The Testimonies and “that of God”

September 10, 2016 § 17 Comments

Note: Something happened recently that set me off on this topic—again. I return to it over and over again from different angles, the way we use the phrase “that of God in everyone”.

It has become increasingly common for Friends to present some of our testimonies as based on the belief in that of God in everyone, that “there is that of God in every person, and thus we believe in human equality before God”, as the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting book of discipline puts it. In doing so, we also equate “that of God” with a divine spark, some aspect of the divine that dwells inherently in the human. We do this most commonly for the testimonies of equality, peace, and nonviolence; sometimes, also, for earthcare, claiming that there is also that of God in all creation.

This practice raises for me a number of questions.

  1. Is the divine spark/that of God really the foundation of these testimonies? I would answer no, not historically. But then again, maybe yes, since nowadays it’s such a common practice to make this claim. Does the fact that many Friends believe that our testimonies rest on this phrase make the claim true? Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, at least, seems to have established the case, having approved the claim when it approved its Faith and Practice, presumably in a meeting for business in worship held under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Or maybe not. Apparently no one stood up for our tradition when the book was approved, or when that section was written. Or maybe they did, and it seemed too small a matter in the larger scope of the matter to fuss about overmuch. I wish I had been there to know what happened.
  2. Should the divine spark/that of God be presented as the foundation of our testimonies? I would answer definitely not. Doing so misrepresents our tradition and the practice has not received the level of discernment that integrity would demand of our practice, PhYM’s decision notwithstanding. As far as I can tell, this practice has crept into our tradition through a back door left open by inattention.
  3. What really are the foundations of our testimonies? The answer is, foremost, the leadings of the Holy Spirit, confirmed over time in the hearts of countless individual Friends and collectively over time by innumerable meetings gathered in the Spirit for discernment—in theory, at least. Secondarily, but not insignificantly, early Friends also found confirmation of the proto-testimonies they held to be true in their distinctive readings of the Bible.
  4. What do we mean by a divine-spark that-of-God anyway? We are professing the belief that there is something inherent in every human being (and in all creation?) that partakes in some way of divinity. A “spark” implies something struck off from God, something that shares with God some substance, or perhaps just some aspect. In Hindu theology, it is called atman, the drop of spirit in the human that comes from the ocean spirit that is brahma. In the phrase lifted from Fox, we use “that of” to stand in for this spark. But defining “that of God” as a divine spark begs the question of what, in this context, we mean by “God”. We don’t answer this question; we don’t define “that of” in terms of “God”. In fact, rather than using a shared understanding of “God” to define “that of God”, we we go the other way: we use “that of God” to redefine God: God is that of which we have a divine spark. This, I believe, is the decisive theological turn that defines liberal Quakerism—defining God in terms of ourselves.
  5. Is the faith-claim of a divine-spark that-of-God in everyone true? I question this. Do we each possess a piece of the divine? On what basis can we claim this to be true? To be true, the claim must, first of all, be based on our own actual religious experience. I don’t personally have such experience. Well, I have experienced that something I referred to (I call it the Light), but it has not presented itself to me as divine; I seem all too human to me. I have only once heard a Friend speak at all convincingly about their experience of the divine spark in themselves; never in someone else. And that explanation was fraught with deep epistemological questions about how we know what we know, especially in the realm of religious experience.
  6.     My point is that we have adopted this practice mostly without grounding it in our experience in any meaningful way, in contradiction to one of our essential articles of faith, which we have encapsulated in the famous question, What canst thou say? But even if we had thousands of Friends testifying to their experience of the divine spark within themselves, how do we leap from that personal claim to the universal claim that everyone has a divine spark? How do we know that? How would we know that? This leap, it seems to me, is an exciting but rather ethereal conjecture; it is metaphysical speculation about the nature of the human. It is, in early Friends’ parlance, a “notion”, and one without substantiation, a shadow of a truth rather than its substance.
  7. Where did the idea of a divine-spark that-of-God come from? For this we have a clear answer: Rufus Jones. Rufus Jones was an avid student of mysticism. It was he who first cast Quakerism as a “mystical” religion. And he proposed as the common foundation of mystical experience in all traditions the divine spark that had been clarified and elaborated by Plotinus and the neo-Platonic philosophers who followed and advanced his ideas. My research here is incomplete; I have seen a reference that pointed to where in Jones’s work to look for his divine spark interpretation of that of God, but I have lost that reference. I had thought it would be in his 1909 book Studies in Mystical Religion, but I’ve just finished scanning it without luck. I hope that some of you my readers will be able to guide my search.
  8. Why and how has the divine spark/that of God come to supplant our historical tradition as the foundation of our testimonies? Okay, what follows is more of an exploration and speculation than a thorough historical analysis, but this is my theory. The hallmarks of liberal Quakerism opened the door to this practice. These elements were introduced into the tradition by Rufus Jones and by his dear f/Friend John Wilhelm Rountree and the cohort that championed what we now call liberal Quakerism beginning in the early twentieth century. These elements were in part reactions to the evangelicalism that had dominated Quaker culture for a century. But they were also a positive vision of a new kind of Christianity. They included
    • a new emphasis on experience over doctrine, which had ossified into dogma;
    • an openness to science, to healthy skepticism, and especially, to the new scientific approach to biblical criticism;
    • an optimism of spirit, including a passion for “progress”, as an antidote to the negative evangelical preoccupation with sin and damnation;
    • along similar lines, an embrace of the theory of evolution such as could now envision the evolution of religion, the evolution of Quakerism, a commitment to a religion that actively sought to adapt to its times in order to speak to the needs of the modern person and of a rapidly changing society;
    • a new openness to other traditions, recognizing not only their worth, but also their truth, the birth of a new kind of universalism, at least as regards the universal experience of the mystic, with a corresponding relaxation of the exclusivist claims that evangelicals made for the Christian gospel as they understood it.

