United Brethren has retired.

Quakers

Some of my Yorkshire ancestors were Quakers, Baltimore is full of Quaker meeting-houses, William Penn was a Quaker, a friend of mine growing up was a Quaker, and I like Quaker harvest oats. But who are the Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends)? I'm interested because I did a survey on Belief.net that tries to guess your religious affiliation. It seems I'm more of a Quaker than I am a Mormon (although I did blur the questions that were obviously going to make me LDS just for the sake of interest!)

Quakerism was founded in England by George Fox (1624-1691). At 23, he heard a voice saying "there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition". Fox promoted the concept of the Inward Light, or Inner Voice--"the seed of Christ"--that is innate to everyone and gives everyone the right to express opinions on spiritual matters (see John 1:9--"the true Light, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world", aka the Mormon "Light of Christ".)

Fox taught his followers to worship in silence. At their meetings, people only spoke when they felt moved by the Holy Spirit (testimony meeting?) They thought of themselves as "friends of Jesus" and referred to themselves as "Friends of Truth" (from John 15:15). Later, they became known simply as "Friends". Because of their non-comformist views the movement came into conflict with the English government. Once, when Fox was hauled into court, he suggested that the judge "tremble at the word of the Lord". The judge sarcastically referred to Fox as a "Quaker", hence "Quakers".

American Quakers found sanctuary in the Rhode Island colony. William Penn (1644-1718) and other Quakers played a major role in the creation of the colonies of West Jersey (1675) and Pennsylvania (1682). Quakers took the first public stand against slavery and played a major role in organizing and running the "Underground Railroad".

Quaker beliefs are famously diverse and range from Evangelical (conservative) to liberal. The largest Quaker body, the Friends United Meeting includes the following beliefs: true religion as a personal encounter with God, rather than ritual and ceremony; individual worth before God; worship as an act of seeking; the virtues of moral purity, integrity, honesty, simplicity and humility; Christian love and goodness; concern for the suffering and unfortunate; continuing revelation through the Holy Spirit. Many Quakers do not regard the Bible as the only source of belief and conduct. They rely upon their "Inner Light" to resolve what they perceive as the Bible's many contradictions.

They sound awfully nice, don't they? Seeking the Spirit as one's guide is a common Mormon theme nowadays (see the recent Heber J. Grant lesson on this topic). It's ironic then that Joseph Smith denounced Quakerism for this very thing:

"The Shaker will whirl around on his heel, impelled by a supernatural agency or spirit, and think that he is governed by the Spirit of God; and the Jumper will jump and enter into all kinds of extravagances. A Primitive Methodist will shout under the influence of that spirit, until he will rend the heavens with his cries; while the Quakers (or Friends) moved as they think, by the Spirit of God, will sit still and say nothing. Is God the author of all this? If not all of it, which does He recognize? Surely, such a heterogeneous mass of confusion never can enter into the kingdom of heaven.(TPJS, Section Four 1839–42, p.204)"

John Taylor similarly:

"In examining the human mind you will find many correct feelings and instincts planted there, if men would be governed by them. I do not know but it is this the Prophet Job has reference to when he says, "there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." (Job 32:8.) Another scripture says, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." (1 Cor. 12:7.) But then, many men do not profit by it; and although they have this light, or intuition within themselves, they are not governed by it. There is a party of religionists called Quakers, so strongly impregnated with this idea, that they think this inward monitor is sufficient to guide men in all their acts in life. (John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, p.324)

So which is it? Are we to be governed by our Inner Light, or by the authorities above us? Whom do we trust? Therein lies the contradiction between the Liahona and the Iron Rod. The challenge of the Latter-day Saints is to square the guidance of the Spirit with the principles we are taught.

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Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 28, 2004 8:11 PM) 

Ronan, I think you are doing a good job trying to invent some controversy. A key word in that John Taylor quote is "sufficient." This indicates that it alone will not be enough. Holding to the iron rod (i.e. works) is also needed. It is the age-old faith vs. works dichotomy ushered in by the Reformation and that the Restored Gospel so nicely ameliorates. 

Posted by john fowles

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 29, 2004 9:48 AM) 

I wasn't trying to be contoversial so I will choose my words more carefully in future! What JT is getting at (and I agree) is that there is one fundamental problem with "following the Spirit": how do you know whether what you're following is the Spirit or your own intuition? For me this remains one of the gospel's greatest mysteries. 

Posted by Ronan

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 29, 2004 9:48 AM) 

I wasn't trying to be contoversial so I will choose my words more carefully in future! What JT is getting at (and I agree) is that there is one fundamental problem with "following the Spirit": how do you know whether what you're following is the Spirit or your own intuition? For me this remains one of the gospel's greatest mysteries. 

