Conservative Friend

An Outreach of Stillwater Monthly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends

 

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to evey man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

1 Peter 3:15

Faith and Practice

Our Book of Discipline


Quaker groups traditionally have recorded the procedures and customary practices of their congregations in a book called " The Discipline," or variously, "Faith and Practice."  Typically, a Discipline will outline the basic beliefs of the Society and have guidelines for membership practices, marriage procedures, schedules for meetings of various standing committees, and so on.  The Book of Discipline of Ohio Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends was originally published in 1819, a few years after OYM was created by organizing the Friends of Baltimore Yearly Meeting who had migrated west of the Allegheny Mountains.

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The Role of Christ

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Conservative Quakerism is not a philosophy, or a method, or a form of worship, or a political agenda.  It is a relationship.  Our sole job, as Isaac Penington said, is to know Christ.  It is our relationship with Jesus Christ that determines the way we think and the things we do.

For us, Christ is a person, not a concept.  And there is no separation between us and Jesus: he is not in Heaven, while we are on earth, looking forward to being with him someday.  He is here with us–Now.  He promised, “I am with you always,” and our own experience assures us that this is true.

He speaks to us, if we will listen.
He guides us, if we will move our feet.
He gives us the power to obey, if we will try to do his will.
He loves us.  No “ifs” at all.

Conservative Friends believe that the same Jesus who walked the earth 2000 years ago also lives and speaks to us today.  The historical Jesus and the eternally existent Christ, that we experience in our hearts, are one and the same.  If you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life on earth, you will find in him the same loving guide that you find in the Christ as he speaks in your heart today.

In order to know Christ, it is not enough to simply read about him in the Bible or hear about him from others.  The Quakerism of Conservative Friends is not based on history, traditions, outward forms, or the written word.  Conservative Friends believe that the only way you can know Jesus Christ is to experience his presence yourself.  This Living Word of Christ brings us to life and to power.

There are many names for Jesus, and many metaphors to describe him and his effect on our lives.  He is the Light, the Beloved, the Morning Star, the Bread of Life, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, Emmanuel, the True Vine, the Lamb of God, the Word of God, and more.

If a particular name or metaphor doesn’t resonate with you, relax.  That name may be precious to someone else’s heart, but it doesn’t have to be precious to you.  God can be all things to everyone, but your relationship with him is unique.  Like a nickname for a loved one, you will have your own precious heart-names for Christ.

Whatever you call him, however, there are several distinct and important roles Jesus plays in each of our lives–Prophet, Priest, King.

He is our Prophet, because he declares to us the truth and will of God.  George Fox spoke of this role when he said that “Christ has come to teach his people himself.”  In his role as Teacher, Jesus teaches us about God’s will for us.  He shows us where our failings are, where our successes are, and what God intends for the way we are to live.

He is our Priest because he is our mediator, and because of the sacrifice he made on our behalf in order to return us to right relationship with God.  The prophet talks to people on behalf of God; the priest talks to God on behalf of people.  Christ does both.  His role as Priest can also be thought of as the role of Mediator, or Friend.  In this role, he forgives; he brings us into right relationship with God; he comforts us and brings us rest.  

He is our King because he is the Chief Executive Officer in the Kingdom of God.  In his role as teacher, Jesus helps us to understand the character of God, and what God wants from us.  In his role as king, Christ claims the right to expect us to obey him, because we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.  Luckily for us, being the King is a position of power, and he imparts some of his power to us whenever we need it as we try in good faith to do what he wants us to do.  Jesus our King gives us the power to live in righteousness.  We are, like the centurion said, “under authority.”  When we turn our entire lives over to His lordship, His righteousness dwells in us and gives us victory over sin.  In the old days, a king might give his signet ring to a subject who was working for him; nowadays, an Executive Officer might send a memo regarding one’s work.  In either case, the result is the same-–people might not feel a need to obey the worker, but they’ll respect the Chief Executive Officer (the king) who sends them!  In the same way, Jesus can loan you some of his power whenever you need it to overcome difficulties in your own Spirit-led work.

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The Inward Light

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The first term that the very first Quakers used as a name for themselves was ”Children of the Light,” and a common admonition to those seeking divine guidance was to ”Turn to the Light,“ “Mind the Light,” or ”Dwell in the Light. ”  Quakers today sometimes talk about trying to be led by the ”Inward Light.”  Just what do we mean when we talk like this?  

The Light, and what Conservative Quakers believe it to be, is the most important defining characteristic of our faith.  Our understanding of the Light sets our beliefs and practices apart from other contemporary Christian groups, and from other Quakers.  It is perhaps best introduced metaphorically.  First and foremost, Quakers agree that the Light is something that illuminates, and reveals contrasts, just as natural light reveals flaws and casts shadows where it is obstructed.  The Light is a beacon to those seeking guidance.  The Light also makes significant changes.  Exposure to ordinary light in the natural world softens some substances and makes them more malleable.  Other substances are hardened and made more rigid and brittle.  In a similar way, exposure to the supernatural Inward Light raises the spiritual consciousness of receptive people, and results in spiritual degeneration in those who resist its power.  Those people who accept and welcome the revealing Light are at first made conscious of their sins, and then given the spiritual strength to resist them and become more holy in their walk with God.  Those who reject the open hand of God may find, like the Pharaoh of Exodus, that their hearts are hardened and the hand withdrawn.

