Order for a fuller understanding of the phrase. For the purposes of this resource, we would clarify our meaning of gospel order with this concise description:

‘Gospel order’ is used here to denote a process in which a person or persons bring their concerns directly to the person with whom they have a difficulty, in a spirit of love, with the intention of

  1. a) listening to the other person’s needs, feelings and concerns in the situation,
  2. b) sharing their own needs, feelings and concerns, and
  3. c) seeking some agreement as to how the conflict might be resolved. In some cases, those bringing gospel order may be authorized to speak for M & C or for the meeting.

A note about Ministry & Counsel’s log. Friends may feel uncomfortable with the prospect of someone keeping a record of who said what in the meeting. We recommend such a practice because we have seen repeatedly in actual conflict situations that Friends contradict each other in their claims and great confusion arises because no one knows what has really happened. Eventually, meetings often seek to recover and even to document for themselves some agreed-upon description of what has happened so that the meeting can make decisions in clarity and understanding. It is also useful to see how long a problem is lasting, how big it is getting over time, and what measures have and have not worked. To this end we recommend that the clerk of Ministry & Counsel keep a strictly confidential, dated record of complaints brought specifically to M & C and a record of whatever actions the body has taken and other informal notes which might be useful should confusion about events arise, and that this log be deleted of material which is no longer current.

We realize that some Friends will consider such a practice to be very unFriendly, even if it remains in the hands of the most trustworthy clerk and is kept in the strictest confidence. We hope that you can find some alternative method of retaining perspective and corporate memory in the midst of long-standing, complex difficulties.


Signals Actions
When someone on M&C hears of trouble informally Confer informally with other members of M&C
When the first person brings a concern to the clerk or someone on M&C Make a note in an elder’s log
Consider bringing the matter to M&C
Ask whether s/he has spoken directly to the persons concerned (gospel order*)
When the 2nd or 3rd person brings a concern to the clerk or someone on M&C Bring the matter to M&C
Ask whether s/he has brought gospel order.
Consider conferring with the meeting’s clerk.
When all members of M&C agree that there is a problem. Confer with the meeting’s clerk.
Prayerfully determine what is to be done and then appoint someone to bring gospel order to the situation.
If the initial attempt at gospel order fails. Try again with two or three people.
Consider holding a meeting for reconciliation.
If the second attempt fails and/or the idea of a meeting for reconciliation is rejected. Consider asking for outside help.
Consider bringing the matter to the meeting.
Consider some stronger intermediate action.
When the first person leaves meeting because of a difficult person. Minister to the person who has left.
Consider seeking outside help.
Take some strong intermediate action.
Firmly elder the difficult person, requiring an apology and a change in behavior (you may as well have lost them instead of the person who has left).
Consider bringing the matter before the meeting.
Eldering fails.
When the second person leaves the meeting because of a difficult person.
When the problem has persisted a long time (say, one year).
Consider asking the person to leave the meeting.
Consider terminating membership.


* As described elsewhere in the Gospel Order Packet, “gospel order” means several different things in different contexts. Here it refers to the traditional process for eldering someone in meeting that is based on Jesus’ instructions to his community in Matthew 18:15-20 for dealing with conflict within the meeting. This is a kind of “three-warning” process that includes 1) meeting alone with the other party in conflict to work toward resolution; 2) bringing one or two others to speak to the other party; 3) bringing the matter before the church/meeting. Finally, if no resolution can be reached, the meeting disowns the recalcitrant Friend. The passage in Matthew ends with the famous words: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also.”


Gospel Order—Some Guidelines for Eldering Discipline

March 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

While serving in the early 1990s on New York Yearly Meeting’s Ministry & Counsel Coordinating Committee, as it was then called, which had oversight for the yearly meeting committees concerned with worship, ministry, and pastoral care, and for the support of worship, ministry, and pastoral care in the local meetings, I participated in a few “interventions” with meetings that were experiencing conflict or difficulties of some kind with members.

In that service, I noticed some themes that were common to all these cases:

  • Meetings inevitably wished that they had acted more decisively and sooner than they did.
  • They wished that they had talked with each other more about what was going on; a culture of silence had masked unacceptable behavior.
  • They were not clear collectively as a ministry or pastoral care committee or as a meeting about what exactly was not acceptable behavior.
  • They had experienced some denial, considerable confusion about how to act, and a deep hesitancy to act in a way that might harm someone, even when that someone was harming others or the fellowship or the worship.
  • They lost members, and some who did not leave still felt deeply betrayed or hurt by the meeting’s actions and/or inactions.

When we set out to create the Gospel Order Packet, I developed two documents intended as aids to a meeting’s efforts to protect the worship and protect the fellowship of the meeting. One was a tentative list of unacceptable behavior and the other was a set of “triggers” and response to those triggers, a list of behaviors or incidents that should attract the meeting or committee’s attention, and some tentative general suggestions about what to do when these things happened.

I have converted these to pdf files, which you can download using the links below, and I have also entered them as their own blog posts.

