The Future of Faith and Practice

In a very real sense, the future of Friends in the coming generation is going to depend on what kind of Faith and Practice we use, and the spirit in which we use it. Many of the battles in Indiana Yearly Meeting over the last few years have centered around key sections in Faith and Practice which have been interpreted very differently by groups of Friends on various sides.

Some Friends see Faith and Practice as a “rule book” which allows the conservative/evangelical majority to enforce their views on a literal reading of the Bible. Other Friends have demanded that Faith and Practice be used to crack down on meetings which would like to use outward physical sacraments of baptism and communion.

Most yearly meetings make it very difficult to change Faith and Practice, and the struggles to change it have become “proxy wars” for the various theological, spiritual and cultural differences among Friends. It may be worth taking a moment to step back and look at the history of Faith and Practice, and at how various groups of Friends use this resource.

Friends in Great Britain started making collections of minutes on various subjects as early as the late 1600’s. The earliest collection, the “Epistle from the Elders at Balby” of 1656, was careful to conclude,

“Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by; but that all, with a measure of the light, which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

A major step in the evolution of Faith and Practice in our area was the creation of the Uniform Discipline in 1897 by Five Years Meeting (now Friends United Meeting). This was intended to provide a common basis for Friends in the Orthodox tradition, and many yearly meetings still draw heavily on this document.

Things started to break up when the Uniform Discipline was revised in 1940 and divided into 3 sections: 1) Faith and Life; 2) Organization and Business Procedure; 3) Authorised Declaration of Faith. Some yearly meetings refused to include the Declaration of Faith. Most adopted the second section on organization and business procedure, and have adapted it over the years to their own situation.

A number of Friends have suggested that as Indiana Yearly Meeting prepares to divide, that both sides be allowed to continue to use the old Faith and Practice, or adopt sections of it, till they have time to come up with their own new version. One other suggestion would be to change the order of the material, and place the Richmond Declaration of Faith at the rear of the book as an historical document, and make the opening of the book focus on our mission statement today.

For many Friends today, the language of Faith and Practice has become dated, stilted and old-fashioned. It’s no longer a guide filled with living voices on important issues – it’s almost a “dead letter”.

A few yearly meetings have taken a different approach. Britain Yearly Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting have created anthologies of quotations from Friends of many different opinions, which reflect the majority views of their yearly meetings but which include prophetic voices of Friends on the cutting edge of various issues. This approach is particularly helpful as a way for Friends to discuss “hot button” issues such as human sexuality, or rapidly-changing issues such as peace or linking Friends together using electronic technology.

Another helpful development has come as some yearly meetings have made their Faith and Practice available online in .pdf format which can be searched easily for information. An even better practice is to use hyperlinks to make it easy to navigate – click here to see how this works.

Smaller yearly meetings, or independent/unaffiliated monthly meetings, have had the freedom to create fresh versions of Faith and Practice. They typically try to stay within the broad tradition of Friends, but use modern language and often address difficult issues in a fresh way. For example, click here to look at the Faith and Practice of Freedom Friends Meeting.

In a future post, let’s take a look at a particular section of Faith and Practice – the Advices and Queries.

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Click here for more examples of Faith and Practice of other Friends meetings.


2 Responses to “The Future of Faith and Practice”

  1. 1 Pat Pope December 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    “Some Friends see Faith and Practice as a “rule book” which allows the conservative/evangelical majority to enforce their views on a literal reading of the Bible.”


  2. 2 Jeremy Mott January 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I pray for the future of both pieces of Indiana Yearly Meeting. I think it’s likely that many monthly meetings will split, and membership will be further reduced, and Friends United Meeting will face even more trouble (which it
    doesn’t need.) Worst, the two Indiana Yearly Meetings will probably greatly reduce heir efforts to support Quaker missions, which is the primary purpose pf FUM.
    Some Friends seem to use books of discipline like Bibles. I have read the discipline produced b the Balby elders in its fierce entirely, and I can attest that the postscript ia necessary to make it a Quakerly document.
    I am now 66 years old, and have been a Friend for all but the first month of that time. Generally. I have been a member of Ridgewood Monthly Meeting, founded as a united meeting in 1939, and New York Yearly Meeting, which reunited in 1955 after meeting jointly since 1928. I can remember attending both Sunday school and yearly meeting sessions as a child during the Forties and Fifties. Both the monthly meeting and the yearly meeting were unquestionably Christian—-liberal Christian, but certainly Christian. The children were read passages from the gospels; the adults did Bible study; everyone sang the magnificent old Christian hymns..
    If we had known it, we no doubt would also have sung the country gospel song, Jesus Built His Church on Love. I also spent a couple of years in Rochester, N.Y., again as a member of N.Y.Y.M., and several years in Chicago, as a member of 57th St. meeting, which a united monthly meeting, a member of both Western and Ilinois yearly meetings. Notice that I have never belonged to a Friends meeting that was not united. And in all this time, I have remained a liberal Christian Friend, loyal (no doubt) more to Friends United Meeting than Friends General Conference.
    If the hardline evangelicals and fundamentalists take over Friends
    United Meeting, what is a Friend like me supposed to do? I would have
    nowhere to go. By the same token, if the out-in-the-blue-yonder non-
    Christian liberal Friends (e.g., atheists, pagans, and so forth), take over
    FGC, I also have no place to go. i need a place where all Friends, or
    at least all Quaker Christians, can go. That place is FUM.
    I commend Western Yearly Meeting to Friends. They have had
    years of bruising battles about Phil Gulley; a universalist pastor. Now
    they apparently have decided to agree to disagree. It’s hard to see how
    this yearly meeting could survive at all if it decided to do anything else.
    Since it is by far the most diverse yearly meeting in the U.S.A., bar none, it could be expected to splinter into many pieces. (Western includes several small highly evangelical churches, and probably only some of them will join Indiana Y.M.; it includes two non-pastoral but completely Orthodox meetings; several liberal Friends churches in the Indianapolis area;
    and two meetings in the Chicago area that are united with Illinois Y.M.
    of FGC.) This is what a yearly meeting should be, I think.
    We are Friends of Jesus, and should try to keep that in mind.
    Nothing else about us matters much.
    Peace, Jeremy Mott

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.



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