The Light in Scripture and Quaker writings is clearly named.  Jesus Christ said, ”I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”  John the Baptist ”came to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.”  Robert Barclay wrote of other aspects of Jesus and his work as Light: ”That for this end God hath communicated and given unto every man a measure of the Light of his own Son, a measure of grace, or a measure of the Spirit, which the Scripture expresses by several names, as sometimes of ’the seed of the kingdom"; the ’Light that makes all things manifest’; the ’Word of God’; or ’manifestation of the Spirit given to profit withal’; ’a talent’; ’the Gospel preached in every creature’.”

As Christians, Conservative Quakers identify the Light of Christ as both the historical, living Jesus, and as the Grace of God extended by him that simultaneously makes us conscious of our sins, forgives them, and gives us the strength and the will to overcome them.  The Light might be explained as the outpouring of the loving influence of God, extended through Christ to all people as the means of their potential salvation.   We also see the Light as Fox’s ”That of God in every man,” that measure of the Holy Spirit of Christ given to us that is sufficient to work our soul’s salvation, if we listen for it and do not resist.

It is also the Light of Christ that teaches us the difference between right and wrong, truth and falseness, good and evil.  It guides our conscience, but it is not the conscience itself.  Our conscience is our own mental organ which perceives the Light from God, but in different individuals the conscience might be poorly developed or even mistaken.

The work of the Light in our spiritual growth is akin to heavenly sunlight shining through a spiritual window within us, our God-given “measure.”  The Light shines upon us externally without diminution or division, but the size of our window permits only a portion to penetrate and illuminate us spiritually.  The greater the window, the greater our measure of the Light, and the greater will be the identity between our spiritual life and the will of God.  As illustrated in the parable of the talents, (Matthew 25:14-30), those who are faithful to their God-given measure will be given more, and those who are unfaithful will have their portion taken away.  Those who are attentive to the Inward Light of Christ as their guide to the will of God will find their window enlarged, their measure increased, and both their spiritual ability--and their responsibility for being faithful to it--will be increased.  

Quakers view the Light of Christ as universal and individually sufficient--it is extended to all people everywhere, and all have been given enough to become acceptable to God, although our measures differ.  Even people who have never heard of Jesus can share in his grace, if they sincerely respond to his Inward Light.  ”For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16).  George Fox also said, ”I saw that the grace of God, which brings salvation, had appeared to all men and that the manifestation of the Spirit of God was given to every man to profit withal.”  The Light shines into all people, whether Christian, Quaker, or not, providing the opportunity for salvation to all who respond and do not resist it.  Fox’s mission was ”to bring people off from all the world’s religions, which are vain, that they might know the pure religion”.  Nowhere in the doctrine of the Light is there the idea that it is given only to Quakers, or even only to Christians, but nowhere also is the idea that all religions are led by the Light or that the differences lie merely in different words for the same things.  Jesus wants us to worship in spirit and in truth, and Quakers believe that he has taught us the most direct and reliable way to do so.

This saving aspect of the Light was fiercely denied by the major competing Christian sects of George Fox’s day.  The idea that all people were given ”a measure of the Light of his own Son,” ran counter to the Calvinist belief in man’s original sin and utter depravity, and his participation in his own salvation in any way denied the Puritan doctrine of total predestination.  Anglicans and Roman Catholics opposed the idea that grace was extended to man by God directly without need for ordained intermediaries or traditional sacraments.  All fiercely rejected the Quaker assertion that victory over sin meant that God could establish a sinless state of perfection in men and women during this life.

We view the corporate work of Jesus acting through history on the people who are responsive to the Inward Light as the continuing, cumulative revelation essential to the Quaker faith.  This is why the meeting community is so important to Conservative Quakers.  Each of us has a sufficient measure of the Inward Light of Christ, but together we have a collective power and discernment that is greater than any of us have alone.

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Scripture

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The most important thing to know about Scripture is that Scripture is not the most important thing. Scripture is useful, Scripture is helpful, Scripture can make Christian growth quicker and can help avoid mistakes, but Quakers use it as a tool to understand God.  We do not substitute attention to it for attention to God himself.  God is our primary guide, not the Bible.

Jesus stated this in no uncertain terms to the skeptical Jews: ”And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.  His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.  You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life: and it is they that bear witness to me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40.)  Quakers believe that the Bible is one of the words of God-- not THE Word of God-- the Logos-- a title given only to Jesus himself.  The apostle John explained it pointedly: ”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (John 1:1).  And, ”And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.”  (Revelation, 19:13).

Quakers follow the living Jesus, the Inward Light, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit of Christ.  One of the ways God speaks to man is through the Bible.  But while Scripture is important to us, we believe that the Author is a more fundamental guide than his Book.  The Quaker belief in the importance of the Bible unites us in our faith and practice with many Christians.  The Quaker belief that the Bible is secondary and subordinate to the Inward Light and the true Word of God separates us from many others.

Critical to this belief is the Quaker trust that God himself talks to us and inspires us personally today, just as he did to the early Christians.  As George Fox put it, we believe that Christ has come to teach his people himself.  These teachings come to us clearly in the form of dreams, visions, voices, and inspired spoken ministry.  They come less clearly but no less importantly in the forms of feelings, inner urgings, and intuitive leadings.  We also hear God in the teachings of the Bible, and we learn from him as we read it, but we do not try to limit his work with us to the Bible as his only instrument.  This Quaker belief is denied by many other Christian groups, who hold that God today is silent, that prophecy has ended, that the canon is complete, and only the Bible or officially authorized priests can speak for God.

