Archives For March 2010

Before I close out this series with some personal thoughts I wanted to do a quick post here to give you the list of books I have read in order to do these posts. There were also literally hundreds of websites/blogs I visited; too many to mention or name here.  

Here is the list of books and their authors and some websites. This is by no means a complete list but I believe it is a good sampling of the topic.

Title Author
An Introduction to Quakerism Pink Dandelion
A Living Faith Wilmer A. Cooper
A Quaker Book of Wisdom Robert Lawrence Smith
Quaker Spirituality – Selected Writings Forward by Rick Moody
Plain Living – A Quaker Path to Simplicity Catherine Whitmire
Why Friends are Friends – Some Quaker Core Convictions Jack L. Willcuts
Quaking Quakers website/blog. A really good site to get a feel for everyday living by today’s Friends http://www.quakerquaker.org/
Friends Journal Magazine – several issues https://www.friendsjournal.org/

Let’s finish out this post with some of the miscellaneous things not covered elsewhere. One of the items that I think is unique to Quakers is that they used to believe it is improper to pay for a “minister”; that, as their founder George Fox said is the ministry to the flock must be “freely exercised”. He quoted Acts 2:39 and Acts 20:33-35 where Paul says he will not take money for ministering to his congregations. But, I think this is one of those things that have fallen by the wayside. From what I can find Quaker pastors appear to be paid pretty much the same as pastors in other denominations. I’m not sure when this change happened?  

Weddings among Quakers are much simpler than those for either other Christians or in the secular realm. No minister or other official is needed. The man and woman simply say their vows to each other and the people invited to the wedding and, of course, to God. Another tradition is that everyone attending signs the wedding certificate and it is then proudly displayed in their home. This is in stark contrast to spending over $20,000 for the usual wedding in the United States.  

Quakers do not use month names. They simply say “the second month…” I think this has something to do with the months named after pagan Greek gods but I am not sure of that.

Quakers are said to be eternal optimists! They believe that there is God in each and every person so all people merit our love. As Jesus said, love even your enemies. They also believe that it is possible to be more Christ like in our daily living. They recognize the sinner in each and every person but choose to concentrate on the love and potential goodness that God gives us daily. Striving each and every day to be more Christ like is a better use of our time than to be constantly moaning about our sinfulness and worthlessness. I like the idea of being a Christian optimist.

Quakerism has generally had no creed. George Fox dismissed theologians as “notionists”, and modern Quakers are generally less concerned with theology, and more concerned with acting in accord with the leading of the Spirit than are many other faiths. Quakers have historically expressed a preference for understanding coming from God’s Spirit over the knowledge derived from objective logic or systematic theology. This lack of a single set of authoritative doctrines has resulted in the development of a broad range of doctrines and beliefs among Friends, ranging from fundamentalist Christian to universalist. This in my mind is one of the few weaknesses of Quaker beliefs.

Most Friends believe a formal creed would be an obstacle — both to authentic listening and to the recognition of new insight. On the other hand, many if not most, Friends have enumerated and subscribed to a set of beliefs, such as the “Richmond Declaration” (a document composed by a conference of 95 mainly Orthodox Friends meetings in 1887 in Richmond Indiana) or the “Beliefs of Friends” stated by Evangelical Friends International.

Even though it was written over 100 years ago it is a very important document to understand what many Quakers think and believe even today. The document covers a wide variety of topic and beliefs including:

  • Of God
  • Jesus Christ
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Holy Scriptures
  • Man’s Creation and Fall
  • Justification and Sanctification
  • The Resurrection and Final Judgment
  • Baptism
  • Supper of the Lord
  • Public Worship
  • Prayer and Praise
  • Liberty of Conscience in its relation to Civil Government
  • Marriage
  • Peace
  • Oaths
  • First Day of the Week  

Even though the Richmond Declaration does not represent the view of all Quaker Meetings I think it does a good job of telling us about many of them. The Richmond Declarations, among other things, seems to endorse the content of the Apostle’s Creed without endorsing the creed itself. I highly encourage anyone who is interested in more detail to read a copy of the Richmond Declaration.


