Vineyard’s Vital Debt to Quakerism

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The Vineyard family of churches all around the world benefits from the wide spiritual heritage of all who make up its number, drawn from church backgrounds across a great spectrum and plenty from non-faith backgrounds too. Similarly the pioneers of the churches in Vineyard, brought with them aspects of their own spiritual journeys and heritage. Quakerism is a special aspect of this inheritance.

Quakerism was a spiritual movement birthed in a renewal of the Holy Spirit, which began in Britain in the seventeenth century, quickly crossing the Atlantic to America. Through this spontaneous move of God, people began to experience a personal connection with God through the Holy Spirit. In this reborn life with God believers sought to live obediently to God’s word in Scripture and to the guidance and prompting of the Holy Spirit within them. This shared experienced earthed a shared belief in the equality of all believers before God. The priesthood of all believers, every member ministry and the avoidance of addressing people by their “rank” or “title” all flowed from that belief about brotherhood and sisterhood in the family of God.

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Waiting in the Presence – a C17th Quaker meeting

As Quaker believers experienced the Holy Spirit moving in their meetings so their practice of prayer shifted. A pattern grew up of waiting for the Holy Spirit to give a lead before speaking in prayer. Even the missionary journeys of the Quaker leaders (though they carefully avoided such hierarchical language) sought never to presume but always to follow God’s initiative and leading.

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Quaker pioneer, George Fox, preaching in a British pub c. 1650

It happened more organically than by design. Simply because a number of Vineyard’s early pioneers emerged from C20th American Quaker churches, many of Quaker core values came with the pioneers to be sown into the fabric of Vineyard theology and spirituality. The vital language in Vineyard of “seeing what the Spirit is doing” and “blessing what the Lord is doing” finds its roots in Quaker soil. Similarly. Similarly, the Vineyard approach to prayer-ministry, in which  praying begins with quiet attention, looking and listening before speaking up.

The fact that Vineyard churches don’t speak of “reverends” or “bishops”, “prelates” or “primates”, preferring first names instead has its roots in that same egalitarian soil. Similarly, that every believer is encouraged to know God personally and to live in the reality of his love, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowerment. Vineyard inherited rather than invented these things.

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A Vineyard meeting in the 1980s – John Wimber on keys

Thomas Kelly – a C20th Quaker – wrote reflecting on what it was that made Quakerism at its best such a vital stream. He concluded that it was the Quaker meeting’s ability to “host” the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit. Kelly goes on to consider how that is achieved. He writes that the awareness of the special presence of the Spirit is fostered and caught if as people gather there are some in the meeting place already in an attitude of awareness and enjoyment of God’s presence -be it a praying core, a ministry team or worship team. If the presence of God is already being hosted in that place it is somehow caught and extended as we gather. These words could easily describe Vineyard’s experience in the C21st. But the words were written by this Quaker brother in 1937.

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These beliefs, values and experiences are now so much a part of our DNA – and indeed the DNA of many churches and streams across the wider body of Christ – that they often pass without remark. Today many Vineyard believers would simply assume the goodness of these values or just take them as obvious. It may not occur to many to see these things as distinctives within the movement. And that is a good thing in my view because it means the goodness of these values and practices has become profoundly embedded across a whole spectrum of the wider church.

Yet these practices and insights are worth celebrating – not only because of the healthiness  of these ways, but also because those who pioneered these ways paid a great price for doing so. For their beliefs and practices, the pioneering Quakers were often physically assaulted just while going about their day to day business. They were often imprisoned, beaten and put in stocks. For some families, life became so difficult that they chose to leave everything behind, and becoming refugees from persecution on British soil, crossing the Atlantic to seek asylum in America. They were persecuted there too! (People who are unafraid of human authorities are always seen as subversive!)

So it is that the freedom and liberty we enjoy today in our spiritual practice – within Vineyard, within the churches and beyond – owes a great debt of gratitude to the generations who paid a price for the sake of these freedoms.

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Next time when I pray for someone and remember to pause and listen and look for the impulse of the Spirit before I speak, I will shoot up an arrow of thanks for the courage of generations past who taught us to do this.