Christians agree that you cannot interpret Scripture without the Holy Spirit-- it will be merely empty words, or worse, will be mistakenly interpreted.  And if Scripture cannot be understood correctly unless the Holy Spirit wills it, then the Holy Spirit is the primary guide.  We must listen, first, directly to him.  To say that a book written under divine inspiration is somehow more reliable than the divine inspiration itself is indefensible.  The real issue, of course, is whether one believes that God inspires people today with the same Spirit that he has in the past.  As Quakers, we believe that he does.  That is what Quakerism is all about.  We use various methods in practice to be sure that it is actually Jesus who we listen to.  The Meeting community is helpful here.  But sometimes the answer is obvious, as when someone with his eyes closed asks how you can be sure that the sun is shining.  If your own eyes are open, you can see it!

This is not to devalue Scripture.  If one of us believes that God is pointing to a belief or a leading that is inconsistent with inspired Scripture, then that belief or leading is plainly wrong.  Conservative Friends believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God, and God does not give contradictory answers to the same question.  For the same reason, Scripture is useful when Christians have a disagreement.  A prayerful, Spirit-led reading of Scripture can provide an outward objective guide for resolving the issue.

Today, members of Conservative Quaker meetings have a wide range of attitudes toward the Bible.  At one end are members who base their walk with God primarily or completely on what they read and interpret in Scripture.  At the other are those who mostly ignore the Bible, and rely solely on the personal leadings of the Inner Light.  These two extreme views reflect in microcosm the tensions responsible for the two great Quaker schisms of the 19th century.

However, the original Conservative Quaker witness towards the value and importance of Scripture was very clear.  To paraphrase Robert Barclay, ”The Bible contains a faithful account of God’s people through the ages, of completed and yet-to-be-completed prophecies, and of the chief principles of Christianity.  However, it is not the fundamental basis of religious truth and knowledge, nor is it an adequate primary rule of Christian faith and practice, both of which are based on intuitive revelation by the Holy Spirit.  But because it is true, it is an important secondary rule, subordinate to the revelations of the Holy Spirit, without whose assistance it cannot be interpreted correctly.  The Holy Spirit is the primary guide.”

Conservative Quakers typically read the Bible regularly and sincerely, ”for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” (II Timothy 3:16.)  We value the lessons we learn from both the Old and New Testaments (although there is occasional disagreement about whether Bible passages are to be interpreted literally or figuratively).  Some meetings hold regular adult classes, with readings and discussions of the Bible.  Our children’s Sunday Schools also base some or all of their curriculum on the Bible.  Scripture is frequently quoted within spoken ministry during our meetings for worship.  Some meetings also practice ”Scripture reading after the manner of Friends,” in which our worship consists of standing, and reading or reciting Scripture passages as led by the Holy Spirit.  But in all our uses of Scripture, we try to remember that our first goal is to know God, and Scripture is one of the ways God has given us to do that.

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The Meeting: A People of God

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From the very earliest days, the Quaker meeting has served as the basic unit of the Religious Society of Friends.  The Meeting is the Church, a body of people who wait upon God together in worship.  As Jesus said, ”For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).  Together, all of us collectively submit to our spiritual priest, teacher, counselor, prophet, and king, and allow him to work within us for our improvement, and to assign us work in the spiritual or physical world.  The meeting has always been an external community as well, with members attempting to live close to one another for mutual aid and encouragement.  The early persecutions of Quakers in Britain caused entire counties to be emptied of Quakers as they emigrated en masse to America.

To Conservative Friends, the meeting community constitutes what the Bible calls the Body of Christ.  As the Church, we are linked spiritually with each other.  Jesus Christ uses our diverse gifts to help us overcome our individual weaknesses.  Jesus also uses our diverse perceptions and experience to help us all to see more and to understand more as a group than we do alone.  Christ provides the framework for our unity with one another and with God brings us together even when we start out with seemingly divergent beliefs and attitudes.

In any given meeting, different people will have different strengths and weaknesses.  One Friend might be especially gifted in working with children.  Another might be highly sensitive to ethical concerns that other members hadn’t paid attention to.  Some members might have a strong gift for vocal ministry that is less developed in others.  Some might be better able to discern the sense of the meeting during discussions, and are valuable facilitators.  Each of us brings these special abilities to the church and offers them there to God for the betterment of the group as a whole, both spiritually and physically.
 
This understanding that together we can understand the will of God better than when we are alone is behind the Quaker doctrine of  “corporate discernment,” and “continuing,” or better, “cumulative revelation.”  Friends believe that together, as a corporate body, we can often understand  the mind of God better than when we try to listen alone.  Friends also believe that God has spoken to people over history in many different ways and with many different voices, and that he speaks to us in the same way today.  But this doesn’t mean that what God says to one can oppose what he says to another.  God is Truth, and he cannot be inconsistent or contradictory.  Hence we believe in a continuing and growing understanding of God that builds on what Friends have learned from God in the past, and on what we learn from others, especially within our own meeting.   This growing insight into the mind of God and how it relates to the meeting and the world is called “seasoning” by Friends, and is a respected sign of spiritual maturity.
 