But the birth of liberal Quakerism around the turn of the twentieth century (beginning decisively with the Manchester Conference in 1895) only opened the door to redefining the testimonies in terms of a divine spark and that of God. Other factors gradually pushed the practice into the front parlor. Perhaps the greatest factor was the Great War. Never had human “progress” been more challenged, or more necessary, or more on display. Machine guns, tanks, chemical weapons, aeroplanes—these developments desperately called for the evolution of a new religious message that could counter the terrors of all-out industrial warfare and the grind of emerging corporate capitalism. Jones himself helped form the American Friends Service Committee, a novel response to these forces that abandoned the old structures Quakers had used for centuries to organize whatever “witness” activities they pursued. More importantly, Quakers faced persecution for their faith (as pacifists) for the first time since the late 18th century. They were forced to explain themselves. The modern “peace testimony” was born. More testimonies were to follow. Social witness emerged as a new discreet category of Quaker concern. And the old evangelical answer to all social problems—evangelization, that is, preaching and handing out Bibles—no longer served. A new rhetoric was required.

It took a while to sever all the bonds that had been loosened—to fully embrace Jones’s mystical definition of Quakerism; to look beyond the Bible for language and rationale; to turn decisively to science for a replacement rhetoric; to shift from service to advocacy, as AFSC was to do, and to become more engaged politically, and thus to absorb progressive political perspectives and the language of the polis; and, most decisively, to welcome into membership more and more Friends who had no roots in Christian faith or, in many cases, actually negative experience with the gospel of Christ.

With the explosion in the 1960s and ‘70x of options for people with a mystical temperament, even the mystical recasting of Quaker faith became more a label than a reality; we became more and more the home of spiritual activists and less and less the home of active spiritualists. Then a bullet in Memphis, and many other such disasters, deeply wounded the God whose universe bent toward justice, and whose presence and power were already in question because of the second world war and the Holocaust. No use starting with that God to explain your testimonial stand for peace and justice and equality and against violence and oppression.

