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Getting to Know Quakers: A Good Book for Beginners

George Fox

Quakers don’t use creeds. They honor the revelations that sacred Spirit gives to every seeker, and they are loathe to compel adherence to any one way of believing. At the same time, however, they respect the ability of colleagues to listen to what the Spirit is saying, and to offer wise and considerate counsel.

“There is that of God in everyone,” declared George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. If you want to explore how that conviction can shape religious life, read “Quaker Faith and Practice,” published by the Baltimore Annual Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Fox, a tanner by trade, was a spiritual seeker, convinced that the Christianity of his day (England in the mid 1600s) needed radical reform. He visited many churches, but found none that addressed his discontent, nor assuaged his hunger. At long last he had an “opening.” He came to realize that the spirit of the risen Jesus could be his personal advisor, if only he would wait patiently and silently to be inspired and instructed. He didn’t need a priest. He didn’t need sacraments to confer holiness. He didn’t need to subscribe to a creed. He did need his Bible, but he was bold to study it on his own, for he trusted that the spirit of Jesus would give him a healthy understanding.

After this opening, Fox did his best to follow the teachings and example of Jesus. He kept his speech and dress simple. He gave all persons equal respect, keeping his hat on for all instead of doffing it for an elite few. He renounced bearing arms. He sought to know and tell the truth, even to very powerful people. He criticized haughty and hypocritical conduct, especially among clergy. They had him and many followers imprisoned. Some were even executed. However, these recriminations only strengthened the resolve of many others to stand firm. At first George Fox did not intend to found a religious movement, but the purity of his example and the force of his personality soon gained a following.

The beginning portion of Quaker Faith and Practice presents excerpts from the writings of early Friends, and some contemporary ones too, revealing common themes such as a devotion to truth-seeking, simplicity, and non-violence. Later portions demonstrate how a Quaker way of life can be lived in community, how it may influence worship, the conducting of business, the resolution of conflict, the conduct of marriages and funerals, local and global citizenship.

Many people presume that the difference between religions has mostly to do with varied beliefs. Quakers place much more emphasis on spiritual experience than on beliefs. If you are curious about this mystic, as contrasted to dogmatic religious tradition, I think you will find Quaker Faith and Practice very satisfying. Then you might like to read Rufus Jones’ Spiritual Reformers in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, wherein you will discover that Quakers did not invent their faith and practice, but inherited it from many bold seekers who came before them, and lit the way.

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