The understanding that we benefit from the awareness and sensitivity to God from other members carries over into how a meeting handles business matters.  “Discernment” is the term Friends use for the ability to apply spiritual insight to life situations, and is also the name for the process we use in business meetings when seeking unity with God on matters that concern the Body as a whole.  These might be issues as mundane as whether to paint the meeting house, or as life-changing as whether to support a member’s leading to sell off their property and move to another country.  The process of collective discernment is encouraged formally in business meetings by quietly waiting on the Lord for insight into what it is that he wants, and not what individuals or even the entire meeting might want for itself.  This corporate discernment is called “seeking unity. “ It is not a majority decision, nor is it one of achieving a reasonable consensus.  It takes patience and forbearance as the issue is quietly and slowly worked out.  At all times the goal is unity in following God, not merely unity in agreeing with each other.

This technique is spiritually sound, but it is not fast.  Friends sometimes characterize themselves by saying that they would rather be right than quick.  For example, the issue as to whether owning slaves was acceptable among American Friends took over 100 years to work through.  Even so, it was mostly decided by the 1770’s, almost a century before the controversy caused the American Civil War .

Sometimes collective discernment results in a group completely reversing its initial position to adopt that of one member who expressed a concern.  At other times, individuals decide that the meeting has better perceived the will of God than they have themselves, and change their mind.  But once a decision has been made, Friends either try to settle down to support it, or carefully stand aside so as not to oppose it--Friends seek unity with God, not unanimity with each other.  The long and careful process of discerning the will of God usually results in a unity and a rightness that the non-Quaker world is unable to match.  The result is a corporate witness in which Friends consistently work together on a diverse range of tasks, and which has fostered unity between Friends of divergent faith traditions.

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Leadings

Conservative Friends believe that religion is not just for Sundays.  Our faith is to be lived out daily, in everything we do.  In one sense, we are not to love the world... as subjects in God’s kingdom, our loyalty is owed not to the temporal things around us, but to our eternal Lord.  In another sense, we are to love the world deeply, because “God so loved the world....” (John 3:16)  If our Lord loves the world, then it is also our duty and great privilege to love the world as He does.  As ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, we live Now by the laws of that kingdom written on our heart, more than by temporal laws and secular “common sense”.  This is what is meant by being “in the world but not of it.”  We are a people set apart from this world because we have become the children of God, and yet we are a people who are to remain concerned with the well-being of the world, because our Father loves it.

Friends try to alway listen for God’s instructions regarding the way they should live their lives.  We believe that God can and does talk to us individually to tell us to make certain choices or perform certain tasks that He wants us to undertake.  When a Friend feels that God wants him or her to do something, this is called a leading, or a concern.  A Friend under a concern may feel very strongly that he or she is to undertake a task, even though he or she may not have a clear understanding of the reason, and without regard to the likelihood of success.  Friends believe that the important thing in any task is to be faithful in doing the work that God has given us, not to worry about whether the task can be “successful” in any measurable way.  Because Friends leave the success or failure of a task in God’s hands, and merely do the work that God has called them to do, the history of Quakerism is full of “impossible” successes, as well as apparently stunningly foolish acts, whose fruits may still be ripening unseen.

Friends recognize that one might have many reasons to do something that are unrelated to God’s will.  There are many times when a person might want to do something for their own personal reasons, and would find it convenient to imagine that God wants them to do it.  Satan is also an active force in the world, and often attempts to mislead people into doing things that God never called them to.  Because of these temptations, Friends have developed some tests that can be applied to an apparent leading before the leading is acted on.  

In general, there are four tests for discerning a true leading:  moral purity, patience, consistency of the Spirit, and unity.  To pass the first test, moral purity, a leading should be something that it would be good to do.  One may not even want to do it, although one can’t seem to escape the feeling that it is the right thing to do.  The second test, patience, involves being willing to wait before acting on a leading.  If a leading is from the Holy Spirit, as you wait, the feeling will grow stronger.  If not, the feeling is likely to fade away.  The third test is consistency of the Spirit.  God will not contradict himself.  One person’s leading will not contradict the Spirit-led understanding of another.  For the same reason, a true leading will not contradict the Bible, not because the Bible is a rule book to follow, but because the same God who talks to you is also the same God who talked to the folks who wrote the Bible.  The final test of a leading involves unity.  Does it lead to greater unity among God’s people?  Does it lead to greater power, wisdom, and joy for the Church?  Does it enrich the spiritual life of the community?  Friends do not apply these tests as though they were a checklist, but these tests help Friends to evaluate a leading or concern.

Some historical Quaker concerns have included prison reform, the Underground Railroad and antislavery work, women’s suffrage and rights, temperance, care for the mentally ill, American Indian relations, and peace witness.  Conservative Friends tend to emphasize personal leadings and action over organized institutional action.  We would rather do something ourselves, however seemingly insignificant, than lobby someone else to do it for us.  We do not reject political or institutional work, but it is not our focus.

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Testimonies

Friends have, over time, developed some consistent ways of behavior and of interacting with the world that we call our testimonies.  There have been many testimonies over the years, but a basic list of our testimonies will generally include:  integrity, community, peace, simplicity, and equality.