I want to open this post with some words from www.quakerinfo.org/quakerism/Qreligm.html

Quakerism depends on neither the Bible nor on priestly tradition. However, Friends do value the Bible and recognize the “priesthood of all believers. Genuine belief cannot be second hand. Quakers believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God but the Bible is not the “Word” of God but instead are words of God.

Quakers say that those who make an idol of the Bible, calling it the Word of God, giving the title of our living and present Lord, do miss the mark (John Chapter 1). The Bible contains the messages of Jesus but it is just a collection of inspired writings; it is not Jesus and should not be held on the same level as him.  

Quakers leave it up to each of us to decide for themselves which parts of the Bible may be literally true; which parts may apply to only the times of the writers; which parts may be myths or parables; and which parts may be embellishments from the sources the writers used. Quakers like many other Christians, with the exclusion of probably Baptists, Lutherans, and to some degree Catholics, believe the messages of the bible to be reliable and trustworthy but not always literally true or inerrant. They believe it to be good for teaching Christian practices and beliefs but not to the exclusion of everything else, including personal revelations and in the Catholics case church tradition.

As I mentioned in the introduction of this series Quakers believe that many Christian sects have put the Bible on at least an equal plane to God himself to the extent that they idolize the words instead of God. These are tough words for some Christians to swallow and they bring out much belligerence in many. I personally, at least to some degree, agree with the Quakers on this topic. Having said the above I don’t want to leave you with the idea that Quakers don’t revere the messages of the Bible or that they declare them as non-essential. That is definitely not the case. In fact Quakers believe that they must check all personal revelations with the messages of the Bible. If they are not aligned then serious thought must be given to the depth or real meaning of that personal revelation.

The small minority of Christians who have fallen prey to the belief that ALL words of the bible come directly from God and are therefore totally and literally true for all eternity have, in my opinion, done harm to Christianity. I have read that some say Christians were pushed into the total inerrancy corner by secularists debates in the last one hundred years or so. I will probably do a blog post outside of the current series on that issue sometime in the near future. Given the strong scientific evidence that the earth is much more than 5,000 years old Christians who cling to this literal and inerrancy theory, although they don’t mean to, invalidate the true Christian message to many they are supposed to be recruiting.

I recently took an extended road trip out west and saw much of God’s beautiful creations in that part of the country. After viewing thousands of miles of stratified mountains and mesas and to know that they couldn’t possibly be formed in that short period of time do lament my fellow Christians stubborn insisting that the earth is only 5,000 years old. But to do otherwise would obliterate their belief in total inerrancy and total literal truth. The literalist are certainly an all or nothing group; there can be no shades of grey in this group. The laws of nature including such things as gravity and such are very much a part of God’s revelation to us. To say they are untrue is an affront to God in my opinion. Yes, God may be just trying to “trick us with all that stuff” as they say but I just don’t buy that.

Quakers place a great premium on practicing what they believe. That puts service to others as front and center in their lives. A favorite saying of mine is to “show the Lord’s love in your life”. Quakers definitely live by that motto. Jesus made it abundantly clear that he came to serve and not to be served. He expects each of us to follow his example and Quakers, for the most part, certainly do that. Many Christian denominations, including the one I currently belong, seems to minimize works and living in the world. They seem to prefer concentrating instead on heaven.

As directed by Jesus service has always been a central focus to Quakers. One of the ways they provide service to others is through the The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) which is a Quaker affiliated organization which provides humanitarian relief and works for social justice, peace and reconciliation, human rights, and abolition of the death penalty in the United States and throughout the world. The group was founded in 1917 as a combined effort by American members of the Religious Society of Friends and assisted civilian victims of war.