Meanwhile, we were sounding the depths in gathered meetings for worship less and less often. We liked Jones’s idea of a “practical mysticism”, but we increasingly lost touch with the reality of the experience that had been so profound for Jones himself and the other early visionaries of liberal Quakerism. And Jones had given us the perfect segue into a superficially hallowed but in reality hollowed out testimonial rhetoric that seemed mystical and religious without getting too specific about it—the phrase “that of God”, understood as a divine spark. It had the benefit of exalting ourselves while groping for the hem of a now-distant divine garment; never mind who might be wearing that garment.

We re-hallowed the phrase that of God by making it the foundation of our testimonies, and indeed, of our faith as a whole; never mind that we had flipped Fox’s meaning on its head, forgotten both its original meaning and its mysterious path into our canon, and ignored virtually all the other elements of our tradition by making it the single slender pedestal upon which our movement now perched.

So if we really are going to proclaim a neo-Platonic divine spark as an essential element of our faith and call it “that of God”, then let’s do so with integrity. First of all, let’s test the truth of it. Our benchmarks for discernment are our actual experience, both our own personal experience and the experience of our meetings gathered in worship; common sense and sound reasoning; the rest of our tradition; the testimony of Scripture; and the testimony of those prophets for whom this idea is a leading and of the lives they are already living under its guidance. Let’s pursue this discernment with informed knowledge of our tradition, with creative and energetic thinking, and with care for how we write and speak about it.

And if we decide that we do hold a divine-spark that-of-God as a new light of truth, let’s add it to our tradition, rather than using it to replace our tradition, as we seem to have done

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§ 17 Responses to The Testimonies and “that of God”

  • Silentium says:

    Linking the Divine spark to Plotinus is problematic. For the later Platonists we might speak crudely of everything as emanation from the Source. All human beings have some part of the Divine Soul and we return by remembering our source. Its very profoundly apophatic and also sacramental in its view of the cosmos and sentient creatures. Hadots work is helpful. Its fashionable to blame Plotinus for being anti life but a reading of the enneads does not bear this out. For the divine spark we are much closely to gnostic thought which is dualistic and anti material. The Light experience we might say is much more a Platonic idea.

    • I don’t blame Plotinus for being anti-life, actually. If I remember correctly he was quite positive about life. I know Friends who cast Quakerism as a form of Gnosticism, but I suspect that they just like The Gospel of Thomas and don’t really know much about Gnosticism, how anti-Semitic and anti-materialist it could be. So maybe you are right about Plato, though I don’t remember him ever using the idea of a divine spark per se. Rufus Jones cited Porphyry, rather than Plotinus, if I remember correctly.

      But maybe it is to Philo that we should turn. Or whatever connection with the Alexandrian Jewish philosophical tradition guided the author of the prolog to John. I have always thought that the flight to Egypt encoded the tradition’s memory of a connection with the Therapeutae, the Alexandrian branch of the Essenes. John is the most innately Essene of the gospels and somebody in the Johannine community knew the works of the Alexandrian wisdom school. I’ve never actually read any Philo, only read about him, so I don’t know whether he was any kind of Neoplatonist. But wasn’t Origin from Alexandria and wasn’t he the one Cristian Neoplatonist?

  • Ellis Hein says:

    To get a sense of the life of the early Friends, I suggest reading Edward Burrough’s introduction to Vol. III of the Works of Fox. He states (p. 11 and following) “And after our long seeking the Lord appeared to us, and revealed his glory in us, and gave us of his spirit from heaven, and poured it upon us, and gave us of his wisdom to guide us, whereby we saw all the world, and the true state of things, and the true condition of the church in her present estate. First the Lord brought us by his power and wisdom, and the word by which all things were made, to know and understand, and see perfectly, that God had given to us, every one of us in particular, a light from himself shining in our hearts and consciences; which light, Christ his son, the saviour of the world, had lighted every man withal; which light in us we found sufficient to reprove us, and convince us of every evil deed, word, and thought, and by it, in us, we came to know good from evil, right from wrong, and whatsoever is of God, and according to him, from what is of the devil, and what was contrary to God iin motion, word, and works. And this light gave us to discern between truth and error, between every false and right way, and it perfectly discovered to us the true state of all things…. And we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation. And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing.