Integrity
The most important testimony, because it is the one that all the other testimonies are based on, is the testimony of integrity.  At its simplest, the testimony of integrity means that we believe that it is wrong to lie, and we try to tell the truth in all things and at all times.  We do not take oaths, because Christ has forbidden it, and we believe it sets up a double-standard for telling the truth.  On a deeper level, the testimony of integrity means that we believe it is important for the whole of our lives to be consistent with our Christian beliefs: we believe we need to “walk our talk”, or, as George Fox said, “Let your lives preach.”

A few Friends are led to adopt the “plain witness” in dress and lifestyle as part of their testimony of integrity.  The plain witness is an outward manifestation of an inward attitude of the heart:  an attempt to bring even one’s outward appearance under the visible Lordship of Christ.  Not everyone feels this call to outward plainness in the same way.  Conservative Friends believe that there are many ways to live that are under the Lordship of Christ, and so we worship side by side with each other in charity–all servants of the same Lord.  The plain witness also extends to other areas of life--one’s use of time, one’s possessions, one’s vocations, all may be evaluated in terms of the integrity of specifically aligning them with our perception of the will of God.  Those who choose plain dress also find it a telling witness of our faith to other people that invites conversation about God.

As far as I know, no other church is as accepting of as much latitude of individual conscience in the area of personal appearance.  Other churches either require their members to wear their official version of plain dress, or exert pressure on their members to abandon plain dress.  Conservative Friends trust that each person can listen to God and be guided by the Holy Spirit to wear the clothing that is best for their own spiritual growth.

Peace
Probably the most well known Quaker testimony is the Peace Testimony.  Friends believe that war and violence are inconsistent with Christianity.  Jesus told us, “...Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)–we believe that it is difficult to love someone sincerely if we are trying to kill them.  And also, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39).  Our concern for peace stems from a desire to be obedient to the commands of Jesus Christ, not originally from political or social beliefs.

Sometimes people indeed do evil things, individually and as nations.  We believe that the proper response is to prevent them from harming others, while at the same time remembering that there is that of God in the perpetrators as well.  As hard as it is to do, our call as Christians is to love both the hurtful and the hurt, to look for ways to heal both sides, and to live so as to help prevent conflict in the future.  

Simplicity
The testimony of simplicity takes many different forms, but it is based on the idea that all of our lives need to revolve around one thing–our relationship with the Living God.  Generally, it means that Conservative Friends attempt to live lives free of clutter, superfluity, and affectation that can distract us from God.  We attempt to ensure that we choose in all things what is simple, useful, and good.  Friends apply the testimony of simplicity to their clothing, to their possessions, to their work, to their way of speech, to their choice of recreations–in short, all aspects of our lives can show in clear simple ways that we are “not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing” of our minds.

Equality
The testimony of equality means that all people are to be given equal respect, regardless of anything–including their gender, age, race, station in life, intelligence, or criminal behavior.  Friends believe that we are all equal in the sight of God, and so we should treat each other as equals.  This does not mean that we are all to be treated exactly the same.  It does mean that no one is to be treated as either a superior or an inferior.  Because of the testimony of equality, Friends try to avoid the use of titles, as well as avoiding ceremonial behavior, such as removing their hats, in front of legal or social “superiors”.  They may also adhere to older Quaker testimonies such as the plain speech of “thee and thou,” one purpose of which was to show equal respect for all individuals one was addressing.

Community
The testimony of community is extremely important to Conservative Friends, particularly in this age of individualism.  Friends take seriously Jesus’ admonition to love each other, as well as Paul’s admonition to subject ourselves to each other.  If we really are the body of Christ, and all the parts need one another as the Gospel says, then it isn’t right for one part to be off doing its own thing separate from the body.  The Lord can and does do a lot through people as individuals.  But the real power of the Gospel shows itself when we function as a united body witnessing to the world what God has done among us.

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Gospel Order

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Gospel Order is the historical term Christian unprogrammed Friends use to describe the structuring of the church community, and the institutions and procedures that Quakers use to align their individual and communal lives with their spiritual beliefs. Because Jesus Christ has come to teach his people himself, the way in which we order our personal lives and our religious meetings must reflect what he teaches us, and not necessarily our transient wishes, or what is democratic, expedient, or even logical.  The first Friends believed that the structure of Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly Meetings, the way in which Friends’ worship and business was conducted within them, and the way Friends were called to live their lives, was the specific earthly environment chosen by Jesus to best allow him as Prophet and King to teach and rule his people directly. Throughout this series we have attempted to describe the Gospel Order inherent in the Conservative Quaker beliefs and lifestyles.  In this section we will discuss Quaker polity--the organization of the church.  It was radically different in conception and practice from Puritan, Anglican, and Roman Catholic practices of the time.  All branches of the Society still retain some aspects of it, at least in how we conduct the meeting business.
 
The basic unit of the Society is the Monthly Meeting, a congregation that meets together weekly or more often for worship, and monthly for a Meeting for Worship With a Concern for Business.  The monthly Business Meeting is where routine and not-so-routine church matters are discussed and resolved:  recording new members, paying bills, addressing concerns, planning events, and so forth.  Every three months, representatives of several Monthly Meetings meet together in a Quarterly Meeting, in which issues concerning more than a single Monthly Meeting are handled jointly.  Once every year, all members of the Society are encouraged to attend the annual Yearly Meeting, where business matters concerning the entire Society are handled, as well as routine matters submitted from the Quarterly Meetings.  The system is flexible, and is designed allow God maximum opportunity to be heard and obeyed by members during the business process.  Yearly Meeting business that requires more immediate attention is handled through a Representative Meeting, with attenders nominated directly from the Monthly Meeting.
 