On a local level just visit any Friends Meeting local website and you will see their agenda is literally filled with service actions to their local communities. If only other Christian organizations were as service oriented!

Next time we will look at what Quakers think of the Bible. This is probably one of the most misunderstood areas about Quakerism.

Silence is a very strong part of most Quaker beliefs. They very much believe in the bible verse “Be still and know that I am God”. Ps 46:10 This belief is at the very foundation of their weekly worship. Many Christians and non-Christians think that Quaker meetings are very strange indeed that Friends sometimes sit silently during their weekly meetings waiting for God to speak to them. Some weeks go by without a word being spoken! Given the propensity for most churches to do numerous readings and hymns, sitting silently is a very foreign concept to them. It is very difficult for any of us in the 21st century to sit silently for even a few seconds. All of the activity of the world seems to quickly invade our space and fill our thoughts. Being still and waiting for God is just not our natural state of being now days.

Quakers believe that the Lord gives each of us personal revelations from the Holy Spirit if only we would patiently wait for them. This is not in exclusion to the written Scriptures but in addition to them or to support them.

To give you a better understanding of Friends worship I want to quote from a book entitled “A Living Faith” by Wilmer A. Cooper.

Friends worship is not determined by holy days or liturgical acts of celebration or re-enactments of past events. Worship is a “now even” under the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is believed that the old covenant, which relied on ceremonial rites, ritual, and sacrifices, was replaced by a new covenant instituted by Christ, which called for immediate and real presence of Christ in worship. This requires the worshipper to enter into a hearing and obeying relationship with Christ rather than conforming to ceremonial rites and creeds. Worship is not dependent upon the office of minister, or priest but is ordered by Christ within. God is the actor and the worshiper is the reactor or responder. Although Friends worship has always called for the centering down in silent “waiting upon the Lord”, silence has never been and end in itself. Silence is a means to an end and those becomes a form of worship, though clearly less structured then most forms. 

He later goes on to say:

During the second half of the nineteenth century worship became modified in those meetings that adopted pastoral/programmed patterns of worship and ministry. For the most part these meetings still refused to use liturgies, formulated prayers, litanies, and creeds, and they also refrained from observing the sacraments (or ordinances). They did, however, add music, spoken prayers, Scripture readings, and prepared messages, while still believing the gathering was under leadership of the Holy Spirit. 

Some say that the programmed worship was to accommodate those who were converting from mainline Protestant denominations while still holding on to the core Quaker practices. A joke I will have to paraphrase because I don’t remember its source goes something like this. A Protestant visitor to a Quaker meeting sat patiently waiting in silence for almost an hour. At the end of the hour everyone got up and started leaving. The confused Protestant said “that was a very unusual service”. A Quaker then said “no, that was worship. Now we are ready to go out in service for the rest of the week.” Quakers are indeed very strong in service while sometimes being very quiet in worship.

Friends treat all functions of the church as a form of worship, including business, marriage, and memorial services, and of course the regular weekly meeting .

Integrity is another quality that Quakers are universally known for; in particular their refusal to swear to an oath. Of course this is rooted in their total respect for truthfulness. Truth, always spelled with a capital T is a very special word in their vocabulary. The essence of Quakerism is in the demand for complete integrity of the individual in relation to God, and other people, and to one’s self. 

Early Friends realized that an important part of the message of Jesus was how we treat our fellow human beings. They felt that honest dealing with others meant more than just not telling lies. Friends feel that it is important not to mislead others, even if the words used are all technically truthful.

One of the results of truthfulness is that Friends believe that the price set should not exceed the value and that they should then stick to it rather than bargaining. 

Early Friends refused to swear oaths, even in courtrooms, on the theory that one must speak truth at all times, and the act of swearing to it implied otherwise. Instead, Friends giving testimony in court, or being sworn into governmental office, “affirm” that they are going to tell the truth; the U.S. Constitution guarantees this option for anyone sworn into office in the United States. Not taking oaths was severely tested this is when Friends refused to take oaths in courts; doing that meant to them that they were implying a double standard. This belief is also deeply routed in scripture. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. It is difficult now to appreciate the price early Friends paid in order to maintain this testimony of integrity. Many suffered in imprisonment for refusing to take oaths. 