Gospel Order—Four Types of Clearness Committees

March 3, 2016 § 7 Comments

The gospel order packet committee of New York Yearly Meeting wanted to include resources on clearness committees, but as we looked into them, we discovered a bit of confusion and heard accounts of Friends being mishandled in their conduct. So we did some research and some thinking and came up with this handout on Four Types of Clearness Committees, which I have revised very slightly for this publication.


Clearness committees are an ancient tradition among Friends, originating with clearness committees for marriage in our earliest days. In a letter written in 1653, George Fox refers to some process in which, “when all things [are] found clear,” the faithful “might appoint a meeting on purpose for the taking of each other” in marriage.

In our own time, this tradition has enjoyed a renaissance, with new forms emerging spontaneously as meetings creatively adapt the basic format to new situations and needs. In this process, some confusion has resulted about what a clearness committee is, how it is appointed and conducted, and what it can be used for. With this short paper, we hope to clarify very briefly the various purposes and formats for clearness committees that we have encountered. It is also a resource guide, citing pamphlets that provide useful information on the variations described.

We have identified four kinds of clearness committees in use among us so far. These include:

  1. The traditional clearness committees for marriage and meeting membership.
  2. The more recent but widely used committees for helping a Friend reach clearness in making a decision or solving a personal problem.
  3. Clearness committees for discerning a leading.
  4. Clearness committees used for conflict resolution.

Some comments: In our experience, the last two uses just mentioned are much less well defined than the first two. For one thing, there are fewer support materials available, especially of the ‘how-to’ kind that would be useful to conveners. Consequently, in discussing them we have gone past description of present experience and practice and have provided some general suggestions for the purpose of clarity. Nevertheless, questions about their actual practice remain unanswered. We hope that more research and experimentation will produce more useful materials in the future. As we explore these new forms, we recommend that meetings use some caution. We know of circumstances in which the wrong format was used and Friends were hurt. We hope that the clarifications we offer below will help prevent accidental misuse.

Some suggestions: Experience with clearness committees suggests several things. It’s important to have some seasoned Friends on any clearness committee, folks who can guide the process when it needs it, and leave it to the Spirit when it is gathered. It’s useful to have some connection to Ministry & Counsel in the meeting, so that someone has an overview of what’s going on in the meeting and can help with resources, if necessary. We also recommend thinking out which kind of clearness committee is called for in those cases that are not for marriage or membership, to help provide good order for the committee’s conduct.

The role of worship: Finally, a word about the role of worship in the clearness process. The more worshipful a clearness committee is, the better it works. As in meeting for worship and meeting for business in worship—and especially like worship sharing, with which clearness committees have many affinities—it is God who leads us into clarity of mind and singleness of heart. It is the faith of Friends that in silent attention to the Inner Guide, the Spirit of truth of whom John speaks (John 14:17) will come to us and guide our work. One key to such worshipfulness is humility. The more we come to the work of the committee as servants of the Friends involved and lay ourselves in God’s hands, the better the process seems to work. Many Friends have had the experience of surprising openings in the process of the committee session and of unlooked-for answers afterwards, even when the session itself has seemed at first unfruitful. Worship, cultivated in all aspects of the clearness committee’s process, nurtures this rising up of God’s leading light, in which we are enabled to answer that of God in each other.

Four types of clearness committee

Clearness committees for marriage and membership

The meeting chooses the committee. The committee has a specific goal: whether the meeting and the applicant(s) are clear to go forward with either the marriage or the membership application.


  • The NYYM pamphlet on Marrying Under the Care of Friends.
  • Peter Woodrow, Clearness: Processes For Supporting Individuals And Groups In Decision-Making, Movement for a New Society, 1985. Part Two covers clearness committees for membership in a Movement for a New Society household; developed from the Quaker process for membership.

Clearness committees for discerning a leading

The committee might be chosen in consultation between the meeting and the member. The goal is to determine whether a specific leading is of God and/or how the meeting might support the ministry that arises from the leading; in this sense, the form is close to that for membership and marriage.


  • Patricia Loring, Spiritual Discernment: the context and goal of clearness committees, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #305.
  • Paul A. Lacey, Leading And Being Led, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #264. What Quakers mean by a “leading.”

Clearness committees to help a Friend make a decision or understand a personal problem

The committee is chosen mostly by the applicant. The process is one of simply asking good questions designed to clarify the situation for the ‘focus person’; there is no specific goal or corporate decision to be sought.


  • Jan Hoffman, “Clearness Committees and their use in Personal Discernment.” A short piece widely reprinted.
  • Peter Woodrow, Clearness: Processes For Supporting Individuals And Groups In Decision-Making, Movement for a New Society, 1985. Part One covers clearness committees for decision making and seeking greater clarity about ones directions in life and work.

Clearness committees for conflict resolution.

This is a new and as yet somewhat undefined use for clearness committees for which there are no set format or guidelines currently in use among Friends. Meetings seem to be doing whatever makes sense to them in an attempt to resolve a conflict and calling the process a clearness committee. Here we offer some suggestions to help clarify things.

Both the meeting and those in conflict might choose the people on the committee. The ideal, long-term goal is reconciliation or a new agreement between the parties in conflict; the practical, short-term goal is a safe environment in which those in conflict can speak and be heard and achieve enough clarity about the situation for the meeting (including the parties in the conflict) to choose a course of action. The form can have two parts.