    And so we ceased from…” Thus began the practices that we see as distinctive to Quakers. But those practices began as a testimony to the effectual power of Jesus Christ, present in and among his people. The results were “…life and immortality were brought to light, power from on high and wisdom were made manifest, and the day everlasting appeared unto us, and the joyful sun of righteousness did arise and shine forth unto us and in us; and the holy anointing, the everlasting comforter, we received; and the babe of glory was born,, and the heir of the promise brought forth to reign over the earth, and over hell and death, whereby we entered into everlasting union, and fellowship, and covenant with the Lord God….We were raised from death to life, and changed from satan’s power to God, and gathered from all the dumb shepherds, and off all the barren mountains, into the fold of eternal peace and rest…” Burrough goes on to state, “And after this manner was our birth…and thus hath the Lord chosen us and made us an army dreadful and terrible, before whom the wicked do fear and tremble; and our standard is truth, justice, righteousness, and equity; and all that come unto us, must cleave thereunto, and fight under that banner without fear, and without doubting, and they shall never be ashamed nor put to flight, neither shall they ever be conquered by hell or death, or by the powers of darkness; but the Lord shall be their armour, weapon, and defence for evermore…”

    This is the ground and foundation of the testimonies of the early Friends. That foundation was lain at their birth. Quakerism today is of a different birth; “that of God in every man” and “the divine spark” are not the same thing Burrough described and they do not lead to the same outcome Burrough chronicled. Reading Edward Burrough’s account of their rise, one gets a glimpse of the work of God that must go forth in the earth. But you cannot take up that work in any birth other than Burrough’s “Thus we became followers of the Lamb whithersoever he goes…”

  • Steve, please consider pondering the best of the comments you’ve gotten on this posting, editing your text accordingly, and submitting it for publication somewhere so that it can reach a wider audience. I think it’s terribly important.

    I wince almost every time I hear a fellow Quaker mention “our belief that there is that of God in everyone.” A little bit of God in everyone is like a homeopathic micro-dose of God taken to keep the Fullness of God from having any destabilizing effect on the person: one can have such a “that of God” and still die in one’s sins, and in vanity and ignorance. But to welcome the living Christ Jesus to live in me, and I in Him — that’s what the original Friends were about, those were the people God made a covenant with, *that* is the Pearl of Great Price, and what are we Friends doing trafficking in plastic imitation pearls fit only for dolls’ clothing?

  • Greg Robie says:

    Wear thy questions as long as thou canst, Steven, or something like that … which may not be long:

    Liberal ‘Quakerism’ feminized. What confuses the heck out of your ‘seed’ is likely that you don’t have enough of a female ‘seed’ to put up with this condition for as long as they seem to be able to manage doing so (i.e., and as Liberals, What’s your problem? + That’s your problem.). Ambilivance is the privileged female gender spirituality’s as-good-as-it-gets. Depending on a number of variables it presents differently. But don’t let that difference fool you. Even as testosterone levels are in decline, and especially in retirement where the metronome of time takes on a different rhythm, this spirituality-à-la-abivilance ain’t, and never will be, the male as-good-as-it-gets. Did I get it? 😉

    The current ubiquity of the phrase “that of God in everyone”, and the current common understanding of such being seed-like supports and feeds into the Venusian framework for social discourse. (i.e., we are all equal and have such amazing unrealized potential). This framework for social intercourse is also antithetical to the Martian hierarchal conversational modality (i.e., understatement). It is within this latter framework that you helpfully clarified things for me when we served together on NYYM’s ‘Renewal’ Committee. You told me about the difference between the two times Fox used the term in his journal. The first instance was qualified. The second one was not.

    The qualified one is partial to what I would suggest is a need for maturing male spirituality. I read Samuel Bownas’ _A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister_ subsequent to our discussion. lt made perfect sense to my testosterone soaked psychology and its understanding of scripture as informed by its sense of its experience of the Holy Spirit.

