A Quakerism Worth Believing In

The convictions of the First Friends were what ordered their theo-political imagination (as Cavanugh calls it). This ‘imagination’ guided their practice, their missionary-inspired anti-Constantinian message that Christ had retunred and is the head of the church. The head of the church is not the state, it’s not learned clergy, but  Christ alone. The Quaker narrative is not complete without this realization. Their convictions drew on something else, looked back to something other which sought to reinstate the reality of God’s Kingdom here and now. When we seek to simply reinstate, or draw on the origins of Quakerism, or our other traditions, we forego, even silence, the actual well-spring, the experience that these First generation Friends drew on. If we miss this, we run the risk of silencing the essential feature of their message; early Quakerism saw itself as restoring early Christianity. As a result, if this is ignored we’ll continue to struggle to find a Quakerism with the force and motivation of early Friends; we’ll flounder as we try to have a Quakerism worth believing in.

7 responses to “A Quakerism Worth Believing In”

  1. Nice post, thanks. Important stuff.

    One small knit, your sentence, “If we miss this, we miss the entire point of their message” uses the word “entire”.

    I realize I am a total crank about such things, but your point is good one but using such a superlative actually makes your point less forceful. Why not use such language as “we risk missing a major thrust of…leave the majority of their insight and imagination on the table unused, etc…

    I just get tired of people always speaking as if the world is about to explore with “all, every, forever, completely, totally, best, worst, etc…” when it really is not warranted. Distracting.

    Of course, if you really believe that is the ENTIRE point…then it stands, but I don’t think that was what you are after.

    Ok, I’ll stop being a crank.

  2. I think “ENTIRE” is exactly the right word for the point being made…..there are some things that are non-negotiable.

  3. Kevin,
    Thanks for your comment. I think you’re right to press the point, I do agree this is a non-negotiable and that’s ultimately what I was after. Though in the earlier rendition I didn’t make clear what that was exactly. I don’t want to keep editing this back and forth, and I see the conundrum of editing posts on the fly like this.

    The point I’m making in this post is essentially that a desire to see early Christianity revived within the late 17th century was what motivated early Friends, they were’nt trying to be Quakers as such or start a new thing. They were trying to be the church in a way that they thought had been lost, what resulted given their cultural context was something that had new features to it as well as many old features. In my mind, this revival is what they were attempting to do; their theology and practice sprang out of that. When we go back to early Friends as our point of reference for how we ought to live, or move forward, we’re only going back part of the way. I agree we need to look at early Friends, the tradition is essential, but in order to understand the tradition, in order to put it into context, we have to go all the way back or else we cut it off at the legs.

  4. This Friend speaks my mind.

    I recently spoke on expectancy at a high school camp and came across this post during my preparation: http://www.westhillsfriends.org/QVWseekers.html. I’m also reading Mme. Guyon who apparently was really influential on the Quakers (I’m sure I heard this in college but it didn’t really sink in). These folks seem to echo that idea of finding the Truth and Reality of Christ which shaped their actions, not using actions or doctrines to shape their Truth and Reality.

    Martin Kelley has noted that interest, at least online, seems to be waning regarding Quakerism. For me, it’s not that my interest is waning, but my frustration is growing – something is not “right”, and I can’t write about it. I sense that this post reflects some of the root of my disorientation. Thanks for reflecting and noticing these things.

  5. […] [BTW – I think it is very compelling, especially among many in my own generation. When people are looking for an alternative to the answers our parents have given us, Quakerism has a robust story about living differently for the sake of following Christ. My own coming to the Quaker tradition was very much through the peace testimony. Growing up Catholic and then attending a conservative non-denominational church I never heard about the peace practices of Jesus. When I finally did learn this perspective in College it almost instantaneously connected with my experience of Christ and my experience with the world. Through the lens of God’s work for peace things finally made sense to me. Then I heard about a whole Church that for almost four hundred years has been actually tried practicing this, not just nodding to it as a novel idea, but actually putting their lives on the line because they believed it so much. That was my ah-ha! That is the Christianity I want. That’s a Christianity worth believing in for me. And it’s a Quakerism worth believing in as well.] […]