“Form Without Substance”

Quakers threw out everything they saw as “empty forms” in the church of their day, including communion and baptism.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

7 thoughts on ““Form Without Substance”

  1. As Quakers, we must always remember that for many people in the liturgical church there is “form with substance”. We must be careful to remember that Spirit can guide a preacher while they prepare a sermon to be read later. We must be careful not to judge other faiths for a lack of Spirit, when for many practicing those faiths in the context of liturgy they are filled with Spirit. Quakers can also lack Spirit in the silence.

  2. I completely agree with Steve Bougie. I personally have been moved to tears during Catholic Mass – at the moment of the Eucharist. O.K., it hasn’t happened often – but it’s happened.
    I know an order of Protestant nuns, here in France, whose practice of singing (Psalms, mostly) is so deep, so beautiful, so refined – that it is impossible to say that it is not a profound spiritual practice.
    And I have sometimes felt very uncomfortable during ‘perfect’ Quaker meetings – absolutely silent, not a child’s noise within miles – feeling that I am living something very sterile…
    I think the point of liturgy can be that it is not for each of us to chose whether we are in the mood or not, whether it corresponds today or not – but to do. I have spent much time during liturgical services, ripping each little bit open, saying ‘I like this, I don’t like this’, and nothing much has come of it. I have occasionally just given up and flowed within – and been overwhelmed.

  3. Steve Bougie and Eric Callcut comments earlier than this provide a good view from differing forms of liturgy. They are in a defensive stance of the value of liturgy in alternative forms of religion. My years of experience, involved with several sects of the Christian Religion has what led me to the Religious Society of Friends, actually the Quaker Universalist Fellowship. Each of us has a right to reach God, a global consciousness, in our own way or by the inward light. If you feel a need to join in certain rites or ceremonies, please understand, some others’ spirits lead in alternate directions. People of this world on earth have many ways of reaching the global consciousness, through different methods by varying names. Michael Birkel has an excellent presentation of “being filled with the spirit” in this “form without substance”. Even what he mentions near the end, female ministry, was not accepted by Christian Churches, 50-100 years ago. The greater point of interest is joining through our global consciousness or just going through rites or ceremonies.

  4. As a birthright Quaker now a member of the Episcopal church (though retaining an association with my childhood meeting), I find richness in all these forms. It’s obvious that Quaker practice solidified into rituals of its own, and one breaks those traditions with trepidation. In both denominations one way to accommodate the movement of the Holy Spirit is often to create an alternative service. Whether the Spirit is present, regardless of denomination, becomes quickly apparent, even to newcomers. It’s most often shown in the spirit of hospitality. See how these Christians love one another!

  5. My family background growing up included Roman Catholics (twelve years in Catholic schools), Episcopalian, Anglican and Appalachian Congregationalists with deep belief in the Bible and daily attempts to adhere to its precepts. Somehow, on top of all this I was fortunate to add Quakerism to this panoply of experience. As I grew in understanding of each, I was able find and recognize the beauty that people have found in each practice over many hundreds of years.
    Each has forms, but each also has substance. I think this is all wrapped very nicely in the Quaker idea of being held in the Light. Such simplicity, which such profound depth.

    Bob Fonow, Herndon Friends, residing in Beijing, July 2014

  6. What is wonderful about many Friends is that they accept the beauty and joy of other religions, so long as they are experiential. I think I’m not far off the track in saying that what one wants, surely what I want in Quakerism, is a direct experience of unity with the Light that is the heart of all things.

    This can be glimpsed in other religions— I’ve often been moved by some Catholic rituals. Mahayana Buddhism is my closest “other” philosophy… as long as we ourselves are IN it and experiencing it, not being led through it by rote and by some other person. The flowering of women in ministry of all sorts in Quakerism is one of the things that attracted me to it. I met wonderful people, many women, such as the great Fay Honey Knopp, who ministered to men in prison who had even committed the crime of sex with children. She was a great being and I think that wherever we see a glimpse of that kind of openness and inclusion, we can go.

  7. I agree with Steve Bougie, we must be wary not to judge other faiths for form without substance. If I visit a Christian church, which in Finland is typically a Lutheran one, I feel entitled to give substance or not to give, to any forms of the Church service. I usually attend holy communion, because Jesus engouraged us “…to do this in remembrance of me”. I indeed want do it in remembrance of him, as he so asked. If a person next to me has another motive, or relies on a doctrine, it is not my business to judge.

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