Study of Quakers – (Part 7) Service

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.

Study of Quakers – (Part 6) Silence, Personal Revelation and Worship

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 .

Study of Quakers – (Part 5) Integrity

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.

Study of Quakers – (Part 4) Peace

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.

Study of Quakers – (Part 3) Equality

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.

Study of Quakers (Part 2) – – Simplicity

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.

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.