Essential to this flexibility is the belief that it is the will of God that the members try to discern during decision -making.  It is a Meeting for Worship With a Concern for Business, and voting does not apply.  With patient and careful deliberation, Friends attempt to discern with the help of Jesus what it is that he wants done--not what the individual members may believe is right for any particular subject.  Because the Holy Spirit may choose anyone to express a leading, all members are listened to, with more weight being given to those whom experience has shown in the past to have heard God’s voice more clearly.  After a time of discussion and laboring a decision is usually reached that all members believe represents Jesus’s will, or if not those still unsure are willing to stand aside and acquiesce, in the belief that group discernment of the whole Body is usually clearer than any individual’s.  The goal is unity with the mind of God, not consensus and not reasonable compromise, although both may be necessary during the process.  To make a decision with any goal other than unity with the Holy Spirit is to be making a choice in our own wills.  If through distraction or personal conflict a unity with God cannot be discerned, then immediate action on the issue is postponed while participants attempt to listen better.  A lack of unity on important issues has in the past been a danger sign that Friends were not being attentive to God, and when ignored has sometimes resulted in discord and schism.

Sometimes several smaller Meetings worship separately but hold joint Meetings for Business once per month.  These are historically called Preparative Meetings, and can grow into full Monthly Meetings over time.  Sometimes a small group of Friends or interested newcomers begins to worship together because no other Friends’ Meeting is appropriate or convenient.  Attenders of these Worship Groups can retain official membership in other Meetings, and maintain close ties with an established Monthly Meeting that takes responsibility for their encouragement.  When they discern that the time is right to establish themselves as full Monthly Meetings, they apply to the Quarterly or Yearly Meeting, as appropriate.

A distinctive characteristic of Christian unprogrammed Friends is our continuing use of the old technique of maintaining clearness through reading Advices and answering Queries.  The Advices and Queries are lists of short recommendations and probing questions designed to remind Friends to structure their lives in Gospel Order.  They are updated from time to time, and their subject matter ranges from advice on family life and financial matters to leading questions about spiritual conditions and whether Friends are remaining faithful to their testimonies.  They are not creeds, but serve a useful purpose in reminding Friends what we have historically agreed are external characteristics consistent with the inner life that Friends attempt to foster.  The Advices are read during regular meetings for worship.  Conservative Friends also maintain the very old practice of submitting formal written answers to the queries to the Quarterly and ultimately Yearly Meetings for public discussion and publication in the Yearly Meeting Minutes.  Ideally, this process keeps the Advices and Queries fresh in people’s minds during their daily lives throughout the year.

The Advices and Queries, as well as many other suggestions and procedures, are published in The Book of Discipline, a document outlining the guidelines and policies of the Yearly Meeting.  Most Yearly Meetings will have their own Book of Discipline, and the focus and procedures differ
from place to place and time to time.  The Discipline serves as a repository for the collective discernment of the Body of Christ over time, a way in which the cumulative revelation of God regarding his Gospel Order can be transmitted across generations.  Most Yearly Meetings also use their Discipline to summarize Friends’ testimonies regarding particular concerns held by the Society, such as peace issues, capital punishment, racial equality, and so on.

One important topic outlined in the Discipline is membership in the Society: what a member’s responsibilities are and how applications are handled.  In Ohio Yearly Meeting, membership may be requested for infants by their parents, or membership may be applied for by anyone seeking to join a particular Meeting.  As membership explicitly requires a permanent reciprocal responsibility between members, it should not be taken lightly.  For example, child membership automatically ends at adulthood within Ohio Yearly Meeting.  Individuals who wish to continue their association with Friends as adults must take an active role in seeking continued membership.

All members are encouraged to fulfill particular tasks in their respective Monthly Meetings.  These include the positions of Ministers, Elders, Overseers, Clerk, and members of various committees charged with executing church business.  The role of Minister is one recognized as having been ordained by God, and ministers are named for life.  They are historically those members who have demonstrated a special divine gift for inspired spoken ministry, and who devote much of their daily lives to the spiritual health and well-being of their Meeting.  Elders are appointed for a specific term, and have specific responsibilities for encouraging those who speak in meeting and helping to develop those gifts.  Overseers are also appointed, and have chief responsibility for pastoral care of the members of the meeting.  Each Meeting also has an appointed Clerk.  Clerks are responsible for the orderly procedure of Meetings for Business, for handling correspondence, for reminding Friends of upcoming responsibilities, and most importantly, for helping Friends discern unity with the mind of God during decision-making.  Clerks do not preside over members during Meetings for Business, they serve under them, using their skill in discernment to help the Meeting process business.  Ministers, Elders, and Overseers meet together periodically in a Meeting for Ministry and Oversight.