One part of integrity that is little more nuanced is that they distinguished themselves from other Christians, and criticized the way other Christians quickly adopted what was fashionable, while ignoring the hard teachings of the gospel. Jesus, in the Gospels, often “demands” many things. Many Christians have reduced those demands to suggestions. They rationalize away the demands in the cloak of salvation doctrine. Quakers do not distinguish a difference between salvation and justification. They believe that the two are actually one thing.

Next time we will look at the ideas of Silence, personal revelation and worship practices. These beliefs are probably what makes Quakers most unique among Christians.

Let’s start out this post with a document released by Quakers in 1611:  

We do testify to the world that the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all truth, will never allow us to fight a war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ nor for the kingdoms of this world. 

Because Friends, and particularly George Fox their founder, place such emphasis on the dignity, the peace testimony became a cornerstone for their beliefs. When you read the words of scripture you will find the above testimony deeply rooted there. Thus, Quakers believe that the way of the cross of Jesus is entirely inconsistent with war or preparation for it. Of course they are not alone in these feelings. Mennonites and a few other religious institutions feel likewise.  

Another reason for the peace testimony has to do with Friends concern about what the spirit of violence does to the our souls as well as preserving the basic belief that “There is God in each of us”. They believe that when we kill anyone we are killing a part of God himself. Friends believe in the positive power of love and reconciliation to overcome evil and bring about peace and justice.

The Quakers commitment to non-violence is a matter of history going back hundreds of years. During our Civil War they treated both Union and Rebel soldiers with equal respect and love. This greatly upset many on both sides of that conflict. Quakers are famous for their appeal to conscientious objector status in time of war but that does not mean that they are not actively seeking peace during times of conflict. But since Friends leave much up to individual interpretation some Friends have chosen to participate in wars but their numbers are quite low.

Next time we will look into the Testimony of Integrity.

We will continue our study of Quaker Testimonies with the one on Equality. Friends believe that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. Since all people embody the same divine spark all people deserve equal treatment. Friends were some of the first to value women as important ministers and to campaign for women’s rights; they became leaders in the anti-slavery movement, and were among the first to pioneer humane treatment for the mentally ill and for prisoners.

Unlike many other Christian sects who will not allow women to preach, teach, or lead others, Quakers have had women ministers since the 18th century. Margaret Fell was one of the earliest leaders of the movement. George Fox wrote in 1674:

   And some men say, “Men must have the Power and superiority over the woman, because God says, ‘The man must rule over his wife, and that man is not of woman, but the woman is of the man'” (Gen 3:16). Indeed, after man fell, that command was. But before man fell, there was no such command. For they were both meet-helps. They were both to have dominion over all that God made. . . And as man and woman are restored again, by Christ, up into the image of God, they both have dominion again in Righteousness and Holiness, and are helps-meet, as before they fell.

The above were very radical words for the time!

Some of the specific ways they practice this belief of equality is to never use suffixes to names. People they are acquainted with are called by their first names and others are called by the first and last names. They never refer to people as professor, Mr., Mrs., Doctor, king, prince, or other similar way. They believe that these labels undermine the belief of equality. Quaker teachers are called by their first name by both students and parents. 

But we should not imply from this that practicing Quakers have always believed in equality of the sexes. Some went to quite an extreme to segregate men and women. I’m not quite sure I understand the theory behind that practice so I will leave it as a question. Maybe someone here can help with that. 

Friends were active leaders in the anti-slavery movements in the pre-Civil War days. Of course they took quite a hit for that in the American South as they did by treating both Union and Rebel troops with kindness and sympathy.

