Quaker-pocalypse—Advancement: What Can We Say?
July 17, 2015 § 1 Comment
What can we say?
. . . when seekers ask what Quakers believe? Here is one version of the answers I’ve been working on.
An “elevator speech”:
We believe that there is in everyone a Light—
- a light in the conscience that can guide and strengthen us to do the right, that can awaken us to the wrong we have done and are about to do;
- a light that can heal us, that can strengthen us to live better lives, that can release us from our demons, make us more whole, relieve us of suffering, and lead us to redemption;
- a light that can inspire us to acts of kindness and to creativity;
- a light that can lead us to the deepest fulfillment and the “peace that passes all understanding” and into acts of kindness, service, and witness;
- a light that can help transform us into the people we were meant to be;
- a light that can open to us direct communion with God (however you experience God), both as individuals and as a community.
We Quakers have experienced this light as the Light of Christ, as Jesus Christ himself, as the Spirit of Love and Truth, as a Presence in our midst, as that which has gathered us as a people of God and continues to guide our meetings and the Quaker movement into the future.
In this Light, through this Light, God is always trying to reveal to us the way of love and peace and truth. In this Christ-spirit we are sometimes gathered in our worship into a joy-filled ttanscendental communion with God and with each other.
That’s my “elevator speech,” a quick answer to a deep question. But of course, we can say a lot more than this. So here is a more fully developed presentation of Quaker “beliefs”.
Six Quaker essentials
The Light. We believe that there is a principle in every person (often called the Light, the Seed, “that of God”) that can know God directly and that yearns for this intimate communion.
- Because we experience the Light inwardly, we do not practice many of the outward forms that other religious communities practice; we do not rely on outward sacraments for God’s grace.
- Because the Light is universal, we believe that all people are equal in God’s sight and this informs how we treat them.
- Because we all have access to the Light, we have no professional clergy that are thought of as intermediaries between God and the individual worshiper. But we have not laid down the clergy itself; rather, we have no laypeople, for all of us are potential ministers. We believe that God can and does call each one of us into service or ministry directly and in various ways, most commonly, to speak from the Spirit in our meetings for worship. And for this, we need no special education or ceremonial ordination, but only attention to the promptings of the Spirit and a willingness to be faithful to the call.
- This, in fact, is the essence of Quaker spirituality: to be open always to God’s guidance and to listen always for God’s call into service, and to answer the call faithfully when it comes.
The gathered meeting. Ever since the 1650s when Quakers were first gathered as a dedicated people of God, we have felt that the same Light and Spirit that dwells within each individual also loves and guides us as a community.
- Just as we believe that each individual can enjoy a direct relationship with God, so also we believe that the same Holy Spirit leads the worshipping community.
- Thus many of our meetings hold our worship in waiting, expectant silence, turning our full attention toward God and leaving off any outward liturgical forms like the Bible readings, collective prayer, hymn singing, and prepared sermons that are featured in most religious services. We worship in utter simplicity in order not to crowd out God’s direct voice or drown out the still, small voice within each of us.
- However, many Quaker meetings hold “programmed” worship that is more like other protestant churches, with hymn singing, Bible readings, prepared collective prayer,s and sermons. These meetings feel that these outward forms help the meeting commune with God.
- We also conduct the business of the meeting in meetings for worship under the direct leadership of the Holly Spirit, having no professional human leadership or hierarchies. We have a number of distinctive community tools to discern God’s wish for us.
Continuing revelation. We believe that direct communion with God means that God is still teaching God’s people.
- God’s revelation did not end with the Bible; rather God is always trying to reveal to us the way of love and peace and truth.
- Thus, in answer to God’s continuing revelation over the centuries, we have laid down the outward practice of the sacraments, we have always recognized God’s prophetic inspiration of women ministers, we have struggled against slavery, and, in some yearly meetings, we fully welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into our fellowship, even though the Bible seems to some on the surface to condemn homosexuality, condone slavery, deny women’s role in ministry, and require outward sacramental practice.
- And we remain open to new light, expecting that God will intend further changes for us in the future.
“Let your lives speak.” We believe that God calls us to live our inner faith in outward practice, to live our lives as testimony to the Truth that has been awakened within us, leading us to alleviate suffering, injustice, and oppression, and to amend their causes. As a movement, we have come to unity on a number of stands of conscience, which we call our “testimonies,” and we seek to be open to new truth as to how we should live, as individuals, as a faith community, and as a society.
Love. We believe that “love is the first motion,” as we say, the commandment by which we should live our lives—that we should love God, love our fellow human beings, and love the creation we share with all other living things.
Direct experience. While “What do you believe?” is an important question, one that deserves a clear and straightforward answer, Friends often focus on a rather different question, one posed by George Fox in the 1600s and from which I derive the title for this little series on Quaker beliefs:
- “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?”
- In other words, even though we do have a distinctive set of beliefs, Friends try to focus more on experience than on doctrine. For us, the essential question is: what is your experience of God? And we seek to ground our religious lives on what we have ourselves experienced, rather than on the inherited experience of others, however valuable that tradition might be.
Each of these core beliefs can be unpacked further to get into all of the other beliefs and practices that distinguish Friends, which I have only just touched upon here. That’s for a subsequent post.