As I have found myself drawn to Quakerism, it does not feel like I am discovering something new. In fact, I feel like I am rediscovering the impulses I had as a new believer in Christ, as well as seeing those subtle, quiet revelations I have gained over the years come together. I have often said that my charismatic convictions have led me to Quakerism, and I mean it when I say that. The implications of the Pentecost, in how it revealed the egalitarian nature of the Church and the accessibility of God’s power and presence, are radical and I find that Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Movement, and Quakerism have understood this to various degrees. The past few years, as I have been confronted by the revelation that Jesus defines God, and have had my views on both the Scriptures and sacraments change a bit, I have discovered that these sorts of things have been addressed and realized in Quakerism for quite some time.
I do not feel that the Quaker Way is the ultimate way, especially since that includes such a broad world of individual spiritualities and philosophies, but I have grown a lot in discovering Quakerism throughout its branches. Coming to know Quaker history and theology has in many ways transformed how I think, pray, and love God and man. I’ve come to see both Christ and his reign of peace more clearly, and come to value the diverse ways we can experience God, especially in waiting and in silence. My approach to revelations and the prophetic ministry have surely been refined and has even changed a bit, but honestly, I feel like the charismatic spirituality I fell in love with is coming to life in deeper and more profound ways. The past year, as I have been exploring Quakerism, and as I have become a part of the Quaker Voluntary Service, I have come to see myself come into my own as a Quaker. I am nowhere near having all the answers, but I have some ideas so far.
So what is my Quakerism?
- First of all, my Quakerism is Christian. It is rooted and led by my faith in Jesus Christ. It is marked by a commitment to both Christ and his Church. Jesus is the core of my religion, and I echo Robert Barclay’s words in that I, “believe that everything which is recorded in the holy scriptures concerning the birth, life, miracles, suffering, resurrection, and ascension of Christ actually happened.”
Some of the core aspects of my Quakerism, or the Quakerism that I have been led to, are:
- I believe that the Bible is inspired “and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), but am wary of biblicism, which sociologist Christian Smith describes as a “theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” I am also wary of bibliolatry, where the Bible is elevated to a divine status and seems to replace the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. Bibilicism is most often a core stance taken by Evangelicals, and very often biblicism slips into bibliolatry. Like George Fox, I feel uncomfortable with equating “the Word of God” with the Bible for Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1:1-14). This discomfort has influenced Quakers’ approach to the Bible and led Barclay to create a helpful distinction between the “declaration of the fountain” (the Bible) and “the fountain itself”(Jesus). The Bible is a gift to the modern follower of Christ and should nurture one’s relationship with God instead of replacing that relationship, which happens too often in personal devotions, discernment processes, and Bible studies. Handling the Bible without Christ being the hermeneutic and the Spirit of God being intimately involved is dangerous, and I would even add that the deep study of the Bible ought to include one’s community’s discernment and guidance.
- As mentioned before, Jesus Christ is our hermeneutic for the Bible. In A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren quotes Quaker theologian and author D. Elton Trueblood as saying, “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” Evangelical Pastor Brian Zahnd often says something similar in his sermons and writings that expounds on this concept even more: “God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known what God is like— But now we do.” Understanding that “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3) and that he perfectly reveals the Father (John 10:30, John 14:9) radically changes how we read the Bible and view God. Jesus gives us a new picture of God, and that is that of a Lamb willing to be sacrificed for the sake of creation’s complete restoration and salvation.
- As Christ as our hermeneutic, it is clear that the Way of Christ is the way of peace. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls for ambassadors to live out his ministry of reconciliation and be peacemakers (2 Cor. 5:8, Matt. 5:9). The cycle of violence is not to be blessed or fueled by those following Christ. Instead, Christians are called as peacemakers to confront the cycle of violence as they lay down their lives, bless their enemies, and forgive those who betray them (Matt. 5:39, 44, John 15:13, Luke 23:34). This way of peace has a cost, which may even include lives, but such a cost is considered gain as it confronts the brokenness of the world and its systems. Any act of violence, including waging war, is not what Christ had in mind for his people. George Fox said, “The occasion of war, and war itself… ariseth from lust All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly- deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with – outward weapons, for any end, or under an pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world.” Isaiah 2:4 gives a picture of the Kingdom of God, where swords will be “beat into plowshares” as well as “spears into pruning hooks.” Isaiah goes on to give a picture of the all-consuming peace the Kingdom shall have when fully realized as “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Violence will not persist in the Kingdom of God, and those who pledge allegiance to Christ and his Kingdom are called to forsake the world’s way of violence and take up Christ’s way of peace.
- Meetings for worship are marked by the presence of the Spirit and the direction and leading of the High Priest, Jesus Christ, and not man’s vain leadership. In this sense, meeting is charismatic, relying on the graces and gifts of the Spirit to be distributed by Christ and manifest for the meeting’s sake. All are called to be expectant that God will speak and move within them, and be ready and willing for God to use them to minister. As Barclay wrote, “we ought not to do it in our own will, where and when we will; but where and when we are moved thereunto by the stirring and secret inspiration of the Spirit of God in our hearts.” The apostle Paul speaks of the meeting of Christians as a space where the body of Christ, with individuals’ gifts, are able to contribute their gifts for the edification of the whole as God so leads (1 Cor. 12:1-31). The gifts of the Spirit which are covered in 1 Corinthians, such as healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, etc., are encouraged by Paul to be earnestly desired (1 Cor. 14:1), especially prophecy. Revelation and prophecy is what most often guides meetings, as the Spirit inspires his people and speaks to their hearts, at times leading them to speak forth these revelations for the sake of the building up of the meeting. As somebody who was spiritually formed in the Charismatic Movement, I was attracted to the testimonies of early Quakerism’s charismatic tendencies, with the miracles in George Fox’s ministry (as well as other early ministers) and the powerful, and even at times ecstatic, experiences corporately shared in Quaker meetings.
I am not going to claim that I am anywhere near being an expert on Quaker history or theology. I also will not claim that this is a comprehensive list of distinct Quaker teachings, evidenced by the fact that I put no effort into explaining Quaker sacramentology (which I do subscribe to). But this is what I find most speaks to my condition, and this is where I am at with Quakerism. At the end of the day, and in the end of the days, all of these approaches and labels will likely be proven to have been helpful but not everything, and I am thankful that being a Quaker was not the end-all. I am thankful that it has all driven me to Christ, and it was all driven by Christ. I am also incredibly thankful that he speaks to and touches us in such diverse ways, and interacts with us all uniquely. My major reservation with all Traditions is that they often seem to ignore that reality and diagnose and assign everybody with the same disciplines, practices, and remedies, completely blind to the personality and nature of every individual. I am thankful that the space I have been given this year, among all sorts of Friends, has helped me understand how I relate and worship God most naturally and most powerfully.