These various positions are part of our cumulative recognition of Gospel Order, in how Jesus has taught us to arrange our personal and religious lives.  All the positions except that of Minister are explicitly temporary--individuals are expected to fulfill them faithfully for their term, after which they may be released, if appropriate, and another individual chosen by the Meeting to serve for a time.  The position of Minister is the sole exception, in that Friends do not appoint Ministers, they recognize that God has called these people out for a life-long task.

Friends’ business that cannot be handled during a single Business Meeting is generally executed through Committees appointed by the Meetings.  Nominating Committees at the Monthly or Yearly Meeting level are responsible for  locating individuals with special gifts for particular tasks, and suggesting particular committee work to them.  Standing Committees (the Nominating Committee is also one) are maintained indefinitely, with members appointed for particular terms.  These committees include Property or Financial Trustees, Auditing and Budget Committees, Historical Committees, Document Committees, and so forth.  Ad hoc committees are those chosen to solve certain specific and usually temporary tasks, and are disbanded when their work is complete.  These include membership committees, committees tasked with nominating Elders and Overseers, and Clearness Committees.

Clearness Committees are appointed upon a member’s request in order to help particular members understand the will of God with respect to personal leadings.  There is no limit as to what a Clearness Committee may be asked to help with-- the belief that Jesus is concerned with all aspects of people’s lives means that any subject may come up for clearness.  They may include leadings to visit other Friends, engage in certain social works, change one’s livelihood, or they may be arranged to resolve difficulties that occasionally arise between Friends.  The assumption is that together we can better percieve the will of God, and that God expects us to order our lives as a result.

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The Propositions of Robert Barclay’s Apology

What Was the ”Apology?”

In the year 1676, a young Scottish Quaker named Robert Barclay published a book that has stood for over 300 years as the best doctrinal expression of what early Quakers believed.  Written originally in Latin, an English edition followed in 1678, and was entitled, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity.  In it, the theologically-trained ex-Presbytarian, ex-Roman Catholic systematically outlined the foundational beliefs of Quakerism.  Barclay’s book was scholarly and well-researched, and was specifically written to counter the many theological arguments that educated opponents were using to discredit the struggling and persecuted Religious Society of Friends.  It used innumerable Scriptural references, quotes from the historical and contemporary theologians, and formal logical syllogisms to counter the challenges brought against Quakerism by the Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church, and the secular authorities.  For several hundred years, the book was required reading both for serious Quakers and for anybody who wanted to know what Quakers believed, but since the American schisms of the 19th century, interest in the book has waned.  The emerging Liberal wing of the Society found Barclay’s Christian explanation of Quakerism too confining; the emerging Orthodox wing considered its emphasis on the Inward Light dangerous and unscriptural.  Left alone in the historical center by the diverging Liberal and Orthodox Quakers, the Conservative Yearly Meetings attempted to retain the Barclayan doctrines of Christianity the longest.   Barclay’s book reflects the original Conservative beliefs that Quakerism is essentially Christian, and that our response to the Inward Light of Jesus Christ is the means to salvation.   Both Liberal and Pastoral Quakers continue to reject the unprogrammed Christian Quakerism Barclay described, but the time is right for a re-evaluation of  what early Quakerism has to say to modern Friends.

The following list is a contemporary-English summary of the 15 Propositions of the Apology.  The more extended discussions of these summaries in Barclay’s original work should challenge all of us to rethink what we have-- and have not-- inherited from the people we claim as our spiritual ancestors, and what we genuinely have to offer to people who are seeking God.  The original book is well worth reading and thinking about today.



I    The True Foundation of Knowledge

The greatest happiness lies in the true knowledge of God.  This foundation is the most important thing to know and believe.

II    Immediate Revelation

It is only by the agent of the Holy Spirit that true knowledge of God can be revealed.  God has revealed himself all along to human beings in this way through physical voices and appearances, dreams, and intuitive leadings.  These supernatural contacts are necessary for genuine faith, and cannot contradict either the Bible or inspired reason.  However, it does not follow that the Bible or inspired reason can provide a more certain basis of faith and practice than divine revelation by God Himself.

III    The Scriptures

The Bible contains a faithful account of God’s people through the ages, of completed and yet-to-be-completed prophecies, and of the chief principles of Christianity.  However, it is not the fundamental basis of religious truth and knowledge, nor is it an adequate primary rule of Christian faith and practice, both of which are based on intuitive revelation by the Holy Spirit.  But because it is true, it is an important secondary rule, subordinate to the revelations of the Holy Spirit, without whose assistance it cannot be interpreted correctly.  The Holy Spirit is the first and principal leader.

IV    The Condition of Man in the Fall

All human beings since Adam are degenerated, fallen, and spiritually dead, subjects of the Devil’s influence.  All man’s thoughts and ideas about spiritual matters are flawed until he is separated from this evil influence and united to the Divine Light, which proceeds from God and is not a natural trait of humans.  This fallen state is not automatically imputed to infants.  They become condemned only by their own transgressions as they occur, their tendency to transgress being a result of their fallen natures.

V and VI    Universal Redemption by Christ, and the Saving and Spiritual Light, Wherewith Every Man is Enlightened

V    In order to save sinners from damnation, God has provided humans with his Son, the Light, ”who enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world,” reveals our flaws to us, teaches righteousness, and provides all people with a genuine opportunity to accept Him and be saved.  This Light offers grace, and is provided by the death of Jesus Christ.   All people everywhere have been given enough to ensure their salvation, if they do not resist it.

