I’ve always been interested in reading how different “streams” of Christianity practice their faith, and last year read the “Hutterite Confession of Faith” (see my review here) which was great. So when I saw “Quaker Faith and Practice” on Amazon, I wanted to pick it up. Unfortunately, the Canadian version was unavailable, but I picked up the British fifth edition (and I’m curious what the differences in content are, if much. The Canadian one seems paired down in comparison though).
Subtitled “The Book of Christian Discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain”
One thing I found surprising right off the bat was a lack of the history of the Quakers; how they came to be called that, when and by who they were founded, etc. The introduction was a history of the manual itself only. In that way, this book really is a manual for Quakers themselves who (presumably) know this history already. This information is readily available on Wikipedia of course, but reading it from a Quaker perspective would have been insightful. Because of that I won’t say much more about their beginnings here beyond to say that the term “Quaker” began as a derogatory term, but over time gained acceptance amongst their practitioners (who also call themselves “The Society of Friends”).
Listening as Essential to Worship
As a non-Quaker, I found the parts on the necessity of listening in silence until God speaks, especially in community, to be fascinating. I knew of the Quaker practice in their worship gatherings already, but reading the ideas behind it (especially the emphasis on doing it in community – not as individuals in the same room but doing it together) encouraged me to continue trying to practice it in my own life, both on my own and to now include others when I can.
Photo: Stephen Coles
“True silence… is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” William Penn (2.14)
“Worship is our response to an awareness of God. We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence.” Advices and Queries (1.02/8)
The sections “Meeting for Worship” (2.35 ff), “The Sense of the Meeting” (3.02 ff), and “Our Community” (10.01 ff) were also worthwhile readings.
I skipped past all the business regulation items, of course, it having no relation to me; however, the fact that they aim to conduct business meetings as they do their times of worship is great – and one day if I’m in a church business meeting (and am able to) will introduce this idea to the participants.
I was very saddened to read of all the more liberal theological & moral ideas that has seeped into Quakerism; They mentioned it was introduced at the Manchester Conference in 1895 (19.60), and not as a bad thing. And so God is sometimes referred to in terms like “whatever he is to us,” or as a non-personal seeming “inward Light.” The Bible was seen as a non-authoritative book by some sections (which, when compared to Jesus/The Holy Spirit I agree it is subservient. George Fox is quoted saying “If we did not have the Scriptures… Jesus is enough” which I like), and personal experience of the Light as superseding it. My own thought on this is that, while God is bigger than the Bible and will still speak to us outside of the Bible today (as Quakers teach), he will never contradict the Bible (which some sections in this document disagree with).
While this book is meant to be a manual, there are a lot of personal testimonies and anecdotes included in each section from Quakers throughout history; the writers were careful to include both men and women and non-Europeans when they could. These were fascinating, but because of what I found in my previous comment, I tended to skip many of them that were post-1700’s.
Of course, like in every denomination, not all Friends are theologically liberal and not all of them are conservative, but either way they are a part of the global Body of Christ and their voice is worth listening to and engaging with and learning from.
Recommended Quaker Authors
On the plus side, reading this document has inspired me to seek out other Quaker writings, such as those by George Fox (the founder), Thomas Kelly (his “Testament of Devotion” being on my to-read list for some time already) and William Penn. Interestingly, as I was writing this review I learned that Dallas Willard was a Quaker (I’m reading his “Divine Conspiracy” right now & recommend it). I’ve also loved Richard Foster’s works, another Quaker, especially “Streams of Living Water” and the more famous “Celebration of Discipline,” both of which I highly recommend.
Obligatory Quaker Oats Pic.
It turns out that there is a Winnipeg Quaker fellowship. I’ve wanted to check it out in the past, and after reading “Quaker Faith and Practice” I’m honestly not sure if I want to anymore (and after snooping around on their website). Besides, if I did, I’d have to get over my feeling of intimidation in going too!
So, in conclusion there are some valuable ideas in “Quaker Faith and Practice” that I will refer back to and continue to learn from and practice in my life, but as a non-Quaker I wouldn’t recommend it overall, and especially not to an immature believer.