What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Confidence in our Answers
November 15, 2013 § 5 Comments
Answers—restoring confidence in the “content” of Quakerism
In my original outline of answers to the question, What is the Religious Society of Friends for?, I included as part of Bringing People to G*d—
Answers: Help Friends find answers to their spiritual and religious questions (provide religious content).
Seekers come to us with questions about God and the life of the Spirit, and about the meaning of their own lives in general. So do our children. We owe it to them to be clear and confident in our answers, if we can. Our answers may not satisfy them. But we fail in our opportunity to bring them to G*d if we have no answer at all. And we also fail our meetings and the Religious Society of Friends.
We do have answers to offer—empowering answers that over the centuries have continued to meet the emerging needs of the times as the Society has evolved.
Yet we all too often lack the clarity and confidence we need to serve these inquirers properly. Take the basic question that is likely one of the first questions out of their mouths: What do Quakers believe?
We are likely to start with some disclaimers: “Well, Quakerism is so diverse theologically that I don’t feel that I can speak for all of us.” Or: “Quakers have never had a creed”, by which we mean we have no set doctrine; the former is true, the latter is not true, not quite.
When we get around to answering, the one thing most (Liberal) Friends can say is that we believe that there is that of God in everyone (see my earlier posts on “that of God”). Maybe after that, we mention the testimonies. At this point, though, we tend to run out of answers.
I have answered this basic question of what we believe in some depth in earlier blog entries. Here I want to just offer my elevator speech, a concise answer to the question, What do Quakers believe?
We believe—nay, rather we know, for we have experienced it for ourselves—
- the Light: every person is capable of direct, unmediated communion with G*d; see John 1:3, 9, 12, and Luke 17:21; George Fox: “There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to they condition.” (Nickalls, p. 10); Robert Barclay: “Direct revelation is still the essential purpose of faith.” (Apology, Freiday ed., p. 28)
- the gathered meeting: the meeting is also capable as a worshipping community of direct, unmediated communion with G*d; this communion is the purpose of worship; see Matthew 18:20 and John 4:23–24; George Fox: “But I brought them Scriptures, and told them there was an anointing within man to teach him, that the Lord would teach his people himself.” (Nickalls, p. 8)
- continuing revelation: G*d is always revealing G*d’s truth, healing, guidance, inspiration, grace, and love; it continues today, and is not confined to ancient tradition or scripture; see John 14:26 and John 15:15; George Fox: “And I was to direct people to the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures, by which they might be led into all Truth, and so up to Christ and God, as they had been who gave them forth.” (Nickalls, p. 34)
- the testimonial life: we are called to live outward lives that express the truth, healing, guidance, inspiration, grace, and love that G*d inwardly awakens within us; see Matthew 5:16; George Fox: “And so be faithful every one to god, in your measures of his power and life, that ye may answer God’s love and mercy to you, as the obedient children of the Most Hight, dwelling in love, unity, and peace, and in innocency of heart towards one another, that God my be glorified in you, and you keep faithful witnesses for him and valiant for the Truth on earth.” (Nickalls, p. 282); and
- love: chief among the requirements of the life of the Spirit is the commandment to love; see John 15:9–17.
Five simple essentials of Quaker faith that you can then unpack to discuss the rest of what we often call the Quaker “distinctives”.
From the doctrine of the Light, from the principle of direct communion with the Divine, both personal and collective, we derive the practices of silent worship, of conducting our business in meetings for worship and all the meanings of gospel order, of universal ministry rather than paid professional ministry, the laying down of the outward sacraments and other outward forms, the testimonies and the testimonial life, and the rest of Quaker faith and practice.
Finally, because we know these things experientially, we believe that the important question is not what do you believe, but what have you experienced yourself? As George Fox, our founder, put it: “You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?” Hence, we believe that true religion is inward; it is directly experienced; it is not a set of propositions to which we adhere with our outward minds, but revelation and relationship known inwardly in the heart.