For me, leaning on other children of light is essential for me being able to know God’s will for my life. An indispensible part of the process that I go through in seeking the will of God is bringing my leadings and concerns to other saints of Christ, my fellow ministers and elders. This is not to say that I allow all people to speak with authority in my walk with Christ – not all speak with equal weight and discernment. However, I do well to keep myself open to the Word of God even in the words and actions of those whom I consider my enemies. But, suffice it to say that I have a core of minsters and elders, spiritual counselors who I know love me and love the Lord, without whom I would make important decisions only at my own great peril.
In addition to this core of spiritual brothers and sisters – “mothers and fathers in Israel,” as Friends used to say – I am accountable to the wider Church and must wrestle seriously with the Word of God as revealed in the physically living fellowship of the saints. For me as a Friend, ideally the most intimate point of contact with the physically living Body of Christ comes in the form of my local meeting. After my most intimate circle of spiritual counselors, it is to the monthly meeting that I am most accountable. It is in the local fellowship that I am committed, as a member of that body, to bring my joys and my sorrows, my leadings and my concerns, and to set them before the meeting so that we might examine them together in the Light of Christ. The yearly meeting is, ideally, a place to deal with concerns that have been embraced by one or more local meetings and which demand the attention of the wider Religious Society.
In addition to the physically living Body of Christ, I am also accountable to and must wrestle with the testimony of the Church as revealed in the lives of spiritual ancestors (such as George Fox, Saint Francis and John Woolman), and in the most authoritative of all revelations given through the Church, the canonical scriptures. I must allow all of these witnesses speak to me and I must listen to how the Spirit of God is guiding me and the body as a whole.
All of these relationships, all of these organic webs of fellowship and authority, witness and accountability, should be characterized by shared seeking of the Lord’s will and humility before the throne of Christ. None of these relationships are meant to be tyrannies of power. Neither the scriptures, my local meeting, nor my closest spiritual friends have authority over me because of their position or inherited tradition; they have authority only insofar as they are faithful in witnessing to the Spirit of Christ and in demonstrating loving care for me. However, loving care may sometimes involve saying things that I do not want to hear. This, of course, is why trust is critical. If I do not trust my spiritual companions, my meeting, or the scriptures to be faithful witnesses to Christ in our midst, then I will not be able to receive the ministry that they offer up – especially if it contradicts my own desires or preconceptions.
Now, I want to point out that this is a dialogue. The conversation between the individual and the wider body goes both ways. Ideally, one should be subordinated to the discernment of his or her local meeting; but the meeting should also be receptive in receiving and wrestling with the ministry of the individual. The Church should be open to being corrected by the Holy Spirit as we are spoken to through the scriptures; but at the same time, the Church has a responsibility to interpret the scriptures in the Spirit of Christ. Neither the scriptures nor the understanding of the meeting is to be laid upon the individual as a “rule or form to walk by.” Instead, we are given the gift of fellowship, both of the physically living saints and of those no longer physically present who now form that “cloud of witnesses” that helps to guide us in our walk with our Lord. To fail to place ourselves under the authority of the Holy Spirit as the Word is revealed to us through others is, in my estimation, a failure to live up to our potential as members of the Body of Christ.