The first part uses Quaker dialog, a process in which the parties in the conflict respond directly and in turn to questions out of worship, as in worship sharing, addressing themselves to the questions rather than to each other’s offerings, and with no discussion, responses, or rebuttals, but rather silence between the sharings. This is not really a dialog.

It seems to work well if the questions stay focused on a single thread until some clarity is reached about that thread. Two such threads—about what actually happened, and about how we feel about the events—often get tangled and it’s useful to keep them separate, exploring first the factual or “events” thread, and then the other “emotional” thread, if possible: one thread tries to clarify what has actually happened; the other explores how each party to the conflict feels as a result.

We have seen that the parties in the conflict often have different stories about events, that neither story is fully accurate, and that misunderstandings have colored the perception of events. It can be very difficult to arrive at a single narrative that all agree on, but it’s one way to structure the questions. So one person tells their story without interruption, then the other. Then follow questions to clarify the discrepancies.

Feelings come up in the process of telling the story. They are part of the story. But they can derail the session. Experienced, spirit-led facilitation and worship are the key to sorting this out.

A second part might follow the listening session if it seems that some progress has been made or it seems it’s safe to reach a little deeper. If not, then the clerk should just end the session and let the simple act of having listened to each other do some work. At some later time, it might be useful to convene a more open dialog between the parties in the conflict.

Whichever way it’s done—immediately after a listening session or some other time—this second session consists of facilitated question-asking by a clerk or other participants, to which each party in the conflict responds, trying to maintain a spirit of worship and using periods of silence to return the participants to this spirit when necessary. But, in contrast to the earlier session, here the parties in the conflict are really in dialog, speaking their point of view in answer to the other party’s statements.

It is useful to have someone trained in mediation clerking this session, if possible, as the stated tentative goal of the session is to arrive at a new agreement between the parties in the conflict about how things will go in the future. At some point, if things seem to be opening up and if the parties in the conflict express readiness to do so and an agreement seems achievable, then the parties to the conflict and the other participants can try to zero in on what that agreement might be. This might be treated as a third stage in the process—trying to fashion an agreement about behavior in the future.

We want to stress that these guidelines are experimental. Some of them we’ve seen in action; others are just suggestions based on experience. Meetings will want to think the process through carefully and then adapt these suggestions and/or come up with new elements that they think will work in their situation.


  • Fellowship; in Depth and Spiritual Renewal through QUAKER DIALOGUE “CREATIVE LISTENING, Suggestions for Leaders of Group Dialogues Derived from the Experience of Claremont, California Friends, Library Committee, Claremont Monthly Meeting, 727 West Harrison Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. A pamphlet on the so-called Claremont Dialog, also called Quaker Dialog.
  • Margaret S. Gibbons, Encounter Through Worship Sharing, FWCC 1506 Race St., Phila. PA 19102.


Gospel Order—Some Definitions

February 29, 2016 § 1 Comment


“Gospel order” appears as a distinctive idiom in the writings of Friends from the earliest days until the present. It has meant different things in different contexts, and at different times. But these various meanings can be organized loosely into four groups:

  1. the principle of conducting individual and community affairs under the leadership of the Spirit;
  2. processes for conflict resolution and mutual accountability,
  3. Quaker church structure and business process, and
  4. a “cosmic” meaning that speaks of the underlying order of creation as established by the cosmic Christ, the Logos/Word of creative divine wisdom. At the end of this documenta are footnotes and scriptural references.

Led by the Spirit in personal and community life

Gospel order is a generic term for the ordering of the meeting’s life and our own lives in accordance with the gospel, in accordance with the leadings of the living spirit of God. In the words of Joseph Pickvance [footnote #1], “The order that arises in the Church when the members live in the Gospel, the power of God, under the government of the Spirit and Light of God and Christ.”

This is not just an outward adherence to the principles of governance and right walking which are to be found in scripture; but more properly, the alignment of life to the spirit of Christ, or the Inward Light, which is the source of all wisdom and love, and a commitment to follow the guidance and changes of heart which arise from that alignment.

Fox defined gospel order this way: “the spirit of God, which was given to every one to profit withal, and the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, and which hath appeared unto all men, and teacheth them that obey it to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world: that this is the most fit, proper, and universal rule, which God hath given to all mankind to rule, direct, govern, and order their lives by.” [2]

In her Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community, (PHP #297) Sandra Cronk defines gospel order as “the phrase early Friends most often used to describe the communal/ecclesiastical and societal dimensions” of “the inbreaking of God’s new order in our lives.” “God’s new order meant a reconciled and faithful personal relationship with God. It also meant being gathered into a community of God’s people who lived the way of faithfulness together eschewing those conventions of the larger social order which were considered contrary to God’s will.” [#3]

“Early Friends stressed that God’s new order was not present simply because people did all the ‘right’ things in an outward sense; rather, God’s new order, gospel order, was present when people lived out of the fullness of their living relationship with Christ.” “It simply means that gospel order is, first and foremost, life lived in God’s transforming, guiding, and sustaining power.” [#4]

Cronk identifies three general areas of concern in gospel order:

  1. the inward life of worship and discernment, including meeting for worship and meeting for business in worship;
  2. the interior functioning of the meeting community, including the traditional role of eldering, home life, meeting for marriage, and the larger meeting structures that we call quarterly meeting and yearly meeting; and
  3. the social testimonies of Friends.