Here is some info from Wikipedia about another equality issue:

In the 1960s a Friend named Eric Baker took part in the founding of Amnesty International, a human rights group primarily focused on the treatment of those in prison and those accused of crimes. It is not directly connected with the Religious Society of Friends but has similar ideals as those derived from the Testimony of Equality.

Next time we will look at the Peace Testimony.

This is a continuation of my study of Quakers and their beliefs. As I have already mentioned I am by no means an authority on these topics. I am just a guy trying to understand the various views of being a Christian. With that in mind let’s continue our study  

My wife is a person who occasionally wants to antique. I know, I hear many of you out there saying “antique is not a verb!” And you are right but I do feel a little playful today so I thought I would just jerk your chain 🙂 . While my wife looks at all the antiques I concentrate on one thing. I collect signs that say “Simplify”. I have been doing this for some years now. They are all lining the walls of my study. It is a constant reminder to be to “Keep It Simple”. I don’t know what got me started with this collection? But now I come to find that the concept of Simplicity is a basic Quaker belief. The Simplicity Testimony attests to that fact.  

Before we get started on the Testimony of Simplicity we should probably understand just what a “testimony” is from the Quaker standpoint. Here is what Wikipedia says about that:

The word testimony describes the way that Friends testify or bear witness to their beliefs in their everyday life. A testimony is therefore not a belief, but is committed action arising out of Friends’ religious experience.  

Here is another quote:

Testimony of Simplicity is a shorthand description of the actions generally taken by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to testify or bear witness to their beliefs that a person ought to live his or her life simply in order to focus on what is most important and ignore or play down what is least important. 

By the way, as above, Quaker refer to their members as “Friends” and to the Quaker sects as “The Religious Society of Friends”. So, a testimony is committed action and not a “belief”. We just might be splitting hairs here as it does sound a lot like a doctrinal belief to me. But I will take them to their word in it 🙂

Ok, so let’s get going on the idea of Simplicity as espoused by the Society of Friends. Simplicity to Friends has generally been a reference to material possessions. Friends traditionally limited their possessions to what they need to live their lives, rather than pursuing less necessary luxuries. In recent decades some Friends have been less and less attentive to this testimony, although most still believe it is important. To define simplicity another way Friends believe that one should use one’s resources, including money and time, deliberately in ways that are most likely to make life truly better for oneself and especially others. 

Acting on those beliefs they among many other things shy away from fancy dress, particularly clothes that display designer labels. Contrary to much popular belief many Friends no longer have “special” clothes to identify them as to their religion. In other words, no the picture on the Quaker Oats box is not how they dress .

Here are some words by William Penn, who was a Quaker and the founder of the State of Pennsylvania, on the topic of simplicity:

Personal pride does not end with noble blood. It leads people to a fond value of their persons, especially if they have any pretence to shape or beauty. Some are so taken with themselves it would seem that nothing else deserved their attention. Their folly would diminish if they could spare but half the time to think of God, that they spend in washing, perfuming, painting and dressing their bodies. In these things they are precise and very artificial and spare no cost. But what aggravates the evil is that the pride of one might comfortably supply the needs of ten. Gross impiety it is that a nation’s pride should be maintained in the face of its poor. 

I would think that this is still very much relevant to most Quakers today. Quakers very much believe in spending their resources of both time and money where it counts and that is being their brother’s keeper as taught to them by Jesus Christ. I am very much aligned with those thoughts. Anyone who has been a regular reader of this blog know that I have a thing about “stuff”. It crowds out other much more important things we should be doing with our time and resources. So this anti-stuff feeling I have is again a reason for me to be attuned to Quaker beliefs.

I want to close out this post with a quote from A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith.

Humility is simplicity of spirit, and simplicity of spirit is at the heart of Quakerism. 

So the bottom line in this discussion is to keep it simple. Don’t crowd your life with “stuff”. It only gets in the way of the our true journey on this earth. Next time we will look at the testimony surrounding the idea of Equality.