    So … what is common between these to written uses of the phrase by Fox that can also be most comfortably felt by a psyche, which, for a bit more than three decades of its existence, experiences a world that alternates every fortnight? Isn’t it the phrase? Isn’t the current common understanding of it also what that psyche needs to feel? Isn’t this what a feeling of what scripture, as informed by its sense of its experience of the Holy Spirit/Spirit/Light/JustGettingAlong, means (i.e., any, and particularly THAT qualifier, be damned!)?

    To the degree that captures more than a shadow of gendered-different spiritualities, is this post really (& the “again” you note is an understatement!) an argument for a sacred space for male spirituality? Also, should the “again” mean it might be extended to be your retirement project, my advice to you is, get oversight (i.e., you are in a Catch 22)!

    There was a time when we shared aspects of this concern as a common leading. I was released from that leading with my being released from membership (the latter to avoid the labor and conflict that doing otherwise would have involved). From my experience I observe you still experiencing a leading in what pragmatism has functionally transformed into a notion (i.e., history be damned; discipline be damned). The privileged pseudo-community that is 2nd Wave Feminism’s hollowed out and sterile Quakerism can do no other.

    What is left of the Liberal iteration of Quakerism is irrational. Making rational and/or historical and/or biblical arguments, unless, as an end in themselves, they edify as an as-good-as-it-gets, is, in truth, irrelevantly quaint (i.e., it is mental masturbation). And this barren feminized condition toward a corporate pursuit of truth is not unique to this branch of Quakerism. If spiritual intercourse is what is desired, like turkeys, it will now be on the hens’ terms: mystical and rationalized.

    Any questions? 😉

    And, of course, the human condition is never barren. We co-create with our god in whose name we walk. For us privileged, this go[o]d is greed. The testimonies of this lies in plain sight all around us, including in the flotsam and jetsam of feminized Quakers … but, and again, for the collusion of a community conspiring to create a cover of motivated reasoning through the use/abuse of phrases like the one being questioned. Trusted feelings allow such to be united around outside of their historical context (i.e., only NOW exists). This is inevitable when truth has been transformed from a shared pursuit to a personal perception to be piously pragmatic about.

    FWIW, but related, in less than a fortnight, September 21, the Paris Agreement will likely come into force. At COP22, in about 60 days, Cap & Trade w/ Offsets will become the mechanism of that agreement. Whatever the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice reports out and gets adopted at COP22 will, in terms of policy and finance, delimit what science will contribute to policy going forward … but for vetting a Hail Mary attempt at geo-engineering when unfolding abrupt climate change can no longer be disappeared with privileged motivated reasoning. With Cap & Trade w/ Offsets, greed-as-god CapitalismFail gets its next life support mechanism for needed credit to create debt (i.e., maintaining economic injustice) . The Dead Quaker Money that enables what masquerades as privileged Quakerism will, similarly, survive. The graying-haired-ossified-in-its-privileged-pragmatic-feminized iteration of Friends will yet be able to hobble along: one foot on the banana peel; one foot in the grave. The last ‘S’ in the acronym SPICES will be twice systemically impossible in the Paris Agreement iteration of CapitalismFail. IBID, but only now, the rest. It is a lack of all them all within a pragmatically privileged denial (a shared motivated reasoning) that has helped birth this intractable condition … and the unconstitutional accession to this treaty by the President.

    The truism “use it or lose it” applies to testimonies and the enveloping darkness of abrupt climate change. Thanks to pragmatism, SPICES is now a notion. Lives lived, personal and corporate, are what constitute testimonies. Feminized Quaker’s privileged pragmatism is, in truth, the testimony to be claimed, or, pragmatically, claimedNOT! 😉 … or a male’s black & white testosterone induced perception of truth.

    Faith is substantial
    A life lived thinking differently
    Hope made manifest

    =)

  • Fox had received several openings (such as the one about the education of ministers) prior to his hearing the voice that spoke to his condition; it was, however, only in hearing that voice that he was restored. Following on in that same paragraph where he tells of Christ Jesus speaking to his condition, Fox clearly indicates that it is the person of Jesus Christ who actively “enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power” (Nickalls, p. 11). It is necessary to recognize the difference between receiving openings from the Lord and receiving the person of Jesus Christ himself.