Mutual accountability in the Spirit

Gospel order is a technical term for the 3-step process for conflict resolution instituted by Jesus among his disciples in Matthew 18, verses 15-20.

The specifics of this process, as adapted by Friends, date back to George Fox himself, as the excerpt below describes. As a technical term for this process, it continued through the middle period of Quaker history. The process includes 1) meeting alone with the other party in conflict to work toward resolution; 2) bringing one or two others to speak to the other party; 3) bringing the matter before the church/meeting.

Gospel order then, in addition to this specific reference to Matthew 18, has the wider meaning of mutual accountability. Friends soon institutionalized the functions of accountability in the role of the elder, who had nurturing care and disciplinary oversight of how individuals and the meeting walked in the Light. Friends derived the deeper spiritual authority for discipline in the meeting from verses 18-20 in the passage of Matthew mentioned above, which ends with the promise that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Church structure and business process

Gospel order also means the traditional “path” through which individual concerns become the business of the meeting and the ordering of meetings into quarterly and yearly meetings for accountability.

This applies to the practice of bringing leadings and concerns before the meeting for worship with a concern for business for corporate discernment and action; of the meeting then laying such a concern before the quarterly or regional meeting when the meeting has chosen to support a concern; and then, perhaps before the yearly meeting at the decision of the regional meeting.

Thus, ‘gospel order’ includes the particular “ecclesiastical” structures of Friends that carry responsibility for spirit-led governance and discernment: the monthly meeting, the quarterly or regional meeting, and the yearly meeting. (By implication, then, gospel order also includes the process of clearness committees, both committees for clearness for membership and marriage and committees for personal discernment, especially when used to test leadings.)

This “system” of increasingly inclusive “tiers” of meetings for the conduct of corporate affairs was instituted by George Fox in the 1660s, along with other structural reforms (including Quaker marriage procedures, the setting up of schools, and the establishment of women’s meetings with pastoral responsibility) after his release from prison at a time when so many travelling ministers were either imprisoned or dead. “What is important to recognize,” writes Doug Gwyn, “is that this system of monthly, quarterly, and yearly men’s and women’s meetings was not the Church government itself, but the discipline by which Christ the head was allowed to rule the body of his Church according to his spirit.” [#5]

Behind the structure, we can see in the quotes that follow the intimation of a principle of moral ordering, of discipline as an aspect of discipleship: “And after we had visited most of the meetings in Somersetshire, we passed into Dorsetshire to one Harris his house, where we had a large Men’s Meeting, and there all the Men’s Monthly Meetings were settled in the glorious order of the Gospel, and that all in the power of God might seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and might cherish the good and reprove the evil.” [#6]

This next quote resonates with the sense of Matthew 18, with the background for the spiritual authority of meetings over individuals and of regional meetings over local meetings, becoming almost visible: “I had some of all the men Friends of each meeting and I established the Men’s Monthly Meetings amongst them also in the order of the Gospel, the power of God. And the power of the Lord confirmed it in all that felt it. And they came to see and feel that the power of God was the authority of their meetings.” [#7]

Thus, in addition to the role of the various levels of meetings as bodies of discernment with respect to leadings, concerns and ‘business’ in general, ‘gospel order’ also refers to their respective roles for discipline and pastoral care for each other. Thus, monthly meetings once were expected to formally answer queries from the regional meetings in meeting for business in worship, sending their minuted responses to their quarterly meetings for review and possible disciplinary action. Today this dimension of gospel order continues in our practice of writing and approving the written ‘discipline’ of Faith & Practice by the Yearly Meeting, the writing of Advices and Queries, the provision in Faith & Practice for a terminated member to appeal the decision of their meeting to the regional meeting, the practice of paying the proportional share to the Yearly Meeting through regional meeting treasurers, which is no longer New York Yearly Meeting’s practice, the writing of the State of Society Report, the recording of ministers, and so on.

Included in the original reforms initiated in 1667 was the establishment of women’s meetings. Up to this time, men had conducted all ‘business’ meetings.

Gospel order as the divinely ordained order of the universe

In his book, Lloyd Lee Wilson emphasizes a “cosmic” meaning for gospel order: “the order established by God that exists in every part of creation . . . the right relationship of every part of creation.” In fact, Lloyd Lee Wilson begins his book with this definition.

When Leanna and Linda and I first created this definition document, I don’t think we paid enough attention to this aspect of gospel order. In fact, it’s possible that Wilson’s book had not yet come out. And it’s been so long since I read it that I no longer know where to go to develop this idea fully, so I will leave it at this for now. I will return to expand on this meaning after I have had a chance to review the book.