VI    Christ’s death provides a universal opportunity for salvation to all, as it has to people of the past or of distant countries where the Bible or the historical Jesus has been unknown, if they receive and do not resist His Light.  The historical accounts of the Gospel are profitable, but are not strictly necessary for salvation to those from whom God Himself has withheld it.  Those who deny this truth are in error, and ignore the clear discussions of it in the Bible.

VII    Justification

If the Light is not resisted, it produces a spiritual transformation that is reflected in our lives, leading to justification, or authentic righteousness, saving our souls while we lead increasingly holy lives.  But the responsibility for this transformation lies with Jesus Christ, not with our own actions, no matter how good they are.

VIII    Perfection

In people who fully receive this spiritual transformation, their degenerate and fallen nature is gradually overcome, until ultimately they can become free from sinning and disobeying the law of God.  In that respect they can become perfect.  But their perfection does not preclude continued spiritual growth, nor does it preclude the possibility of again falling into sin, for those who are not careful to attend to God.

IX    Perseverance, and the Possibility of Falling From Grace

The grace extended by God is sufficient to ensure our salvation, but if we resist it, it will become our condemnation instead.  Even those who have grown in righteousness by action of the Light may fall from grace by willful disobedience.  But it is possible to be transformed by God so thoroughly that total disobedience is no longer possible.

X    The Ministry

All true ministers and evangelists are authorized and led by the Light of God.  Their authority is due to no human ordinations or credentials, and any so-called ministers who lack this divine gift are deceivers, no matter what their human credentials might be.  Jesus commanded his disciples to spread Christianity as freely as they received it, thereby forbidding a salaried clergy.  But if ministerial work prevents any from pursuing their usual trades, they may accept money enough to cover basic expenses, so long as it is freely given and received in the spirit of charity, and not as a formal compensation.  

XI    Worship

All true and acceptable worship results from the inner and immediate motivation and attraction by God’s own Spirit, and is not constrained to specific times, places, or persons.  Prescheduled and prestructured worship of any kind, including prayers, praises, and preaching, whether liturgical or spontaneous, are superstitions and are abominable to God.  These acts of worship arising in the plans of men are to be rejected in this day of new spiritual understanding.  However, God has condescended in the past to accept the worship of people whose integrity, simplicity, and possession of His grace shone through their mass of superstition.

XII    Baptism

God requires only one single, spiritual baptism, and a water ritual adds nothing to it.  True baptism results in the creation of a new individual.  It consists of a pure and spiritual response to God mediated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The ritual immersions and sprinklings of John the Baptist and his immediate successors were not intended to continue to the present day.  Baptism of infants is a human tradition not even mentioned in the Bible.

XIII    Communion, or Participation of the Body and Blood of Christ

True communion with the body and blood of Christ is intuitive and consists of God’s daily spiritual nourishment of His people.  Christ’s breaking of bread with His disciples at the last supper was symbolic of this relationship.  For a while, some in the early church continued to use it as a ritual for the sake of those who were unable to visualize the truth without help.  However, the Bible also commands other activities with equal emphasis, such as not eating blood, or meat from strangled animals, foot washing, and anointing sick people with oil.  All these things, including communion rituals, were symbolic of better and truer things, and should be given up by anyone who has accepted truth.

XIV    The Power of the Civil Magistrate, in Matters Purely Religious, and Pertaining to the Conscience

God alone has the ability and the right to instruct our consciences.  No person can justifiably force someone to go against his own conscience in matters of worship or religious opinion, no matter what governmental authority they claim.  On the other hand, no one can use the pretext of following his conscience to harm people, steal, or do anything destructive to Christian human society.  Those that do are justifiably dealt with by the secular legal system.

XV    Salutations and Recreations

The purpose of all religion is to separate men and women from the spirit and emptiness of this world, and to lead them into communion with God.  All empty habits and customs should be rejected.  These include removing a hat or bowing, as a sign of inferiority, and all related hollow etiquette and superficial formality.  Along with these we should abandon theater, frivolous recreations, sports, and gambling, which are designed merely to pass the time and distract us from listening to our God, from evangelizing, and from feeling His blessing as we go about our daily lives.

Conclusion

This is the spiritual day of Christ’s appearance, in which He is once again revealing the ancient paths of truth and righteousness.  Here you can see Christianity truly vindicated as a living, inward, spiritual, pure, and substantial thing.  Our critics say we deny God except for a subjective notion; we desire them to feel God near and in themselves.  They say we disregard the Scriptures; we tell them that the Light and Law within truly tells them their condition.  They say we deny the historical Christ, justification by His death, and forgiveness of sins through Him; we say that believing in the history cannot substitute for knowing Christ within themselves who does all these things.  They say we deny the resurrection of the human body; we say that they have more need to know God and to participate in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They say we deny heaven and hell and the last judgement; we tell them to come to the judgement of Christ in their own hearts, and believe in the Light and follow it.  And though we are few in number, God has prospered us so that neither the art, wisdom, nor violence of men or devils shall quench the spark that will grow and consume whoever stands against it.  God has spoken, and this people shall rise and conquer all His enemies, until all the kingdoms of the earth become the Kingdom of Christ Jesus.

To the Only-wise and Omnipotent God be honor, glory, thanksgiving, and renown forever.  Amen.

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