    In his essay “Prophetic Quakerism,” Lewis Benson states that “wherever the philosophical type of mysticism has found expression within the limits of the Christian community, it has sought to reduce the saving Word of God addressed inwardly by the Voice of Jesus Christ to something less personal.” (The Truth is Christ, p. 16) Whether one refers to that “something less personal” as a divine spark, a reality, an essence intimately united to the mind, or that of God in everyone, one misses the mark that first Friends found: that Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and the person, between God and his people, the Church. As Fox frequently attested, Christ is come to teach his people himself.

    If one has not known or inwardly received Christ Jesus, one might search in Friends writings and in scriptures for reasons for that omission. That would be a more humble and potentially useful activity than re-framing the Quaker tradition to omit its abundant and valid testimony–and its central tenet–so that it might correspond to one’s own predilection, as many have been wont to do.

  • treegestalt says:

    Yet another way to read this, from some time back — found today while backing up everything I’d posted on QuakerQuaker (which now seems in danger of closing):

    http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/that-of-each-person-in-god

  • treegestalt says:

    I have to agree with another commenter (yet I hope to add some clarification): You have been taking the phrase too literally & theologically, as if it had to mean: “Some subset of a human being is a tiny chunk of God.”

    What it’s pointing toward in my reading is more like: “If you truly see what a human being is, you find him to be God embodied — but less than fully expressed there — at work inside tinkering while our little motors keep running & adding difficulties.”

    Metaphors are seldom fully adequate; but they’re what’s available to talk with!

  • Larry Ingle says:

    As a biographer of Fox, I think Steve Davison’s inability to find a specific reference in Jones’s writings that speaks of a “divine spark” in the kind of mystical way he posits is telling. I am not an authority on Jones, but I do know something of why his views were attacked in the middle of the 20th century–he was not “evangelical” enough for those who were rising to positions of leadership within the Quaker theological establishment. L. Hugh Doncaster, a British Friend, made this explicit in his preface to the revised second edition of William C. Braithwaite’s magistral The Beginnings of Quakerism. Announcing that they had dropped Jones’s preface to the first edition, he instanced Jones’s mistaken views about mysticism because “recent studies have, in the minds of a number of scholars, put Quakerism in a rather different light” (p. vii)–and the light was not inward, it was, frankly, theological and political, in the broad sense of that latter adjective.

    My study of Fox indicated that he was not a theologian or an historian–I don’t believed he ever used the term “mysticism” or “mystic.” Where I think Steve may be going wrong is that he misses that mysticism does not require a spark of God to experience the reality we (and Fox, perhaps even Jones) called God or Christ. It only requires one to surrender and open oneself to God’s Spirit and be led by the divine. When Fox spoke of God’s presence within a person, he referred to the gospel of John, and he did not explore it as Jones and Steve Davison were and are doing; he merely asserted that in his experience he knew he had been led by that reality. He left it there.

    I think the time is long past to leave Jones aside. We can state what he found historically (while remaining acutely aware of why he was charged with introducing mysticism into the dialogue about Fox’s views), but we should not necessarily embrace what he did or did not say about the matter. Steve might more profitably restrict his reading to Fox and the Bible.

    • I certainly did not mean to imply that mysticism requires a spark of God, either a belief in one or a real one. I have had mystical experiences myself and, as I’ve said, I don’t “believe” in the idea, and these experiences have not revealed one to me, or I would now believe in it. I suspect that Jones was trying to account for the human capacity for mystical experience, for experience that transcends normal experience, normal consciousness, the usual outward senses, and our capacity for full understanding, experience that is yet real, in the sense that we are truly inwardly transformed for the better by it. The divine spark of the neoplatonists and gnostics, the atman of Hindu philosophy, these are very elegant proposals for how and why we can know God inwardly. But for me, they are just ideas.