I’m not too worried about this, though, because I don’t think Fox and early Friends emphasized this aspect of gospel order very much either. They weren’t much given to cosmic or metaphysical theologizing in general, preferring to focus on the here and now, to take a more practical approach to sin and salvation, and to be wary of “notions” and “shadows”, of ideas without manifest power. Fox did refer to Christ as the Word and the Word of Wisdom quite a lot, but less in speculation about the ordering of the universe and more in exhortation toward the ordering of the Godly life.

More quotes from George Fox

Gospel order and discipline:

“In the church of Christ, where he is the head, there is his gospel and his order and his government; there is his power felt in everyone’s heart, and there are his offices of admonishing, rebuking, exhorting, reproving, amongst them that are convinced, and converted, by them that are in the power … they that would not have the people to be admonished … and yet go into sin and wickedness, those are out of the gospel order and government of Christ Jesus …” [George Fox, Works, Vol. VIII:62]

The cosmic dimension of gospel order:

[1. The Everlasting Gospel Order]

“Herein is the holy, heavenly and powerful Order, which is everlasting and will have no end. This Order of the Gospel, which is the Power of God, is over all the orders in the world and before they were, whether Jews, gentiles or apostate Christians . . . “ [Epistle 313 (1674), p. 309 of …]

Fox’s guidelines for dispute reconciliation:

[1. The Disorderly who walk not in the Truth]

All Friends must know one another in the Spirit and Power of God. In all the Meetings of the Country, two or three may be appointed from them to go the Quarterly Meetings … to give notice … if there be any that walk not in the Truth and follow callings and dealings; nor honest, nor just, but run into debt and so bring a scandal upon the Truth. … Query and search out all [those who] live not as becomes the Truth and the Gospel, yet do profess it; so that they all may walk in it, as well as talk of it….

And Friends … that you all may be preserved in the Lord’s Power … in the order of the Gospel and in the government of Christ Jesus, “of the increase of which there shall be no end” (Isa. 9:7).

Settling Differences, Disputes and Misconduct in Gospel Order

Dear Friends, if there happen any difference between Friend and Friend, let them speak to one another. If they will not hear, let them take two or three of the Meeting they belong to, that they may end it if they can. And if they cannot end it, then it may be laid before the Monthly Meeting. [See Matt. 18:15-18] And if it cannot be ended there, then it may be brought to the Quarterly Meeting and there let it be put to half-a-dozen Friends, that they may end it…. Or, they that are at differences may choose three Friends and Friends may choose three more … and let them stand to their judgment. For there [are] few … will [want] their names brought to a Monthly or Quarterly Meeting, to have their names sounded over the country that they are in strife, but will rather endeavor to end it amongst themselves or at their own Meeting…

And if there be any difference brought to the Monthly or Quarterly Meeting … after you have heard them one by one, and let but one speak at a time, know [from] them whether they will stand to your judgment? If they will, let half-a-dozen Friends make a final end of it. But if they will not stand to your judgment, they are not fit to bring it thither.

And if any brother or sister hear any report of any brother or sister, let him or her go to the party and know the truth of the report. If it be true, let the thing be judged. If false, go then to the reporter and let him or her be judged….

Now concerning Gospel order, though the doctrine of Jesus Christ requires his people to admonish brother or sister twice before they tell the Church, yet that limits none … that they use no longer forbearance, before they tell the Church; but that they shall not less than twice admonish their brother or sister before they tell the Church. It is desired of all, that before they publicly complain, they wait in the Power of God to feel, if there is no more required of them to their brother or sister, before they expose him or her to the Church. Let this be weightily considered.

And further, when the Church is told and the party admonished by the Church again and again and he or they remain still unsensible and unreconciled, let not final judgment go forth against him or her, till everyone of the Meeting have cleared his or her conscience … that if possible the party may be reached and saved.

After all are clear of the blood of such an one, let the judgment of Friends in the Power of God go forth against him or her . . . that no reproach may come to rest upon God’s holy Name, Truth and people.

All [those who] behold their brother or sister in transgression, go not in a rough, light or upbraiding spirit to remove or admonish him or her, but in the Power of the Lord, Spirit of the Lamb, in the Wisdom and love of Truth, which suffers thereby…. so, may the soul of such a brother or sister be seasonably and effectually reached….

And be it known to all, we cast out none from among us. For if they go from the Light, Spirit and Power in which our Unity is, they cast out themselves. It has been our way to admonish them, that they may come to that Spirit and Light of God, which they are gone from, and so come into the Unity again. For our Fellowship stands in the Light, that the world hates…. If they will not hear our admonitions… the Light condemns them, and then goes the testimony of Truth out against them.

No condemnation ought to go further than the transgression is known. If he or she returns and gives forth a paper of condemnation against him or herself, which is more desirable than that we should do it, this is a testimony of his or her repentance and resurrection before God, his people and the whole world….

That no testimony by way of condemnation, be given forth against any man or woman, whatever crime they commit, before admonition….

And so, keep the Church order of the Gospel, according as the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded; that is, “If they brother offend thee, speak to him between thee and him; and if he will not hear, take two or three. If he will not hear two or three, then tell it to the Church, etc.” (Matt. 18:15)

And dear Friends, in the Power of the Lord God, you who … in your Men’s and Women’s meetings, in the Power of the Lord Jesus see that all things be well amongst you and that all do walk in the Truth as becomes the Gospel of Christ and his glorious Light and Life, so that all may stand up for God’s glory and be valiant for his Truth….

