About Those Quakers… – Part 1 (an introduction)

Most, if not all, of this month I am going to post about Quakers in general and in particular focusing on what they call “Testimonies” and other foundational type things. But I also will be covering some of the things that I believe make Quakers Quakers. I have to start off this series in saying that I am relatively new to much of the Quaker beliefs so some of what I am about to discuss will probably not faithfully describe Quaker belief. Please forgive me for any errors I may make in to this particular journey. I certainly welcome you to correct me wherever I may be wrong. This series is still a work in progress so I can’t summarize it all just yet. Hang in there with me and we will discover it as we go.  Given my increasing infatuation with Quakers these posts may go on for some time.  

Quakers claim they have no doctrine or creed but in my mind their “testimonies” come awfully close . Particularly their beliefs in simplicity and in non-violence. But with this study I am finding that I have many other things in common with them. Let’s kick off the study now.

Some of the basic tenets among Quakers, who were founded about 1650 in England by George Fox, was that true spirituality cannot be found by following the religious leader of the day. His basic question was “How do we know what is of God?”. Quakers believe in the answer lies in the their experience of Christ’s direct revelation. There is no need for priest, pastors, or other such people to act as an intermediary. They believe that if you pray in silence and study the messages of the Bible they will understand the true nature of Jesus Christ. If I remember right George Fox spent several years among various religious scholars and none were able to answer his basic question. I am somewhat attuned to that as I have spent the last few years studying various Christian denominations and have yet to find any that I believe truly envelope Christ’s nature as I have come to understand it. Some are good at one thing and some are good at another.

Some of the basic areas of the Quaker beliefs that I am attuned with most of my life are in the areas of worship, simplicity, nonviolence, and service. I believe they have locked on to much of the true Christian nature in these areas. I will be spending several posts in these fundamental areas.

One thing Quakers are definitely not is Sola Scriptura or Sola Fida. That is they do not believe that the Bible is the end of Christian revelations or that you can be a Christian by faith alone. Many Quakers have a tendency to believe that most of today’s Christians treat the Bible as an idol in an of itself. They believe the Bible is a history book about God and Jesus Christ that was inspired by God but was not dictated by him. I think their general belief is that the messages of scripture are reliable and trustworthy for teaching an learning lessons from God. They don’t believe in the literal interpretation of every word. They say it is up to us to find that lesson and not get fixated on whether the story is true, myth, or simply a parable. They believe the Bible was written by fallible men and therefore it is not infallible in every aspect. This belief tends to bring out severe attacks of them in some Christian circles.

Next time I will start on the list of Quaker Testimonies as they have developed over the years.  

7 thoughts on “About Those Quakers… – Part 1 (an introduction)

  1. I’ll be interested to follow your search here, RJ. The Quakers have a lot to offer, I think.

    My biggest beef with them (at least as I understand Quaker thought) is the degree to which, when they quite-rightly identified the theological and practical problems with authoritarian faith-practice, they answered it, not with the freedom of the collective body to seek the Lord and try the spirits together, but rather with a highly individualistic freedom that can get pretty far off-track. They were right that the church leaders of their day (and ours) wrongly lorded it over their parishoners; but the Christian response (I believe) should have been to devolve accountability to the collected body of believers, not to dissolve accountability entirely.

    As I’m sure you will demonstrate as you share the Testimonies, in point of fact they did NOT truly abandon accountability to each other; but theologically it seems still to be one of their teaching points…to the extent that even Jesus seems optional among some Friends meetings.

  2. Dan, yes some of what you say rings true. Quakers do leave much up to the individual to discern. But, even though they don’t have strict doctrine they do have some pretty firm positional statements like the Richmond Declaration of 1888. I will cover that in a future post. Having said that their meetings do spread across a pretty wide spectrum of beliefs but not quite as far as I think you insinuate :). But you must also admit that many other denominations spread across the spectrum as well; so that is nothing unique about Friends.

    This has been an very interesting study for me and I hope you and my other readers enjoy it.

  3. Two questions come to mind: How can they know if a “direct revelation” is from God, if they have nothing of God that is trustworthy to compare it to? That is, if the Bible, the only thing that claims to be God’s Word, is “not infallible in every aspect”, and from their perspective, “could be story, myth or truth”, how will they ever know if the revelation they think they have received while in silent prayer is really from God?

  4. Pastor, thanks for your comments. Since I am somewhat new to Quakerism I am sure that I will not adequately answer for them. But you start out with an incorrect supposition. Quakers do not believe that the Bible is untrustworthy, only that it is not always literally true in anything except its messages. You would need to read some of George Fox’s writings to get a better understanding of this. In the limited amount I have read, Fox treats the Bible with great respect saying that you should test personal revelations against the “messages” of the Bible. But personal revelation does not always have to be included in a biblical messages to be true and trustworthy. Quakers believe that the Holy Spirit has the power to personally give messages to each believer. I know there are those who might question if the message comes from Satan instead of God. If I understand what I have read correctly Quakers say that when the Holy Spirit give messages you know that they are from God. They know the same way the Apostles knew everytime “they” got the personal revelation as accounted for in the book of Acts. Were there any accounts of the apostles reporting revelation mistakenly gotten from the devil? Pastor, come back in the next few weeks for some future posts on Quakers and Biblical beliefs. Thanks for your comments.

  5. Pastor, while your question is valid (in questioning the criteria/standards for determining a word from God–1 John 4:1-3 comes to mind), I would yet take issue with your characterization of the Bible as “the only thing that claims to be God’s word.” The Bible actually does not make that claim about itself, though many make that claim on its behalf.

    I began my own blogging with a discussion of what I call The Error of Inerrancy which, along with subsequent articles in the series, you may find of interest. Simply put, I argue that “rightly dividing the word of truth” should involve, among other things, considering what the various Biblical texts represent themselves to be, rather than applying an extrabiblical claim to them which God himself, nor the original writers appear to have intended.

  6. Thanks again Dan for your insight. Your post on the “Error of Inerrancy” was indeed helpful to me. To link this to early Quakers, it was not George Fox but one of his early associates, that made the comment that people even in that day (1600s) were calling the Bible the “Word” of God. The author said this is clearly unscriptural. The apostle John (as you also indicated in your post) clearly said that Jesus is the “Word”. To put the book about Jesus on the same level as Jesus himself is a form of idioltary. The author’s words and not necessarily mine.

  7. Do Quakers accept the trinity?

    How do they explain the claim in scripture of a loving all-powerful God, supposedly actively involved with this world (revelation) allowing all the terrible pain and suffering? Most of this world lives in a sewer of suffering and pain. The “sin” argument doesn’t explain or excuse this terrible situation as many Christians living wonderfully good lives and yet suffer horribly.

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