Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Who Leads?

A few days ago Trevor published a most interesting post called Stages of Worship, which elicited many fruitful comments. The ideas expressed there led me back to the question that has haunted my spiritual life for many years, the question of spiritual authority.

The question of authority underlies much, if not most, spiritual striving: "where am I to make my commitment?" "Who am I to trust?" "What is the most authentic denomination?"

I decided many years ago that there is very little congruence between spiritual and ecclesiastical authority. The men and women whose spiritual authority I recognized rarely occupied high positions in religious organizations. In contrast the princes of the church usually seemed the most worldly of men.

(In 1973 Stringfellow and more recently Walter Wink convinced me that ecclesiastical organizations are domination systems rather than foci of spiritual authority. Someone asked Stringfellow if he thought the pope could speak infallibly. His reply "Anyone who speaks out of the word speaks infallibly." {The word to him had a more intricate meaning than to the average person.})

This is true at every level. I know from bitter experience. The average layman looks to his pastor for spiritual authority; he expects the holy man to do the preaching, praying and other holy offices. Supporting the pastor in his measure he expects to get to heaven on the pastor's coattails. Boys and girls, it doesn't work like that!

In tune with Stringfellow's remark above spiritual authority resides in the Holy Spirit, and it blows where it will, not in accordance with man made precepts.

I have been in large churches, which rarely provide much in the way of community, and small ones, one of the best: what I have said was true there, too. The church model seems to me seriously flawed.

Visiting Quakers in 1983 I sat dumbfounded in my first silent meeting, wondering what was happening? who was in charge? nothing! no one! Then I asked myself, "Is it possible that these people are sitting here waiting on the Spirit? Yes, yes, yes.

The least organized church is the best; organizations invariably get in the way of Spirit. Call me an ecclesiastical anarchist.

I've served as clerk of committees, once was asked to be the 'chief clerk', but couldn't see my way to that. Now I've been asked to lead the monthly Bible Study; I agreed with Ellie to be co-conveners.

The Bible study doesn't need any other leader than the Spirit. I cannot represent the Holy Spirit any better than any other member of the group. If there must be a human leader let us rotate; everyone there knows as much about the Bible as I do.

Spiritual authority resides (only!?) in the Holy Spirit. If you don't understand this I'm saying that your conscience must be your guide. You can do no other.


david said...

This morning I found this while looking for something else but it speaks so clearly to sense of your posting I thought you might like to read it. It is from William Penn -- Some Fruits of Solitude:

506. Let us then not cozen our selves with the Shells and Husks of things; nor prefer Form to Power, nor Shadows to Substance: Pictures of Bread will not satisfie Hunger, nor those of Devotion please God.

507. This World is a Form; our Bodies are Forms; and no visible Acts of Devotion can be without Forms. But yet the less Form in Religion the better, since God is a Spirit: For the more mental our Worship, the more adequate to the Nature of God; the more silent, the more suitable to the Language of a Spirit.

508. Words are for others, not for our selves: Nor for God, who hears not as Bodies do; but as Spirits should.

509. If we would know this Dialect; we must learn of the Divine Principle in us. As we hear the Dictates of that, so God hears us.

Larry said...

Thanks, Kwak; that speaks well to the spirit of Quakerism and the Spirit of God.

Gizmo said...

We are completely on the same page on this subject. I found almost identical experiences with various religious groups I've attended.

It's sad that so many see God as something separate from his creation. That some people have the believe only a select few are somehow of a higher spirit and are worthy enough to communicate and interpret God's teachings.

It's sad that too many don't yet see their own infinite potential in what we all are -- the sons and daughters of the Creator. Each equally loved and capable of communicating with our Creator. We only need belief.