Contemporary usage

The following is a collection of definitions culled from modern writings.

“GOSPEL ORDER. A fellowship of the disciples of Christ that comes into being as the result of the preaching and experience of the Gospel. Our order, organization, testimonies, and closeness come from God through the relationships between people that Jesus described in parables and showed through his healing, counsel, and prophecy. Jesus lives amongst us, counsels and chastises, and leads us in living this order. Our fellowship is local, regional, national, and international at the same time, since we are a spiritual group that Christ heads rather than an episcopal, congregational, or bureaucratic system managed politically.” NYYM Faith & Practice, Glossary.

“Gospel order is the order established by God that exists in every part of creation, transcending the chaos that seems so often prevalent. It is the right relationship of every part of creation, however small, to every other part and to the Creator. Gospel order is the harmony and order which God established at the moment of creation, and which enables the individual aspects of creation to achieve that quality of being which God intended from the start, about which God could say that ‘it was very good.’ [Lloyd Lee Wilson, Essays On The Quaker Vision Of Gospel Order, Celo Valley Books, Burnsville, NC, 1993; p. 3]

“Gospel order…is an organizing principle by which Friends come to a clearer understanding of our relationship to God in all of the divine manifestations and the responsibilities of that relationship.” [Wilson, Essays, p. 4]

Gospel order includes evangelism:

This meaning is current among evangelical and pastoral Friends, but has its roots in the writings of George Fox: “You may see how the Apostle, after he had convinced people, brought them into the Order of the Gospel. The Jews, after they came out of Egypt, they were brought into the Order of the law of God. And as Christians came to believe in Christ, then they are come into the Order of the Gospel.

“So, as I was first moved of the Lord God, to go up and down the nation to preach the Gospel, then after[wards] the Lord moved me to go up and down to exhort and unite, that all people might come into the possession of the Gospel, and the Order of it, which is the Power of God . . . by which all things are upheld and ordered to the Glory of God.

“So, this was the spiritual Order of the Gospel, which the Apostle in Spirit beheld . . . in whom their walking should be, to wit, in Christ, the spiritual and heavenly Man; and not to walk in old Adam, who was without this spiritual, heavenly Gospel Order, which it is the duty of all Christians to walk in. . . . It is said in Psalm 37:23, ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord:, that is, by his Power and Spirit.'” [George Fox, Epistle 313, The Power Of The Lord Is Over All, The Pastoral Letters Of George Fox, edited by T. Canby Jones, Friends United Press, Richmond, IN, 1966; p. 257]

Marlene Pedigo:

“Gospel Order is the practice of being led into God’s new order in worship, decision-making and daily living within the faith community.”

“The Everlasting Gospel Order was a term developed by early Friends to describe their commitment to live with integrity the Good News of Christ Jesus. . . . Gospel Order is an experiential reality, the results of a dynamic friendship with God.” [Marlene Pedigo, in Gospel Order, Study I – Lesson 1 of the Journey In Faith Series, introduced as a special section in Quaker Life, Jan/Feb 1995.]

Johan Maurer:

“‘Gospel order’ basically means ordering our lives and our churches so that we can be obedient to God and uphold each other in mutual accountability and support to achieve that obedience.” [Johan Maurer, in “Commitments,” Quaker Life, Jan/Feb 1995]

Stephanie Crumley-Effinger:

“Early Friends challenged all people to live by ‘gospel order,’ developing patterns for life in community that would enable individuals and meetings to discern, and to live according to, the will of God. Gospel order requires the power of the risen Christ, available to those who seek to be his disciples through corporate discernment about individual leadings and ways of living.”

Jim Healton, Sacramento Friends Church, offered an electrical model—Jesus Christ being the generator, with gospel order the gridlines through which power flows to meetings and individuals.

[Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, in “Gospel Order: Building True Community,” in Quaker Life, Jan/Feb 1995]

Lucy Davenport:

“[Early Quakers’] view of the light within was not of a natural light, but a light with power to save men from their temptation to turn from God, to be bound by evil. Thus the light becomes the judge of history, as men’s [sic] eyes are opened to the cause of wickedness both in themselves and in the unredeemed social order. Thus the doctrine of the light led naturally into an understanding of what came to be referred to by Friends as ‘gospel order,’ an order of righteousness in which God’s people obey God’s voice as it is revealed to them inwardly by the light of Christ, which leads them out of the disorder and chaos of Satan’s rule into the kingdom where Christ rules all.” (from “Christ Jesus the Covenant of God: Two Views of the Quaker Doctrine of the Light,” Quaker Religious Thought #80, Vol. 26, No. 2, March 1993, p. 11)

Lewis Benson:

“…what Fox is telling us is that gospel order is essentially a relationship between God’s son and God’s people. ‘They that do obey the voice of the Lord and Christ Jesus . . . in this they know the order of Christ.'” [Lewis Benson, “The People of God and Gospel Order,” The Church In Quaker Thought And Practice, Charles Thomas, ed. (Philadelphia: Faith and Life Movement, 1979), p. 21]

Bill Taber:

Gospel order is “a power which can be felt and experienced, and can bring forth the organizational agreements appropriate to a given situation.” [Bill Taber, as reported by Bill Wood in an article for Purchase Meeting newsletter, NYYM]

The working definition used by the subcommittee on gospel order:

Organizing principles that help keep God at the center of Friends community life.