      But I am more of a mystical existentialist and empiricist than an idealist (in the philosophical, not psychological sense): like Fox, I prefer to start with my experience rather than with an idea, and focus on its meaning for my life. I love thinking about this stuff, however; I love metaphysics. But it always leads off into the swamps and away from the concrete human value of exploring what has happened to me—what God has in mind for me.

      As for Rufus Jones, I am now reading The Faith and Practice of the Quakers and the first couple of chapters are just fantastic. He is a fine writer and I have never read such eloquent exposition of basic Quaker faith. The later chapters so far are not quite as beautiful and insightful, but definitely worth reading. Fox, by contrast, is a much more difficult read and is often to me a bit opaque—I’m not quite sure what he’s getting at, a lot of the time. And his faith is very far from my own experience, steeped as it is in the sin and salvation paradigm of traditional Christianity, albeit with a distinctive twist.

  • wmgsmith59 says:

    “When a leading to act in a public way arises, the Friend may seek to initiate a process of discernment and testing within the meeting. This testing process is a form of spiritual discipline for both the Friend with a leading and for the meeting community. It is intended to result in clearness for both regarding what is to be done.”
    “For more than 350 years, Friends have adopted practices that reflect deeply held, historically rooted attitudes towards living in the world. The collective experience of “concerns” and “leadings” over time has led to what Friends refer to as “testimonies.” The testimonies are outward expressions that reflect the inward experience of transformation through divine leading. Contemporary Friends may identify our testimonies as simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship using the acronym SPICES. However, in the past, the testimonies referenced specific acts of Friends responding to truth as they understood it. For instance, the testimony against taking oaths grew out of the intention to speak truth always and not only when one’s hand was on the Bible. Even today we say that our “testimony” is a demonstration in our outward lives of Spirit’s movement within us.”

    This is from the new revision(2016) of PhYM FnP. It came up before Sessions in July but was not allowed to be considered because of protesters high-jacking sessions. The session was not held in Right order and Quaker Process was not observed.

    • Thanks for this great description of both the real nature of testimonies and the faith and practice of Quaker ministry as the way to pursue leadings. I missed those PhYM sessions, since I was attending New York Yearly Meeting sessions. Were the protest against the new Faith and Practice?

      • wmgsmith59 says:

        The protest was by the autonomous group “undoing racism in PYM.” They had demands and when they didn’t get their way, they march to the front and “occupied” the session . It really had nothing to do with the FnP except we were next on the agenda.

  • I believe that the description of evangelicalism found in this essay, and in many other similar ones, is a mere caricature of the real thing. Quaker evangelicalism of the 19th Century was anything but “moribund”, to use one Friend’s description. It produced the Adult School movement in the UK, which could have infused the Society of Friends with thousands of new members, had there been less snobbishness and inertia in the Quaker establishment. It produced the missionary outreach in East Africa, which now claims the majority of Friends worldwide in its membership. It birthed thousands of new meetings and members in North America, with all of the untidy innovations they brought with them.

    The liberalism of Rufus Jones, Manchester, etc. reinforced the elitist mentality of the Society of Friends, with lots of good and bad consequences. Initially, this movement seemed like a great breath of fresh air. But, if one takes a long-term view, plunging membership and loss of a coherent identity for the liberal branch of Friends (and others-because of the great influence the liberals have had on everybody else) are now becoming obvious. As a friend of mine, from an evangelical background, observed about New York Yearly Meeting: “a gathering of old grey heads.” (Full disclosure: I am not evangelical, but Orthodox-Conservative).)

    • I wasn’t trying to say that 19th century evangelicalism was moribund. But I do think it was ill equipped to deal effectively with the new understanding that emerged around the turn of the 20th century that social ills and oppression were systemic and required systemic solutions beyond the changing of individual hearts and minds, which was the tendency of the evangelical approach.

      And I agree with you about liberal Quakerism’s “loss of a coherent identity”. Not sure what being a grey head has to do with it, though.

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You are currently reading The Testimonies and “that of God” at Through the Flaming Sword.

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