Posted by Ronan

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 30, 2004 6:31 PM) 

The last line is the crux of the matter:

"The challenge of the Latter-day Saints is to square the guidance of the Spirit with the principles we are taught."

I thought that a great note to end on, because ultimately, if whatever "inspiration" we may have doesn't square with what the Lord has already said, we need to re-evaluate those thoughts.
I do often think that you go for a bit of controversy, but this time, I liked the ending so well, I didn't feel any contention; I felt content.
Thanks! 

Posted by Peggy Snow Cahill

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 01, 2004 12:21 AM) 

Quakers do seem to resemble Mormons in their insistence on portraying all their decisions and actions as being dictated or confirmed by the Spirit. What's odd is that Quakers were radically anti-authoritarian and anti-institutional, whereas Mormonism seems to be at the other end of the spectrum. It works for Mormonism because "lay inspiration" is deemed to stop cold at any leadership boundary, whereas Quakers did not shrink from using their inspiration as a guide for reforming the church of their day or reproving its ministers. 

Posted by Dave

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 01, 2004 12:25 AM) 

Quakers do seem to resemble Mormons in their insistence on portraying all their decisions and actions as being dictated or confirmed by the Spirit. What's odd is that Quakers were radically anti-authoritarian and anti-institutional, whereas Mormonism seems to be at the other end of the spectrum. It works for Mormonism because "lay inspiration" is deemed to stop cold at any leadership boundary, whereas Quakers did not shrink from using their inspiration as a guide for reforming the church of their day or reproving its ministers. 

Posted by Dave

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 01, 2004 1:50 PM) 

I am not sure which button I pressed, but I seem to be better suited to be Hindu before I am Quaker...

I better watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom so I can get caught up on my hindu... 

Posted by Jake

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 01, 2004 2:27 PM) 

I don't think it was the inner light that was the issue, but the extemes exibited in the faith at the time. number one was that they were so terribly rigid in their religion, but when it came time to seek the "Innner Light", they were going nuts and rolling on the floor.

I suppose that the statements made by the bretheren could be qualified by pointing out which group they were talking about.

Just as in the offshoots of our church, there are varied degrees of wackyness.

We certainly don't hold the corner ont he market for feelingthe spirit, or being good people. We also don't have any small hold on the market when it comes to meeting charisma.

 

Posted by Jake

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 01, 2004 4:09 PM) 

Dave, another reason that it works for Mormonism is the idea that this Church is led by a prophet of God. To that extent, it is inappropriate for someone outside that particular line of authority (i.e. a group of intellectual members) to think that they can somehow lobby or legislate change in the reformatory sense that you noted about the Quakers. In the Church, such change appropriately comes from the top down, since we believe that God is in charge of this institution. I realize that there are many around the bloggernacle who are avowed agnostics on that point, but I think the majority of Church members (including myself) still believe it. 

Posted by john fowles

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 11, 2004 1:43 PM) 

I think any member who has seriously studied William Penn can't doubt that he was indeed led by this inner light, and it was more than his intuition. The First and Second Frames of Government he established in Pennsylvania directly influenced the formation of the U.S. government, which we believe was inspired. During his lifetime, the PA colonists lived in perfect harmony with the Delaware indians -- something that only changed when his less-religiously-oriented sons took over. It's really hard to find fault with the Quakers' core beliefs. Of course, I agree with the point of all this discussion: where does guidance by the Spirit end and submission to authority begin? Good topic. 

Posted by Jeremy

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (May 27, 2005 2:59 AM) 

It is difficult to know what is truth and what isnt. Its hard to tell if its the spirit or if its just something you want really bad so any excited feeling you have you justify as the "spirit" Testifying to you that it is true. BUT when it comes down to it. If you believe that the Book of Mormon is a true record of God. Another Witness if you will that Jesus did live and he is our savior and that some 14 yr old boy with not much education could write such a book. Then you have to pretty much accept all of it. There are Many things that we dont understand right now. There are many things we have to be patient on and know that we will eventually know the answers. But like those before us and those after us, if we stick to the truths we do believe.... and exercise faith that the ones we dont understand will be understood at a later time. Then we will be fine. Over the course of yrs I have had many questions and been confused many times. But as of yet have I had Any doubt that Jesus is my savior and that the Book of Mormon is a true testament of HIM. Its ok to question things and to wonder.... but after all we are like children when it comes to the Gospel and understanding the fullness. My Children dont understand Many answers I give them. But as they age and have experiences they come to learn for themselves. Just like what God our Father wants for us. There are Good people in every religion. They are Basically searching for the same things we are. Sometimes we over complicate the answers and then we cant find them. If you have any doubts or troubles along the way, I assure you that your Heavenly Father can give you the best answers. If you have Faith and believe he will answer you.
Good luck in your quest.  

Posted by Janice

 

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