Synonyms: “right order” or “good order”

Scripture passages

The following scripture passages are quoted by Fox as foundations for gospel order:

1 Cor. 13:10-13; 14:40    Matt. 7:24f     Heb. 11:10      Col. 2:5           Isa. 28:16

[Works, Vol. VIII:59f, 175] Ps. 37:23

Rev. 21:3

[Works, Vol. V:138]

Other scripture references include:

Pss. 25:1-5; 46                       Gal. 5:22-23

Isa. 42 [esp. vv. 5-7, 16]       Col. 3:1-17

Matt. 18                                  Eph. 3:14-21

John 15:1-17; 16:1-15            James 3:13-18

Acts 14:21-23; 15                   1 Pet. 1:13-25

Rom. 12:1-2


[1]   Joseph Pickvance, A Reader’s Companion To George Fox’s Journal, Quaker Home Service, London, 1989; p. 79.

[2]   Fox’s Journal, 687.

[3]   Sandra L. Cronk, Gospel Order, A Quaker Understanding Of Faithful Church Community, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297, Pendle Hill, Wallingford, PA, 1991; pp. 4-5.

[4]   Cronk, p. 8.

[5]   Douglas Gwyn, The Apocalypse Of The Word, Friends United Press, Richmond, IN; p. 50.

[6]   Fox’s Journal, p. 525.

[7]   Fox’s Journal, p. 520.

A minute of conscience: Apology to Afro-Descendants

November 18, 2013 § 7 Comments

This past weekend (November 15–17, 2013), New York Yearly Meeting held its Fall Sessions and we approved an Apology to Afro-Descendants for our historical participation in and profit from slavery. It was a very difficult meeting.

The Apology had been years in the works, including distribution to our local meetings for discernment. The local meetings ran the gamut from approval to disapproval and ignore-ance. In addition to individual Friends, two formally constituted groups within the Yearly Meeting had participated in its development: a Task Group on Racism and the European American Quakers Working to End Racism Working Group.

Several Friends objected on various grounds and the clerk, perceiving that we were not in unity, decided to discontinue the discussion and move on to other business. At this point, all the African-Americans (three, I think!) in the room stood and left, and others left to support them. Other Friends refused to let the matter rest, however, and we returned to discernment on the Apology. The Friends who left came back. Ultimately, we did approve the Apology, with one Friend asking to be recorded as standing aside and another asking to be recorded as standing aside on behalf of his meeting, though the meeting had not formally charged him to speak for them. That meeting had labored over the Apology at length and could not support it.

I wish I had kept better notes on Friends’ objections. Several of those who spoke had clearly thought about the matter to some depth. This is what I remember:

  • The body was not in a position to make such an apology because none of us had participated in the institution of slavery and we were not accountable for the actions of others, even if they were our Quaker “ancestors”. This was the reason voiced most often.
  • We were not a collective body that could in any way be held accountable for the actions of individuals in the past. We were a living body that had moved beyond the condition of the Friends who had owned slaves in the past.
  • The Apology was not enough: it needed more work and it didn’t say enough.
  • As worded, it spoke on behalf of the Yearly Meeting as though that body were a white body speaking to a black audience, whereas the body did in fact include African-Americans, so its voice was wrong.
  • It was unclear to whom the Apology would be addressed, since the victims of slavery were no longer alive, though the Apology did address the ongoing suffering and oppression of the descendants of slaves (it was titled “Apology to Afro-Descendants”).
  • The Apology looked to the past and it would be more constructive to look forward and dedicate ourselves to ending racism, rather than look backward in this way.
  • Many Friends were not comfortable with various aspects of the Apology’s wording, and wished to add things or change things in the minute.

This was an extremely emotional discussion for many Friends. Many wept as they spoke. I myself spoke with some passion and came close to breaking up, which surprised me. I think a lot of us surprised ourselves.

I spoke in support of the Apology. I do feel that:

  • Both in faith and practice, we have a strong sense of ourselves as a corporate entity that can and should be held accountable for its actions, even those the community has taken in the past.
  • Because in our meetings for worship with attention to the life of the meeting we seek to discern and do the will of G*d, and always have, the body that gathers today stands in a continuum, in a prophet stream that is continuous with Friends of past ages, and thus we share in some way in their failure to discern a truth that we now see clearly, namely that slavery is abhorrent and morally wrong. The oneness, the continuity of the prophetic stream that is embodied in the meeting for business in worship, ties us to our past.
  • just as present-day African-Americans live lives constrained by the legacy of slavery, so we European Americans live lives constrained by the legacy of our privilege, bought in part by our historical participation in slavery and its aftermath, and thus we European Americans living today do owe Afro-Descendants an apology.
  • I felt that the Apology did not go far enough, because it did not ask for forgiveness.
  • I felt that, though the audience for such an Apology might be a little vague—to whom would we deliver such an apology, for instance—that it should also have been addressed to G*d, as a prayer of repentance and for forgiveness, though here also, the audience is a little vague, since many modern Liberal Friends do not believe in a theistic God to whom one could address such a prayer. Nevertheless, our slaveholder Quaker ancestors had believed in such a God, and so have the vast majority of our Quaker ancestors since, up until perhaps the middle of the 20th century. We therefore have inherited an unfulfilled religious obligation, even though this is complicated by the fact that we mostly don’t have a theology that matches up with that obligation. Still, I thought it important to ask for forgiveness.

It was a confusing and disturbing meeting. Friends did things that troubled me, though I think I understand and appreciate their motives, both the rational and the emotional ones.

Several Friends brought prepared statements. The clerk, rightly I think, encouraged Friends not to make this a regular practice, but these Friends are not likely to make it a regular practice, I am sure. Furthermore, we had been encouraged to read the Apology and think about it before we came to the Sessions, so it was only natural that many of us had already formed an opinion. I would have been more comfortable if these Friends had waited to read their messages until they had heard some other vocal ministry, remaining open in this way to the possibility of hearing an alternative to their view that carried the power of the Holy Spirit, but they were all virtually the first to speak.

When Friends left the meeting at the point that the clerk decided to move on, it had the effect of holding the meeting emotionally hostage. I am sure that this was not their intent, though one Friend did say that she could not remain present in a body that could not unite behind such an apology. In retrospect, I think that rising to ask the clerk to test whether the meeting really was ready to move on to other business would have been more constructive, because clearly we were not ready to move on. But sometimes the only thing you can do with searing pain is try to get away from it. Perhaps that was what they were doing. I haven’t had a chance yet to find out what motivated them. I hadn’t even realized they were gone, actually, until someone rose to point it out, and that was the thing that brought us back to the discernment. I think my eyes were closed in prayer when they left.

So the withdrawal of these Friends did in fact have the effect of drawing us back into discernment on the matter. But I worried at the time that our subsequent willingness to approve the Apology over the objections of Friends may have arisen, at least in part, as an attempt to affirm our fellowship with those who had left, as a natural response to their pain, rather than as a response to the prophetic call of the Holy Spirit.

Now, however, I think it might have been both. Walter Brueggeman, the biblical theologian, once wrote that lamentation is the beginning of prophecy—that before the prophetic message can emerge, a community often has to be able to name its suffering and oppression first. So perhaps answering that of pain in our Friends was answering the work of the Spirit among us, after all.

The final complication for me was approving an action over the rather strong objections of Friends. From the formal point of view, there was no problem because both Friends stood aside, rather than standing in the way, so we were clear to go forward. But I doubt very much that those other Friends who had expressed their objection had changed their minds; they certainly did not say so.

Normally, we would have kept at it in the face of such resistance. I strongly suspect that it was the clock that drove us forward. We were already over time, it was the last session of the last day of Fall Sessions, and we were waiting to eat lunch. Moreover, we had yet to approve our 2014 budget, which was important business and business that in the past has often proved to be its own very difficult discussion.

How many times have I seen an important piece of G*d’s work face the tyranny of the clock and suffer for it? And how many times have I seen a meeting fail to take decisive prophetic action (if you can call a minute an “action”) because we could not come to unity on the language of a minute, even when the issue is a no-brainer? How many times have I seen a meeting make a decision simply out of exhaustion?

We were stuck. Things were going to go badly almost no matter what we did. So we stumbled forward. On the way, we trampled some people, our gospel order, and maybe some Truth. We did our best and it wasn’t all that good. Some Friends felt triumphant, I think. I felt battered. This was the best we could do and I feel it was a net positive, in the end. But if it was a “victory”, it was pyrrhic.

This is the bittersweet condition of a community that tries to live according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a world that does not grasp the Light. Our way is not an easy path and we often do stumble. But it’s still the best one I’ve found so far.

PS: A note about the clerking of this meeting. Reading over this post, I realize that I may have given the impression that I thought the clerk failed to discern the sense of the meeting. I do not think that. We really were deeply divided, with no clear breakthrough on the horizon. I suspect that only a crisis such as what did take place could have given us direction. And the clerk has responsibility for all of the business on the agenda. Given how important the budget was and the way the body was writhing under the burden of discernment over the Apology, I think it was perfectly reasonable to lay the matter aside and go on. We do this all of the time, and properly.

Furthermore, one really does have a different perspective when sitting at the clerk’s table, able to see the body as a whole, and the body language of all the individuals, and so on. It’s a lot easier to second-guess a clerk than to be one.

Finally, it is my experience that Friends really need time to vent when their emotions get so involved in a matter of business. The venting is going to happen until it’s spent, usually, and it’s almost not worth trying to reach a decision until it’s over. We were a long way from done with venting. We still are, I suspect. But the body—some of it anyway—was going to charge forward. So maybe we surfed the venting into a decision. Clerks are not in control of such a wave.

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